Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted July 14, 2008
Alaska Quarterly Review - Beeswax - Briar Cliff Review - Broken Bridge Review - Cannibal - Conduit - Creative Nonfiction - First City Review - Forge - Georgia Review - Gettysburg Review - Hayden's Ferry Review - Lumberyard - Measure - Memoir - Mudfish - Northwest Review - PEN America - Reverie - Tusculum Review - World Literature Today
Volume 25 Numbers 1/2
Review by Camilla S. Medders
This issue of Alaska Quarterly Review is nice and thick and full of great writing. Of the fiction, my favorite story was “B & B” by Celeste Ng, a coming of age tale featuring a main character who suffers from pica, the urge to eat things the rest of us don’t consider food. I will never look at chalk in the same way again. I also enjoyed Shao Wang’s story, “One Voted No,” a melancholy piece about an aging Chinese widow whose life is disrupted when the town must elect a mayor.
Two of the three nonfiction pieces deal with the death of a relative: “Looking for an Angle” by Deborah A. Lott and “The Tricky Thing About Endings” by Leigh Morgan Owen. Both present an honest, detailed and unsentimental look at death. Describing her uncle’s last moments, Lott writes, “Nathan looked like no one I’d ever seen, his skin yellow and waxen, with one popped out bluish cheek.”
As good as the fiction and nonfiction are in this issue, the
poetry definitely dominates. Jane Hirshfield is the guest poetry
editor of this 25th anniversary issue, and she has
included many well-known poets: Robert Bly, Mark Doty, Maxine
Kumin and Sharon Olds, to name just a few. The poetry, like the
other work in this magazine, is arranged alphabetically by
author’s last name, giving it a no-nonsense anthology kind of
feel, an approach that might not work as well if the poetry
wasn’t so impressive. Some of my favorites include Jack
Gilbert’s “Neglecting the Kids,” a poem that is light and dark
at the same time; “The Other Rhinoceros” by Phillis Levin, which
manages to convey deep meaning through wordplay; and Peggy
Shumaker’s inscrutable “Bugler, Ft. Wainwright, Alaska,” which
says something new each time I read it. There is hardly
anything not to like in this issue of the Alaska Quarterly
Review by Camilla S. Medders
This issue of Beeswax Magazine, with its red and gray letterpressed cover and “hand-turned metal binding pegs,” is so beautiful I had a hard time opening it. When I finally did, I discovered the inside is just as distinctive as the outside.
Beeswax focuses on experimental writing and artwork, and a glance at the table of contents reveals that this magazine does things a little differently. None of the pieces are labeled by genre; they are simply listed in the order they appear in the magazine. As soon as I began to read, I discovered the reason for this. Most of the work defies labels: poetry without line breaks, prose that is as terse and mysterious as any poem, artwork based on words. Usually a more traditional reader, I found it refreshing to immerse myself in this unconventional atmosphere. In one instance, however, this lack of signposts was frustrating. Ari Samsky’s piece, “Some Events of the Spring of 1999, Bordeaux, France,” is either a very well-researched essay or a detailed but mystifying short story, and I long to know which.
I especially enjoyed David Morini’s surrealistic story, “The Testimony of Karen Ueno,” about Karen, the only person in her office building who can admit that something strange is happening outside the doors. I was also intrigued by the images in Andy Nicholson’s prose, such as this one from “Last Words from a Chorus Line”: “[The wheat] overtook them, growing onto and into them, turning their skin, their muscles, their bones into grain.” Laura Hughes’s drawings are so tightly packed with interesting pictures and words that you could look at them a hundred times and still discover something new.
If you’re a stickler for realism and coherence, this is not
the magazine for you. But if you’re a fan of experimentation, or
an open-minded reader looking for something new, or if you just
want a magazine that looks great on your coffee table, check out
Editor's Note: Ari Samsky wrote on 9/16/08: "Medders wasn't sure if this was fiction or reportage, and she wrote that she would very much like to know which one it was. It was fiction, although it used many real Bordeaux landmarks."
Review by Anne Wolfe
With a splendid cornucopia of colors and textures on the large, glossy front cover, and many gorgeous full pages of voluptuous art and photography within, The Briar Cliff Review could be a splendid coffee-table book. However, with the quality literature inside, it proves it is something more. The art is spectacular – twenty-two works from oil or acrylic to graphite, sculpture, even archival inkjet. Thirteen photographs are equally spectacular and eclectic – the issue is a feast for the eyes.
The writing is a delicatessen for the mind. War is the theme, since the U.SA. is involved in one. Linda Johnson’s incisive, biting “Sitting in the Rain: A Memoir” is about a marriage at war, war, and the scars it leaves: “The most disturbing photo is that of mother, smiling – a child wearing a Nazi arm band stitched onto her little coat, standing at the train station in Vienna.”
