Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted September 22, 2008
Anti- - The Aurorean - Crazyhorse - decomP - Keyhole - The Laurel Review - Michigan Quarterly Review - The Midwest Quarterly - New York Tyrant - Salamander - Spinning Jenny - Superstition Review - Versal - Whitefish Review
Review by Micah Zevin
Anti-(poetry) is a poetry journal that flouts the rules of poetry by saying they search for poems that are contrary to traditional standards and different than other journals and current conventions in the genre – and to be sure they have an anarchist’s glee about them in the modes of expression they utilize. They publish two full issues a year while featuring different poets every two weeks.
We begin with Jill Alexander Essbaum’s, featured poet #11, “Ballad of the First Wife,” a satirical look at a woman who is left behind by her man:
I am the pearl that your oyster spat out.
I am the scramsax plunged into your belly.
The smocking on your collar, I mock your demeanor.
I’m mean, then meaner. I mean what I say.
I am the woman that you threw away.
This is an intriguing rapidly-paced piece that invokes the power of the I to speak to the powerlessness of a woman often in such situations, and the bitterness a woman suffers in the journey to purge the emotions and memories of such tumultuous hurts.
With Issue 2, we are presented with a multitude of diverse voices, in terms of style and substance, that attempt to cross the restricted border of what is considered poetry. In “Drowning in Paradise,” by Ada Limon, the poem takes on the spirit of Milton’s Paradise Lost:
The low hanging hibiscus coos out
its swollen-mouth flower song
to the rare bee holding its tongue
and I’m drunk on the bully world again –
a fueled up fluster coming on.
Look, even two oceans can collide here in the belly of white islands.
This poem is not only an homage to Milton and turning things on its head, but a more traditional poetic device of living creatures, such as a bee or plant, provided with a human voice. In “Information Kiosk” by Jason Bredle, the reader is directly addressed and ordered to follow the capitalistic and materialistic mantras of the United States of America in the most mocking and hilarious way possible:
Tonight, on action news at nine,
walnuts may kill you! We’ll tell you how right after this.
The shadow of a walnut is a baby fist,
the inside of a walnut is a baby shadow, the inside of a baby
is a walnut fist. I no longer drink milk because it reminds me
of clouds, blossoming like white coloring
in a glass of water.
We too can sense the information overload of the age after getting a taste of this seriously funny poem.
And lastly but not least, ravenous readers, I present to you the poem “Sayings Lifted from The Confessions of a Convicted Thief” by William Aarnes. It has great lines like
It took months of lurking
in the aisles of drug stores
but the first woman I married
was the fetching one I followed home
after watching her shoplift
an eyeliner and toothbrush
or “There’s pleasure in knowing / so many people / confuse social security / with identity.” This poem is anathema to the poems of most modern poets, even the ones who use humor as a major component. It’s as if they come from a standup comedian’s act, not merely a humorist.
Anti-(poetry) is written in the spirit of the
anarchist or contrarians; it utilizes conventions merely to
deconstruct or make them seem new. It is a fearless place for
writers and readers with a spine who can take a joke. If you
want to read a journal that uses humor as a weapon, the
antithesis of what is often considered serious poetry, than take
a seat, open your eyes and pay attention, you’re in for show.
Volume 13 Issue 1
Review by Rachel King
The poems in this issue of The Aurorean focus on the outdoor wonders experienced in spring and summer, giving various perspectives on the natural beauty of these two seasons. This issue is a testament to The Aurorean’s goal that their poems inspire, uplift, and are meditational.
Imagine refreshing spring rain through Russell Rowland’s poem “Slim, Graceful Rain”: “No need to shut the windows. Today’s rain / falls as straight as the posture old-time girls / achieved with volumes balanced on their heads.” Study Ansel Adams’s picture “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico 1941” as you read Lyn Lifshin’s poem of the same name: “past adobe, deep behind tumbleweed / someone shuts off a radio, as if news / of war would come over the sage, slither thru / dust and locusts.” Steal away with Ron Bailey’s narrator in “a date with mars” as he climbs a ladder and reaches towards the heavens in order to be as close to Mars as possible when Mars is the closest to earth its been in the past thousand years. These and many more poems are fanciful, deep, and quirky.
