Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted March 21, 2009

20x20 - Amarillo Bay - Antigonish Review - Boston Review - Hudson Review - Isotope - Main Street Rag - MiPOesias - Ninth Letter - The Normal School - One Story - Underground Voices - Waccamaw :: Washington Square

 

20x20 cover20x20

Issue 1

2008

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

20x20 is a new London-based magazine of “visions” (black and white photographs and drawings), “words” (prose and poetry), and “blenders” (hybrid compositions of graphics and text). A note at the end of one contributor’s piece, “Deconstruction of a Failure,” sums up nicely the inaugural issue’s editorial slant. Kiril Bozhinov writes:

This is the second chapter from Anatomy of a Loss, a compilation-book of statistical data, obvious inversions, narratives with a variety of genres and characters lacking conversational topics. This is (instead of crushing my tongue against the cheek, I gladly let it unroll from out of my mouth) a taxonomical approach to story-telling, ladies and gentlemen. Dead-pan imagination swarming with inverted obviousness, missing noses, protruding ears, lame warriors, newly weds, horse riders, reconciliations, objects that speak and their shadows speak too, this is an ode to love, the Holy Trinity of love.

Whatever their themes, from public architecture to the meaning of literature to lost love, these unusual pieces nearly always invert expectations, blend genres, turn statistics into narratives and narrative into statistics, and often keep us guessing about what is tongue-in-cheek and what is a tongue “unrolling out of mouths.” 20x20 authors imagine conversations with noted literary figures (“The Time is Out of Joint?” by Kat Wojcik, “To Put a Brake on Time’s Winged Chariot,” by Alexandria Clark); convert the work of literary greats to visual images (Graham Day, “The Two Kings and Their Two Labyrinths – Borges”); and ponder imagination as a literal experience – literally (a “blender” by Maia Sambonet, “Blind Walk,” depicting the imagination’s many “assistants” conducting their work, an illustration accompanied by brief explanations and descriptions).

This pervasive “blending” affected me in unexpected ways. When I reached the journal’s final entry, a haunting, quite exceptional photograph of a lone music stand perched on a bluff against a background of ominous clouds (“The Music Stand” by Katherine Skeldon), I wanted to lift a line from Martin Slidel’s poem “Game Over” from the first pages of the issue and give the image a caption: “And the nearest season is imagination.” The game’s clearly not over.
[www.20x20magazine.com]

 

Amarillo Bay

Volume 11 Number 1

February 2009

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

With the presentation of this volume, Amarillo Bay is celebrating its eleventh year of existence, certainly a notable accomplishment, and welcomes the reader to browse its archives which contain over four hundred works. The latest edition has four short stories, one piece of nonfiction, and six poems to choose from.

One of the better pieces of flash fiction I have read recently is “The Window” by Elizabeth Esse Kahrs. It is a simple but poignant story of an old man in his home watching a distressed young man on his motorcycle. The old man has something important to tell the boy about life, but the young man is impatient to meet his destiny. Things do not end up well. Another good one is “Alpha Male” by William Powers, about a mission worker in Sierra Leone, a beautiful nineteen-year old native, and a huge alpha male chimpanzee which resides in a protected reserve. The possibilities here stretch the imagination, but it’s easier simply to read the story. Notable also is “Urbs Fabula Sine Argumentum Est” by Robert Wexelblatt, the story of a complicated relationship between a photographer and a writer.

Nothing is more obnoxious than poetry with pretense, and I am happy to say that Amarillo Bay avoids this trap. The cutest poem is the lighthearted “Speeders” by Dale Braun, a twenty-five year veteran of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department appearing for the first time in print. A good visual poem is “Angularities (at Dawn)” by Charles Inge, about the angular slant of clouds in the morning:

making the world
seem to be
angling all one way,
but another cloud
another day –
or other birds may
turn it right around.