This review traditionally includes some focus on the Sioux, since Briar Cliff University resides in Sioux City, Iowa. From Sioux land comes “Trauma” by David Paulsrud, memoirs of a retired orthopedic surgeon whose career at Walter Reed Hospital spanned the Vietnam War through many vivid battle scenes in the ER. Flashbacks that haunt him give the reader a rich look one is rarely privileged to see. “Burning” by Siobhan Fallon, delves gloomily into the enigma of a soldier’s homecoming as he finds things have changed – the ambiguous consequences of being either a war hero, or an absentee husband.
The poetry is modern and very in synch with nature. “The Bath
Tub of the Wife” by Tana Jean Welch is warm and percolating with
color: “My bones crack as I squat my body into the V / of the
water between her legs. It’s lukewarm / but her skin is
pleasure” – an ode to aging, unconditional love. This is not
just a coffee-table book. This is an experience.
Review by Anne Wolfe
Broken Bridge Review sports a three-piece painting as cover art: three gorgeous blue-green panels titled “World View Trip-Tik” by Jessica Hathaway Scriver, painted on top of world maps. The editors chose to make this painting the inspiration for this issue, and included a substantial amount of material that is in some way connected to the political sphere.
Featured in this second edition is the 2006 Broken Bridge Prize winning poetry by high school students. The poetry shows amazing maturity and can stand with any adult poetry. The winner is “Cloud Hands” by Hannah Colbert, an exquisite work idealizing her father: “The sky at dusk is like my father doing Tai Chi in a big room / early in the morning; he’s moving through the porcelain stillness.” Both her father and the movement of clouds are forces of nature. Ten other finalists shine, including Grant Hall’s “Flicker”:
We used to run in fields
trying to catch fireflies.
Sometimes you would
hide alone in the bushes
beneath mossy oak.
This is the sort of nostalgic poem one never tires of because it is so genuine, because everyone’s favorite memories are unique.
One moving, mournful, yet oddly hopeful story is “Jane,”
about a girl whose mother lies ill with cancer. The girl is
about to learn something momentous. The treatment is careful,
sensitive, and in a few short pages the writer, Chloe Tribach,
makes the characters living people to care about, even get angry
with. There are poems that are serious, uplifting, and rich.
There is meaning to be found here. This journal is about
one-hundred-fifty-plus pages, and well worth the time.
Review by Debbie Yee
Brooklyn-based Cannibal by the editorial duo Katy & Matthew Henriksen is a poetry journal in the manner of sharp sincerity – sharp in its well-rounded and striking poem selections and sincere in its physical construction. With a textural screen-printed cover in copper ink, copy-job striations and sewn binding, the journal has the look and feel of a gift hand made for you by your no-frills but talented friend. The journal’s seven signatures handbound to the spine capture in their physicality the overall theme of the work: poems in parts.
More than simply sampling several poems of any single contributor, Cannibal affords poets the opportunity to publish across pages, as in Carolyn Guinzio’s five-part “Stratus Opacus,” Samuel Amadon’s five-part “Each H,” and Landis Everson’s posthumously-included six-part “Symphony of Psalms.” Even Phil Cordelli’s verbally-compressed poem “from B 5 2” is spaciously presented across four pages: “Heaps of sand, they are shoveled // The night shift, / their scraping // As many beams / they meet each other.” Short sequences are also represented, as in Anne Heide’s seven-line “Mourn” and Mike Sikkema’s “The Swimmers are Central and Constant.”
Topping at 118 pages, Cannibal presents poetry by 41
contributors, varying from Elizabeth Robinson’s elegant
“Telescope” to Joseph Bradshaw’s quiet and devastating “House.”
The issue includes as its center signature a bound-in chapbook,
Spring Psalter by Nate Pritts. Limited to an edition of
200, Cannibal #3 sets a high bar for the low-tech,
handmade reading experience.
Review by Anne Wolfe
Conduit: subtitled, “Last Laugh,” “Black Humor in Deadpan Alley,” “Words & Visions for Minds on Fire,” is just what these phrases suggest. This tall, narrow issue with a gold skull and crossbones printed on the black cover definitely sports a sense of humor, and strives to be different. Instead of having numbered pages, it has alphabetized words on the lower corners of pages, such as, “antics, balderdash, banter, barb….”all the way to “wag, whoopee cushion, wiseacre, x-ray specs, zany.”
This is a frequently off-the-wall, electric publication. It contains prose poetry that will delight, like “Sing Sing!” by Lara Glenum, or “Beans,” “Crimea,” and “Finally Myself” by Greg Bachar. “Finally myself” begins: “Nobody knows that I am nobody. They think that I am somebody, and treat me as such, with equal parts fear and apprehension.” Although short pieces, they should be taken whole.