Awhile after finishing The Aurorean, I finally put my finger on what’s different about it than many literary journals: none of its poetry is depressing. Although depressing poetry often resonates with or inspires me, I felt pleasant and refreshed by reading a journal of serious, yearning, joyful poetry. Even wistful poems, like “Nocturne” by Dennis Rhodes, contain hope:
I go to bed lonely tonight
and discontented, but no more
alone than mother earth herself
who turns her back each day to the sun
and in facing the frigid black void
of the universe, finds the courage
to turn around again, and make tomorrow.
The journal’s approach reminds me of a teacher from an L.M.
Montgomery book who told a student not to change her writing
style because of “those howls about realism. Remember pine woods
are just as real as pigsties and darn sight pleasanter to be
in.” The Aurorean has chosen pine woods as their
subject, and beautiful, honest poetry is their result.
Review by Rav Grewal-Kök
The editors of Crazyhorse give the stories and poems they’ve selected for their most recent issue room to breathe. Often, they print only a handful of lines of verse on the magazine’s generously margined pages. All that space invites the reader to savor the writing, much of which is vivid and haunting.
The narrator of Allison Seay’s “First House Elegy” evokes a new house, “a place away from here / that would save us.” But we are unsure whether her family ever finds the peace she imagines in the country: “Did the door open to the woods / so we faced the bright world, or, while we ate that / little supper, did we keep our backs to the wolves?” Peter Cooley in “Day After Tomorrow: Weather Watch,” offers a less equivocal vision of loss. He describes how his housebound father only wanted to watch the weather report in his last year of life: “weather his sole concern / as one by one he gave up news and sports, / then dressing, eating, getting out of bed.” The poet concludes with an image that marries his grief to his faith in the authority of his art: “If something else would speak for poetry / I’d choose. Lightning, nothing will do.”
The magazine also includes poems, in the original and in translation, by writers from Ecuador, Turkey, and Korea. One of the pleasures of reading the little magazines is the chance to glimpse, however briefly, an unfamiliar literary culture. When Ko Un, a Korean writer and Buddhist monk writes, “Since there’s heavy snow / our country has no need of religion,” I experienced a lightning flash of my own.
Much of the fiction in this issue centers on the difficulties of domestic life. The ennui-stricken protagonist of John Tait’s “Halfrica” dreams of redeeming himself from a failing marriage through aid work in Africa, but ultimately lacks the conviction to change his life. Christine Sneed’s “Clown Testimonies” portrays two characters with sympathy and grace: an adolescent girl with a crush on her journalism teacher, and the teacher himself, a man unsettled by furtive longings.
If I had room I’d go on to discuss poems by Billy Collins,
Jill Osier, and Robert Bense, and fiction by Gary Fincke, Sean
Ennis and Susan Perabo. Crazyhorse offers a remarkable
selection. Read it and choose for yourself.
Review by Micah Zevin
decomP magazine, a publisher of prose, poetry and art since its inception in 2004, has published an ambitious collection featuring the work of a diverse range of poets, often highlighting the appeal in their focus on the narratives of the common American and their experiences, whether they be spiritual, satirical, political or emotional import.
In the poem, “Grandpa’s Final Years,” by Steven Kunert, the character of Grandpa re-imagines Jesus as a dancer. “Grandpa asserted if our savior had tried a plie, / he would’ve been a hell of a diva. // He could’ve conquered Swan Lake, / Grandpa raved, and done mankind a bigger favor. // We’d be all be happier on our toes, he ranted, / had Jesus worn a tutu with his thorny crown.” Under its veil of humor this poem is also a serious commentary on the martyrdom of Jesus, openly questioning how it would have been better to view his talents amongst the living.
