Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted January 17, 2009
American Literary Review - Bitter Oleander - The Broome Review - failbetter.com - Harpur Palate - Hobart - The Massachusetts Review - Mississippi Review - New Madrid - The New Quarterly - The Reader - The Saint Ann's Review - Slipstream - The Southeast Review - THEMA
Volume 19 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
David Wagoner’s “The Shape of My Life” got it right: “Three or four beginnings, four / or five middles, and two or three / regrettable endings”(except for the endings being regrettable – they’re not). This issue is all about telling a good story, beginning, middle, and end. More than a dozen poets, four fiction writers, and three essayists demonstrate the power of narrative, the rich possibilities of an original first line, and the satisfying resolution of a clever ending.
Shapely first lines include “Papá could break into any house in the neighborhood” (Vanessa Hua, “What We Have is What We Need”); “So much yourself that even the river is you” (Rachel Dilworth, “Credibility”); “The way a sentence is a story,” (B.H. Fairchild, “Wittgenstein Dying”); “The bearded men of Oregon are taller than most men.” (Jennifer Percy, “Unearthed”); and “In a time that couldn’t name its violence” (Anis Shivani, “To John Cheever”), among many others.
Middles are harder to quote, of course. Kevin McIntosh's story “May All Your Christmases” is clever and entertaining. Philips Heidrich’s essay “The Aesthetics of Water” has an especially appealing middle as the essay is not what it at first appears to be, starting off as a meditation on a landscape and turning itself into literary criticism.
As for endings, who is better at sustaining an edgy, cynical
tone right through to the end than Dana Curtis (“Director
Obscure”)? Elizabeth Edelglass draws a smart story to a perfect
conclusion in “An American Divorce.” And Richard Lyons concludes
his very fine poem “To Zbigniew Herbert” with what seems to me
the perfect ending to end all endings: “An occasional noise
interrupts; but that’s just / the present scratching to get in
and hurry things.”
Volume 14 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Finely etched is how I would define the work in this issue of The Bitter Oleander. Take Carolyn Gelland’s poem, “Wild Cat,” for example:
How many years now
has the wild cat
sat by my fire,
seven moons in her eyes,
the wind kneeling
at the door
in furious adoration
while Tintoretto’s angels
mirror of her milk,
snowing all those faces.
Or these lines from a poem by Samantha Stiers (winner of the magazine’s 2008 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award) titled “Finish Your Dinner”: “Scraping the moonlight into the garbage / is like separating two magnets.” Or these from “Missed Goodbye,” a poem by Sandy Green: “She hurries to the lake / beneath arching, naked trees – whale ribs – // bent over snowy paths.” Or this passage from a word of sudden fiction by Rob Cook, “Spring Break, Misery Season”: “The man scratches at his throat where he can feel the heat of the next day approaching. The girl puts her dragonfly voice against his neck and tells him it’s okay to die at night, even as he sits there trying to listen and keep the car from disappearing.”
Work in translation is precise and sharp, too, such as a poem by Nicaraguan poet Blanca Castellón, translated from the Spanish by J.P. Dancing Bear, titled “Estación Lluviosa” (Rainy Season): “Mira la lluvia como se me viera dibujando el paraíso.” (“Look at the rain as you saw me drawing paradise.”); a story by Simon Frueland, “Unsettled,” translated from the Danish by Kyle Samuel: “Tobias had sent five poems to his old teacher…One of them was about the moon: a man had been unfaithful to his wife and he cursed at the moon because he felt guilty every time he looked at it”; poems in Spanish from Rafael Jesús González with his own translations: “Tengo un ángel encinta dentro el ojo” (“I have a pregnant angel in the eye”).
This issue’s feature, an interview with scientist/poet Robert Pesich and a series of his poems fit perfectly with the issue’s overall refinement and precision. “All I have is my language…to describe or construct a path to that greater awareness,” Pesich explains. He says it’s “paradoxical and a big mess” (he’s trying to sort out the relationship between poetry and science), but his work is not at all messy. It manages to be both vast and focused all at once, like so much of the fine and sophisticated work in this issue:
Country of my blood
carving into itself
shaped like a gun
of insomniac children
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Within six months of placing a small ad in Poets & Writers, the editors of The Broome Review received more than 1,000 submissions to consider for this inaugural issue. They selected the work of 28 poets, including poems by such prolific and well known poets as Stephen Dunn, Timothy Liu, Lawrence Raab, and Philip Dacey; five fiction writers; and three essayists.
