Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted October 6, 2008
Abyss & Apex - Arsenic Lobster - The Colorado Review - Cutbank - The Deronda Review - Dirty Goat - Fulcrum - Hanging Loose - Juked - The Louisville Review - Monkey Bicycle - Ninth Letter - Paterson Literary Review - Upstreet
Review by Micah Zevin
In Abyss & Apex, the reader is transported to speculative worlds that have an air of the suspense thriller movie or the ideas prevalent in the science fiction genre. Whether it is short fiction, flash fiction, poetry or haiku (or as they call it, the “Short Form Set) you will encounter the mysterious, the strange and the unknown until your curiosity wears out or is satiated and must wait until the next issue.
In the short fiction piece, “The Number of Angels in Hell,” by Joanne Steinwachs, an Israeli state is imagined on a planet in outer space, as well as romance between a not-so-attractive Jewish woman and a convert to Judaism, a man, who both seem judged for their particular weaknesses or faults and are brought together:
She bought his contract, paid for his implants, then drove him into exhaustion teaching him how to fly and how to prospect for the minerals so desperately needed by the colony. Isaac, softer and kinder than Rachel would ever be, had helped him become a Jew. They both helped him grow up. Every night he expected Rachel to come into his bed and take what everyone else had taken. But she hadn't. And one day, six years later, he'd become the man she believed he could be. On that day, after flying through an ice storm, on a cold ledge top, she'd proposed. His Rachel, not a shred of romance. “So Harry, how about you marry me? We're a good team.”
This narrative takes a purely theoretical situation and creates a fascinating tale of the love between a pair of misfits just trying to survive.
In the flash fiction piece, “The Green Infinity” by Camille Alexa, a wife remembers her husband Gary before and as he transformed into the thing he was to become: “Back when it was still just quickly–spreading cancer they battled, no drug or therapy or voodoo spirit – prayer had helped. Gary had faced death with dignity and courage. It was Sharon who'd urged him to try experimental DNA recombinant chromosomal therapies.” In this story, it is as if the main character, man, has become the earth itself and returned from whence it came.
In the poem “Pavlov’s Best Friend” by Kristine Ong Muslim, one of Pavlov’s most famous experiments involving a dog is re-imagined and brought to life:
That bell again. The ringing earlier was a trick;
it was slightly off–key. This one was the real deal.
I knew that the sound of footsteps was next.
Then the same bland food. Feeding time was routine.
I did not want to salivate, but the Master was salivating
for me to salivate, and I should not disappoint him.
I never dreamed that these people would let me go
someday, but perhaps, if I were nice enough to do
what they expected me to do, then there was a chance out
of this kennel. The other dogs were saying the same thing:
salivate at the right pitch, please the semi–balding Master.
With this poem, Muslim manages to reverse perspectives successfully and with flair. Ingenuously, the dog’s voice is heard, and it thinks of its “master” much the same way Pavlov thinks about the dog and how it responds to external stimuli. And even though it is funny, it also manages by giving the dog human attributes to comment on the human condition.
Abyss & Apex is a journal that utilizes what may seem
like unconventional methods to obtain similar ends as other
literary journals; it uses the guise of the alien world and
science fiction constructs to convey messages about the human
condition in all its various forms. This makes it seem as if it
is taking us on a journey to foreign territory. While these
characters and situations are unusual with a dramatic nod to
suspense thrillers and sci-fi classic movies and novels, its
main objective is to transport its readers to the valleys
and ravines of thought, even sometimes to the edge. And we continue to read because we are fascinated and desire to
Review by Micah Zevin
The poetry published in the Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal is possibly the most eccentric and intriguing mix of poetic styles ever mingled together in a chemical potluck of creative energy. A fascination with the life of certain creatures and their metaphoric or allegoric relationship to humanity is often at the center of these poetic pieces, as well as some poems that speak specifically or obliquely to the not-so-friendly and explosive reactions that have or can cause the death of millions in this country.
“Anthologies” by Ray Succre is an absurd poem about the main character (human, I believe) who suffers from the experience of being served as if the main course for dinner. “That I am with certain smarts is smartly a dove / to the foxtooth, for I now see myself between / covers, in sauces.” This poem attempts to play the mythological elements in reverse, the main character becoming the meal when he was once the hunter of the meal. In Talia Reeds “Package Deal,” how we deal with the threat of terror is dealt with directly: “We are entering the era of the / car bomb. The nail bomb. The terror spectacular. // This agony hovers outside of our / ballroom. We cringe. We halt. We carry on.”