“Flat Tire” by Kurt Remington is like a purging of daily frustrations at the hardships of daily life, such as your car breaking down in the middle of the road: “Having a flat tire / In Nebraska / Is like / Having your foot caught / In a mound of / Stinking cow dung.” This poem is an evocative portrayal of the sights and sounds that surround us when we have mishaps in life. With a “Bird’s Eye View of Man” by Ernest Williamson III, we journey further into the psyche of human beings known as men, and all the contradictions that come with their existence:
branded by the sun
a litter of potential good sustained
lying spliced and red
bleeding for the sake of bleeding
their praise is the unisex of finality
lifting sulfuric vapors to my nose
pinching my putrid breath
annulled is the finch in taxonomies
This piece is an introspective look into the origins of man’s desires and goals as well as man’s ultimate potential for good or for evil and what that means if anything.
DecomP is a literary journal with many faces in the
literary spectrum. In this special all-poetry issue, the poetic
free verse tradition is given a creative, philosophical and
often satirical treatment. The poetry in this issue reflects a
desire for an honest, vivid depiction and discussion of humanity
and all its foibles, deconstructing our various identities and
perceptions that carry us through life and make us unique
beings. It is commentary that readers should hope to hear more
of so that they can continue to listen, learn, and deconstruct
their previous perceptions.
Reviewed by Josh Maday
Keyhole 3 opens with Shellie Zacharia’s story “Stitch,” where the narrator obsesses over whether her sewing instructor may in fact be a girl from grade school whose stitches she touched on a school bus dare. The story contains the swirl of emotions that a moment from the past often evokes: the anxiety about whether that is the same person, and whether that person remembers that one moment of cruelty you indulged at their expense, the need to defend one’s childhood self, and, ultimately, the remorse and the desire to let the past be the past, hoping that the scar of that one act healed quickly and vanished.
In Mahagin’s poem “Pop Song,” he attempts to find accurate words and images to embody the “blue note in [his] bloodstream” because “its sound, a little hard to pin down, halfway / between a bullet ricochet on spaghetti western, / and the glissando screech / of a starving gull” and “ yet not necessarily in the key / of Nasty Nell with nails on chalkboard, / or Clint Eastwood in hounds tooth / jacket, snarling: Make …My…Day.” And in “Jacks with Creeley,” the narrator is schooled at Jacks by a Robert Creeley who is possibly a vitamin junkie.
Tim Keppel’s story “Pilgrimage” is told by the main character, who invites Blake, a friend of his late cousin Sonny’s, to his home in Colombia. Immediately he regrets his offer. Blake is a pot-smoking lawyer who is a potentially volatile mix of openness and aggression. The interview with Keppel gives readers insight into his process and the evolution of the story.
Rosanne Griffeth employs potent visceral language to create the emotional energy driving her four short-shorts. The characters in Griffeth’s stories, while often gritty and mean and stubborn, are also hurt and lonely and capable of tenderness. Also doing their part to make this issue a cover-to-cover read are Joshua Diamond, Elizabeth Ellen, Monica Kilian and Brian Brown.
In his opening remarks, editor Peter Cole discusses different arguments about the proper focus of a short story – plot versus character development – and he says, “I remain unconvinced of either extreme being superior, although I would argue that it is damned near impossible to present an intriguing plot without developing a memorable character or two along the way.” Then he comes to the word “entertainment”: “But I can’t imagine a piece of art that does not entertain on some level, whether it is the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, or a painting by Picasso. If it fails to entertain, it fails as art. And for me, entertainment not only includes the experience of the initial encounter, but also the lingering thoughts that a truly good piece of art leaves in my mind for hours and days to come.” For me, every story and poem in this issue of Keyhole meets these criteria.
Keyhole’s inaugural issue (now out of print, but available
online for free) announced the arrival of a quality literary
publication and each subsequent issue has confirmed that this
young but maturing magazine is well worth reading and
Volume 42 Number 1
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The Winter 2008 issue of The Laurel Review is filled with poetry and fiction interested in examining the way thoughtful people try to reconcile themselves with nature while maintaining a special humanity. The poems and stories are imbued with a grounded, tactile love of flora and fauna, gentle breezes and warming sunlight to which we can all relate.
Claire Bateman’s poems, “Rupture” and “Self-Diagnosis,” walk the line between abstract thought and concrete image that invite the reader to engage in a meaningful discussion. How much does our humanity matter in the larger view?
