Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted November 20, 2008
Barrelhouse - The Bloomsbury Review - The Burnside Review - College Literature - Dogplotz - Ducts - Event - Fourth Genre - The Iowa Review - Lumina - The Malahat Review - Poetry - The Prague Revue - Rock & Sling - Shenandoah - Tin House - TriQuarterly
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The “pop flotsam” and “cultural jetsam” captured between the covers of Barrelhouse offers the best of both worlds. The material is literary and meaningful while simultaneously maintaining broad appeal. The “Barrelhouse Editorial Squadron” consists of self-proclaimed “misfits,” and they have found a number of beautiful red-haired stepchildren for this issue.
The nonfiction essays concern the vulgar; the writers make them divine. Patrick Brown’s disturbingly deep and entertaining examination of The Hills is thoughtful enough to engage those who have not seen the show. Brown isolates the reason shows like The Hills are able to capture so much attention: “If the show is scripted, the writers are either geniuses or completely incompetent.” Heather Kirn’s essay charts the rise and fall of MTV and its many lamentable changes. The sad truth is that the first MTV generation now looks on the world and the network through “ever-wrinkling, nearly thirty-something eyes like windows on a lost age.”
Jay Wexler’s story, “The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice,” follows a Supreme Court Justice during his vacation in Wyoming. Wexler succeeds in two difficult tasks: humanizing a member of the land’s highest court and earning laughs and empathy on the same page.
Another unusual occupation is represented in Eric Roe’s “Security.” The first-person narrator’s girlfriend is a telephone psychic who fibs her way through tarot readings with cards depicting the members of the Rat Pack. The narrator accidentally takes some of his girlfriend’s calls and finds himself working through his own problems at the same time.
A minor gripe: Some of the pop culture references were
misspelled throughout the issue, including “Snoop Dog[g]” and
“Lynn[e] Cheney.” This is a most forgivable offense,
particularly in an eclectic journal that earns so much good will
with its content.
Volume 28 Issue 4
Review by Rachel King
The theme for this issue of The Bloomsbury Review is “Writing the Land,” and its book reviews primarily dwell on nature or regional writers across the United States. The lead review describes two Wallace Stegner biographies – Wallace Stegner and the American West and Wallace Stegner’s Salt Lake City – as well as The Collected Letters of William Stegner. Reviewer Tom Wylie compares Stegner’s work to that of Twain, Faulkner, and Steinbeck, and calls him “one of our great American writers.” Wylie blends Stegner’s biography with the review of these new books, resulting in a survey of Stegner both as a man and as a writer.
Other notable book reviews include Kathleen Cain’s review of Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers, Virginia Allen’s review of Happy Trails to You by Julie Hecht, Ray Gonsalez’s review of What Love Comes To by Ruth Stone, and Bryan Stoke II’s review of Memory’s Keep by James Everett Kibler.
Stephen Trimble and Tom Rain Crowe are both interviewed in this issue. Trimble discusses his new book, Bargaining for Eden: The Fight for the Last Open Spaces in a America as well as his earlier books, The Geography of Childhood and Testimony. Crowe’s poetry and memoir spans many different regions, and even countries – a feat incomprehensible to many writers of the land.
Besides the interviews and excellent reviews of adult books,
this issue contains a full page of children and young adult book
reviews. Through clear, engaging prose, The Bloomsbury Review
details new books, comments on their aesthetic value, and gives
compelling reasons why a reader may or may not enjoy them.
Volume 4 Number 1
Review by Rachel King
The Burnside Review’s CD-case size fits snugly in my purse, a place from where I’ve pulled and read it the last couple weeks, despite the fact the issue is all about LA, and I’m a snobby Portlander. Sid Miller, Burnside Review’s editor, acknowledges the Portlander’s aversion to LA, then shows it’s unfounded – at least literary-wise – by including excellent LA writers and writing.
I liked a number of poems, including David Harris-Gershon’s funny and pathetic “Job’s Confession Before Committing Suicide,” C. Davidson’s succinct and insightful “Here,” and William Archila’s “Nicaragua in Black & White,” a child’s perspective on a political upheaval, which ends “I only want to be a boy / and not the men buried in the land.” I also enjoyed Julia Y’s comic strip, “Palms,” at the issue’s center, which makes fun of Californians who don’t want to rid themselves of their palm trees, despite the fact these trees are both foreign to the region and have deleterious effects.
