Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted July 20, 2009

A Cappella Zoo - Agriculture Reader - Bellingham Review - Beloit Poetry Journal - Chtenia - Exquisite Corpse - Field - Glimmer Train - Greensboro Review - Gulf Coast - Hayden's Ferry Review - H.O.W. Journal - The Literary Review - LITnIMAGE - Meridian : Mizna - Monkeybicycle - New Ohio Review - the new renaissance - New York Quarterly - Potomac Review - Rattle - Red Rock Review

 

A Cappella Zoo coverA Cappella Zoo

Issue 2

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Anne Wolfe

As a literary magazine of “magical realist and experimental works,” this issue teems with imaginative stories, poetry, and a play. Magical realism wowed Europe before it hit the United States with so much force. This issue will tickle the mind with the ingenuity and refreshingly original, even zany pieces. Who needs brain-altering drugs when reading this can be a mind-blowing experience?

The very first story is “When the World Ends” by Nicole Miyashiro. It features not scientists in white coats or monsters or bombs, but a photographer having an encounter with an old girlfriend. The twists in this ten-pager make it seem both shorter and longer – so much packed in so few pages that are consumed so quickly. In fact, that is the rule throughout. “Slab City” by Laura Joyce Davis is about an aging motorcycle mama who picks up a man for companionship, among other motives. It packs a punch in more ways than one. “Pest,” an amusing short-short, where bugs creep out of nowhere, by Ravi Mangla, is a young man’s ode to his girl, who in her hair uses the “same oil used in low quantities in roach motels.” Lesley C. Weston might take the cake with her story, “Too far the sea,” about not a mermaid, but a “half-shark.” Be careful – there might be some tragic endings!

This journal is so refreshing that some readers might forget to take their Prozac; anyone whose mind can make the leap into this magic would find it well worth the seven dollars it takes to buy this issue. It has a dreamy front cover of blue and purple blobs, titled “Underwater Things,” by Jim Fuess – just the right sort of inhabitants of this zoo!
[www.acappellazoo.com]

 

Agriculture Reader coverAgriculture Reader

Number 3

2009

Annual

Review by Mary Baken

Issue #3 of the Agriculture Reader has a nice feel to it, literally. For one thing there’s something particularly satisfying about the paper it is printed on; it somehow feels thin without seeming fragile; somehow gives the entire issue a nice flexibility, somehow lends itself to a comfortable back pocket curl. Coming in at 103 pages, if you count the three final lined pages tagged on for taking “notes,” this issue is the perfect size for summer reading, for savoring, for holding up in a sun shielding position while swinging to and fro on a hammock.

Joey Parlett’s interspersed doodles and drawings, reminiscent of an underground comic book or the hypnotic, meandering, acid induced drawings that embellish many LP covers, add to the overall hip and casual nature of the magazine. It’s a playful magazine which seems to be willing to publish poetry of both a high and low nature, “serious” poetry and poetry which is willing to take a slant-eyed view of the medium of poetry itself.

Agriculture Reader is all poetry; poetry written in thin narrow lines; poetry made up of a single seven word sentence; poetry written in tidy stanzas; poetry that swings in seemingly random placement from left to right across the page. I was sometimes smitten, sometimes disappointed, sometimes simply bewildered. All the same, I applaud Agriculture Reader for welcoming the experimental, for publishing the new and the already established.

A particular feature of this issue is a mid magazine series of twelve poems by established “New York School” poet Tony Towle. Preceded  by Mike McDonough's well rendered introduction, Towle’s poems were a particular delight. I especially loved “Typing Test (2 Minutes),” “Addenda,” and “Macy’s,” which includes these beautiful concluding lines:

There are times when the rumbling subway
zeroes in for a serious conclusion,
and times when 16th-century dandyism of language
is the most important thing, my little pancake,
though real people walk in the cold air and birds fly in it.

Other highlights for me included Christian Barter’s “John and Jackie Kennedy on a Boat Deck, 1960,” which asks “the old / grade-school question” of whether wealth and beauty and privilege really make us happier people. I also loved the beautiful honesty in Rebecca Wolff’s poem “My Daughter,” the understated tone of irony in Eileen Myles’s prose poem “Little Brown,” and Sharon Mesmer’s poem “Veloce,” which concludes with these stunning lines:

If you wander lonely as a cloud,
if you welcome the thick anonymity
that passing time cannot change,
on forgotten grace you’ll fly.
Just remember to pack the snacks and sanitary napkins,
secure the tadpoles with leftover baloney,
beware the beefeaters in culottes.
Don’t let your accoutrements betray you.

[theagreader.com/]

 

Bellingham Review coverBellingham Review

Volume 32 Issue 61

Spring 2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Aimee Nezhukumatahil, 49th Parallel Poetry Award judge, is not exaggerating when she calls the prize-winning poem “gorgeous” and “breathtaking.” Kaveh Bassiri’s “Invention of God” is divine. From Bassiri’s clever, lyrical tercets to Mardi Link’s experience of Tractor Supply as “a spiritual moment” in the essay “Chicken Trilogy,” this issue of Bellingham Review is about pure pleasure: that particular and spectacular pleasure of purely good reading.

The Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction appears in this issue, too (Lauren Smith Traore’s “Widow’s Tale,” chosen by Stephen Kuusisto). He summarizes the essay’s achievement as “writing [that] simultaneously delivers the twin Platonic rewards of instruction and artful language. This is an important essay.” And you know he’s right from the very first lines: “I do not want to hear this story, though I have asked the girl to tell it.” It’s the story of a trip to the writer’s husband’s homeland, Burkina Faso in Western Africa. And it is one of those must-read essays you never forget.

Ann Pancake, judge for the Tobias Wolff Award for fiction, describes Edward O’Connell’s “The Hunting Horn” as “ambitious and fully realized” and praises the author’s “sidestepping the expected move in favor of the illuminating one.” It’s a family story that avoids cliché’s and easy emotion.

Every poem, story, essay, and photograph in the issue could easily have been a prize winner. Ona Gritz’s short work of creative nonfiction, “On the Whole," short paragraphs (some as few as one sentence, others four or five sentences) divided by significant space that reflects the divided sense of self she experiences as someone with cerebral palsy. Erinn Batykefer’s ekphrastic poem “In O’Keefe’s From the Lake, No. 3” which creates its own painting. “Foreveritron,” an utterly original essay by Anisee-Marie Gross who ponders the meaning of eternity from a hardware store in Barbaroo, Wisconsin. Jesse L. Young’s solemn and splendid black and white photographs, “Rail & Leaves” (exactly that, a lonely curve of track rambling through bare trees) and “After Hours at the Market,” a study of light and shape as they convert empty space into an atmosphere of abundant feeling.

Brenda Miller concludes this issue’s Letter from the Editor by expressing the hope that this issue of the journal will help readers find inspiration for their own work. It would be impossible, I think, to close the cover on Bellingham Review, without feeling not only inspired, but grateful.
[www.bhreview.org]

 

Beloit Poetry Journal coverBeloit Poetry Journal

Volume 59 Number 4

Summer 2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Toby Wiliguru Pambardu’s poem “First Truck,” “splutters,” and spins, and gushes, and presses forward, with the wild, persistent, percussive energy of the strange and magical beast of a “first truck” on the plain. Written in Yindjibarndi, the indigenous language of the people by the same name of the Pibara region of Australia, the poem creates a rumbling across the page that “clatters,” “rattles,” and “whirls” like the vehicle itself. The poem is translated by Shon Arieh-Lerer whose translation is not, in fact, the first of this poem. This one “attempts to capture Pambardu’s daring innovation, excitement, and poetic style.” Even without the ability to read the original, I can see that Arieh-Lerer has succeeded, and the poem (which takes up four pages in an issue of a mere 35) – and the translation – are thrilling, a highlight of the issue.

I also loved Benjamin Jackson’s “Bloodlines,” a long poem in four parts in which ancient history, personal/family history, and natural history merge and emerge from lines that move between casual matter-of-factness (“Dig a hole / put something in it / cover it up”) and elegance (“He woke to tankas and scriptures aflame”). The balance between narrative and lyric modes is handled with grace and authority, and the poem is never ordinary, even when it relies on ordinary diction. Jackson ponders the role and the nature of religion, the meaning of death, and captures our desire to remember and be remembered in verse that is admirably understated, yet emotionally compelling:

With myth and lore, buried countries
call – you me you me
you me you
– and we hope
to be remembered.

Avery Slater also contributes a long poem, “Bullet Proof,” a five-part consideration of scientific “realities” from the realms of physics and biology. The first four are played out against particular moments in place and time. The last, “Instar,” has no historical context, which is fitting, as it is about the death of cells, a timeless occurrence that negates all that has come before it in some ways, perhaps even this poem itself. “Death has no mouth,” the poem concludes. Although, of course, now it does.
[www.bpj.org/]

 

Chtenia coverChtenia

Readings from Russia

Gogol Mogul

Volume 2 Number 2 Issue 6

Spring 2009

Quarterly

Review by Anne Wolfe

The front cover of this superb publication shows a sleek black cat, tail high, eyes narrowed to luminous slits, strutting along an embankment in a photograph by Alexander Petrosyan. Like Russia, the cat is proud, a survivor. Gogol saw Russia as a brooding, dark country. These readings convey other writers’ takes on Gogol. Some of the fiction is absurdist fiction written in the early part of the twentieth century, when there was much experimentation in art and literature, like Dadaism. A Soviet writer could get himself shot for writing absurdist fiction under the Stalin regime.

The introduction is written by Tamara Eidelman, who states, “Gogol is an agonizing and painful love for Russia, from which there is no deliverance.” She makes us see how Gogol melds with Russia’s soul. “One Day in February,” by Mark Kharitonov features Gogol as the main character, in a crowd on a busy day, and while not exactly stream-of consciousness in its style, it cleverly depicts Gogol’s thoughts as he whiles away time, gets lost, muddled, and more – a novel study, taken from his novel. Much more delirious is “A Hell of a Fate” by Alexei Remizov: a sequence of dreams, or visions; a kaleidoscope of vignettes and images. “Gogol in Life” is an agonizingly detailed piece from a “biographical epic” by Vikenty Veresayev featuring the last three weeks of Gogol’s life, made even more miserable by the blundering treatment of doctors.