On the fiction side, PJ Piccirillo presents “The Wagon Woman.” Once the narrative got going, I was fully engaged by the author’s depiction of one-time lovers and what time has done to them in their unforgiving landscapes. (This includes two kinds of landscape: that of climate and emotion.) It’s amazing what happens inside the human heart, how one can erase distance across “the blue ice of age, that condensed time between old friends that is so solid and passable you can skip right over all that happened between.” The first-person narrator makes it clear the story will not end happily, but Piccirillo unfurls the story in a satisfying way.
The issue includes a poetry portfolio selected by Martha
Rhodes. The Laurel Review selects poetry that employs
musical language and unexpected imagery. “One Mississippi,” from
Ida Stewart, makes use of both of these techniques, propelling
the reader along with definite momentum. Among the many
standouts are Robert A. Ayres’s “Shot,” a poem that explores the
artist’s perception and responsibility. Daniel Tobin’s
“Intruders” employs beautiful, potent imagery to depict
something we might consider ugly: rodents.
Volume 47 Number 3
Review by Dan Moreau
You know you’re in store for quality fiction and poetry when you pick up a copy of Michigan Quarterly Review. Jane Gillette’s wonderful story “Divine Afflatus” combines two seemingly disparate narratives – one featuring a poetry professor who continues to mourn the loss of his son, and a modern-day housewife who has too much time on her hands. The two narratives merge in a climactic moment for both characters. Equally good was John Allman’s story, “Waiting for Z,” in which the protagonist waits for his wife to come back from a whirlwind trip around the world. Both stories are exemplars of realistic narrative fiction at its best.
Among the poetry, I liked Gary Soto’s “Deciding to Steal” where the speaker, a young boy, steals an eraser head from a stationery store. The poem is full of religious imagery: “The eraser head / Resembled not an infidel’s turban, / But a tiny pope’s hat.” Soto’s enigmatic yet eerie “True Story” features an encounter between a lugubrious speaker and a VW Beetle with a dog in the passenger seat.
From essays to book reviews and interviews, MQR
publishes a lot of non-fiction as well. Featured are a lengthy
round table discussion with Sandra Cisneros and an interview
with Arthur Miller. In an essay titled “On Literary Culture and
Civilisation: Autopsy for a Creative Writing Workshop,” Charles
Johnson talks about some of the challenges of teaching an
undergraduate creative writing workshop. Anyone who has taught
an undergraduate workshop will not be surprised to hear that
most the stories submitted to Johnson’s class were “steeped in
violence, drugs, cynicism, and, I noticed, a profound dislike
for other human beings.”
Volume 49 Number 4
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The Midwest Quarterly (“a journal of contemporary thought”) is an unpretentious academic review that also includes a selection of poetry. This issue’s articles are scholarly, but quite readable, not overly burdened with jargon or theoretical constructs that try one’s patience, as so much overly formal academic writing tends to do.
Subject matter in the Summer 2008 issue includes a history of accounts that describe the alleged conflicts between science and religion; an examination of women characters in conflict in the writing of Toni Morrison; an examination of Twain’s narrative process in his well-known story, “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County;” a consideration of landscape in the work of Black Mountain poet, Edward Dorn; and a reading of the meaning of failure in the work of Richard Hugo. This last piece is particularly pleasing, an essay by Michael Dobberstein of Purdue University Calumet which examines Hugo’s “honesty” and poetry of “despair.” A fan of Hugo’s, I appreciated Dobberstein’s reading, as well as his selection of examples. Dobberstein appears to know Hugo’s work quite well, and his remarks do what literary criticism should, but often does not, illuminate an aspect of the writer’s work often misjudged, misunderstood, or simply ignored.
The poetry in this issue is a portfolio of work by William
Sheldon of Kansas. A dozen poems where speaker and environment
merge in a small, but vivid moment of precision and clarity
(“noses clutching wood smoke, / like incense, / to our sacred
hearts.”). Four book reviews of very different kinds of books
(poetry, a writing manual, and social critique) round out the
Volume 1 Number 3
Reviewed by Josh Maday
Two of the most frequent complaints about the state of contemporary literature are the woeful lack of readers and the abysmal quality of writing available for the oh-so-few readers who are out there. Obviously, these two generalizations are just that, and literary magazines like New York Tyrant serve as a counterpoint to the creeping edge of Literary Apocalypse. This, the third issue, is now sold out. People are reading. And the quality and range of the writing is staggering.