One of the longer works is a short story, “Take Your
Wife…Please,” by Lee Upton. Written in epistolary form, it
begins as a victor-to-vanquished letter and becomes something
quite different. It’s wickedly funny. The main character begins
it, “Dear Simon, – Has anyone ever told you that you have one of
those names that usually belongs to jerks – like the name
Kevin?” The character undoes himself further from there, to the
great amusement of the reader. Not all the material is humorous.
Some is thoughtfully ironic, painful, tragic, or idealistic.
Much lies off the beaten track. Most is poetry and shorter
prose, and there are two interviews. The front and back cover
pages have some unusual humor, such as, “Please notify
Conduit of address changes. Returned mail is a crying
shame.” So would be missing this issue.
Anatomy of Baseball
Review by Camilla S. Medders
Issue 34 of Creative Nonfiction is all about baseball. I have to admit, I’m a bigger fan of baseball writing than I am of the actual game, and this magazine does not disappoint. The essays cover many aspects of the game: its history, fandom, positions and paraphernalia. They include heavily researched articles and deeply personal memoirs, but all the essays reveal something fascinating about the game.
Yogi Berra writes the forward for this issue, pointing out that Americans will never run out of things to say about baseball: “I observe and follow and read about the game as much as ever. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever know all there is to know, and that’s the beauty.” After this, Kevin Baker describes the evolution of the baseball stadium from parks that were “little more than sandlots with rows of precarious wooden bleachers,” through big stadiums “that could be used just as easily for football games or rock concerts,” and back to parks with “quirky eccentric features” that attempt to recapture the past.
Among my other favorites was “My Outfield,” by J.D. Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour uses a second person perspective to give the reader the experience of being an outfielder, playing a position which is “a dumping ground for the weak-armed, the unskilled, the lefhanded.” I also enjoyed Caitlin Horrocks’ hilarious essay about the Finnish version of baseball, “Pesapallo, Playing at the Edge of the World.” As an American in Finland, Horrocks was expected to excel at this game. “Fins see pesapallo as a starter experience for foreigners, especially Americans,” she writes. “They bring it up when they aren’t sure if you’re ready for something like avantouinti, a single verb that means going-swimming-by-jumping-in-a-frozen-lake-through-a-hole-cut-in-the-ice.” This is one of three essays with a female author; the subject of baseball is not just for the boys.
This collection of creative nonfiction is informative,
entertaining and diverse. Fans of baseball and fans of great
writing alike will appreciate this magazine.
Review by Denise Hill
Though not planned as a themed issue, Editor Michael W. Pollock claims “Dysfunction” took hold in tying this collection together. Admittedly, the theme didn’t stick with me, as I found each work unique in its own right, the strength of this journal being the variety of the prose selections.
“Meanwhile, at the Black Barn,” the lead story by Chad Willenborg locked me in. A stranger moving into a rural subdivision community and the insider/outsider treatment is freshly explored in this piece, with creepy – and completely believable – turns. Told in omniscient, scene-driven chronology, it is followed by Johannah Rodgers’s “Beirut,” a disconnected third-person recollection story, told as though passing by a person’s life and seeing it from the windows of a moving train. Still different, Paula Bomer’s “A Walk to the Cemetery” is a short-time-span narrative that delves deeply into the mind of one character. A mother walks with her son and realizes that, at age six or seven, he wants his separation from her, which she then forces.
FCR is not afraid of a longer story, some in the twenty-pages range, which can be greatly rewarding for the reader, or not, as was the case in Billy O’ Callaghan’s “The Sound of the Sea.” While tightly crafted from beginning to end, I found the Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame-meets-Steinbeck’s-Lennie in the “disabled person as monster” characterization a flat tire on a gravel road after a twenty-mile bike ride.
Further on disappointments: inconsistency and perhaps poor editorial choice of poetry. After such a strong prose start, the first poetry by Bryon D. Howell just about made me put down the publication. While “An Unfair Advantage” shows some burgeoning effort, the other two poems were more like mock-poetry handed around in high school. I just couldn’t take them seriously, or even find them funny in a way other than milk-out-the-nose humor, and I guess I’ve just outgrown that. Luckily, works by Youssef Rakha and James R. Whitley pulled the standard back up. Whitley’s metaphors and description of a loved one’s dying show careful consideration to the higher achievement of poetry, connecting to that which is beyond language: “October is intent on having its way with us: haughty glabrous moon glaring down, / bitter wind bossing us around like twigs, / your cancer still spreading like an oil spill / in the once-pristine waters of your body.” After his trilogy, the follow-up poem, “Regarding Lenore” by John Grey, while beautifully achieved, is lost because it, too, is about illness and dying. Good poem, bad editorial choice. Separated by other work, or even saved for a later issue would have been a stronger decision to showcase the poetry rather than have so much on the same theme/topic together.