Several poems are present in their original Russian, then translated into English poetically, as well as literally for comparison. This is a very unique, interesting if incomplete array of Russian writers’ gestures of Gogol and examples of different kinds of literature it has produced in the past one hundred years.
[www.chtenia.com]

 

The Exquisite Corpse coverThe Exquisite Corpse

Issue 1

2009

Annual

Review by Shane Jiménez

Founded in 1983, Exquisite Corpse went through many lives before finally transforming into an online-only journal in 1996. Now offering an annual print anthology of material from the web journal, the work in Exquisite Corpse is as richly layered as it is stunningly diverse.

The maiden voyage of the Exquisite Corpse Annual lives and dies with the poetry. The issue curiously eschews contributor bios, which is perhaps because its pages feature a litany of the most renowned, seminal poets of the field. Diane di Prima kickstarts the issue with a series of poems loosely centered on ruin, time, and death (and other upbeat topics). Her poem “Madhyamaka” chronicles her response to the remains of New Orleans (“Extinct / as mammoths / or forests of giant ferns”) while “Loba Desesperada” describes a world where everything that one has known has “turned to pointillist / dust / turned to so much / sand.”

Other poetry offerings include first rate work from the celebrated Jerome Rothenberg and New York School poet Bill Berkson. The issue also includes a wonderful selection of translated work by international poet Attila Jozsef. It is Alice Notley’s “The Mask of Proserpina,” however, that glimmers the loudest in Exquisite Corpse. Mytho-centered and death-transfixed, Notley’s work here dances nimbly between myth and memoir. “These are memories,” she writes, “but not of what happened.”

The visuals in Exquisite Corpse are as strong as the written work. Featuring a gloriously disgusting cover illustration by Gonzo-ite Ralph Steadman, the issue also offering Joel Lipman’s “Pictopoesy,” which shows poetry and protest slogans scrawled across the grime and detritus of an urban environment.

The prose in Exquisite Corpse takes somewhat of a backseat to the poetry, but by no means does it lack the diversity and depth of the latter. Two pieces from Kane X. Faucher rail against everything from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Facebook (“like a Borgesian aleph, Facebook’s population continues to swell with the living and the dead”). “Plunge Pool” by Garry Craig Powell is a magnificent short-short story about masculinity, sexuality, and gender relations in modern Dubai. And Willie Smith’s surrealistic, time-displaced “Resurrected Manhunt” rounds out the scattershot and enjoyable issue in an appropriate manner. “Find myself once again back in 1969, hunting rhino downtown,” Smith’s piece begins, followed by, “Have swallowed a couple PCP tabs.” Indeed, Willie, indeed.
[www.corpse.org]

 

Field coverField

Number 80

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

There are stars aplenty in this issue devoted entirely to poetry and poetics: D. Nurske, Kevin Prufer, David Wagoner, Elton Glaser, Thomas Lux, G.C. Waldrep, Bruce Weigl, David St. John, Carl Phillips, Laura Kasischke, Franz Wright, Eric Pankey, David Hernandez, Jean Valentine, Alice Friman, Timothy Liu, Charles Wright, among others. And their work is, well, stellar. But there are equally bright and lesser-known voices on the horizon, too (many also quite accomplished and widely published), and I’d like to spotlight their contributions to this fine issue, beginning with moonlight and Melissa Kwasny’s prose poem “The City of Many Lovers.” “Moon that strikes on the downbeat,” she writes, and its Kwasny’s rhythms that are, indeed, most striking: “Lunedi. Martedi. Mercoldi. It’s moon-day.” And so she begins a poetic narrative that manages to tell a large story that unfolds in a small moment in one short lyric paragraph; it’s a perfect little model of prose poetry.

Amit Majmudar’s couplets in “Evangelical Fugue” couldn’t be more different in tone, an edgy, witty approach (“The business of religion is not-for-prophet.”). Yet Majmudar, too, knows how to make terse verse work to tell a big story as it can be distilled in a focused moment: “Think of business as a semidivine religion. / We demi-goddemagogues wine and dine religion.”

Two poems by Greg Wrenn also tell their small/large stories with large/small images and focus. A prose poem, “Monogamy,” carries a secondary title “[Ninth Labor],” followed by “Mindfulness,” with the secondary title “[Fourth Labor],” which made me curious about the larger series of which they must be part. Both are poems that explore the body’s relationship to the space/place around it and to the language that embodies that space. Wrenn has an unusual voice, almost mysterious: “Join me here, / in the untherapeutic / everywhere, and see the futility / of revision, self-promotion.”