There is a clear editorial preference in this first issue for plainspoken or colloquial language (with a few exceptions among the poets); familiar, almost casual tone; and earnest, recognizable motifs and impulses. Here are a few examples: “Scarred by lightning, its high leaves / already brown as sullen earth, / it had to be taken” (from “Taking Down the Tree” by James Scruton); “Who knows what possesses him, / at his birthday dinner, to confess to me, / his partner of a quarter-century // a flirtation” (from “The Things He Told Me” by Susana H. Case); “If the sky had been clear, / if the water had been colder, / if the music had continued, perhaps / we wouldn’t have fallen in love” (from “The Afternoon Before We Met” by Lawrence Raab).
Particularly noteworthy are a work of sudden fiction by
Katherine Lien Chariott, “Foreign Quarter (Taipei, 1968)," a
closely observed portrait of a city from the perspective of one
who does not feel at home there; and Sarajane Woolf’s essay,
“Murder 101,” an entertaining, funny, and smartly crafted piece
about taking a class to learn to write murder mysteries. Woolf’s
contributor’s note says she has creative nonfiction works
forthcoming in a variety of journals. I can’t wait!
Review by Henry F. Tonn
There seems to be general agreement that one of the better online literary magazines today is failbetter.com. They get their name from the short poem by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. / Ever failed. / No matter. / Try again. / Fail again. / Fail better.” – certainly a philosophy we could all fruitfully adopt. I am particularly impressed with the layout of this journal, where everything is easily accessible from the home page. The latest postings are found at the top, and scrolling down allows one to sample recent fiction, poetry, visuals, and interviews in a descending chronological order. The editors also appear to be rather selective in accepting new work: only six short stories are presented on the site from July 15 to November 4.
Amy Anderson’s first published story, “Doors Closing,” is a sensitive depiction of a tall, somewhat self-conscious young woman’s enchantment with a male she meets at a party, who has just ended his long-term relationship. More ominous is Virginia Pye’s “Low Sounds by the Shore” concerning a man swimming confidently in the ocean, whose ruminations turn darker as he cramps up and realizes he may not make it back to land. The flashbacks here are quite skillfully integrated with the flow of the story. And there is “Matters of Breeding” by Douglas Light, a quick paced story about an international drug dealer (though this is not clear) caught up in the big money racket while trying to keep his floundering marriage together. We are entertained with obscure bits of trivia while the action swirls about. Also in these issues are a variety of poetry, some art (visuals), and two interviews with authors about their latest books.
Of interest to many of us who are observing the explosion of online literature, is an essay from one of the publishers, Andrew Day, entitled “Read Me,” in which he espouses the position that electronic publishing will facilitate the poet and short story writer by making their work more available, while novels and lengthy nonfiction will continue to be dependent on the print medium. Everyone seems to agree that we are developing more writers and fewer readers over time. How will we adjust?
Failbetter.com also has easily accessible archives
dating back to October 1, 2000. It’s a well organized website,
definitely one to check out.
Volume 8 Issue 1
Review by Kenneth Nichols
The fiction and poetry in this issue of Harpur Palate seems focused on examining the familiar through an exotic lens, and vice versa. In “Squander,” Jenny Hanning does interesting work with her reverently Kafka-esque premise. Katherine, a junior high English teacher and mother, wakes up as the family cat after a fatal car accident. Hanning makes good use of the material. She allows the playfully named Katherine to truly be a feline (she gifts her former husband with half-digested animals), and balances this with observations provided by her residual human perception.
Patrick Carrington’s poem, “Candy,” examines the loss of sexual innocence, measuring each milestone in lime rickeys, spearmint leaves and licorice. In his other poem, “The Recipe for Sad Dotage,” aging is not indicated by wrinkles and a diminished memory. Instead, the passage of time is measured by the way things once were: “Baseball and war were magic / tricks gone wrong, / heavy things you carried with you / up the staircase of your life.”