Sid Miller talks with Wanda Coleman, the only interview in
this issue. At the end of their discussion, he asks her where
she would suggest a writer visit in LA. Her response is a
mini-guide to literary LA, which readers will find interesting,
especially if they’re ever around that area. It also set me
thinking: where would I tell the literary crowd to go if they
were visiting Portland? I guess I have some research to do.
Volume 35 Number 3
Review by Kenneth Nichols
This issue of College Literature is devoted to essays that examine the intersection between law and literature. The essays make the case that the law often influences literature, but more importantly, that literature can effect change in the law.
Patrick Colm Hogan complicates the very basis of law with his paper, “Tragic Lives: On the Incompatibility of Law and Ethics.” After establishing the commonly held relationship between the two, he posits a “profound and irresolvable conflict” between them. Hogan chooses his works wisely, illustrating this conflict as represented in varied works, from the ancient Greek (Antigone, Eumenides) to the modern (Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film Decalogue).
Paula J. Reiter entwines her in-depth reading of the case of a real Victorian serial killer with a possible explanation of the popularity of the Sherlock Holmes tales. Reiter considers the trial of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream from the perspective of the Victorian concept of the professional, a person who is supposed to have insight unassailable by commoners. Sherlock Holmes, of course, is a master of uncommon insight.
Sometimes, a writer’s work can cause him problems. Lesley J. Higgins and Marie-Christine Leps demonstrate the way Oscar Wilde’s writing complicated his trials and “played a strategic role in the implementation of governmentality as the predominant, publically-sanctioned mode for exercising power relations in the United Kingdom at the turn of the last century.”
Theron Britt considers two Supreme Court rulings about school
desegregation. In Brown v. Board of Education, a black child was
looking for permission to enroll in a white school. In Parents
Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1, a
white child sought admission to a school, hindered by racial
quotas. Britt views these cases through an interesting lens:
that of the “literary conception of the individual.”
An Erratic Literary Montage
Review by Micah Zevin
Dogzplot is an amalgam of eclectic and varying styles of literary excellence publishing fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, artwork, opinion pieces, poetry and even photos (which are requested to be works that are not necessarily “good” or polished as polished can be, but works that will “blow our fucking minds”). When you read this journal, you will quickly realize that it is an energetic environment where the humorous and the serious artwork, writing and photography can coexist with the ironic, sardonic and satirical pieces that dominate this daring journal. And you may not know where the bones are buried in this unique universe, but rest assured you are one happy dog.
In the story “Dirty Laundromat” by Stephanie Johnson, we are brought face to face with a serious narrative entrenched in the negative relationship between a daughter, her father and mother and the vastly symbolic nature that the laundromat plays in their lives: “Cards, her mother says as if the daughter doesn’t know about the clean sheet quarters that thicken her father’s pockets. Who can count everything we’ve lost?” At this point in the story, a sense of tragedy and helplessness, like a tightened fist that has never been able to punch that which caused its pain, chastens our curiosity to plunge forward so that these memories of a most stark nature will be revealed.
In the antithesis to the first work discussed, the poem “Twenty-five Ways of Looking at Jeff Parker’s Balls,” we laugh before we even read the official first line, but that is not a bad thing: "Through an expedient Netflix subscription that delivers Emmanuelle. / Through a quiet canal in a willowy gondola (beneath a husky mustache). / Through the highs and lows of an amorous affair with a genie boom. / Through the smashed grain of a tortilla chip the plasmic salsa of renewal. / Through the frosty refrigerator of a limping blond florist." This poem is like the finest of guacamoles: it’s thick, simple to dip and scoop, and so delicious you can’t stop eating until it’s all gone.