There is an easy, natural flow to this website, and when one scrolls to the bottom, the archives begin immediately in descending order. This online journal has been around for a while, and perusal of its contents today would lead one to hope that another eleven years of production would be to the benefit of all.
[www.amarillobay.org]

 

The Antigonish Review coverThe Antigonish Review

Number 155

Autumn 2008

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue includes the Great Blue Heron poetry and Sheldon Currie fiction first, second, and third prize contest winners, poems from an additional 20 poets, three short stories, short book reviews, a review essay, and what is classified as an “article,” an “academic” style analysis of poet Anne Compton’s award-winning poetry book Processional. Solid and satisfying reading from cover to cover.

The poetry contest winners were selected from more than 214 entries. The contest criterion was to “favor long poems and multi-part sequences” and the winners, we’re told, “demonstrate an ability to write for the tensive qualities of living human voices. Either overly or implicitly, their poems are dramatic. Their poems are flexed by that quality which good poetry must have of being both unanticipant and yet formally cohesive.” Despite the fact that the spellchecker on my word processing program is unhappy both with “tensive” and “unanticipant,” I would agree.

The winning poems by Anita Lahey, Christine Wiesenthal, and K.V. Skene exhibit a successful balance between the purely poetic and the casually, naturally human and come to logical, yet somehow surprising conclusions. I was especially moved by Wiesenthal’s “Top Ten Reasons to Swing on a Clear Night,” which in less skilled hands might have seemed a mere exercise with its anaphoric structure (Because an… because on… because the, etc.). But, the last line is a killer and turns the exercise into an original and utterly memorable, even heartbreaking poetic experience (“Because this could have been your playground now, Tim. The whole / amphibian night”). Wiesenthal’s “Maligne Canyon” is equally compelling and lovely.

Judge Susan Kerslake says she “opted for the old-fashioned” kind of story for the fiction prize, and I agree that these stories by Andrea Marcusa, Beverly Akerman, and Andrea Cameron are conventional. At the same time, they remind us of why good old-fashioned stories are so appealing and satisfying and necessary. We are sympathetic to their characters’ situations and identify with their dilemmas and circumstances. And I especially liked Marcusa’s clever prose: “a five o’clock shadow that appeared at 3:00,” for example, and:

Mr. Lemard was a husky man with thick black curly hair that seemed to have spread from his chest onto his back like a bad case of poison ivy. His trim waist, strong arms and sinewy legs made him look fitter than the other middle-aged men at the club. Even though I was only 13, I thought he walked as if he knew this.

I must mention other wonderful stories in this issue, too: a contribution by Rebecca Higgins, based on the biography of Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis, “The Colour of Birds,” and another by Jim Reed, “The Weekend Out With All Our Coins.”
[www.antigonishreview.com]

 

Boston Review coverBoston Review

Volume 34 Number 1

January/February 2009

Bimonthly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Boston Review essays tend to follow a somewhat predictable pattern, and I couldn’t be happier about it. A serious, well-informed, literate, critical mind challenges the conventional wisdom about a controversial and highly politicized subject or issue of undeniable significance and urgency. Here are the two opposing views we commonly hear and debate, the writer begins, but there is something wrong with each of them, and I want to offer an alternative, he concludes. Subjects covered in the current issue of the Review include the “post-racial” in the Obama era (Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart III); free market regulation (Dean Baker, Robert Pollin); tax cuts (Jeff Madrick); Guantanamo (David Cole); Afghanistan (Barnett R. Rubin); Iran (Abbas Milani); and new (old?) philosophical approaches to God (Alex Byrne).

Rubin’s essay on cities in Afghanistan is particularly worthwhile. Rubin, who has spent time in Afghanistan and with that nation’s leaders, provides a much needed historical perspective in clear, readable prose moving back and forth between his personal observations and an in-depth understanding of the country’s politics and complex culture. Byrne’s essay has left a lasting impression, too: “If a persuasive argument for the existence of God is wanted, then philosophy has come up empty [. . .] The funny thing about arguments for the existence of God is that, if they succeed, they were never needed in the first place.”