In her short but potent poem, “To a Runaway Husband,” Meg Franklin examines the things we leave behind. In this case, the titular husband leaves behind “the flank of a deer, gathering bleary maggots.” The poem’s narrator has a plan for coping with the situation: her little girls will learn “a fly swatter’s arc.” Most of all, the girls will “know its slap as well as my face.”
Denise Duhamel’s poetry crackles and pops with an infectious
energy. “A Poem on My Forty-Sixth Birthday” is a rewrite of the
Gettysburg Address. (Would that we all felt more liberated as we
age!) The joy of a birthday dinner is tempered with
self-awareness. Duhamel’s narrator says that mothers have
“struggled like Herefords, / have conciliated for us, far above
our powder blush / and power suits, our addictive personalities
another literary journal
Review by Jody Brooks
Hobart # 9 takes us back to our youth when video games were black and white, hookers were a few keystrokes away, playground ballgrabbing was cause for nasty nicknames, and mothers left fathers. The stories in this collection are as addictive as the games their characters play – pool, Scrabble, chess, poker, Jenga, blackjack, and Magic: The Gathering.
These are stories of adults reverting to child-like states, stories of children trying to be adults, stories of childhood experiences and the retrospective understanding of the imperfection in such things. Take, for example, Mary Miller’s narrator in “Pearl”:
He asked me about books, what kind of books I liked. He’d seen me reading in the break room at lunch. I could see it had just occurred to him that he might ask me a question.
“I like books about fucked-up people,” I said. “The kind you have to tear the cover off because there’s a girl on the toilet staring at her shadow.”
Five other reasons you should read Hobart #9:
- Stefan Kiesbye’s move from playful to schizophrenic
- The triumph/defeat of Dave Madden’s narrator
- Brandi Wells’ stop-and-go structure
- The striking raw imagery (imagery of things raw) in E.P. Chiew’s story about a couple coping with the effects of a stillborn birth:
She stared him down. His eyelid developed a twitch. He began to emit sounds as if gagging, but they sounded like dry hacking laughter. A fissure cracked open between them, and into it fell all the filmy, albumen-like things they did not say.
Venture into the world of video games with an homage to Leisure Suit Larry. Enjoy “The Hobart Role-Playing Forum” in which writers speak about their personal journeys to and from Dungeons and Dragons. The interviewer, Matthew Simmons, introduces the piece:
Fantasy role-playing was a gateway drug to fantasy novels. It was also a gateway drug to other types of role-playing. Gamma World. Call of Cthulhu. Paranoia.
Paranoia, a black comedy, a slapstick science fiction game that was set in an underground complex run by an insane, paranoid computer out to kill mutants and members of secret societies. (The joke being that everyone in the underground complex was both a mutant and a member of a secret society.) Add Paranoia to a love of reading bolstered by fantasy novels, and Kafka is not far behind. William Burroughs is not far behind. The Crying of Lot 49 is not far behind.
This issue is quirky, funny, lyrical, disturbing. I could
call it many things, but I will never call it ordinary.
Hobart #9 is a touchdown on the opening run; it’s a hole in
one from the first tee; it’s the opening A3 that hits the
Battleship. I look forward to what comes next.
Volume 49 Number 3
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
I like the juxtapositions in this issue of MR. On the left hand side of the page is Karen Kevorkian’s poem, “Crowded Rooms,” with lines as lyrically wrought as “the white coned / datura whose tissue cup / I lifted and there / it would be rankly sweet / in a starving time,” and on the facing page Fancine Witte’s sudden fiction, “The Way the Vase Got Broken”: “Was the cat. First, he did his little purr thing, followed by his sinewy arch thing. This was all topped off by his jump thing and then that, was just that.”
Midway through the journal are reproductions of Barry Moser’s ultra-serious, quite formal, and sophisticated wood and relief engravings of poets and authors, and a mere twenty pages later Mike Antosia’s quirky story “The Last King of China” begins, “I never believed you only loved lettuce. You should go with a guy that can offer you more than produce.” The issue begins, improbably enough, with J. Weintraub’s fabulous first line from the story “Mr. Vesey Comes to Work”: “Although he had died the previous morning, Mr. Vesey decided to go to work anyway.” And the issue closes with the words “far, far away” from the story “Africa under Her Skin” by Jeffrey Drayer: “But she didn’t answer. Her mind seemed to be somewhere else far, far away.”