In the smallest section labeled the “Advice Column,” a many part series of absurd aphorisms are numbered and delivered like the sharpest of comedic one-liners: “When someone shows you their baby, don't say, ‘Let's see how much of that widdle arm I can fit in my mouth and down my throat.’ You will get punched or arrested,” or “Putting a vacuum cleaner hose down your throat will not 'get the evil out of you.' It will just hurt and taste bad.” Although often crude, this “Advice Column” is useful, poignant and hilarious.
This satirical and Family Guy like piece is another
example of why Dogzplot will make you foam at the mouth
and chase the mailman. And when you calm down, you will gaze at
some beautiful and colorfully expressive artwork by the artist
Carol Radsprecher and dip your finger in the chocolate pot of
flash fiction that will leave you so dazed and confused you will
have return to the lopsided contents of this journal, get on the
teeter totter until you have found its candy center, and are so
satisfied that you will never leave.
Review by Micah Zevin
Ducts, a self-proclaimed “webzine of personal stories,” lives up to its hype in that the narratives that inhabit its confines smell of truth in one way or the other, especially when it comes to the lives and relationships of its central figures. Whether it is in essay, memoir, fiction, through the lens of its art gallery or in a poem, there is an emotional component that grips and excites.
In the essay “Hung Over in the Playground” by Susan Buttenwieser, a mother post childbirth with a hangover has an ominous premonition about the other parents at the playground who are exchanging phone numbers, emails and addresses. When they discover that she is a new mother, they attempt to dictate to her how to properly raise her child: “Once the Other Parents realized the mother of a newborn was in their midst, they pounced on me as if they were members of the People’s Temple, full of reincarnation fanaticism. I was overpowered by all the unsolicited, unwanted advice.” This essay is written like it a work of science fiction where the mother wakes up and it seems to her that she is in an alien world.
In a memoir piece “Map of a Small World” by Sharon Thomson, a young Catholic girl talks to her imaginary friend the angel she has named in grand imaginary friend fashion, Jonathan: “I knew he was my Guardian Angel. That meant he was assigned to me from the beginning. From the very beginning in the hospital room, Jonathan was beside me: tall and fair and golden-haired, white wings spread out as he looked down on me, his new assignment just being born.” Not only does this story expound upon the personal histories of its characters, it brings clarity to the spiritual and displaced sentiments that they grew up with as well.
In “Easter Lilies,” a fiction piece by Jacqueline Bishop, a daughter returns home for the Easter Holidays:
I had the dream that night. Something dark and heavy was coming towards me. It had a vague undefined shape, and it kept coming closer and closer, as if it was trying to cover me up. In the past, whereas this dream used to frighten me; it no longer did. It moved very slowly, this purple-blue thing that was now wrapping itself around me, dancing with me, filling me up.
This story takes the ‘personal’ narrative and ups the ante in terms of the mystery and beauty it adds with its descriptions that take you inside the mind of the narrator and main character, an elegiac journey that makes you dance and dream alongside her.
In “Symmetries” by Ernest Hilbert, alongside a cartoon-like image of a candle that when it burns it, burns the word love in cloud of smoke, the sonnet is given a modern and graceful interpretation while sticking to its ancient tenets: “The sudden bled juices of early May \ Add thrills to life. Such persuasive liquor, \ When dried on the wick, primes it to burn. \ Something tugs night up like a sheet from day.”
And like this brilliant and exciting passage, Ducts
diversity is its strength, so when you drink more from its
fountain of effervescence, there will be no paradox or dilemma
but a joy in knowing that there is more there just as intriguing
and wonderful even though one is quite unlike the other.
Volume 37 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
There is a lot of very inventive work in this issue that deserves attention, and I promise not to ignore or overlook it, but bear with me if I must begin with the understated – Aaron Giovannone’s perfect little prose poem:
The normal despair is there, even if I’ve forgotten it, embryonic, like the kiwi seed in my teeth. It was nice when the sun calmed our small talk and the quiet became reciprocal. Sunday’s clichés could renew themselves again, needing only that tensionlessness to bloom. The birth pangs of an apple I would split and peel in the midafternoon.