Boston Review poems tend to fit a particular mold, as well, though I am sometimes less happy about this than I am about the predictability of the style of the essays. This issue, however, there is quite a lot of variety. I appreciated, above all, a long poem, “Objects,” by Martha Ronk, a series of five “poetry paragraphs” (something between sudden fiction and prose poems). Here is a brief excerpt from the section titled “a photographic album”: “The experience of things missing seems itself to be disappearing, although I’m speaking here of one tiny realm of experience.”

In this issue’s “Poetry Sampler,” Karen Volkman introduces Brandon Shimoda and a poetry of “transgressive energy.” I am not sure what “transgressive energy” means, but I am glad to be introduced to Shimoda’s work whose rhythms are powerfully cautious. Shimoda must have to work very hard to get his language to work with such exquisite precision, while appearing so simple, but what makes the poems so magnificent is that we don’t see the process, the toiling away, just the sleek result (“Walking out to the water / Is more than walking to an ocean of repetitive pardon”).

This issue also includes essays on poetry by Amelia Klein and Brian Teare, one short story (Laura Van den Berg) and two essays on fiction (John Crowley and Neel Mukherjee), and a review of the movie, Synecdoche, New York (Alan A. Stone), and several short book reviews.
[www.bostonreview.net]

 

The Hudson Review coverThe Hudson Review

Volume 61, Number 4

Winter 2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The “translation issue” begins with a tribute to the late Hayden Carruth (1921-2008) by poet David Mason, which concludes: “I wish to remember . . . an understanding of what is centrally important in life, what is truly marginal, and how poetry unites us more than it divides us, how language touches what we love, and how the love remains.” A beautiful tribute to a fine American poet, but also a fitting introduction for considering works in translation.

The translations of an essay, a memoir, poetry, and fiction, both old (Corneille, Hugo) and new (Starobinski, Sedakova) are not accompanied by their originals, which can make it difficult to assess the quality of the translations, but, for the most part, the translations have a kind of natural fluidity, a sense of comfort with themselves, that can make a reader forget she is reading a translation. Mark Jarman’s essay, “Poets as translators,” is helpful, too, reminding us of that “every era needs its own translations of classical literature” and demonstrating how talented translators can “refresh” classical work.

We owe a debt of gratitude to journals that publish translations – and, of course, to translators. They offer an opportunity to discover work we would be hard pressed to know of, let alone read, otherwise. I loved poems here by Olga Sedakova, (translations by Larissa Volokhonsky and Emily Grosholz) “The Subway, Moscow,” especially. Sedakova has a wry voice, a sharp eye, a way of turning exuberance into understatement and understatement into exuberance. There is also a brief memoir by Sedakova, a short introduction useful for those of us encountering her for the first time.

Emily Grosholz has also contributed an essay on translating the work of Yves Bonnefoy and translations of Bonnefoy’s poems. Her description of the work of translation rivals the most instructive I have read:

Our art is [even more] constructed, formal repetition unifying succession, symmetry organizing the space of the page, making the poem easy to memorize and so revisit. Because our acts, memories, dreams, stories and works of art are constructed, they may also be shared. To act at all is to be able to tell a story, and storytelling is inherently a social act. A good translator, then, must reproduce not just the sense of the poem but also its music – rhythm and repetition of sound – because its immortality depends on both of them; and she must do her best to enter imaginatively into the experience of the poet, all the while respecting the ravine that separates his “je” from her “I.”

This issue also includes strong essays on dance (Marcia B. Siegel), an art exhibit (Karen Wilkin) and theater productions (Richard Hornby), as well as book reviews, some of which continue the translation theme. Reviews in this journal always have serious analysis and well-chosen examples.

I cannot conclude before recommending Mary Jane White’s exquisite translation of Marina Tsvetaeva’s “Poem of the End.” Thanks to magazines like The Hudson Review, our “end,” I hope, will be considerably different than the poem’s:

So, into the hollow waves
Of darkness – stooping and equals –
Traceless – and speechless – we go
Down, like a sinking ship.