These juxtapositions and contradictions are accompanied by
other equally appealing and surprising contributions. There’s a
brief one-man play by Julian Olf, “(People Almost Always Smell
Good in the Art Museum)” – the parenthesis are, happily, part of
the title – and a short story by Sean Casey, “The Contents of
this Shoe Box are Greater than the Worth of Your Life,” which is
one of the most explicitly political pieces in the journal.
Michael Carolan’s beautifully crafted essay, “Breaking Point:
The Search for a Postwar Grandfather,” moves back and forth in
time exploring the relationship between the trauma of earlier
generations and his own. It’s hard to imagine that pieces which
vary this widely in tone and intention (or what I imagine to be
their intention) could work together inside of one perfect
binding, but they do – perfectly.
Volume 36 Number 3
Review by Henry F. Tonn
Anyone interested in the present state of the literary journal, both print and online, should definitely consult the latest issue of the Mississippi Review. In the Introduction, the editors announce their celebration of the 100th anniversary of the contemporary literary magazine, and say, “We devote this issue to an investigation of what the literary magazine has become and where it may be headed.” There follows a cornucopia of useful information.
Robert Fogarty, editor of the Antioch Review, reflects on, among other things, how the taste of an editor affects the style and quality of a magazine. He makes it clear that money is the perpetual hurdle to overcome, though hard work and purpose are what drive a publication. More lively is a roundtable discussion with seven editors and a moderator in which the emerging importance of online publishing is addressed. Everyone here seems to agree that online work gets more exposure but print publication is still seen as more elite. The group stresses the need for raising funds and the insistence that readers should lend financial support to their favorite publications.
A number of poems and stories are presented by so-called “emerging” writers nominated by various editors. They all make good reading, although some are difficult to understand, causing one to wonder if the future of the literary magazine is going to be in obscurity and obfuscation.
A fast paced, upbeat narrative entitled “With the Candidate” by John Leary traces the political intrigue and petty drama surrounding an unnamed candidate’s bid for an unspecified presidency. The author here demonstrates nimble banter and healthy wit. Also interesting is “Foggy, Doggy Dew” by Maureen McCoy, a menopausal woman’s ruminations about her dog, sex among the neighbors, her own sexual history, and concluding with a perfect summation: “Back home and inside the house, all the day long my big black glossy dog and my clothes and I hang around in Earth because sex happened through a million trillion years, on all fronts, and what the hell, we are live sex descendents, all the same, and we are silent with the burden of ages.”
Also in this issue are brief thoughts by writers about
writing, a section entitled, “Lit Mag Miscellany,” which gives
quotes from luminaries in the business past and present, and
“Some Notes on the History of the Literary Magazine.” All in
all, 250 pages of educational stuff with a bathing suit cutie
posing on the front jacket. How can you miss with all of this?
Volume 3 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The official journal of the low-residency M.F.A. program at Murray State University, New Madrid “takes its name from the New Madrid seismic zone, which falls within the central Mississippi Valley and extends through western Kentucky.” Earthquakes within this region have caused the river to change course and after-effects have been felt as far away as New England. The quiet, honest intensity of the work in this issue is less explosive than a violent weather event to be sure, but powerful and lasting nonetheless. This issue includes the work of sixteen poets, including a special feature on “Emerging Poets,” four stories, an essay, and a couple of reviews. The work is steady, sturdy, and precise, careful work that takes itself seriously and encourages thoughtfulness and deliberate, attentive reading.
The emerging poets feature, highlighting the work of four poets whose first books were published in 2008, Elizabeth Bradfield, Jericho Brown, Sean Hill, and Catherine Pierce, is especially appealing. In these times when book sales are slow, which, I assume means sales of poetry books are even slower, I hope that features like these may boost book sales by giving readers a chance to sample “emerging” writers’ work. I appreciated the range of poets and presses represented in this section (Red Hen and Saturnalia, for example, tend to publish poets with very different tendencies, the latter offering work that tends to be edgier and more oriented toward daring and inventive language). I don’t typically care to read a poet’s remarks about her work, but the “Author’s Statements” here are more instructive and less self serving than most. Bradfield says, “In the end, it’s all mysterious, isn’t it? The interplay of subject, diction, song, beauty, and strangeness. And that, for me is reason to keep writing.” And reading!