It’s the balance between our normal despair and the more particular and pronounced emotions that entice or torment us that helps Event stand out among literary journals. A quietly observed travelogue by Rachel Knudson, and gentle poems by Deirdre Dwyer and Anna Wärje appear alongside Darry Berger’s edgy story, “Death of a Dictator (My Iggly Education),” the rough and tumble energy of Brook Houglum’s poem, “Suite: Lemon,” and JonPaul Fiorentino’s “Elizabeth Conway: A Montreal Suite,” a sort of stream of consciousness construction which begins and halts here and there, to bring us back down to earth, or should I say Montreal: “Montreal is an idiot / in October as the slumlords / slur in the ruddy Plateau.”
For a slender little journal, Event manages to cover a
lot of territory – poems by 15 poets, 5 stories, which vary as
widely in approach, if not in structure, as the poetry, an
essay, and reviews of poetry and fiction. With one exception,
all of the writers are Canadian (the journal is produced at
Douglas College in British Columbia), many widely published by
Canadian presses. It’s enough to make you want to move north.
Volume 10 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“I was looking for hope. I was trying to find a durable kind of hope to direct myself toward in order to pull together that broken piece of my life,” says environmental activist and essayist William DeBuys in his interview with Fourth Genre editor Robert Root. I read, always, looking for that durable hope, and I suspect I am not alone, but I am not sure I have ever encountered a more concise or precise description of this yearning. DeBuys is equally astute and humble in efforts here to define the forms and meaning of his own work and of the larger task of documenting the natural world about which he writes.
Root’s interview with DeBuy’s is joined by 13 equally satisfying prose contributions (“Essays and Memoirs”), a captivating photo essay by Michael Coles, “Rumor from Monrovia,” and both full-length and capsule reviews. I have come to expect strong, confident writing, novel approaches to what might otherwise be ordinary or, at least, common concerns, and distinct voices from Fourth Genre, and this issue does not disappoint.
Bonnie Jo Campbell considers her mother’s death in the context of her addiction to smoking, examining the larger issue of what smoke and smoking looks and feels like in various places and circumstances. Priscilla Long explores the relationship, credibly (believe it or not!) between the common object of a bucket and the on-going war in Iraq. Sara Lippmann contributes one of the finest essays about life in a nursing home I’ve every encountered, sharply observed, unsentimental, and evocative, with details that remind us of what we already know and show how we can know them differently. Lisa VanAucken manages (believe it or not!) to make cockroaches interesting. Betty Ruddy links a family story with a life of reading in an appealing personal essay.
The photo essay by Michael Coles is beautifully composed,
both the striking, unforgettable black and white photos and his
prose. His photos might inspire pity, were they less artfully
imagined and less technically savvy. Instead, they inspire awe.
Reviews, for the most part, are intelligent and useful, often
very much like the work in the rest of the issue, a satisfying
balance between the personal and worldly, intimately felt and
broadly observed. If you don’t have time for more than a few
literary magazines these days, as you’re trying to keep up with
the political and financial news, don’t skip this one.
Volume 38 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The best way to describe this issue is rich – there is a simply a lot here to take in: a short play, a graphic short story/essay, a portfolio of poems by international poets (Writers in Residence in the writing program at Iowa), short fiction, poems, reviews, and several short prose pieces that might straddle the literary space between fiction and nonfiction (they are not labeled and might easily be construed as one or the other). Lyn Lifshin’s “April, Paris,” is representative, at least in terms of tone, of much of the work in this issue: “Nothing would be less shall we call it what it is, a cliché / than April in Paris. But this poem got started with some / thing I don’t think I could do but it reminded me of / Aprils and then three magazines came with Paris / on the cover.” The “message,” here too, is not a bad summary of the issue’s overall impact: things probably look more like April in Paris than they actually are, just keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
The international writing is exceptionally strong (poems and
short prose by Julia Hartwig, Kei Miller, James Norcliffe, Elena
Bossi, Ra Heeduk, Hana Andronikova, Alex Epstein, Penelope Todd,
Lindsay Simpson, and Tomaz Salumun). I also liked an essay about
an international literary experience (an international short
story festival) by John Taylor, a piece that is part travel
essay and part lit crit. I am seeing more and more of these
hybrid types of essays, which straddle genres, intellectual
approaches, and tones. Other highlights include Maggie
McKnight’s graphic essay/short story about the advantages and
disadvantages of “gay marriage,” which is cleverly conceived and
deceptively simply, and a wonderful story by Kirston Alio,
“Clothed, Female Figure.” Alio was recently named one of the
National Book Foundations’ “5 Under 35,” so I’m hoping we can
look forward to many years of great stories from her.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Under the direction of faculty members Matthea Harvey and Martha Rhodes, talented poets in their own right, students at Sarah Lawrence College produce this terrific journal, now in its seventh year. Current and former Sarah Lawrence teachers, undergraduate and MFA students (Gery Albarelli, Lucy Cottrell, Gillian Cummings, Kathy Curto, Todd Dillard, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Robert Perry Ivey, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, Stuart Spencer, Alexis Sullivan, Tricia Taaca, and Chris Wiley) are joined by an impressive group of poets, nonfiction and fiction writers, and photographers unaffiliated with the college, including Nick Carbó, Denise Duhamel, Eamon Grennan, and Paul Muldoon, among others. Nonfiction contest winner, Seth Raab, whose piece, “Heart Failures” was selected by Mark Singer, makes his first ever appearance in print here. His essay is tender, lovingly constructed, and expertly paced, so let’s hope this is the first of many successes.