[www.hudsonreview.com/]

 

Isotope coverIsotope

Issue 6 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2008

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Isotope (literary nature and science writing) has made some attractive changes. Perfect binding, expanded contents, recycled paper (for nature and science writing!), pleasing coated paper that really shows off the artwork. This issue’s art portfolio (and the cover art, too) is stunning: impeccable reproductions of paintings by Deborah Banerjee, “The Edge of Sight: The JPL Paintings.” JPL stands for Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California where the painter lives. The tension between Banerjee’s still life oils and the concept and imagined vision of propulsion, the spacecrafts’ raison d’être, is both restrained and explosive. The relationship of spacecraft to space (background) is fascinating and entirely unique from painting to painting. The painter’s explanation/description of what she has attempted to do is as beautifully composed, and as interesting, as her paintings.

Banerjee’s work is matched in quality and interest by the issue’s contents overall, which includes an interview with biologist and creative writer John Janovy, Jr. and excerpts of his prose; several nonfiction pieces; contributions from a dozen poets; a short story; two brief meditative essays of sorts, called “mythologies”; and what the editors label a “soliloquy” by physicist Robert Davies, “Finding Words” on global warming (ostensibly). In actuality, the soliloquy is about the public’s discomfort with or lack of understanding of scientific concepts and terminology. If we had more access and exposure to the work of biologists and physicists like Janovy and Davies, our ability to understand the sciences and appreciate their meaning in our everyday lives would certainly be better.

This issue also offers up Isotope’s award winners in nonfiction and poetry, including a touching long poem about first love, “First Lessons in Beekeeping” by Laura-Gray Street.

I liked very much a fluid translation from the French of an untitled poem of Lorand Gaspar’s (translated by Daniela Hurezanu and Stephen Kessler), which begins:

there still was this patch of fallow land
where things grew according to their own laws
wild grasses and trees as we say
shrubs and paths with no credible goal

Susan Leigh Tomlinson’s “Pentimento” (non-fiction award winner) and Daryl Farmer’s “Because the Stars We See Are Not the Stars That Are There” are terrific personal essays that merge the writers’ personal experiences and observations with larger concerns about how we take in the world around us and show it to others. “One value of a landscape,” Farmer writes, “is in the way that it awakens a deeper sense of connection to ‘what is there about us always.’” I think this is, in fact, the value of art in many ways, too. Isotope succeeds in artfully recreating nature and showing nature as, naturally, art.
[isotope.usu.edu/]

 

Main Street Rag coverMain Street Rag

Volume 14 Number 1

Winter 2008/2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I sit down to read and suddenly I have company. There are a few dozen people I’ve never met in my living room telling me how they do their work (interviews with Cathy Smith Bowers and Robert Boisvert); who they are; what they think; and entertaining me with stories. I even know where they are from (which is listed with their names at the top of the page). Their voices are casual, direct, unadorned. Some angry, some wistful, some yearning. It’s almost as if I can feel them tugging at my elbow for my attention.

Llyn Clague from Hastings-on-Hudson wants me to know, in fact, that the woman in her poem doesn’t care what I think: “I worried so much about what everybody thought, / father mother, sisters, co-workers, friends – the bigger the circle, the tighter the net got. / I was taking care of everybody / but myself.” Eric Greenwell from Carbondale, Illinois wants me to know he’s over our love affair (“I Don’t Like Spaghetti Anymore”). Lisa Latourette from Highlands, New Jersey feels pretty much the same way (“your hands in your pockets made my throat hurt”). Judy Longley of Charlottesville, Virginia is not so much angry, as yearning (“My Longing for You is Your Message to Me”). Chris Kursel of Boston, Massacusetts tells me, too, about loneliness: “One empty brown chair against the wall / at the end of the corridor / There are lights on in there. These are the lights / pointed at the flowers in their vases. / They are still, they amend winter.” John Grockhalski of Brooklyn is angry about life’s incongruities (“ave maria / being played in the atlantic avenue station, / amidst the assholes / coming home / from work / with their newspapers / and electronic / gadgets”).