Opening is Gary Lutz’s story “In Kind,” sparking readers’ brains with his potent and unusual language that has its own energy. Here is the opening:
To hear me tell it, I had been a browless child in shoes with an expressive swoop to the lacing, and I came out of college about the time the profs were just starting to get eerie about grades, and after graduation I walked out warringly into society for a while.
This was in a town without much in the way of vicinity – just groupings of confusable buildings and fields we were expected to treat as parks.
I had no friends, just timid emergency contacts.
Following the story is Michael Kimball’s interview with Lutz. Kimball has a gift for drawing fascinating insight from writers, and here we get a tour through Lutz’s creative process, the way words and images spring up, get snipped, and ferment to produce Lutz’s special blend of language, image, and rhythm.
The first line of Eric Hanson’s story entitled “Candyland” begins with innocence: “She was four, maybe five years old.” And that is where the innocence ends in this truly scary tale of a little girl’s cab ride that will change her life and certainly the life of her driver: “She decided she had three ways of getting out. The gas range. The revolver. Or a cab, if the goddamn phone wasn’t dead. She decided to smoke the second cigarette.”
Christopher Kennedy’s excerpt from The Ennui Prophet offers a glimpse into the mind of a grandiose poet of cynicism:
At dawn, the birds make inadequate attempts at song. I open my window and offer a critique. A starling dives at my head. No one likes to hear the truth shouted from a window at six in the morning, but I go about my business, knowing I’m correct, unafraid to face the day. By noon all my windows are dark with birds.
The stories themselves are wildly different in content: from
Rachel Sherman’s piece entitled “Last Will,” a young woman’s raw
emotional list bequeathing her possessions, her remains, and her
final words and parting shots, to Michael Kimball’s brilliant
series of suicide notes excerpted from his new novel entitled
Dear Everybody, to Eugene Martin’s excerpt from
the World, about a man surviving in the underworld of
state bureaucracy where details are everything and nothing.
However different the styles may be, the common thread
throughout the issue is the writing itself. The life and
movement of language is as important as character or plot,
giving each piece an energy that perfectly complements the
content. Although this issue is sold out and may be tough to get
a hold of (but well worth trying to do so), issue 4 is now
available. A subscription is the wisest investment. Long live
the Tyrant, indeed.
Volume 13 Number 2
Review by Rachel King
At one point in Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road, the main character laments how he’s forgetting things’ names: “Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true.” The work in this issue of Salamander reacts against this amnesia, knowing that loss in specifics results in loss of meaning. As Jennifer Barber, the editor, says, “[These pieces] restore the essential questions about what we live through, what we imagine, and what we tell, answering Rilke’s call to ‘Speak and bear witness.’” Through Salamander’s focus on life’s details, it does just that.
For example, in “Sin Verguenza,” C.D. Collins gives excellent descriptions of a canning plant, the workplace of the narrator. How many people have actually been inside the place much of our food comes from? Not many, but passages like the following make the reader feel like he’s at least visited: “We screw earplugs in against the noise of cans clattering their wire chutes, the huff of seamers, the rumble of the graders shaking the fruit forward into the flumes, the hum of the belts, and people trying to yell over top of all that. Some people wear whistles.” Or take Michelle Gillett’s “Persephone at Home” which humorously relates Persephone’s return home after her time in Hades: “Demeter on the verge of tears / stirs the copper pot of polenta. / Zeus numb with daughters, / snips the end of cigars, / places them in the humidor.” Besides the vivid details, this poem proves that, yes, more legitimate pieces actually can be written based on Persephone. Poetry continues to make the old new.
My favorite poems in this issue were two from the early 1940s by William Stafford: “Stranger” and “Like Whitman,” the former which wonderfully captures a misplaced person’s thoughts in its conclusion: “Strangers walked; / My hat felt alone; / everyone stood; / No one was to blame. / And only the wind ever said my name. / And the town I felt to be stone.”