There isn’t a piece in the volume I wouldn’t recommend.
Poetry represents a nice balance of narrative and lyric. Judy
Jordan has eight lovely poems that will change your mind about
“nature poetry,” if you don’t really care for it (which they
did, and I don’t). Widely published essayist Maureen P.
Stanton’s essay is a short dissertation on an incident that, it
turns out, is not incidental, but essential in terms of her
understanding of human relationships, the kind of short
narrative burst I’d like to see more of in literary journals.
The fiction is much like the poetry: purposeful, quiet, finely
crafted, and utterly readable.
The New Quarterly
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Published at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, The New Quarterly is a handsome journal, obviously produced with great care, respect for the relationship between good reading and good design (short columns! white space!), and an appealing shape (think Brick or Tin House, but less bulky). I spent a long time appreciating the magazine’s physical appeal before I even began to take in the exceedingly good contents. Editor Kim Jerrigan tells us this issue’s theme is “Assorted Pedestrians,” a line from one of the stories featured in the issue, a theme borne out by intriguing photos of “human subjects” from Jonathon Bowman on the cover and title page.
This issue features the work of 14 poets, including four poems by Andreae Prozesky preceded by her terrific essay, “Falling in Love with Poetry,” and commentary on poems from Heather Cadsby and Shawn Riopelle by Tristanne Connolly and Barbara Carter; six stories; “Night Flight: A Story in Words and Pictures” by Diane Schoemperlen, a marvelous “collage story” complete with gorgeous reproductions of the collages; two insightful essays on writing; two wonderful “magazine as muse” essays, which are part memoir, part magazine critique; and a “postscript,” what I might call “sudden memoir,” a short narrative on vintage photos (well, circa 1950).
All of the writing (poems, stories, essays) are fresh, engaging, inviting, serious, intelligent, and original. There is some comic relief, but no effort to show off, outsmart the reader, or obscure meaning. At the same time, there is nothing throw-away or easy here. The New Quarterly takes writing and reading seriously. There isn’t a story you’ll want to skip because the first line is pedestrian (assorted pedestrians aside) or an essay that gets bogged down either in academic jargon or excessive self-reflection.
Schoemperlen’s collage essay is a highlight. Part meditation on the meaning of “night,” part memoir (a trip the author made to New York City; childhood experiences), part “discovery” of the images in other media (maps, books), part gallery (the collages), the piece makes for delightful reading and viewing.
A series of poems by K.V. Skene in narrow columns is based on
a practice of creating a title for the next poem inspired by the
last line of the previous one. I’ll close this review with a
remark inspired by her last title, “To Walk Outside of the
Ordinary.” If you want to read outside of the ordinary, order
this journal. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
How exciting to come across something new! Well, after 31 issues, this dynamic little magazine isn’t new, but I confess I had never seen it before – it’s not always easy to find British publications in US bookstores. This terrifically satisfying journal comes from Liverpool (with contributors this issue from Belfast, Liverpool, Australia, Oxford, and Lancaster). “New writing/book talk/news and reviews” is how The Reader accurately characterizes itself.
Number 31 features poetry (with entertaining poets bios in a Q&A format, and photos); fiction; essays; interviews on reading and writing; “your recommendations,” a composite review essay; “your regulars,” columnists with short dissertations on reading and books in answer to readers’ questions; “reading lives,” writers on writing; full length book reviews; “book world,” mini essays on literary topics (blogging, for example); “the poet on his work,” a poem by Jeffrey Wainwright which he dissects and explicates; and even a crossword puzzle and a quiz. It’s all wrapped up in a compact, cleverly designed little volume. How did they get such small type so readable?