With continued editorial vigilance, quality submissions, and
a willingness to include such a range of diverse literature,
First City Review is off to a strong start with room to move
Volume 1 Issue 2
Review by Anne Wolfe
Forge is a short, one hundred-plus-page journal, small in size but not in impact. It chose as its cover theme “little people opening things.” The picture on the pale, yellow, glossy cover depicts black stick-like figures pushing open two huge doors that dwarf the little anonymous people, making a 1984-esque look. Forge is actually quite whimsical in places, very modern in its approach and material, and frequently rather dark.
It features a graphic story about a young woman who is kidnapped to a castle and pressed into service; she resolves to make the best of it, oddly enough. This is episode two of “Erin’s Castle” by Elisabeth Melander, but it stands by itself, and might look bizarre to those not acquainted with this genre. It is quite mild, intriguing, and pleasantly twisted; the illustration is simple and clear, and it is a good introduction to graphic stories.
Extending the “bizarre” theme are three poems by Sara L. Schroeder: “Eggs,” “At Work,” and “Bubonic Plague” which are suitably unsettling. They cross an imaginary boundary into a child-like playfulness with adult concepts, and since this is fun, even with gritty material, it works. Another imaginative, extremely witty story is “My Deal with Death,” by Witt Widhalm, and it is about exactly what the title suggests. It is written in such a convincing, upbeat and twisted fashion it makes wonderful sense and nonsense of a serious subject.
This publication commits such impossible feats over and over.
Some of the short stories stay within the bounds of reality and
are moving; all are extremely well written. The publication
might be short, but it isn’t short on class.
Volume 62 Number 1
Review by Dan Moreau
From the essays to the poetry and fiction, war and 9/11 are recurrent themes in this issue of The Georgia Review. The essays – by Ihad Hassan, Reg Saner and Elizabeth Dodd – all examine current and past world crises, from fundamentalism in literature to a reminiscence by a Korean War vet. In Dodd’s essay, she meets an Iraqi poet who wrestles with disturbing images of war and suffering.
Brian Turner’s poem “Wading Out” describes a harrowing march through a muddy field in Iraq, a field in which the speaker becomes – both literally and metaphorically – mired. Turner, a veteran of the war in Iraq and author of Here, Bullet, is one of the most striking voices to emerge from that conflict. A lot of nonfiction has been written by Iraq vets, but very little art, so it’s refreshing and heartening to see some of it here. Even though the speaker has made it safely home, he muses, “still I’m down there slogging / deeper into the shit, shoulder deep, my old platoon / with another year of bullets and mortars and missions / dragging them further in.”
In Tracy Daugherty’s story “Bern,” a middle-aged architect by that name living in post-9/11 New York befriends a younger woman whom he takes on walking tours of the city, instructing her on the finer points of architecture. One morning he decides to visit Ground Zero: “Of course, there was not much to see at the site. A vast construction zone, with little construction in progress. Pataki’s Pit, everyone called it, deriding the former governor’s politics, which had kept the hole longer than it needed to be.”
The less serious but no less readable “Reclamations” by Jerry McGahan describes a homeowner’s effort to shoo an obstinate bear off his property.
In a note to readers, the new editor of The Georgia Review,
Stephen Corey, vows to maintain its reputation as one of
America’s premier literary journals by continuing to publish its
“big five” (essays, short stories, poems, reviews and visual
art) as well as by sneaking in a few surprises. What kind of
surprises? You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Volume 21 Number 2
Review by Dan Moreau
When I tried to think of an adjective to describe this issue of The Gettysburg Review, the closest that came to mind was eclectic. No prevailing theme or esthetic tied together these wonderful essays, stories and poems.
The essays range from reviews to first-person creative nonfiction pieces. Of particular note was Colleen Kindler’s “Luisito Grau de Armas.” So sound and captivating are her storytelling techniques that ten pages into the essay I thought I was reading a short story. The essay describes the author’s stint as a volunteer at a nursing home in Cuba whose most popular resident is a charismatic wheelchair bound little person named Luisito.
Before long Luisito, the pint-sized emperor of the nursing home, develops a crush on the author. At the end of the essay, the author, a nurse and Luisito are gathered on the nursing home’s rooftop. The nurse asks “Coh-lene” if there are any Luisitos in America. Kindler writes, “This is a question I will field almost every day that I live in Bejucal. ‘Nope.’ Thankfully I get the answer right on the first try. ‘Never met one. No Luisitos.’”
Likewise, the fiction is varied and diverse. James Reed’s hilariously deadpan account of office politics in “Enough People Hate You” reminded me a lot of George Saunders. Ted Sanders’ “Flounder” describes a fishing trip à la Hemingway from both the perspective of the fisherman and the fish. The protagonist of Paul Zimmer’s “George Washington” is a hapless little-leaguer who, like his namesake, cannot tell a lie.