A couple critical essays conclude the issue, one – Emily
Taylor Merriman’s “Mind the Gap” – which made me aware of a few
important poets as well as differences between modern and
postmodern British and American poetry. All in all, this issue
of Salamander fulfills its mission, and I am glad, for to
“speak and bear witness” is as necessary as breathing, though
more artful and not quite as automatic.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“Imagination has a heavy appetite / for destruction. Whose
red weather / gathers names, makes do / with the least momentous
stuff.” Ashley McWater’s poem, “Defending,” sums up Spinning
Jenny’s editorial vision: imagination as destruction in the
sense of destroying expectations, shattering tired patterns,
un-doing traditional formulas, un-making the routine and
predictable, and creating something new. Like Joyelle
McSweeney’s “translations” of the Aeneid Book II. Like
Adam Golaski’s “On Beaujolais Nouveau Day,” which, if you’ve
ever had a newly minted bottle of the stuff, you’ll know is
written from authentic experience. Like the bite-sized poems of
Gillian Parrish, so briefly devastating (“The pigeon I carry
between my lungs / Pearl welter, my winter yard. / And cupboards
unclosed. / We wait and wait.”). Like excerpts from Tina Cane’s
“The Fifth Thought,” which made me want very much to know about
the first four. Like Suzanne Fischer’s spare lyricism (“where
did the sun go in your mouth?”). Like Stephanie Anderson’s
surreal sleeplessness in “Letter from Insomniacs.” Like Wayne
Hogan’s odd and oddly satisfying black and white drawings, which
I can’t seem to stop looking at with their bold, familiar
objects in unfamiliar poses. Less inventive, no less affecting,
is new work from Henry Israeli. He may not destroy old notions
of what poetry could or should be, but he’ll break your heart
Volume 1 Number 1
Review by Micah Zevin
Superstition Review is not just another journal of interviews, art, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. This creation is a unique collaboration between an all-star team of professional writers/professors and the Arizona State University student community of writers. In this first issue, although there is gluttony of writing selections for you choose from (mostly from professors), you are not left bored, fatigued or searching for your lucky rabbits foot to take you into uncharted and more creative territories in whatever genre you choose to read from first.
In Jim Daniels’s short story “Single Room,” in a dorm, Jenny is left wondering why Jason is in her room when she last remembered that he had been sleeping with Kate from across the hall:
Two years ago, when they were sophomores, Jason had been sleeping with Kate, who lived across the hall. Early one morning, Jenny dashed out of the communal bathroom in her bra and panties. It was usually safe that early, but as she neared her room, Kate's door opened, and out stumbled Jason. Little Kate with the big boobs and shit for brains who stole Jenny's hairdryer and could not be trusted. There was no turning back. Jenny quickly squeezed by him into her room, burning under his blatant stare.
This story is an homage and genuine portrayal of the college dorm life that will charm you into reading further because it will remind some readers of their own experiences as an undergrad and the seemingly rapid pace at which things happened.
Sara Bailey’s nonfiction piece, “Ennis, Texas,” addresses the history and the memory of her grandfather, along with many of his siblings and relatives whom she never met. This story relates to a generational frustration of grandchildren and nieces and nephews everywhere that never met, knew or were told about their closest relations due to long standing family feuds never addressed, or at the very least, not explained to them. Also, this narrative shows us as readers and as humans how we often have little to go on when learning about our own histories.
In “Fear of Shadow Puppets” by Rigoberto Gonzalez, callousness of being born into this world is explored as if bastard children or children that did not survive birth or much thereafter were ghosts always remembered, or if they barely survived, how it could explain their mean demeanor:
Charcoaled homunculus that only his five-fingered mothers can tame
by closing the socket to conceal his famine’s glare. Still he hungers
for texture and seeks out the meat of depth, the elusive third
dimension denied him the moment he crawled into life, bastard
child of flesh and light. No wonder he’s cruel, finding kinship
with the knuckle of rock, mimicking mono-stings vulgar as black flower
This poem is so rich in imagery that you feel each word as if it were flesh.