The work, overall, is strong and appealing, with exceptionally fine contributions from memoirist Albarelli, poet Dorianne Laux, and poet/photographer Sayers Ellis, whose photo essay “The Black and White Cargo of ______.” is clear-eyed and poetic. In his brief, brilliant introduction, the photographer discusses how he conceives of focus and perspective, and concludes, “And when the door shuts, the darkness isn’t really darkness at all; it is a roll of population, lacking color. Intimacy, not distanced, is the destination of vision.” This could just as easily define the journal’s editorial approach and aesthetic.
The centerpiece of this issue of Lumina is an
absolutely marvelous interview with nonfiction star Susan
Orleans, conducted by Sarah Lawrence faculty member Alice Truax.
Orleans comes across as tremendously smart and likeable, and the
discussion of how she relates to and selects stories for her
work is both instructive and entertaining. Not to be missed is a
charming untitled photo (here in black and white, but originally
in color) by Christina Clusiau, from her “My Minnesota” series.
The photos subjects are the neck and head of a sheep whose nose
is being stroked by a hand and arm through a wide triplet of
barbed wire. The sheep’s head (an angle that is almost other
worldly) and human arm are seen in profile, a perfect balance of
distance and intimacy. Clouds, light, and shade both soften and
highlight the connection between flesh and flesh. That photo,
like the whole of this issue of Lumina, will stay with me
for a long time.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Journalist and filmmaker Tadzio Richards won the magazine’s 2008 Far Horizons Award with “Travels in Beringia,” selected from more than 500 entries and featured in this issue. It’s an odd time, to be sure, to be reading about the “sea frozen with chipped ice” that lies between Siberia and Alaska (which mentioned more in the news media in the US in 2008 than it likely was in the entire century before the last presidential election). The poem is odd, too, in its way, and oddly beautiful. You’ll leave the poem cold and lonely, wondering about the relationship between the poem’s escaped circus elephant and the amazing blue elephant trotting down a highway on the cover of the magazine, painted, not for this issue, but in 1984, and you’ll be impressed by the poet’s ability to render fresh and original frigid images that in less capable hands could seem tepid and ordinary.
The award-winning poem is joined by equally fine poems from Shannon Stewart, Kanina Dawson, and Diane Reid, among others. There is more “nature poetry” this issue than is typical for the Malahat Review, though there are a number of poems that consider metaphysical concerns, as well. As always, the poetry is serious, sturdy, well made, nothing that tries to show off with tricks and gimmicks, but poems that expect readers to care about precise and thoughtful diction and meet that expectation every time.
Barry Dempster’s “A Carver Afterlife” (sudden fiction or a long prose poem, I’m not sure which and the label seems unimportant), complements the elephant-loose-on-the-deserted-highway theme beautifully: “And on poemless nights when the highways are quietly reduced to pavement, Carver and I find a phone booth, a little lit-up shack in a corner of the Milky Way, and call everyone we ever had a drink with.” This poetic moment, captured in prose in a most effective way.