In the hilarious romp of “Potato Eyes” by Joshua Diamond, we the reader are rhymed and joked and punned to pure bliss:
And your eyes are trout – not trout but
salmon – pink like salmon and lemon grass stench.
And every time you scream I clench
the starchy meat unearthed by till
until they scald in handsome heat
and drown your eyes in liquid calm.
If you have ever heard a more beautifully rendered narrative of the boiling of a potato, my friends, I dare you to show the whites of its eyes between these electronic pages.
Furthermore, in “The Forgery of Heaven” by Carand Burnet, the journal shows its willingness to tackle serious topics head on under the guise of satire.
I know a woman who only
wants to be transparent
like the air
her chest throbs so it graphs
but she prefers it to pound
it reminds her of existence
at four in the morning
she is there for the people
that dial in too late
It seems to impart to the reader the physical pains that are a part of human existence as well as the blood that runs through our veins and allows us to breathe or not breathe.
The Arsenic Lobster, despite the fact that it
publishes poetry, is no one trick magician. It has many
multi-colored sashes and jack-in-the-boxes up its adventurous sleeves. It invites you into seemingly haphazard
metaphors and allegories about the human condition and makes
them appear both ridiculous and relevant until we cannot determine
which we’d rather do, laugh or cry.
Volume 35 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The Colorado Review is one of the most reliably satisfying journals I know, with an editorial vision that is eclectic and generous, but not haphazard – a solid, but never stodgy collection of mature work. Summer 2008 features four short stories (by Kristin Fitzpatrick, Dawna Kemper, Lon Otto, and Kirsten Valdez Quade), all of which “accent the complex spaces between parents and their children,” and one of which, Valdez Quade’s “Den Mother,” is the winner of the 2007-2008 AWP Intro Journals Project, selected by Kwame Dawes. All constitute fine, enjoyable reading. These are competent, traditional stories with characters readers can care about and identify with.
Poetry this issue is particularly strong. I am thrilled to see new work from Stephanie Strickland, Alice Notley, Bruce Beasley, and Eleni Sikelianos, all of whose writing is exciting for the challenges they pose, formally and linguistically, and for the inventiveness, linguistically and philosophically, they embrace. I was impressed, as well, by beautifully crafted translations from Rosa Alcalá of poems by Chilean poet Cecilia Vicuña; and wonderful work by poets I had not read or had not paid sufficient attention to previously, including Christina Mengert, Patrick Whitgrove, and Linh Dinh.
I was intrigued, somewhat happily confused, and am curious to learn more about poet Pattie McCarthy, whose excerpts from “Spaltklang: Is Good Broken Music” appear here. McCarthy’s work is a dense compilation of materials from a vast variety of “notes and sources” which form part of the rich, overlapping registers of her poetic discourse.
Two short nonfiction pieces, “Terra Cognita” by Robert Root
and “Being Margaret” by Margaret MacInnis, represent the best in
creative nonfiction, combining the intrigue and richness of good
fiction with personal revelations and observations. Root’s essay
about a hiking trip on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National
Park, Maine made me long to go again to Mount Desert Island,
despite the fact that I no longer care for hiking and am
typically bored by “nature writing.” This issue closes with
intelligently rendered reviews of ten books, including fiction
and poetry from commercial and independent presses.
Review by Dan Moreau
I’m not sure what CutBank means but I now know it’s synonymous with great fiction and poetry. A university-based journal, it manages to attract emerging and established writers with serious credentials. Some of its contributors have had work in Tin House and McSweeney’s, two of the best if not the most recognizable literary journals.
I was looking forward to reading the story “Near Lake Eerie” by Baird Harper, who was recently featured in Tin House’s New Voices section (quite the achievement for an up-and-coming writer). The story delves into the wide-eyed perspective of a young boy who’s way into Sci-Fi and believes a bar code has been tattooed on his head. In Shawn Vestal’s “The Merchandise,” a widowed and aging clothing store owner is confronted with the prospect of losing his livelihood – and the only reminder of his wife – his store. It ends with a series of “waking up” moments where the reader is left guessing whether what has transpired is figment or reality.