If you continue to read this journal, not only may you be
stung by a bee, get seven years bad luck and need to carry a
lucky rabbit’s foot with you everywhere, you will also become a
ravenous reader of their detailed, specific and singularly rich
writing that reels you into their varied worlds. You may be like
the demented worm, sticking yourself on the hook so that you may
be surrounded by all the words these pieces have to offer.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Versal Six is published by wordsinhere in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and features poetry and prose written originally in English, as well as work translated into English from a variety of languages, and artwork, including reproductions of drawings, photographs, and paintings, as well as sculpture and ceramics. The journal is handsomely designed and produced – the quality of the paper and printing is exceptional. This issue includes work by writers from the Netherlands, the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, Morocco, Australia, Romania, Wales, England, Germany, China, South Africa, and the Czech Republic. It is worth noting that many of the writers who appear in Versal Six have extensive international experience, having studied and worked in as many as a half dozen different countries.
While the magazine features the work of writers of vastly different backgrounds who have lived virtually all over the world, their work has much in common, a kind of edgy novelty. By and large, this is work that strives and succeeds in being original, provocative, unusual, and attention-grabbing. A quick survey of first lines will demonstrate what I mean: “Last week Lela buried rubber baby dolls in the ground: now everywhere she looks, children are stuck in trees,” from Jenny Arnold’s short story “Whose Peasants are the Angels?”; “mother femme fatale pulled from the mud father weeds grow everywhere / brought the spirit from mothermother butterfly of tales” from, “Family Tree,” by Rozalie Hirs (translated from the Dutch by Ko Kooman); “Poppy was filthy and Gaston was famished,” from the short story by Tom Bass, “Poppy and Gaston”; and “thousand white lines in / a hundred time. Proof there / never were no echoes there,” from Ben Doller’s poem “An Ex. For X A.”
Several pieces, happily, defy categorization, such as Wiliam
Doresky’s “Nothing to Confess,” which is listed in the table of
contents as a poem, but might as easily be considered flash
fiction. In her opening note (“An Alder, What Widens”), editor
Megan Garr’s editor must connect with an aesthetic “wider than
our own,” which is truly what Versal Six accomplishes for
readers, as well.
Volume 2 Issue 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“Our goal is to add a new voice to the increasingly sprawling network of artists and writers in the interior American West and beyond, wrap it up in mountain culture, and do it even though it doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons,” explains editor Brian Schott in this journal from Montana. One of the journal’s most appealing aspects for readers, and most useful for writers, is to publish excerpts of forthcoming and unpublished full-length works: passages from a new book of creative nonfiction by writer and filmmaker Annick Smith, Crossing the Plains with Bruno; excerpts from a new work of nonfiction, Why I Came West, by Rick Bass, whose work here is preceded by a brief interview; and a segment from an unpublished novel by J.R. Satterfield Jr. titled Soon You Will Cry. I am looking forward especially to Smith’s book on Bruno, her Labrador retriever, and also to Why I Came West. Bass is at his best, I think, when he brings together his considerable talent for storytelling with his keen observations of place and the social conditions that inform it.
This issue also features a non-literary voice, an interview with “one of the world’s premier professional kayakers,” Brad Ludden, followed by an extraordinary photo of Ludden in action by Trask McFarland. In fact, this issue of Whitefish Review includes 12 reproductions of artworks, all quite exquisite: a stark and gorgeous black and white photograph of damaged trees called “The Remnant” by Tyler Call; a marvelous color photograph of birds perched in a stain glass window titled “East Window” by Christopher Woods; a photo of an Exxon sign (really!) that is ominous and luminous for all its gloomy light by Ian S. Griffiths, with an absolutely perfect title, “Optimism”; a lovely watercolor portrait, “Mary Beth,” by Florance O’Neal, among others. Artworks are followed by a brief statement from the artist, writing I found to be as engaging and worthwhile as this issue’s “creative” writing. The art and accompanying statements are some of the best I’ve seen recently in literary journals.
The issue also includes a poem and a short story by the
winners of a high school writing contest sponsored by the
Authors of Flathead, and a quiet, lovely poem by Catherine A.
Still, “Find a Crack in the Earth” (“Watch the furious mantle /
of assassination, of disappointment / fall from your shoulders.
/ Let your memory powder/this granite with dust.”).