And while he is certainly considered a star in his own country, Polish poet Tadeuz Rozewicz will find a bright light shining on his work soon in English, too, as translator Joanna Trzeciak is preparing a collection of his work for a mainstream American press. One of the poems, beautifully translated, appears here: “Homework Assignment on the Subject of Angels” (“Fallen / angels // look like flakes of soot / abacuses / cabbage leaves / stuffed with black rice / hail / painted red / blue flames / with yellow tongues”).

There are certainly more new stars in this issue, but no more room to highlight them. I’ll let one of them, Jennifer Atkinson, help us conclude with a line from her poem “Canticle of the Night Path”: “I want whatever happens after that,” which is how this issue will make a reader feel about poetry, poetics, and Field.
[www.oberlin.edu/ocpress]

 

Glimmer Train coverGlimmer Train Stories

Issue 70

Spring 2009

Quarterly

Review by Kenneth Nichols

The editors of Glimmer Train Stories have successfully put together another issue of pieces that focus strongly on character interiority. Through the course of the issue, the reader is acquainted with several different people, including an American teacher watching over his students in Germany, ill-fated lovers dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and people on the run from Nazis.

“Rubber Boy,” by David Allan Cates, details the story of a Vietnam veteran who prides himself on his ability to bounce back from life’s challenges. The first-person narrator admits that remaining sane is a struggle, but understands what can bring true happiness: pulling your daughter from the ocean and reviving her, only to watch her turn cartwheels a few minutes later.

Scott Nadelson’s “Aftermath” clocks in at nearly fifty pages, but the narrative skips along at an intoxicating pace. Through the course of those pages, the reader is immersed in the lives of Richard and Alana, a couple in the midst of a trial separation. After dealing with moving, the stresses of dating and the power of loneliness, Richard still weighs the benefits of having “a reconciliation, a long night of negotiation and tears, when he and Alana would discuss the things they could live without, the things they couldn’t, when they would ask over and over that one unanswerable question – ‘Where did we go wrong?’”

There are many stories dealing with the complications of being raised in a strong religious tradition, but Joshua Canipe’s “Preacher Stories” makes excellent use of his material. The story manages to give snakes a new metaphor.

Along with the fiction, this issue of Glimmer Train features an interview with Will Allison, author of What You Have Left. In addition to confirming the value of a mentor to a young writer, Allison believes that writing is “a big leap of faith, believing that it will all amount to something.”
[www.glimmertrain.com/]

 

The Greensboro Review coverThe Greensboro Review

Number 85

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I almost missed my stop on the subway, I couldn’t stop reading. What captivated me most in these poems, prose poems, and short stories – and what they have in common, for the most part – is the power to surprise without working too vigorously or obviously to accomplish this. They don’t go where you expect or move the way you think they will, but they don’t announce their intentions to thwart expectations with bold gestures or wildly inventive strokes.

On occasion one writer’s work is even surprisingly linked to another’s, as in the pleasing continuity between Emma Bolden’s poem “Palmistry,” with its chime (“you / tongue a bell / clapping”) resounding in F. Daniel Rzicznek’s poem “Several Invisible Horses,” which ends: “The little bell in my head I keep from ringing,” and is then echoed immediately afterward in Annie Lighthart’s “Looking into the Fallen Church Bell.” Both are lovely, quiet poems which build to exceptionally striking conclusions. Rzicznek’s is quoted above; Lighthart’s, set apart from the previous five lines, remakes the bell as atmosphere and attitude: “That would be the first sleep, first domed night of my making.”

Eric Higgins also contributes a beautiful poem that builds to a wholly unpredictable and utterly heart-breaking conclusion. “House of Dissolving” is an original and visually evocative ars poetica of sorts, masquerading as a love poem, as carefully sculpted as the heart-shaped soap carving his poem’s seventeen-year old subject spends the night creating for his new wife (“her finger pressing where his thought had been”). “Knowing such people will die, it is difficult to rest,” Higgins concludes. Something in me melted like the bars of soap. Could there be a more compelling reason to whittle a poem?

Fiction, too, is pleasing in similar ways. Stories that move naturally toward unnaturally satisfying conclusions. These pieces are sure of themselves, but not showy, even when their voices are powerful and distinct, like the narrator in “No Cerveza, No Trabajo” by Shane Joaquín Jiménez, recently released from the state prison and learning to make his way at home again: “I dropped my one bag of earthly ties. The shag was still saucer-marked where my departed furniture had sat. My goddamn life. I picked that bag up and came stamping down them steps to the living room asnort with fury.”

The magazine’s prize-winning story by Travis Klunick, “Yeguas y Caballos,” and stories by Elizabeth Gonzalez, Barb Johnson, and others are equally strong. By and large, these stories are round and tender, with memorable characters and small, but powerful epiphanies.
[www.uncg.edu/eng/mfa]

 

Gulf Coast coverGulf Coast

Volume 21 Number 2

Summer/Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“I must be frank about this – the American Present baffles me.” Not longer after making this pronouncement in his interview here with Irene Keliher, David Leavitt reminds us what Grace Paley said about finding a subject or coming to terms with what one is compelled to say: “For me there is a long time between knowing and telling.” Turning what baffles us into something we can know and tell about, in ways simultaneously original and unique, yet recognizable or, at least, meaningful, is what good writing is about (although I may end up no less baffled). Gulf Coast satisfies this goal admirably.