Beautifully written was Kate Lane’s “Spectacle of the
Missing,” which won the 2008 Montana Prize in Fiction. In it, a
boy becomes fascinated with a girl who has no tongue. He watches
her from afar as she sits by a lake. Its ending is both
terrifying and gripping. The best story was Teresa Milbrodt’s
“Seventeen Episodes in the Life of a Giant,” which manages to be
both, as the best fiction does, laugh-out-loud funny and
incredibly sad. The giant in question is an
eight-and-a-half-foot tall woman and the story chronicles her
attempts – many of them failed – to connect with those around
her. The story is an astute study in alienation and loneliness,
right down to the frozen pizzas she takes home at night to eat.
The fiction was extremely well crafted and well written.
Volume 1 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
A joint US-Israeli effort, The Deronda Review makes use of every available inch of its 8 ½ x 11 pages, covers included, presenting poems written originally in English and poems in English translated from Hebrew by more than 90 poets – as many as four or five poems per page. With this much work gathered in one slender volume, it’s reasonable to expect some unevenness in quality, which is the case here. At the same time, there are a number of lovely, serious, and memorable poems.
The journal typically favors the lyrical and spiritual, with a predilection for large themes rather than the small occasion, although the work published here does not rely exclusively on heightened language. Poems built on the language of everyday speech include work by Leonard Eskowitz (“How vulnerable our clients / in this modern government office. / Rent a P.O. Box to become suppliants / if they know little or no English.” from “Road Map”); Thilde Fox (“Every time / you annoy me / talk too loud / laugh when / I’m serious / hog the TV / then fall asleep” from “The Reckoning"); and Wm R. Ford (“I thought I saw Rose Larner / walking down the road / yet it was some other / a girl whose face showed a heavy load” from “Rose Larner").
I was most moved by poems of social commentary, of which
there are many, including Shira Twersky-Cassel’s “Chernobyl
Avenged,” “In Memory” by Yakov Azriel, and “Second-Generation
Survivors” by Rivkah Goldberg. This issue also contains many
beautiful poems about Israel, including work by Reuven ben-Yosef
and Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld. This particular issue is dedicated to
“gunned down in the library of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva.”
Review by Micah Zevin
The Dirty Goat is an international journal of visual art, poetry and prose that attempts to deliver a healthy bilingual tasting of literature from wide-ranging cultures and nations from the Ukraine to Iran. The pieces in this journal not only speak to the immigrant experience, as epitomized by the journal’s namesake, they also transport us to a place simultaneously otherworldly yet familiar, as if we were home, but it had been slightly altered from the photography of our memories.
In the visual art piece by Leonor Beuter, an Argentinean, “The Unequaled Ones. Their Unlikely Definition,” a striking photograph of a miniature world and its miniature creatures, often described like insects is themed after a poem by the poet Maria Rosa Lojo.
The poem “Last Letter to a Son” by Alexis Lykiard is an ode to the philosophical trials and tribulations of youth: “Loneliness may be relative, though every boy / rushing to certainty, becoming his own man, / instinctively retains an inkling of what’s lost. / It isn’t cynical to know the dreadful cost.” In this passage the main figure is transforming into what he will become, and all the regrets that come with it. In Bodhan-Ihor Antonych’s poem “A Song on The Indestructibility of Matter,” as translated from the Ukranian by Michael M. Naydan, another kind of transformative experience is depicted; this is the metamorphosis of the earth in relation to man and how what is destroyed seems temporary. “A green flood of plant life rivers rises / the endless clatter of hours, comets and leaves. / The flood envelops me, crushes me with the white sun, / and my body will become charcoal, my song will turn to ashes.” This poem highlights the evolution of the planet as things are created and destroyed again and again in the cycle of life.
In the poem “Childhood is a dress that doesn’t always fit” written and translated into English by Anabelle Despard, the author explores the notion of adults who relive or continue living their never-ending adolescence through their own children: “I wanted to make a garment for my child: / Sensible, yet intricately stitched” // Our children wait to be fed, while we / sit nursing our own childhoods.