There are other voices, too, longer stories – three pieces of fiction, but it would take too much time to repeat these tales here, though they are re-tellable in the same fashion as these poems.

I am glad that publisher and editor M. Scott Douglass is here with us because he brings some levity into the room with his musings on the world of writing and publishing in his regular feature “The Back Seat.” This is not to say that he is not deadly serious or sincere, but he is also sarcastic, rather than sentimental or just plain mad. He argues for print over cyberspace (hooray! I want to argue with him about some of his points, but I’m glad for the defense of the printed and bound), recommends an out-of-print find, extols the virtues of POD (print on demand), and complains about amazon.com’s “Kindle.” I like it that he knows I care about these things and that he’s sharing an insider’s perspective.
[www.mainstreetrag.com/]

 

MiPOesias coverMiPOesias

Volume 22 Issue 6

July 2008

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A fun, quirky look. Editor and publisher Didi Menendez calls this issue “a carousel of poetry, short stories, and recipes.” The carousel image is an extension of the magazine’s cover, a full-bleed photograph of a woman clearly enjoying her ride on a beautiful merry-go-round. MiPOesias is as colorful and bold as a carousel with its full-color half and full page author photos; blue, teal, lime, evergreen, pink, brown, yellow, and tan page borders; large sans serif fonts and reverse type; and recipes, complete with color photos of pasta, muffins, Cuban meatloaf, and breaded catfish. If there is a relationship between the poems and stories and the recipes, it escapes me, although the recipes were provided by writers (though not by writers whose work appears in this issue of the magazine).

Menendez prefers quirky voices, too, serving up writers whose work is steeped in brand names (Samsonite, Chevy, Astroturf, Birkenstock, Del Monte, Nike, Volvo, 7-Eleven, Ultra-concentrated Joy dishwashing liquid) and references to pop culture (Lee Marvin, Saturday Night TV, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dancing with the Stars, The Manchurian Candidate, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron). For the most part, these pieces are casual in tone: “There are certain things which you cannot discuss / in front of a class of sixth graders” (“Advice to Teachers,” a poem by Steve Meador); “We might just as well turn the lights on in the hallway” (begins a prose poem, “Down to the Horn Archipelago” by Charles Freeland); and “Do you know what we’re telling you?” asks Tony Trigilio at the start of his poem “The Manchurian Candidate (1962).”

There’s a healthy portion of family stories (widowhood, aging fathers, abandoned mothers, disabled siblings), a few side dishes (shorter pieces) of nature poems (bears, snow, gardens), and some spice here and there (“How can I not submit to the world?” from Kim Young’s poem “Sleight of Hand”). And there’s dessert, the end of the meal, or should I say the end of the world: “I predict nothing but an obscene, amerikan future,” which is the last sentence of Ron Anrola’s work of sudden fiction, “The End of the Short Story.” I think he may be right about the future of our country, but I hope he’s wrong about the fate of fiction.
[www.mipoesias.com]

 

Ninth Letter coverNinth Letter

Volume 5 Number 2

Fall/Winter 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Ninth Letter is part literary journal, part coffee-table book – the kind of coffee-table book you go back to again and again, admiring the gorgeous artwork and spectacularly designed pages each time with the same sense of awe, surprise, and delight. You’re proud to display it in your living room, you want to show it to everyone who visits. You find something new you’ve never seen before every time you look at it. It’s big, heavy, substantial, hard to hold, and harder to put down.