But I thought the best in the lot was Caitlin Horrocks’s “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Cape of Guardafui.” Although outlandish, the premise of the story works: a couple with a disabled son takes a cruise vacation during which the ship is hijacked by pirates. In an interesting twist, instead of revealing the true nature of the disability that afflicts their son, the couple makes up lies about him, saying he’s an accomplished tuba player, a cryptologist working for the NSA, an Olympic athlete, or a doctor who’s found a cure for a rare disease.
Among the poetry, I particularly liked Joyce Sutphen’s “The
Poem You Said You Wouldn’t Write.” Encompassing a single
sentence written in couplets, the poem plays with the clichés
associated with poetry. It also violates the adage that poetry
shouldn’t be about poetry.
Review by Rachel King
This issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review is themed “The Grotesque.” It lives up to the name, especially the photographs which include strange human bodies, a bird turned inside-out, and a dog with recent knee surgery.
The writing as well as the photographs grabs the readers’ attention, the poetry being experimental in both content and form. My favorite prose poem – of which there are many – is Elizabeth Buckalew’s subtle and skillful “Appropriation” in which she puzzles why someone would steal a child’s kidney from an anatomy exhibit and why no one but her asks the thief why. I also enjoyed Christopher Watkins’ haikus, which are able to captivate the reader in only a few words.
HFR introduces current international poets to Americans in their international section, which was especially strong in this issue, featuring work by Russian, Polina Barskova; Bolivian,Vicky Allyon; Czech, Sylva Fischerova; and Bengali, Shamim Azad. Barskova’s poem, “Evening in Tsaskoe Selo,” masterfully captures the concerns of a critic verses the concerns of a poet (in this case, Anna Akhmatova):
of gossip, news from the front,
and his new article, while she
is worried by the horizon’s bent line,
the park bench growing into the ill oak,
and an unfinished line in a poem.
In fitting with the issue’s theme, some of the short stories have startling content, but the piece I like best is Urban White’s “Don’t Look Away” for the reflective narrator, who, by watching dog fights, is able to look at his life clearly and truly, the good as well as the bad.
Parts of this issue will shock you, but the grotesque – as in
Flannery O’Connor’s famous tales – can sometimes open the way
for necessary reflection.
Review by Debbie Yee
An image of a ferocious bear wielding a handsaw at a precise 45-degree angle over a two-by-four greets the reader after opening the handsomely letterpressed cover of The Lumberyard: A magazine for poetry and design. Though slim at thirty-two pages, the magazine is otherwise stuffed with a visual array of black and white cropped text and found art in a copy-job, cut-and-paste style. The layout, with varying font sizes within pages and poems, has the jostled effect of ‘90s television dramas shot by hand-held cams, which may be distracting for some or a fresh sight for others looking for an irreverently-styled magazine.
The editors present on paper the made (not mass-produced) aesthetic driven by early memories of hanging out with a carpenter father (hence the magazine’s name). Like the lumberyard and memory, the poems here are largely poems about place, with narratives containing themselves in time and location. Matthew Lippman’s “Moses,” on the end of a multi-generational Sunday ritual, begins:
Mike Goldstein is a bitch.
Not because he’s the baker at Bagel Time on Fairview Avenue
and works for a guy named Shlomo Farbstein.
Not because he’s got a moustache
the size of Flatbush Avenue.
“Sermon for the Midway Point” by Ander Monson is humorously placed at the midway-point of the magazine:
My friend imagines that the world is always halfway-through
with him – that regardless of what wick he burns, his life
is half-ahead and half behind. We consider this
through the drift and burn of cigarettes
saturating the air above the shitty
chess set leftover from his youth.
“Without Sanctuary: The Letters of Zacariah Gamecock, IV Spirit Talker” by K. Curtis Lyle is a letter to Abraham Lincoln in the manner of a found historical document: “Clear down to the deepest part of the water, and even deeper than that, I see myself reflected back to me. It is a sight that means nothing. . . . I am marooned.”
The inaugural issue of The Lumberyard presents a solid
group of poems with unique editorial twists.
Review by Rachel King
In these days when literary journals have mainly free verse poetry, Measure: An Annual Review of Formal Poetry is a refreshing contrast. This second issue contains over two hundred pages of formal poems, from Catullus and Horace to Seamus Heaney and Richard Wilbur, as well as many lesser-known poets.
The issue opens with poems by and an interview with Fredrick Turner. Of special interest in the interview is the discussion of a “three-second cycle in which [humans] hear and understand language.” Turner is interested in how this three-second span relates to poetry, how poetic variation in rhythm and meter play off this innate human thought cycle.
A few favorites: Jennifer Reeser’s playful “If We’re To Make This Work” and “Variations on a Fantasy,” the latter which begins: “Your mistress died on Monday night, / after she’d sent me postcards signed / with red ink, using our last name. / She chocked on chocolates. Such a shame”; Elizabeth Hadaway’s three poems, including one about the proper pronunciation of Appalachia; and J.D. Smith’s simple sonnet about the complex memories and emotions which accompany grief: “He seldom cried. He used to point at birds. / And now he will be missed beyond all words.”