When we are introduced to the poet Pooran Kaveh of Iran as translated from the Farsi by Afshin Hafzi and Angela Merta, we meet the minimal world of a kind of sage like poetry that attempts to lead its followers on a journey of identity discovery and perhaps even redemption. In “Stranger,” Kaveh discusses the difficulties of the immigrant experience. “I remember your name / But this is not you / It is a ridiculous immigrant in a tarnished mirror.”
So if you can’t voyage to distant and faraway continents, at
least immerse yourself in their beautifully translated phrases,
words and images until you see a bit of yourself in their
experiences and ideals, and poof! Your eyes will open and by
magic you will be where they are. Not to be corny, but all
existence has a universal appeal that should draw people of all
races and cultures together in their delightful fascination that
they, like you, will continue to read what The Dirty Goat
has to offer.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“It’s very difficult to say peace is an ideal unless you go on to define an ideal as something you can’t possibly have, but can’t possibly help wanting to have. That’d be another way to look at an ideal. And both cases can’t possibly mind you, can’t possibly have, but can’t possibly help wanting to have.” One of this year’s “Fulcrum Features” is a set of 16 essays on “Samuel Beckett as Poet,” so you might think this excerpt is related to Beckett or to one of his contemporaries, in sensibility, if not style. But you’d be wrong! It’s from another Fulcrum Feature altogether, “Robert Frost: Three Unpublished Talks.”
And if you think this is an incongruous offering in the same volume, Beckett and Frost, you’d be wrong again. They work together wonderfully in Fulcrum, an overwhelming and splendid 700+ page annual that defies categorization, offers readers texts and perspectives they won’t find elsewhere (focusing on Beckett’s poetic works; unpublished lectures Frost presented at Dartmouth), gives poets the space to debate big ideas (John Kinsella and Rosanna Warren the politics of place and the place of politics), and presents the work of nearly 100 poets, in addition to its “Features.” This issue, the Beckett and Frost features are joined, as well, by “Poetry & Myth,” 11 essays interspersed with many marvelous new poems with mythical themes and concerns.
The sheer size and reach of this tome would mean little, of course, if the work weren’t equally grand and unexpected. The range of modes, styles, tones, voices, and subjects in the poetry is impressive, but what they have in common, however distinct they are in other ways, is a kind of confidence. There are no tentative, wispy, sentimental pieces here. This work is solid, serious, grounded – from Joe Green’s unadorned, plainspoken work, “I beat up the Gamashay twins. / It was back in 61.” (from “The Iliad of Joe Green”) to the more lyrical and mystical excerpts from the long poem “An Aif Baa” by Pierre Joris, “preamble to an alphabet // letter arose / says Abu al-Abbas Ahmed al-Bhuni / letters arose / from the light of the pen / inscribed on the Grand Destiny / on the Sacred Table”), to the playful, but by no means frivolous verse of Larissa Shmailo (“I want to know / what makes you / tick…which ion propels you / which soothsayer spells you / which folksinger trills you / which hardwood distills you). The integration of essays and poetry treating mythical themes is cleverly orchestrated. A brief essay by Geraldine Monk, “Guilty Myths,” is followed by two of her poems, an appealing presentation.
I would be remiss if I did not find the space here, too, to mention, at least briefly, the art, which includes photographs of New York by Matt Weber, “glass images” by Katherine Jackson, drawings of Samuel Beckett by Avigdor Arirkha, and photographs related to his poems by John Kinsella. This is consistently strong and engaging work, in particular, Weber’s surprising images of New York. (I didn’t know it was still possible to find anything surprising in New York!)
You’ll only have to skip your
tall-decaf-extra-shot-latté for a few days to be able to afford
the issue ($17.00), and it will give you a jolt of pleasure and
inspiration far greater than any drink you’ll find at Starbucks.
I think it will take me most of the year to get through Number
Six, but I am already anticipating Number Seven.
Reviewed by Rachel King
Hanging Loose, the press which gave Sherman Alexie his start as a poet, opens this volume with two of Alexie’s poems. Alexie, as usual, is simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious. Quoting a section won’t give him justice. Read these poems, cry (from sadness and laughter), and know that Alexie still recognizes, despite his fame, that good poetry demands attention and vulnerability to the world.