From the color-coded Table of Contents, seamlessly integrated into the graphic of the opening pages, to the special pull-out “Music Feature” – a journal within the journal – Ninth Letter is breathtaking, overwhelming. While there are some quiet, more conventional poems, stories, and essays here, most quite satisfying, it’s hard not to have one’s attention diverted by the flashier, riskier pieces, such as Katori Hall’s “Oreo Girl: The Miscegenation of Miss Emma Brown.” Acts I and II presented here are apparently excerpts of a longer work (though this is not entirely clear). A play about a young girl “on a quest to find the meaning of blackness on her own terms,” “Oreo Girl” is not meant to be staged, it seems, given the significance of the graphic elements, but to be read (or even simply stared at on the page, at least to figure out a way into it). The piece is a word collage, composed of text of various sizes, reverse type, blocks of text sitting on its side on the page, boxed segments, and other graphic treatments. The collage construction applies, as well, to content, which includes quotations from signs and posters, references to song lyrics and titles, news reports, the speech of the play’s characters (Emma, her mother, her sister, her best friend at Columbia University, her boyfriend, a bus driver, and others). One of Emma’s professors tells her, “You have to go catch the revolution on the street, darling.” Or between the covers of a magazine.

The Music Feature, separated from the larger volume by its uncoated, rather than coated paper, and two, rather than four-color print, contains poems selected in response to Ninth Letter’s call for work “interpreting music.” The poems by Curtis Crisler, Patricia Smith, Ed Pavlic, Joseph Campana, Tara Betts and others, are as eclectic in tone, style, and in their sense of what it means to create an interpretation as the musical genres with which they engage (country western, jazz, soul, folk, salsa).

It’s difficult to describe the relationship of the visual to the textual in Ninth Letter, you’ve got to see it to believe it, and I’ve only barely touched on what this issue contains. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t call attention, at least briefly, to some of the exceptional writing in more conventional forms, poems by Christopher Dwerse for example, from “The Confessions” (“I was a wagon train / lost between persecutions / and a better west”); and another by Ryo Yamaguch, “Pilot,” all the more striking in these post-landing-in-the-Hudson weeks; and Naton Leslie’s essay about his father “Listening to Johnny Cash.”

Contributors’ notes include the writers’ response to the question, “What music do you listen to when you write – or do you prefer silence.” It’s not surprising that many of the writers find music a distraction when they’re doing their own composing; “I listen to the music of silence,” writes Katori Hall.
[www.ninthletter.com]

 

The Normal School coverThe Normal School

Volume 1 Issue 1

2008

Biannual

Reviewed by Kenneth Nichols

Only one issue into its run, The Normal School has an enviable hit/miss ratio to go along with the ambition behind the magazine’s creation. The fiction, poetry and nonfiction between the covers inspire the reader to question “their own motives, sense of place, or quantum mechanics and the boundaries of art.” In more plebian terms: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll remember the pieces long after you’re done.

Ron Rash’s short story, “My Wife Left Me Last Night and the Mail Is Running Late,” immerses you in the world of Caleb Huckabee. Caleb suffered an accident while working construction, sacrificing “his life so Seneca, South Carolina could have a Hooters to call its own.” Poor Caleb has alienated his wife, Nadine, by focusing his attention on his nascent poetry career. Unfortunately, the mailman is not as dedicated to his craft as Caleb is.

Dinty W. Moore and Steve Almond contribute imaginative, funny pieces. Almond imagines what Jenna Bush’s diary might look like, while Moore offers “44 Reasons Why You Absolutely, Positively Should Never Write that Book.” Reason number seven: “Forty-two percent of college grads never actually read another book beyond college.” Reason number eight: “Apparently, reading is hard.”

In “Punishment,” Tom Bissell introduces the reader to Mark and Steve. As childhood friends, they bullied the weak and insecure. After drifting apart, red-state Steve has come to visit Mark in New York City. Mark confronts residual guilt from his childhood actions while Steve marvels at being in a city filled with homosexuals and art.

Sometimes, our best reading experiences are inspired by a challenging story. In “A Very Small Woman,” Eliza must care for a childhood friend who is now six inches tall. Linda Burnett teaches the reader the rules of the world and does a good job with the minutiae of the situation.
[www.thenormalschool.com/]

 

One Story coverOne Story

Number 114 & 115

2009

Monthly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

One Story subscribers – there are more than 3,000 – receive one “great short story” in the mail every three weeks or so. The story (as object) is a handy size, small enough to fit in a handbag or briefcase or knapsack. It has a simple cover, just the author and title, and a brief bio note and magazine contact info at the back. A clean design. Easy to read. Easy to keep or share. The story is complemented on-line with a Q&A with the author and a link to the one-story blog (I notice people rarely comment on the stories, although they do respond to the editors’ literary and publishing news and opinions).