Tucked between these poems is Miller Williams’s short essay, “The Revolution that Gave us Poetry Never Happened.” His argument – which also happens to be his title – traces famous poems from the modern period back to Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare, contending that poems have always had extremely irregular – “free verse” – forms and “modern” themes. Although I don’t agree with everything he says, I do agree with one of his implicit messages: students of poetry could benefit from looking at the cannon as a whole instead of breaking it up into stringent periods.
Only one suggestion: since there are so many poems, the editor could help the reader by arranging them topically, thematically, or by author. On the website, they do acknowledge their submissions exceed their journal size, and Measure plans to be biannual instead of annual in the upcoming year.
So, who says formal poetry is dead?
Volume 1 Number 1
Review by Jennifer Sinor
To launch their inaugural issue of Memoir, a literary magazine devoted to prose, poetry, graphics, and more, the co-editors, Joan E. Chapman and Candida Lawrence, write competing columns on the definition of memoir. Chapman brings a postmodern reading lens to the genre, delighting in the shifting self and the instability of memory, while Lawrence focuses on a good story carried by a strong voice. Taken together their viewpoints create a solid definition of the complex genre and provide the perfect starting point for a magazine devoted solely to memoir in all its forms.
Because Memoir is so focused in terms of genre, it is able to offer readers infinite variations on the form. Poems like Sharon Fain’s “Losing the Drought,” narrated in the first person, have a stronger presence on the page because readers read through an autobiographical lens. So that lines like
Drought came at the right time,
matched me year for year,
father buried, daughters grown,
the city burning and this body,
once lavish and wasteful
in its affections, subdued
refer to Fain’s body, as well as to the landscape around her.
Prose selections can move forward in linear ways, but they
can also be much more playful. The centerpiece of the issue is
Norman Solomon’s “Obstinate Memory,” excerpted from Made
Love, Got War, a rumination on memory, writing, the Iraq
war, and his own childhood. Even more fascinating in terms of
form are Martha Christina’s “With and Without Michael” and
Ruthann Robson’s “winged taxonomy,” two essays that rely on a
fractured narrative line to get at difficult truths. The debut
of Memoir – full of cutting edge responses to an
evolving genre in the midst of its boom – leaves readers
wondering why anyone didn’t think of this sooner.
Review by Anne Wolfe
“Art & Poetry” reads the cover of Mudfish 15, with an impressionistic watercolor of a man treading water in a swimming pool; on the back is a watercolor of trees, a blue mountain, purple fields, a pink sky, all conveyed beautifully by Paul Wuenshe with a few deft brush strokes. Also deft are the poems inside, which can be as short as three lines, or a paragraph or two; many contained in a single page, some several pages.
There is a good deal of art, though it is mostly black and white and only miniature versions of the “real thing.” The poetry is colorful, in verse or prose; terse or magnanimous with language. All serious poetry, nothing academic – no references to Greek gods or long-dead Roman poets – nothing absolutely shocking or off-the-wall, but very down-to-earth and heavenly themes.
The woes of an unpublished writer are captured witheringly by David Myers, “Thirteen years and I’m still dragging around / that daydream optimism of youth / like a half-dead carcass.” There’s a thrilling show of the endurance of unadulterated love, as in Ron Thomas’s “My Grandmother’s Hands”: “blue-veined spotted brown over / thin onionskin // Tipped up on her pillow / at 94.” Or the caustic irony of “Quiet, Please,” by Donald Illich: “When I was born / my parents gave me a book, / ‘So. You’re Going to Die.’”
Then there is the masterwork, a long miraculous piece by
Ronald Wardall, “That July Night in Budapest,” written as
between two people: “I am home and can at last write you /
instead of going around like a mad man / making notes to
myself.” Several pieces of well-crafted fiction also reside
inside as “excerpts” or “prose.”Mudfish 15 is definitely
the real thing.
Volume 46 Number 2
Review by Dan Moreau
This issue of Northwest Review features “essays, fiction, and poetry on aneurysms, arrhythmia, adolescence and other afflictions.” What caught my eye – and stoked my envy as a writer – was the excellent fiction.
Jenny Pritchett’s wonderfully titled short short (“What I Was Doing the Night My Mother Died of a Brain Aneurysm And my Father Tried to Call Me at My Friend's House Where I said I’d Be”) describes that fateful night with poetic concision. After sneaking out with her friend to a party the narrator returns to find her friend’s mother and father waiting up for them. “I thought they could smell it on me: beer, pot, sex,” the narrator relates, not knowing what has happened to her mother.