“Of all the pleasures of reading I rank this the highest – hearing a voice, speaking as if it were directly to you – almost as a confidence – of something the writer has come to know for himself: come to know at a cost, or as a joy, but the knowledge of which, as he conveys it, feels indispensable to our humanity,” says novelist and critic Howard Jacobson in his essay, “It’s the Thought That Counts.” And, indeed, the work in The Reader possesses these qualities. Insights earned. Observations arrived at thoughtfully and after much consideration. Urgency. Poignancy. Introspection. Connection. I loved poet Andrew McNellie’s contribution, “Once,” to the “reading lives” section. He weaves, quite deftly, a personal family story with a larger exploration of language. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s story about a new mother’s anguish learning to cope with the long, lonely days is wry and witty. These pieces are matched in quality by nearly everything in the issue.
“Books are indispensable,” the editors tell us in their
introductory note, “because they remind us of a world in which
books might not have been indispensable.” That goes for smart
little magazines, too, I would say, judging by this delightful
issue of The Reader.
Volume 8 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The cover of this issue is a delightful reproduction of a painting (oil on wood) by Jayne Holsinger whose closely examined human subjects share the vivid spirit and astute observation of much of the writing in this issue of The Saint Ann’s Review. Holsinger’s paintings are so finely etched and so sharply defined, it’s hard to believe they are created in oils. The work of 13 poets, 10 fiction writers, two essayists, an “e-interview,” several reviews, and strong artwork by three other artists match Holsinger’s gift for original and memorable image making.
I was quite taken with an excerpt from the novel Shemsi’s Schooling by Gloria Amoury about Turkish immigrants in New York at the turn of the last century. Formal and appropriately traditional in tone, I realized what an impact Amoury’s story had on me when I awoke wondering about the fate of her characters the day after reading the excerpt. Amoury’s fiction is very much like Holsinger’s paintings, a close study of strong characters in a clearly defined landscape of objects.
Equally affecting are poems by Marc Kaminsky on bodily concerns (hunger and overeating) and chronic illness. “There are opposing // ways to tell any story,” he writes, although he has found a way to merge the options it seems to me. In “Trap,” Glen Pourciau creates a narrator who, for how much he sounds like any of us at one time or another, has an unforgettable voice: “There’s not much to tell. My wife thinks there is, but I’m the one telling it.” And Jeffrey C. Alfier’s heartbreaking poem, “Cowboys,” manages to tell a long story, a large history, and represent a vast landscape in nine brief lines:
With his package of refused letters
returned unread to him at Long Binh Jail,
he came back early from Vietnam
to the ranch he would inherit in west
Oldham County. There, he considers
the panorama unfolding around him
of worn fence posts canting in the wind,
like drunks against a balustrade, the wire
guarding the cattle his son calls by name.
A world away from a cattle ranch, on the day I finished
reading the journal, I happened on a copy of this issue while
browsing at McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho. It was a few days
before Christmas. Here’s a great gift! Here’s a great
gift! I was tempted to shout. (And I might as well have. New
York is not, after all, Oldham County, and it’s likely nobody
would have paid any attention.)
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
This issue of Slipstream includes the work of four-dozen poets, many of whose bios (though admittedly not all) are among the quirkiest you’ll find. Jane Adam of Buffalo, NY, “is more liquid than solid and leaves behind the hyaline purity to melt under streetlamps.” Jon Boiservert of Corvallis, OR, “throws up a lot.” J. Blake Gordon of Evanston, IL, “sleeps soundly, thinks about music, prepares simple meals, and watches a little television.” Toni Thomas of Milwaukie, OR, lives with “two energetic children.”
Much of the poetry (though admittedly not all) is quirky, too. Here are the opening lines of “Mathematics 101” by Neil Carpathios: “I had a one-legged lover / in college who used to remove / her prosthetic leg and massage / my crotch with her stump / like a third hand” and the beginning of Glen Armstrong’s “Curious Goths Tour the Cheese Factory”: “I compare myself / to the cheese factory;” and the opening of “My Name” by Jane Adams: “The difference between a picture / and tons and tons and tons of words / is enough words / enough turnover of words / enough friction.”
The editors have a clear predilection for unadorned language,
casual voices, and narrative impulses, though there are a few
exceptions and a few bursts of what I might call lyric emotion
or energy. Poems that captivated my attention include Anne Marie
Rooney’s “Queens,” in which the particular rhythms and energy of
a youthful infatuation unfold perfectly against an urban
backdrop; Francesca Bell’s brief and devastating “Why I Don’t
Drink” about domestic violence (“Because drink is a man with
eyes more ocean / than sky); and Naoko Fujimoto’s “On the
Beach,” a poem with a rich sense of poetic expression and
arguably the most inventive piece in the issue.