The magazine’s contributors include an eclectic variety of writers (Rachel Cantor, Ron Carlson, Ben Greenman, Valerie Trueblood, Steve Almond, Imad Rahman, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among many others). One Story has assigned itself the mission of “saving the short story” by providing single stories in a “friendly format” that can fit “into your life.”

Andrea Barrett’s story, “Archangel,” fits into our lives on multiple levels: “I wrote this because of the war in Iraq,” she writes in the Q&A, “to me the analogies are striking and I’m sure that’s why the material seized me so firmly.” The story, based on Barrett’s historical research, for which is deservedly known and admired, centers on soldiers and civilian personnel (a woman X-ray technician) required by the United States government to remain in Russia after the Armistice (post-WWI). I had not known prior to reading the story that US soldiers remained in places like Archangel (a place I had also not known of) when the war was over. Barrett had been unfamiliar with this chapter of history, as well, and she discusses her challenge to “set the context and the situation for readers” in the on-line interview.

Barrett has written much wonderful work based on her impeccable historical research. She renders inhospitable climates, harsh living conditions, the delicate relations between the genders, the work that happens in these environments, and specific cultural and social realities more than merely credibly. Her characters’ emotional realities come to life against and inside of these artfully, expertly crafted recreations of earlier eras. We care about her characters because she has made us believe in their circumstances and challenges. Barrett writes convincingly about what it’s like to live and work in a war zone as a “non-combatant,” and presents with equal skill the imagined lives (and deaths) of soldiers.

A traditional narrative, this rather long short story, comes, happily, to what I like to think of as a “true conclusion” – an emotional payoff that satisfies me. After I’ve left the story, I think about the locations and characters and issues the story has summoned and find that I know what they want, and what I want for them. What most readers of Barrett’s story will want, I suspect, is more from Barrett (do read her earlier stories and novels, if you haven’t), and another issue of One Story.
[www.one-story.com]

 

Underground Voices Magazine coverUnderground Voices Magazine

February 2009

Online Monthly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This literary magazine likes to publish “quality, hard-hitting, raw, dark fiction, flash fiction, short stories, prose and poetry.” The online version comes out monthly and there is a print edition that is published annually in December. Archival and recent material is often intermingled.

The featured story is a novella by Ryan David Jahn entitled “American Loser,” a title that is certainly appropriate to the narrative. It concerns an overweight thirty-six year old man who does not want to tell his wife he has been fired from his job, so he continues to leave for work every day, but robs banks instead. While this is not exactly a new or innovative plot, it is definitely presented in an engaging manner. All readers prone toward loserness (loserdom?) will have no difficulty identifying with the character.

Another engaging read is “A Burned Out Case” by D.E. Fredd, which concerns a young man forced out of his apartment due to a fire, who must temporarily move in with a weird, pot-smoking, tree-hugging, proselytizing part-time teacher who wanders around naked in his apartment on all fours because he’s “doing a study on how crawling enhances left and right brain communication in adults.” The following sentence presents an excellent flavor of the story: “He crab-walked down the hall towards the bathroom, his balls swinging like church bells.” A different, but just as notable, story is “A Fine Romance” by Billy O’Callaghan, about two strangers who make a connection on the street almost without speaking.

The poetry selections are primarily sharp and uncompromising, such as John Grochalski’s “biography,” which begins:

mexican beer can
crushed on the pavement
while my grandfather tosses
a bag full of his piss
down a hallway
in the rest home
and babbles with his wife
who has been dead nearly
twelve years.
he’s waiting for an
aortic aneurysm to burst

A little grim! There are also archival nonfiction offerings, and some interesting art, plus two sections the classification of which are not made immediately clear on the website: “purging” and “prose.” Nonetheless, there is a lot of lively reading to be found here in a colorful setting (lots of reds), and everything is easily found at your fingertips.
[www.undergroundvoices.com]

 

Waccamaw logoWaccamaw

Number 2

Fall 2008

Online Biannual

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This is a fledgling literary journal published by Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, named after a river that runs through it. The fall issue features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essays. The editor, Dan Albergotti, quotes Robert Frost’s observation, “There is nothing as mysterious as something clearly seen,” and says Waccamaw is looking for “work that is at once clear and mysterious.”