Michael Poore’s hilarious and heartbreaking “Bury Me Under the Drugstore, Mama” puts a new twist on a familiar storyline: a mega-store called AllMart opens on tribal land putting two Native Americans who run a family-owned drugstore out of business. After a failed attempt to protest the store’s opening the brother and sister duo take jobs at the new AllMart. Unable to stand her supervisor, the sister torments the woman with carefully placed Sporks. Poore’s comical take on discount mega-stores and the Hard Rock Cafe chain, which is purchased by the Seminole Nation, makes the story a pleasure to read.
But the strongest story by far is John Mandelberg’s “I thought of R.P.” A writer whose work I hope I see more of, his crystal clear prose and breathtaking storytelling would make any writer jealous. In the story, a recovering addict moves back in with his daughter and wife who have given him a second chance. The story is a stunning portrayal of addiction and recovery. After kicking his addiction, the protagonist takes a job with his sister’s brother fixing A/C unites and in a renewed interest in Judaism, starts taking classes at the local synagogue. In this, Mandelberg possesses an eerie talent for telling a story.
This issue also offers poetry, etchings by Eric Peterson,
essays and translations from the Portuguese of poems by Astrid
Review by Rachel King
Most of PEN America reads less like a traditional literary journal and more like the transcript of conversations with authors, which makes sense, since much of the writing comes from PEN’s annual World Voice festivals. The unique format allows for interviews, conversations formed around a theme, and short remarks, as well as the traditional poetry, fiction, and essays. Of the various forms, the interviews and conversations stood out the most to me.
Paul Holdengraber, Ilija Trojanow, and Alain de Botton discuss traveling and travel writing in “Voyage and Voyeur.” Alain de Botton claims all writing is travel writing, since “a writer leaves his or her room and goes to look at something,” but “travel writers” often do art a disservice by merely writing wittily about foreign places or foreigners. In “Imaginary Geographies,” Daniel Alarcon, Arthur Japin, and Tatyana Tolstaya discuss why they set their stories in imaginary landscapes and how memory enhances or distorts reality.
In the more traditional genre, Paul LaFarge explains the discovery of America through eleven possible myths, Jennifer Tseng writes poems about trees and stones (and, figuratively, so much more), and Etgar Keret’s narrator contemplates the “what ifs” of life in his short short, “Rabin’s Dead.”
This issue ends with a half-dozen authors giving a short
tribute to Grace Paley. Michael Cunningham says Paley’s style is
as recognizable as Faulkner or Austen, Gerry Albarelli remembers
Paley teaching him to place literature at the center of life,
and Nora Paley tells how her mother lived every moment of life
with courage and the philosophy: “Either we are here or not
here. It is all life until death.” Reading PEN America,
you get the wonderful impression that many of these writers view
life this way, that they’ll continue with their causes and their
writing until they draw their last breath.
Volume 2 Issue 1
Review by Denise Hill
Midwest African American Literature may seem to set a narrow focus for this publication, but in Reverie, writing to or of the socio-cultural African American experience runs like an undercurrent throughout the broad expanse of the literature. That its authors need only be somehow related to the Midwest does not limit the content, but rather helps to further create a sense of unity and connection.
This issue is slim, but packs some powerful writing. The poetry of Alan King plays observer to the relationships between people and their communications with one another: “she’s a Venus-flytrap ready / to snap him for flying too close” (“Template”). Dike Okoro poem “night” plays with language to create sensory images: “feeble groves pulsate / with labor // as the crickets quicken in chorus turning / into directions for the grassless air.” Qiana Towns’s poem “The Behest of a Fading Diva (for Uncle Vincent)” is both humorous and sad: “Don’t let them hurt over me, lingering and snotting like school girls recollecting old love,” while “Extrapolation: Winter 1998” recounts what should have been a simple stalled-car experience, and what could have been something so much worse: “The officer’s smile chills at the sight of my hue.”
Felecia Studstill’s story “March Madness” is a gently explored reunion between ex-lovers – that somewhat awkward, still painful, but necessary getting together. I read this with heavy sighs and nods of, “Yep, that’s how it goes.” The (I’m guessing) creative nonfiction piece by Brian Gilmore, “The Last Stand of Adolphus ‘Doc’ Cheatham” was a finely woven tribute of biography of the music legend and Gilmore’s experience seeing his final performance.
Debraha Watson’s essay “Writing through the Pain” is a condensed piece which relates her own coming to writing during an abusive past, and how she, like writers Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, are able to write through their trauma and share with others – regardless of some thinking it should not be written. She ends her essay: “We must use our pain and anxiety as an energy source and have courage to keep on writing…” Watson’s essay presented the greatest flaw in the publication in editing – a few errors I can handle – but this particular piece was so riddled with them, it became distracting to read. For Reverie to continue to build a name for itself, its behind-the-scenes work is going to have to come up to the standard of its own content.