In this issue that includes Barthelme Prize Winner Kevin Allardice’s “Dominoes,” a “lyric essay” composed of three brief bios of pivotal moments in dealing with illness that begin “Take,” and “And take” and “Now take.” Let me show you something, Allardice seems to be saying, yet not having articulated the situation for which these descriptions serve as examples, make them all the more powerful. Jenny Boully also contributes a curious and fascinating lyric essay, “from ‘not merely because of the unknown that was stalking towards them,’” of which the italicized portion comes from Peter Pan, as do phrases quoted in the piece. The essay is a dreamy, fairy-tale-like meditation on what is real, what is imaginary, and what is known. I ended up fairly baffled by it, but also intrigued and happy to have encountered it.

Impressive, too, are two short essays by Slovenian writer Ales Steger, translated by Brian Henry. Just the first sentence of “Tacitus at the Underground Station” will demonstrate Steger’s agility as a prose stylist: “A thick hour, as long as the trip from the Berlin District Charlottenburg to Prenzlauer Berg, turned thin because of the names on the bars.”

Poems in this issue, like the prose, are characterized by strong, willful voices making determined, often bold assertions. “Today my total gravity will be monstrous,” writes Nicky Beer in “Black Hole Itinerary” (Beer has magnificent poems in scores of magazines these days). “When you say red you don’t have to say blue,” writes Beckian Fritz Goldberg in “Dog.” “I was not startled by the books that flopped at my feet / like lifeless school marms or little spineless soldiers,” writes Maureen Seaton in “Babel.” “To your veins we’ve clogged with butter / we give thanks,” writes this issue’s featured poet David Wojahn in “Ode to Black 6.” Wojahn contributes four strong poems here and an interview with Anna Journey. “My mental landscape contains passages of Yeats, but it contains the theme song from ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ but they’re both stored somewhere in my synapses,” Wojahn explains. That juxtaposition between popular and “high culture,” might well describe Gulf Coast’s editorial viewpoint, and it works well for Wojahn as for the magazine.

Finally, I am always happy to find serious essays that explore and analyze literature without resorting to academic jargon, essays intended to help us achieve greater understanding (un-baffling, as it were). This issue’s featured essay is by Tony Hoagland on “the new poetry.” Irene Keliher follows up her Leavitt interview with an essay on “Looking for the New Post-Gay: New Frontiers of Queer Fiction,” and there are a number of intelligently composed reviews, as well, including Erik Ekstrand’s review-essay on writing about prose poems.
[www.gulfcoastmag.org]

 

Hayden's Ferry Review coverHayden’s Ferry Review

Issue 44

Spring/Summer 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Here is an editorial perspective I can get behind:

Oh, you have been trying to follow
words, those lost dogs,
since the days of alchemy
galloping towards our days of timetables and ads?
In reverse
in the heart of houses dreaming beneath their dust
the city keeps wordless watch for
tracks of a wet pigeon on the sidewalk
lines and scratches on the Obelisk.
That what has meaning
on
skin-matter
and world-matter.

This is Marie-Claire Bancquart’s poem “Veut Dire” (“Has Meaning”) as beautifully translated by Christina Cook, which appears in the magazine’s International Section. How do we make meaning? What makes words mean anything? And wouldn’t Bancquart’s magnificent poems be “lost words” to many of us if it weren’t for journals like Hayden’s Ferry and translators like Cook?

The International Section features an essay on poetry in Nicaragua by Danish writer Pia Tafdrup, translated by K.E. Semmel; poems rich in historical and geographical imagery by Ukranian poet Tara Shevchenko, translated by Russell Thornton and Svetlana Ischenko; John Penuel’s translation of a short story by Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro; a story by French writer Philippe Romon who writes in English; and Erin Moure’s translation of a lyrical, metaphysical essay, a mediation on the nature of poetry (“is a poem a conjunction of ruins?”) by Galician writer Chus Pato. Ruins – lost words?

The inventiveness and urgency in the international work is matched by the work of the American writers who appear in this issue. A series of poems with Roman numerals for titles by Joshua Ware are narrow columns that can be read horizontally or vertically as single or linked units followed by footnotes, some quite extensive. The juxtaposition of casual and arcane, academic or “high brow” and popular language and ideas is striking (“The chasm between culture and nature / collapses into an arabesque” and “Noam Chomsky vs. Nim Chimpsky”). Footnotes reference the address and hours of restaurants and brief bios of the famous and infamous (Henry David Thoreau and Kim Jong II). In its own way, Ware’s poems are also about capturing lost words (“Can pastiche transcend?”).

Thomas Cook in “Jet-Pink Jaguar” also settles narrow columns of phrases and fragments across the page, and they may also be read as in multiple ways (my assumption, there are no instructions or spillover lines as in Ware’s work). “We are great discoveries – a shining violence – of skin, thrown and ruthless, waddled in knowledge” – Bancquart’s skin-matter and world-matter? Or is that word-matter?