This issue contains mainly poetry, with a couple pieces of fiction and flash fiction. I thought Helen Elaine Lee’s prose poem, “Life Without,” extremely compelling, for she makes the reader pity prisoners without relying on false sentimentality. Through Lee’s descriptions, “the prison population” becomes individuals with quirks and faults, people who’ve loved and lost just like the reader. “Trying to anneal their hearts for battle and for waiting, stuck in their mistakes, their crimes, their numb regret, they try to be more than their worst things. They cry for the world that has forgotten them. They cry for their sons and daughters, for their kinfolk, all. They cry for themselves.”
Steven Schrader’s five flash fiction pieces demonstrate stories can, sometimes, effectively convey young love, generational conflicts, or unfilled dreams in a page or two. And on its fortieth anniversary, Hilton Obenzinger tells the story of the “Columbia Revolt” in detail, from the perspective of a student.
Unique to Hanging Loose is a section by high-school-age writers. Of particular note in this issue is Mariah Coley’s
poems, “Pond” and “Letters to Abe from Home.” The former
expresses yearning for the natural: “In September I’d lie in the
shade by the water, / pond-wet hair spread over the ground /
like the dark soft roots of old trees.” This section, along with
the entire magazine, demonstrates Hanging Loose’s sincere
interest in new and emerging writers.
Review by Josh Maday
While Juked is primarily on online literary journal, the editors call for longer submissions of fiction and cull through poetry subs and put together an annual print issue. This issue features the winners of the fiction (Marianne Villanueva) and poetry contests (James Belflower) as well as other selected work. Also included is Kelly Spitzer’s insightful interview with Claudia Smith regarding Smith’s literary struggles and successes.
Poetry finalist Shawn Fawson’s series of poems puts into words the pain and sadness of dealing with the slow loss of a mother to Alzheimer’s. In “Lines of Possible Fracture,” Fawson writes:
To find her, I make myself
a stranger, come to her like an open cage.
But nothing I try coaxes her inside.
Her life belongs to another story,
the one where rain shudders to snow
and covers every bend of the road
as if in search of something. What
does it matter now – she doesn’t feel
strange or cold. Why else does she
wander barefoot into the storm
if not to name what’s left of our
world before the next act of erasure?
A fiction contest finalist, Catherine Brown’s story entitled “Two Sisters” is the tragic story of two sisters who, although very different, meet the exact same fate at the same time. The story is told in fragments that could be pieces of their broken family put back together for one last telling, like a memorial photo collage pasted together for a funeral. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story is concentrated in the section about the 80th birthday party of the two sisters’ mother, Katie, who is in a home with Alzheimer’s.
There is no one left to host a party for Katie. The grandchildren bring balloons and flowers and bottles of sparkling apple cider to the nursing home, and put pink crepe paper streamers around the windows in the TV lounge, but nobody comes. The uncles and nephews don’t want to make another long drive so soon after the funeral, and the cousin who drove Katie’s twin sisters from Texas is not available. One of the aides has made her a chocolate cake, but Katie forgets again and again that it’s her birthday. She falls asleep that evening with dry crumbles of icing at the corners of her mouth.
Not all of the work in this issue is so deeply sad. Craig Snyder’s slipstream story about the near future entitled “Rise of the Mentards & Flower Boy” is dark and humorous. The main character, Flower Boy, lives in a future where “chemicals are invading the food and water” and “women are giving birth to Mentards.” But the fact that Seattle is overrun by Mentards also plagues Flower Boy. This would not be a problem if Flower Boy did not like to sit in the park and read novels as much as he did.
Some Mentards are writing novels. Flower Boy is startled by this. He realizes he has made a serious mistake. Two years ago he met some Mentards and tried to help them. He gave them some novels but the Mentards tore them up, and some Mentards tried to eat the novels . . . Now they are writing novels on notebook computers. Flower Boy thinks this is bad. He wonders what will happen next.
What happens next is “He buys one of the Mentard novels . . . He reads the Mentard novel. It is terrible. Flower Boy gets very upset.” Seeing all of the Mentards writing novels, Flower Boy “feels responsible” and yet he is seized with the urge to write a novel, too. Meanwhile, Flower Boy tries to find a way to correct his “serious mistake” before any more “terrible” novels are written and published.