The prose is especially good this issue with memorable
stories from Harld Rhenisch, Ian Bullock, and Tsering Lama.
Best of all is a short work of creative nonfiction (I assume
this is nonfiction. At any rate, it is a story that captures a
physical reality and considers a historical one) by Sioux
Browning, “Lost Pueblo,” which, in its own way, extends the
elephant-lost-on-the-highway theme. It concerns an old dog, an
old man, and an old desert. The prose manages to be both plain
and lyrical all at once, and the piece was the highlight of the
issue for me.
Volume 193 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Often one of the best things about Poetry is the prose, which is the case this month in which letters, essays, and reviews comprise nearly half the issue. Prose contributions include an excerpt from Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, an essay on reviewing Hart Crane by William Logan, and reviews of new books by Jason Guriel. Logan’s essay is a thoughtful, if mildly self-serving, “response” to critics of a controversial review he wrote for the New York Times last year.
I admire Poetry for giving Logan a chance to defend himself (readers highlighted numerous errors he had made in the review), consider the process of reviewing (how is it that critics make errors, even when they are careful and know the work they are reviewing well?), and sustain the dialogue on Crane’s work and worth. Whether you agree with Logan or not (or even find him entirely sincere) is not half as important, I don’t think, as simply having a new style of literary essay to ponder and appreciate.
Guriel, a talented, frank, and intelligent reviewer, considers books by Jorie Graham, Davis McCombs, and the late Sarah Hannah. Poetry is known for honest, smart reviews, and these are exemplary. With cleverly chosen examples and respect for Graham’s earlier work, Guriel questions the sloppy imprecision of Sea Change: Poems. While he admires some of the work of McCombs, as well, he is no more enthusiastic about Dismal Rock. He is more moved and impressed by Inflorescence, where the individual poems are fully realized works that “transcend the collection’s overall arc.” In all three reviews he is cautious, respectful, and clever.
There is, of course, poetry in Poetry – most strikingly, eight poems by Sarah Lindsay, who makes her first appearance in the journal, and another first-timer, Eric Ekstrand, who contributes five “Appleblossom” poems, verse translations of the Japanese selections from the notebooks of Chiri, Basho’s traveling companion. Lindsay has a strong voice, matched by strong images and strong sentiments and the poetic muscle to bring these together in unique and memorable poems. She has a way of standing back a bit from her subjects that might seem coy in the hands of less talented craftswoman, but that seems to work for her: “Tell the bees. They require news of the house: / they must know, lest they sicken / from the gap between their ignorance and our grief.”
This issue also includes poems by Adrian Blevins, Craig
Arnold, John Repp, Laura Kasischke, D.A. Powell, John Hennessey,
Jill Osier, Maurice Manning, and Derek Sheffield.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
After a seven-year break, The Prague Revue is back. The journal, which categorizes itself as “Bohemia’s Journal of International Literature,” is a compact little tome, just right for a bohemian life of travel. And if you’re about to set out on a trip, I certainly recommend you take this issue with you. No matter how long the lines at the airport, you’ll never be bored. Produced under the auspices of the Prague Cultural Foundation in the Czech Republic, the journal presents fiction, essays, poetry, drama, and reviews in English (some written in English, others translated from their original languages) from around the world. This issue features work, including a short play and photographs by writers from the US, China, the Czech Republic, Scotland, Belgium, Ireland, England, and Germany.
One of the great pleasures of The Prague Revue is being introduced to writers with whom we are not acquainted. (There are certainly some extremely well known contributors, too, including Ivan Klíma and Alicia Ostriker). One of my favorites this issue is Louis Armand, a Prague resident who is widely published in English, but was unfamiliar to me. His poem, “Oxaca, Oxaca,” is representative of much of the writing here, strong and centered, with powerful first lines and conclusions that matter: “Imagine not suffering,” he begins, and “the longest way around is the shortest way home,” he concludes. Douglas Shields Dix, an American writer who lives in Prague, contributes a cogent, readable essay on “The American Sublime” in poetry and painting, an excerpt from a forthcoming collection of essays. Lucien Zell contributes a lovely suite of quatrains.