Fiction by Peter Gorman, Holly Hall, and Kevin Skiena is not out of place alongside these meditations on making meaning, with their considerations of a “home for unwed fathers,” substitute teaching as performance art, and the metaphysical musings of Skiena’s “In-flight Dramaturgy”:

“It is almost by accident that you are reading this, unless you believe in fate, which I do not. I think belief in fate is like ordering a cheeseburger in a restaurant, holding onto the menu through dessert, and then feeling you had no other possible course but to order the cheeseburger, that the cheeseburger was somehow destined for you, chosen by some entity or mapped on some chart because of the great significance that rested in your entanglement with each other. Only in retrospect do things seem fateful, and I think the past is a dangerous place to dwell.”

Finally, not to be missed – astounding photographs, landscapes that also ponder what it means to, well, make meaning, most especially Kalle Kataila’s “Transcience,” described by art historian Jenny Rosemarie Mannhardt as “human figures . . . standing in front of endless landscapes, facing a scenery so tremendously beautiful they seem to be solidified in absolute silence.” More lost words.
[www.asu.edu/clas/pipercwcenter/publications/haydensferryreview/]

 

H.O.W. Journal coverH.O.W. Journal

Number 4

Spring/Summer 2009

Biannual

Review by Anne Wolfe

This literary journal is dedicated to helping the “15 million children throughout the world that have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.” The proceeds of the sales and submission fees go to various orphanages around the world. To make sure it sells, it uses both “prominent writers and artists with rising stars to produce an eclectic mixture.” How can anyone go wrong with a journal meant for such a worthy cause?

The quality of this journal equals its cause, clinched by using top-notch writers with imaginations that rival their ability to put words together. “Mort’s Café” by Susan Minot is about a café, and a waitress there, who wait exclusively on dead people! Instead of waiting on “the sailor” and “the salesman” she waits on “the electrocuted” and “the suicide.” Though absurd, it is also touching. “One of the girls has hung herself from the chandelier,” begins “Palace Girls” by Lenore Myka. She brings the reader in slowly through the details of disposing of the body, gradually bringing the reader to ask “why?” and finally revealing the whole mesmerizing, awful truth.

The slow disintegration of the senses comes into play in “Bird Church,” by Sara Majka, a Hitchcock-esque, surreal, slow-but-sure study of a woman from which one cannot remain detached. There is a section of whimsical pages of photography and art. The poetry is competent. An outstanding poem, “Wrong Funeral” by Michael Dumanis turns into a story that is much more than that of a burial and funeral.

There is not much in this journal specifically about orphans, instead there is very high quality work that anyone could be happy to pay for to benefit their own mind and library. The other benefit – the business of H.O.W., Inc. is a blessed bonus.
[www.HOWjournal.com]

 

The Literary Review coverThe Literary Review

Africa Calling

Volume 52 Number 2

Winter 2009

Quarterly

Review by Anne Wolfe

The front cover of the “Africa Calling” edition of TLR presents us with the crossroads where Africa presently stands: four young teenage boys walking to schools in uniform, striding down a brown road against the green backdrop of ageless Africa. Modern Africa with its optimism marching forward impatiently while old Africa, with all its problems and lushness, is still there, but receding.

The writers in this publication are all connected to Africa in some way. Each piece displays this connection. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, in her poem, “Biography When the Wanderers Come Home,” movingly describes a war-torn area she must have known: “This is where we were born. / In these corrugated rugged places, / where boys chasing girls chasing / boys chasing other girls chasing bellies / chasing babies chasing other babies / chasing poverty, chased death.” Here a few words are worth a thousand pictures.

In African literature, the sense of place is most important because each physical situation means there is a culture and classes. In an excerpt from the essay “Child Soldiers,” Paula Delgado-Kling describes her horrifying encounter upon returning to Columbia and meeting a teenager who joined a gang and was being re-educated: “This girl, her innocence gone in every way, forced to be a plaything of a kingpin, still hoped for a bright future, though she had been a terrorist in the eyes of the law.”

The fiction is hauntingly genuine as well, with much real Africa worked in – some hilarious, but all different from Western literature simply because it has subject matter and points of view no mere Western writer could dream up. Tracy Nneka Nnanwubar delivers a unique take on unenlightened, un-liberated women with her ironic “Never About Her.” Many, many revealing facets of African cultures come forth in these two hundred plus pages – the next best thing to going there. Who needs safari when you can meet the people?
[www.theliteraryreview.org]

 

LITnImage logoLITnIMAGE

Spring 2009

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

When I read recently that a story published in this lit mag had won the Million Writers Award, I decided to give it a closer look. The award is sponsored by the online literary journal, storySouth, and involves a panel of judges reading through seven or eight hundred entries from the web to select a hundred and seventy-five or so for further consideration. Then Jason Sanford, previous editor of storySouth, selects the top ten stories and these are voted on by the public. It is a fairly democratic – if arbitrary – procedure, and the winner of this year’s award is “The Fisherman’s Wife” by Jenny Williams, which appeared in the August 2008 issue of LITnIMAGE.