Most of the fiction selections have an element of mystery. Michael Czyzniejewski’s “On the Other Hand” is a peculiar tale about two men involved in an auto accident whose left hands are amputated, but, unfortunately, switched inadvertently when sewn back on. This story, unfortunately, suffers from something of an abrupt ending which can leave the reader a bit disappointed. Lauri Valeri, in “Cold War,” writes a somewhat rambling account of a thirty-five year old white female writer at the Iowa City Workshop who falls for a charismatic but unpredictable African-American male. The character she draws seems so real one is inclined to believe she is not a figment of the author’s imagination. The prize for the most bizarre story, however, goes to Darrin Doyle’s “Foot,” about a mother so devoted to her child that she is willing to amputate her foot so he can eat it. It is nice that a college literary journal is willing to publish this type of fiction.

The poetry selection, unfortunately, seems a bit tepid, given the elevated credentials of most of the contributors. David Kirby should get plaudits for managing to incorporate interesting history lessons into two cleverly composed poems, “These Arms of Mine,” and “Townes Van Zandt.”

The collection of essays presented is varied in both style and content. Rebecca Barry’s “The Invisible Mom” gives you the grimmer side of motherhood, and includes her poignant declaration to a friend, “Last night I breast fed the baby and put him to sleep. Then I had sex with my husband, which put him to sleep, and then I lay there awake, feeling like nothing else but a vessel for everyone else’s needs.”

This online journal is serving a different fare than is typically found on the internet. The website is nicely laid out and everything is easily accessible by a mere flick of the finger. It will be interesting to see what they have to offer in the future.
[www.waccamawjournal.com]

 

Washington Square coverWashington Square

Winter/Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The Table of Contents had me pretty excited: poems from John Yau, Molly Peacock, and Paul Muldoon (among many others); fiction from Steve Almond; a “conversation” between Alice Quinn and Adam Zagajewski. And the issue lives up to these names’ promise, but I was just as excited by the work of those whose names I did not immediately recognize: Suzanne Buffam, whose translation of Paul Eluard’s poem “Pour Vivre Ici” matches the original’s deceptive simplicity syllable for syllable (“Like the dead I had but one element”); a sardonic epistolary short story by Rudolph Delson, “An Open Letter to John E. Potter, Postmaster General,” comparing his Van Brunt postal station to the far superior Park Slope station; an amazing portfolio of black and white drawings, so different from each other it’s hard to believe they were done by the same artist, Andres Guzman, a recent graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design; and a lyric of taut little quatrains, “Sabina,” by Olivia Clark.

This issue’s New Salon, the transcript of a live conversation at NYU between Quinn and Zagajewski, is introduced by interview editor Peter Moysaenko, who describes Zagajewski’s most recent book, Eternal Enemies, as expanding upon “his dialectic of hope and doubt through a collection of elegies to late poets and his own evaporated days.” After their discussion of early influences, the two turn to a discussion of recent American poetry. “I have some problem with the youngest American poetry which is so playful – which is wonderful – but maybe there is some monotony in the playfulness,” Zagajewski says. I tend to agree (“We waste so much of our hearts,” writes Steve Almond in his “sudden fiction” contribution to this issue, “God is the Dream We Sleep to Find”), which is why I’m glad for Washington Square, where poetry and fiction of accomplished humor, wit, sarcasm, and playfulness, are balanced by more earnest, more searching works – no less carefully composed – poems by Christopher Bakken and Dg Nanouk Okpik, and the New Salon itself, a frank and serious conversation.
[www.washingtonsquarereview.com/]

 

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