The range of tones and styles is worth noting, from the more
measured and subdued, to the edgy and raw (most of the fiction).
And while subjects and themes treated this issue vary as widely
as the tones and moods, the “foreign observer” (expat, bohemian)
is a constant: “how do I explain / how I dread / the expression
on my motherland’s face,” asks Russian-American poet, Irina
Mashinski. “And it’s always the first day of our lives,” begins
Jesse Talalba, a Canadian writer who lives in Prague, whose poem
is titled, not Canadians, but “Americans.” You can travel
broadly and deeply with The Prague Revue without leaving
home, though this issue may make you want to.
Volume 5 Issue 1
Review by Rachel King
In her introductory note, the editor says she hopes the reader will “find both the wretchedness that makes us human and the grace that will ring.” This “Journal of Literature, Art, and Faith,” the final issue of Rock & Sling, fulfills the editor’s vision through stories and poems of both cruelty and assistance. Some of the pieces are blatantly Christian; other pieces indirectly display the Christian themes of suffering, grace, justice and redemption.
A combination of these themes – or lack of them– resonates through a nonfiction story and an essay about the Holocaust: “The Miracle of Eymoutiers” by Arnette and Mark Chorna and “Holocaust Studies” by Jehanne Dubrow. William Oren’s poem “Catechumen” records metaphors used to explain the soul, hell, and heaven, the metaphor for the last giving me a new way to think of justice:
What did he say
of heaven’s like?
That each vase in the cupboard
may be filled up to its edge.
the potter’s crowd have more
or less depending
on the inner shape.
In Michael Henson’s “The True Story of the Resurrection,” the author, by imagining what people would do to Jesus if they captured him after his resurrection, playfully exposes contemporary society’s lack of awe and desire to tame the radical Jesus to fit their own life demands:
Woe unto ye, hypocrites [Jesus] called during a broadcast,
just before they snapped off the mike.
They had to bail him out of jail one night
for doing the woe-unto-ye thing
on the steps of city hall.
A number of other poems also use biblical characters as a catalyst for their writing: Andrew Miller writes “The Three Lessons of Martha,” Christina M. Rau writes “To Mary,” and Elizabeth Ann James writes “Looking for Mary Magdalene.”
This issue concludes with William Catling’s artist statement,
a reflection on the pictures of his clay sculptures scattered
throughout the journal. For readers who are disappointed that
this journal is no more, they can find a similar, holistic
Christian message – with slightly different aesthetics – in
journals like Image or Relief.
Volume 58 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“All I can say is what I do myself, and that is that I don’t think about theory at all. I have no theory of poetry. If something works for a particular poem, it works.” Brendan Galvin in this interview with Thomas Reiter, is honest, approachable, serious, sincere, much like this issue of Shenandoah and like his poems, several of which are included here. Reiter’s own poem, “Signaling,” which appears later in the issue, is a fine example, quiet, deftly composed, sure of itself, but in a vulnerable, human way. These poets are joined by more than a dozen others this issue, along with five short stories, two essays, a portfolio of beautifully composed color photographs by Larry Stene, the journal’s typically superb reviews of new poetry and fiction, and brief remarks in memory of the late George Garrett.
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend here, though I particularly liked fiction by Jenny Hanning, “The Full Moon,” whose achievement is telling a small personal story with just the right balance of casualness and solemnity. Favorite work this issue for me also includes poetry by Cori Winrock, who achieves in verse what Hanning does in prose, an admirable balance of tones that makes the work both accessible, in the best sense of the term, yet unique and memorable – this not to say easy or ordinary, but work that means to be read and understood, while retaining a kind of freshness and distinction.
I always appreciate Alice Friman, who contributes a wonderful
poem this issue, “Coming Down.” Stene’s portfolio, “Images”
showcases his ability to capture the geometry of a moment, how
forms are both familiar and unfamiliar as we perceive them
framed by an eye that knows how to separate foreground and
distance, shadow from light, flesh from stone. The photos are
accompanied by a brief statement that is so lovingly and humbly
written, I longed for more, but like the images, Stene knows
exactly when to stop.