The latest edition of this online journal presents six stories, most of them quite short, three art selections, a book review, and a video interview with Kevin Dean, sculptor and photographer. “Plum Blossom,” by Grace Andreacchi, is a touching bit of micro fiction about the death of a seven-year-old girl. It is a delicate piece with nice imagery and avoids being overly maudlin. Even better is “Frank the Phrenologist and the Fabulous Wolf Woman,” by Eric Bennett. This is about a reclusive man who can tell people’s personalities by the bumps on their head but cannot use this skill with the wolf woman from the Ringling Brothers Circus because she is covered with hair. Not knowing arouses him and causes him to wonder if they can have a normal relationship within their abnormalities.

Tria Andrews does an excellent review of Howard Jaffe’s recent novel, Jesus Coyote, which is a fictionalized version of Charles Manson. It contains two sentences that are becoming all too true in our modern society: “The usurpation of ‘fact’ in our culture has moved very rapidly . . . with the almost total reliance on technology. Information becomes disinformation without apology; one datum contradicts a previous datum posted only a few hours before.”

This is an attractive journal that is nicely laid out, with all of the contents pleasingly presented. Other online journals could study this one and learn something from its elegant simplicity. They have only been around since the summer of 2008 but are already garnering awards, certainly an excellent portent of things to come.
[www.litnimage.com]

 

Meridian coverMeridian

Issue 23

May 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A meridian stretches between poles, an apt way to describe the fascinating extremes between the pieces in this issue of the magazine – from the “Lost Classic” feature, a letter sent in reply from Katherine Anne Porter to book designer Merle Armitage (“It is not in the least difficult for me to standby what I love and believe in”) to an e-mail interview by Paul Legault with poet Tao Lin (“I want my next book to be ‘iconic’ it can’t suck”). From Lynn Pott’s poem “Barely Ask” (“When you get old do your lips shrink, do you know?”) to Angus A. Bennett’s “Muted with a Line from Someone Else’s Memory” (“and the joy of a midnight as meaningless things / as we do meaningless things – a placemarker for desire”).

There is less distance, perhaps, between the fiction, stories by Helen Phillips, Nahal Suzanne Jamir, Laura van den Berg, Jill Logan, Alyssa Knickerbocker, and Peter Levine, most of which are casual in tone (with the exception of Jamir’s), but not inconsequential. They share particularly appealing opening lines, small pronouncements with just the right amount of intrigue (“I always thought of Phyllis as lovely, even without the wings,” from Logan’s “Phyllis without Wings”). I was especially moved by Jamir’s “In the Middle of Many Mountains,” a finalist in the magazine’s fiction contest, which is lovely and lyrical.

The wild distance reasserts itself in the extremes between the interview, quoted above, with Tao Lin and Jasmine Bailey and Mark Wagenaar’s interview with poet Jane Mead, whose third book, The Usable Field, was published last year by Alice James. “I should host SNL Chris Rock should say something about me,” says Lin. “I definitely consider myself in conversation with other contemporary American writers,” says Mead.

Finally, American popular culture and Polish pop culture meet and merge in Kenneth Goldsmith’s “No. 110 10.4.03-10.7.93.” Goldsmith, a self-defined text-based artist, participated in “Construction in Process” in Lodz, Poland. He explains: “My method of writing allows me to ‘sight’ language by stringing words together according to their audio and / or phonetic combinations.” Incorporating words and phrases from students working in the museum where he had set up his computer, Goldsmith created a piece mounted as a huge wall-text, 1500 words in a language he did not understand, “but the Poles did.” The piece is reprinted here, long lines stretching across the margins of several pages, spanning the vast territory between meaning and meaninglessness and back again: “Aneta, Ayatollah, badania, Bar Mitzvah, bla bla bla, Bonanza, cios Ryśka.”
[www.readmeridian.org]

 

Mizna coverMizna

Volume 10 Issue 1

2008

Biannual

Review by Anne Wolfe

This publication contains “prose, poetry, and art exploring Arab American.” Mizna the organization is dedicated to supporting Arab-American culture and giving is expression. “Mizna” the word means “the cloud of the desert.” In a desert, a cloud is good, cooling, giving comfort to those who pass through – a big difference maker. This publication is short – about eighty pages, but packs a wallop.

There is some striking, stylized visual art in the center pages by Bashir Makhoul, with scenes in earthen tones overlaid upon one another. It boasts a one-act play, “Western Mentality,” by Robert Caisley. This play has two characters, a “young Arab-American executive,” and “A big ol’ cowboy,” and sarcastically, comically puts on trial the “us against them” mentality that damages the Western relations with the Middle East.