Volume 26 Number 2
Review by Denise Hill
The Southeast Review is a true literary variety journal, with strengths of selection across all genres. The fiction is dominated by strong character stories and relationship observations, not so much on place. Even Kevin C. Stewart’s “Baton Rouge Parish” is less about NOLA and more about a couple’s relationship, which heats up when unsolved murders are splashed across the media. “The Rooftop” by Sarah Faulkner turns the coming-of-age theme on its head with this story of three sisters attempting to out-sex one another. It’s insightful and so real it almost hurts to keep reading. “Fourteen Carousels” by Fulbright Jones and “The Travel Writer” by Joey R. Poole, the other fiction in this collection, are similar in that they are gutsy, human, and at times hurt our reality check centers.
While normally favoring non-fiction, the selections in this issue took the back seat for me. “Practice” by Ryan Van Meter did manage to steal my heart, with his resistance to even want to “try” to play softball to appease his parents. “Chambermaid” by Melissa Febos supports the adage that sometimes life is stranger than fiction (and the “I’m not sure I needed to know that”), and Brian Oliu’s “Exception Handling” is a play on using computer language to create a kind of autobiography. While each is a good story (or style), I can’t help but feel that there’s something deeper, a layer or two down that these just aren’t quite reaching.
Strong imagery drives the poetry selections. Jennifer Frayer-Griggs’s “On Interstate 10”: “But when they collected / your shoes and teeth from the drainage ditch, / and you, almost asleep like a dog on his paws”; “Kitchen Duty” by Greg McBride: “One week one arm, the next her rear, / the other arm, the other cheek, a succession / of bodily X’s whose intersections / mark the very heart of her”; and Angela Vogel’s two works, “The Enchanted Forest” and the “The Huntsman’s Resume” both careen between abstract and concrete and demand rereading for the greatest appreciation. Though, “Map as Mirror” by Amisha Patel is my top pick, following the weave of personal and political: “My absence through life was a gift / to that country: / a pair of eyes that drowns her mirror [. . .] faces shamed since war into our / wonder and the media in heat / with this entangling myth: America is to be loved.”
Not always the case for TSR, this issue is packed – almost too much – with three interviews. The first with Clive Barker, the second with Hal Crowther and Lee Smith, and the third with Daniel Woodrell. Normally, one interview helps to set a frame of reference for the journal – the wise words of the seasoned author coming through again and again while reading the rest of the works. But here, though they can be drawn together on a theme of self identity/expected identity/breaking free of identities – they overshadow the rest of the publication, creating too much “talk” going on. Still, each is very much worth a read for the valuable insights only such well crafted interviews can provide.
Note: A bonus for teachers – TSR offers extremely
helpful Teacher’s Guides online for this and several back
Volume 20 Number 3
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
The editor of Thema announces themes a year or more in advance. So, when Virginia Howard chose “When Things Get Back to Normal” thinking of her house and her life in Louisiana in the post-Katrina years, she could not possibly have known how much many more of us would be longing for “normal” in Autumn 2008. “For us, things will never get back to normal. We are trying to forge new versions of normal,” she writes in her introductory notes.
The poets and fiction writers in this issue explore the “not normal” of natural disasters (poems by Marjorie Bruhmiller and Virginia McGee Butler); accidents (stories by Madonna Dries Christensen and Jeffrey Melton); family disturbances and relationship troubles (stories by Zoey L. Brown and Toby Tucker Hecht); unexpected good luck (a story by James A. Stewart): an amazing weather event (a poem by Rich Heller); grief and loss (a story by Jennifer R. Hubbard); and over indulgence or substance abuse (depending on your perspective and how much you’ve imbibed or smoked before reading Ryan Kenner’s poem).
“Normal’s overrated, anyway,” James Stewart concludes in “The
Hound Dog’s Ain’t Nothing” (the story referred to above about
unexpected good luck, the surprising success of a losing sports
team). These poems and stories remind us that, on some level,
art is always about what’s “not normal” – offering a novel
approach to the ordinary and extraordinary we encounter every