Volume 10 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This is the “political issue,” which I am reading just prior to the election, and I am, paradoxically, glad, almost relieved to find the sad ironies (The title page quotes John F. Kennedy, “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war”), popular truths (the Editor’s Note begins with the old bumper sticker adage, “If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention."), and delighted to find that Tin House is as provocative as ever, especially when we need it most.
I can’t possibly begin to tell you what’s here in a comprehensive way, this is an enormous issue not only in size, but in ambition: an interview with Thomas Frank on his new book on the impact of conservative governance in America, The Wrecking Crew; poems by Marvin Bell, Kevin Young, Mary Szybist, and Ethan J. Hon; fiction by J. C. Hallman, Christopher Howard, by newcomer Natalie Bakopoulus, and a translation of an excerpt of work by José Saramago; essays by Barry Sanders, Nick Flyn, Francine Prose, Mazen Kerbaj, and many others; two graphic essays; short remarks/reviews of political writing of the past that matters in one way or another now; and a section of responses to three questions (What do you fear most for the future? What gives you hope for the future? Is there a book that captures your political sensibility?) from Dorothy Allision, Steve Almond, John Barth, Charles Baxter, Susan Bell, Pinckney Benedict, Junot Diaz, Lydia Davis, Yiyun Li, Ellen Litman, Michelle Aharonian Marcom, Lydia Milet, Paul Muldoon, Cynthia Ozick, George Saunders, and Lynne Tillman. Francine Prose asks and answers her own questions about political writing in an essay titled, “Out from Under the Cloud of Unknowing.” Political art must be as much about discovery, rather than pontificating or exerting a specific point a view, as art that does not aspire to be political, she concludes.
There is a lot of philosophizing in this issue, but there is, as well, observation of people and trends and beliefs in the United States and around the globe, an analysis of censorship, another of the relationship between sexuality and violence, and throughout the entire issue a commitment to honest assessment of ourselves as individuals, as communities of thinkers, as citizens, as nations, as artists.
In the “Three Questions” segment, Junot Diaz fears that “a
true human collective will never emerge.” Paul Muldoon fears
that there will be “too much hatred and too little room.” I fear
they are both right and hope, if somewhat foolishly, that
journals as brilliant as Tin House might somehow keep
this from happening.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Guest editor Henry S. Bienen’s theme is “the other,” the “real or presumed differences” between us, which he categorizes, by way of partial example, as: race religion, language, country of origin or birth, region, geography, clan, tribe, caste, family, class, social status, income, occupation, age, gender, sexual preference, style of dress, or hairstyle. He has selected nine essays, four stories, the work of three poets, a powerful portfolio of photos by Fazal Sheikh, and additional photos by Jeremiah Ostriker, all of whom convert these categories of identity into work that reflects these definitions’ inadequacy when it comes to knowing the real people and circumstances of which our diverse world is comprised.
In typical TriQuarterly fashion, there isn’t a failed effort in the bunch. The work is mature, intelligent, and as thought provoking as Bienen predicts in his introductory essay, a wise assumption, given the volume’s contributors, which include Jeffrey Herbst, Richard Sobel, Lan Samantha Chang, Reginald Gibbons, and Paul Muldoon, among many others.
Fouad Ajami reconsiders the pivotal historical moment of
1492; Herbst explores the ruin of Zimbabwe; Dwight A. McBride
reflects on sexual politics in his own work; E. Patrick Johnson
analyzes the meaning of home in terms of “self” and “other”; and Elie Rekhess looks at the relationships between Arabs and Jews
living in Israel. Fiction stars Lan Samantha Chang, Stuart Dybek,
Reginald Gibbons, and Joyce Carol Oates contribute four short,
powerful stories that couldn’t be more different from each
other, which makes them all the more appealing. It’s almost hard
to focus on the fiction, with so much solemn historical
material, but these are masters whose work can stand up to
anyone or anything, I think. The poetry is equally powerful and
capable of meeting the issue’s intellectual rigor. Jana Harris
contributes a series of exceptional “historical” poems that
demonstrate remarkable agility with historical material yet
never lose sight of a poem’s need to move us in the present.