The journal ends on the strongest piece in the collection,
and on a positive for editing work, the order of the works was
well arranged. Clarence Young’s story “Expletive Deleted” is one
of the most powerful pieces of war experience I have read. It
has absolutely gotten inside the head of young soldiers in a way
that should cause no one to ask “How could they do that?” A
prime example of how literature is political, with this a
top-of-the-lungs cry to end and never begin another war.
Review by Anne Wolfe
The Tusculum Review is two hundred pages of a bit of everything – all wrapped up in a glossy purple cover. Ordinary? Not even close. “New voices” – that’s what the editors tell us it is about. It contains fresh, exciting material – like a one-act play with only one character living out a “wide awake nightmare,” titled “Gone” by Roy Sorrels. It’s ingenious, compact, and a delightful mini-nightmare to read.
For nonfiction, there are warm, autobiographical essays to dig into, for example, “On Not Writing,” by Luciana Lopez. This essay, on a vacation that could not be fodder for a reporter’s tax write-off, begs how expensive are one’s roots, one’s soul? “Love Means Nothing” by Ethel Morgan Smith is therapy for anyone who loves tennis, or an education to those who don’t – a short history of an adoring fan’s evolving relationship to the world of tennis as she developed a discerning eye.
The fiction has some surprising stories, light and dark. Kirstin Eve Beachy, in “Me and the Martyrs,” manages to capture both brightness and bleakness in her tale of a young woman obsessed with martyrdom. There are two morphine stories, Jeff Dye’s “A World Open and Shut,” and Michael Leone’s “Three Sides of Dark. It begins: “I was a cruel boy, I am a nasty young man.” It will captivate your soul.
The poetry is down-to-earth, varied; the 2007 prize poem, by
Ria Vords, a prose poem, titled “My Name” begins: “My name was
born small and slept that first Hungarian winter / at the
breast. My name inherited only sore eyesight, and turned /
other’s soil.” Simple, yet rich. Then there are photographs of
Mexican children and young adults in rustic settings with poems
composed by Jamie Ross – “Postcards from Mexico.” These black
and white photos teem with dramatic contrast and intimate,
honest detail – not your everyday literary journal! Reading this
journal is like opening a package of surprises; everything is
Volume 82 Number 4
Review by Denise Hill
“Literature Goes Green” is the theme of this issue of WLT, with Laird Christensen’s essay, “Writing Home in a Global Age,” setting a pivotal tone. In it, he comments on the contemporary writer’s focus on local place when there are many more global issues at hand that need our attention. Bill McKibben, for example, has gone local while the rest of us are just now ‘getting it’ – the alarm of global concern he sounded two decades ago in his book The End of Nature. Christensen argues that this more microscopic shift is necessary, brought on by our own “voluntary placelessness in removing ourselves from the land and how we see the bioregion in which we live.” This lack of connection to place has allowed us to treat that which sustains us so poorly. With no sense of place, we have no sense of responsibility. Yet, this local literature is often treated as second-rate. Christensen counters this attitude: “The bulk of place-based writing, no matter how local, deals in universals, for we are all in desperate need of examples that show us how to belong.” This essay, as well as the whole issue, would be a powerful addition to any curriculum that includes nature, environmental, or place-based writing.
Remaining on local place and environment, Mark Tredinnick’s non-fiction piece “Nursery of Fire” is a scenic chronicle of the Australian bioregion in which he lives, noting sights, sounds, names, and the truly awesome act of fire. Like the very element, his writing is consuming, and I found myself so deeply rapt in the down under, that when he slipped in the death of his child just as he so matter-of-factly and observantly wrote of the valleys and wind and fire, I was struck with a sadness that felt more holistic than I have known in reading such accounts before. I could not separate this human from the landscape, each joined in the act of survival existence.
The joy in reading a publication like WLT is the introduction to a globally wide range of authors and works. Where else can you get this? Bruce Allen discusses the work of Japanese author Michiko Ishimure, describing the novelist’s style as mythopoetic, merging “storytelling, myths, and social commentary, with a particular attention to the world of sounds, nature and dreams.” Excerpts translated by Allen are provided with additional commentary.
Anna Paterson’s familiarity with the works of Swedish author Kerstin Ekman provides a deeply satisfying look at her latest book, Masters of the Forest. This is followed by an interview with Ekman focused on key issues to her life and work: environmentalism and conservation.
Lastly, Robert Day’s essay, “Wind, Water, Fact, and Fiction,” is a must read for teachers. I can already see using this with students to help them make connections between what they read and where they live in ways I had never before considered, and now seem so obvious.
More, there’s always more – poetry, photography, and dozens
of book reviews of works from around the world by reviewers as
geographically vast. I cannot imagine ever having been able to
travel so far in so few pages in my life. And in a world of so
much disconnect (regardless of all of our technology), how
heartening to find the strength of connection through
literature. Of course.