This issue of Juked contains 32 total works of fiction
and poetry in a wide range of styles, plus an in-depth
interview. Readers of any aesthetic can pick up this magazine
and find more than a few pieces that will move them, and
hopefully work that will draw them from their comfort zone to
see and appreciate something new. The print issue is well worth
the cover price for both the quality and quantity of work, and
yet it is really an added bonus to the new writing
constantly being published on the online manifestation of
Review by Dan Moreau
Sorrow, loss and grief are recurring themes among the solid fiction in this issue of The Louisville Review. In Amy Tudor’s “Mourning Cloak,” a parent mourns the loss of a still-born child. Troy Ehlers’s “The Tide of Night” is a character study of a Vietnam Vet grappling with a traumatic past. Equally sad, Cate McGowan’s “How Can You Title Longing” skillfully weaves poetry and narrative as a shopper at a flea market finds an old book of poems. The story alternates between the present day and yesteryear scenes from the life of the poet.
The strongest of the lot was Benjamin Chambers’s “Falling” which describes longing and lust with a poetically visceral quality that hits you in the gut. The narrator, who alternates between the first and second person, catalogues his past lovers, one of whom dies in a car crash. The grief-stricken narrator writes, “This is how it is: the loneliness lives with you. Unpacks its suitcases. Sells off your belongings at a garage sale while you wait for likely candidates to present themselves. Sometimes the waitress will give you a direct glance. Or it’ll be a woman at work who wears stockings you like.”
If I had one critique of The Louisville Review, it is
that the poetry, fiction and nonfiction are published in
uninterrupted blocks, so that the first 50 pages are comprised
of verse, the next 50 by fiction and so on. The problem with
such an approach is that it isn’t very browser friendly. I
prefer it when journals mix it up so that the reader can
discover a poem or story he or she might have normally skipped
over. The Louisville Review also publishes plays, as well
as poetry and prose by children (K-12).
Review by Rob Duffer
This issue celebrates dirty funny, e.g. bathroom humor, disfigurement, internet porn, genitalia, an aborted fetus, sodomy jokes, piercing mishaps, unusual orgasms, Beckett and Whitman; in essence, something for everyone. If you’re not amused by your own gas then you probably won’t laugh at some of these stories. Then again, you may not get what language we speak here on Earth. Guest-editor Eric Spitznagel distinguishes between run-of-the-bowl boring poo jokes and true poo humor: those that float or sink on their literary merit. Ahem.
The best stories transcend the perverted and the absurd with compelling storytelling. Aaron Burch’s “The Pain of Humiliation” is not merely about a hemorrhoid but about the social etiquette between couples when a hemorrhoid is the source of discomfort. To disclose or to lie? An age-old problem. My favorite, Peter Bognami’s “The Last Grapple,” concerns identical twin brothers who must wrestle one more time for their mutual love. But the good wrestling brother already has the girl and the narrator, the poor wrestler who sings the body electric, has been “concussed” one too many times. There’s some real brotherly moments there. Katie Schwartz, on the other hand, introduces us to Pippa, her aborted fetus, with whom she has maintained an amicable relationship: “We’re proud of the choice we made. Pippa wanted the street cred of an aborted fetus.” Matt Craig drops us in on the eve of the revolution, when Che and Fidel conspiratorially wax fecal over Che’s corn-laden stool.
Most of the thirty stories are three or four pages and the
“parties responsible” (i.e. contributors notes) are collectively
briefer and more laugh-out-loud funny. They’re just having good
Volume 5 Issue 1
Review by Rav Grewal-Kök
Ninth Letter is a stunning production. Its editors incorporate a full range of visual elements, including photographs, graphics, drawings, and color with (and within) the texts they’ve selected. The results are often singular works of art.
Ron Carlson’s “My America,” the monologue of a speaker overwhelmed by a society of whitened teeth, terror alerts, plasma televisions, and poker tournaments, comes on a fold-out insert in oversized, uppercase, gold typeface. Although it’s identified as nonfiction in the table of contents, in this format the piece becomes something else: a howl against excess, and a prayer for rest. In Tom Whalen’s “The Children Beneath My Window,” the geometric forms that line the margins become increasingly fractured and colorless as the story progresses, to match the narrator’s rupturing consciousness.
Two of the remaining prose selections merit particular note. Steve Tomasula’s “Dark Ages 2” looks to the medieval period as not such a distant mirror of the present. Tomasula writes of tortures, plagues, and floods, of a president who speaks in tongues, and of friends who hoarded gold and ammunition as Y2K approached, in a story framed by unsettling black-and-white photographs. Dave King’s stirring essay on the significance of stasis and catastrophe in narrative moves from the imaginary (a writing exercise about the meeting between a horse and a bear) to the real (Vietnam and 9/11) with sensitivity and insight.
There’s also a rich selection of poetry. Francine J. Harris laments her stricken mother, whose cancer “grew the bones / like young melons coming up under the soil.” Twilight Greenaway dedicates “Extrajudicial” to Bisher Al-Rawi, a British citizen and prisoner of the “War on Terror,” who was eventually released without charge from Guantánamo. Greenaway imagines that the most difficult condition of normal life, after “four silent years” in an “always-lit room,” is not the company of others, but darkness: “The inky blue dusks and dawns, the gathering / wedges that deepen in doorways. / Even the midday shade in the house / when a cloud passes over, / the man who carries on beneath.”
In reading Ninth Letter, I learned a great deal about
the conditions of our lives. I don’t think I could expect more
from a literary journal.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
In a brief introductory note, editor Maria Mazziotti Gillan reveals that the journal receives 10,000 submissions annually. I wish there were as many people regularly reading and subscribing to these sorts of reviews as there are submitting to them! We are lucky that dedicated editors like Mazziotti Gillan are willing to do the challenging work year in and year out to keep journals like the Paterson Literary Review alive. Selected recently by Library Journal as one of the ten best literary magazines in the country, the review continues to offer readers the best of well-known writers and those “whose work is so fine it should be better known” – a much more apt and respectful phrase than “emerging” or any of the other terms used to define writers whose reputations are not as impressive as their work.
This issue includes a special section by visual artist and poet, Al Tacconeli, who has donated much of his private art collection to the Passaic County Community College which publishes the journal. His poems and Matisse-like cut-out drawings are similar in style to each other, the reader/spectator wants to stand back from them and give their deceptively simple edges a chance to sink in (“Disgusted with loneliness, he fled / the crowded, noisy bar / drove down First”). Tacconelli is followed by an impressive line-up: poems by more than 60 poets, a combination of really big names whose appearance in the same Table of Contents seems striking in and of itself (Diane di Prima, Marge Piercy, Vivian Shipley, Hilda Raz, Louis Jenkins, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, A.D. Winans, Charles Harpher Webb, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Gary Fincke, Jim Daniels), and “the deserve to be better known” (Daniela Gioseffi, Leigh Philiips, Christine Gelineau); eight prose pieces; a short portfolio of flash fiction by Francine Witte; two essays; the 2006 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards winners, honorable mentions, and editors’ choice selections, which include the work of more than 40 poets; and several reviews.
While the subject matter treated in this
enormous variety of work is certainly vast, inclusive, and
unconstrained, the journal has a clear editorial predilection
for both poetry and prose that favor the language of the
quotidian. This is not to say that the sentiments and ideas
expressed are without depth or deep consequence, as Hilda Raz
concludes in “Vocation”: “you should write a book some day, /
shouldn’t you write a book, shouldn’t everyone / who has met
death in the window and put him off / write a book?”
Review by Dan Moreau
Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines “upstreet” as “toward the higher part of a street; as to walk upstreet.” That’s a fitting definition for this up-and-coming journal with a sleek, minimalist design. Coming in at over 230 pages, this issue of Upstreet is jam-packed with quality fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and an interview with Michael Martone.
Among the fiction, what stood out for me was John Abbott’s “The King” which is written with crystal clear concision. The story enters the perspective of a young boy dressed as Elvis for Halloween. The story’s ending resists easy interpretation and keeps the reader guessing. Molly Ritvo’s short short “April 4, 1968,” describes the day Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated with eerie and foreboding elegance.
The photograph accompanying the interview with Michael
Martone depicts the author holding a white keyboard like a
musical instrument. He had a lot of interesting things to say
regarding MFA programs; namely that they teach people not
necessarily how to become better writers but how to be critics.
He also says that MFA programs can take a lot of the joy out of
writing so that when people come out of the program they feel
like failures. Many of his points are illustrated in the
fascinating nonfiction piece “Hermes Goes to College” which was
delivered at a recent AWP conference for a panel on “Bending
Genre.” “What we don’t worry well enough,” he writes, “is the
category of category, the genre of genre.”