A very satisfying, upbeat poem written by Assef Al-Jundi is “I Died Many Times Before” – a twist on our Western saying, “A coward dies a thousand times.” This poem emphasizes not bravery and cowardice (Western values), but family, prudence, self-control, abstinence, coolness under pressure, and faith in a higher power (Eastern values). An essay by Randy Holland, “Happy Ending,” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is both serious and comic, and gives details and insights about the history of the conflict that might be little known. A very moving poem begins, “She whispers, ‘Please Doctor. My child. / Must be born now.’” This poem, “This Day in Baghdad,” by Wendy Brown-Baez, is a dramatic picture of what war has done to everyday life, has done to innocent people in Iraq. This journal should be required reading for every American citizen.
[www.mizna.org/]

 

Monkeybicycle coverMonkeybicycle

Number 6

Spring/Summer 2009

Biannual

Review by Greg Gerke

The new Monkeybicycle is a beautiful book to hold and admire. Weighty, a neo-Rothko cover design, that new book smell. The inside is even better. A strong lineup of edgy stories and poems. Devoting its pages to mostly prose, the selections range from flash fiction to medium length and longer short stories. What other magazine throws together hard realism with the surreal, magical realism and science fiction? Editor Steven Seighman has put together something for everyone and it is refreshing after a glut of theme-issues has dominated literary journals for some years.

Michael Czyzniejewski’s “Valentine” explores a husband’s suspicions about his wife’s yearly gynecologist visit on Valentine’s Day and what it means for their future. The narrator finds more answers in his own past and at the end resignation becomes transfixed and the fragile couple tries to get past the illusions surrounding their love. Czyzniejewski upsets expectations by having the digression at the end bloom into the crux of the story. This is daring, Chekhovian move – it is the story in this issue I respect and honor the most.

In Shelia Ashdown’s “Sedimentary,” a young couple’s drive in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains is shown. The female narrator, a budding geologist, is in awe seeing them for the first time and wants to taste their grit: “I can suddenly understand people who have pica, for their desire to ingest the earth, to feel sand between their teeth.” Over the course of the drive the landscape that haunts her points her in a new direction concerning her boyfriend. The sudden event at the end might seem hackneyed but the car trouble has grown out of the characters’ psychologies and Ashdown’s precise prose makes the life-defining moment as tense and real as a great action sequence

Humor abounds in Jason Jordan’s “Shuttlecock.” A young man’s penis wants to be an astronaut. The penis’ name is Stretch. Jordan’s deadpan approach shows even a penis can have a big heart. In Matt Bell’s “The Girls of Channel 2112,” a pair of Siamese twin girls run an internet sex room. One of the girls has an admirer and she must convince her prudish sister to let this man into their bedroom. Bell chooses pathos over humor and the aching and longing of the narrator brings the reader into the impossible position of a life confined. Drew Jackson’s “After Spaulding” concerns the narrator’s visit to an old college friend’s island compound full of strange half-human/half-animal creatures. This story gets overlong while detailing the island but memorable creatures are beautifully etched. Each of these tales has enough of a patina of reality to be unsettling and show us a future that is perhaps not so far off. Freaks and those hallowed parts of the body are given a voice to express ecstasy and loneliness and everything in between.

The issue hums along between realism and the surreal and the effect is that of a well-balanced meal. Also included is Joe Sullivan’s memoir of the sometimes weighty, sometimes weightless days after college in the suburbs of Boston. Monkeybicycle is one of the more daring journals and that they are now an imprint of the wonderful Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Dzanc Books only cements their place in the literary world.
[www.monkeybicycle.net]

 

New Ohio Review coverNew Ohio Review

Issue 5

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

If you love Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska’s work as I do, you’ll love this issue which features the poet’s work, along with ten brief essays that “consider” her writing and influence from Lawrence Raab, Carl Dennis, Sally Ball, Kathy Fagan, Jennifer Clarvoe, William Olsen, Michelle Boisseau, Rachel Wetzsteon, Marianne Boruch, and Tony Hoagland. Olsen describes Szymborska’s poems as “a little off to the side,” ironic not as “cosmic betrayals,” but as “human fictions.”

Szymborska is well accompanied by poets Maura Stanton, Mary Ruefle, Kim Addonizo, David Rivard, David Yezzi, and many others, including some of those who contributed the essays noted above. David Wagoner’s “Breakfast with Salesmen Before the Poetry Reading,” like these essays, sheds light on the work of poets and poems, “to give easy answers to harder and harder questions.”

The issue also includes ten stories and essays, including a terrific one-page mini-essay by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, “Inheritance,” economical in size and generous in scope; a brief meditation on fishing by Richard Robbins; a story William Olsen might be tempted to characterize as “a little off to the side,” by Roberta Allen (“Barbeque”), which lives up to the promise of its first line: “If I were to write a story about a barbeque in Stone Ridge, would I change the location to Willow?”; and another, also delightfully off to the side, by Tom Whalen, “From the Life of a Project Manager.”

The Szymborska selections are smart ones, smartly translated by Joanna Trzeciak. Here is the poet at her most off-to-the-side-est:

When I utter the word Future,
the first syllable is already headed for the past.
When I utter the word Silence,
I destroy it.
When I utter the word Nothing,
I create something no non-existence can contain.

[www.ohiou.edu/nor]

 

the new renaissance coverthe new renaissance

Volume 13 Number 2

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Anne Wolfe

“An international magazine of ideas and opinions, emphasizing literature and the arts” – that is how the editors describe tnr. The front cover exhibits delicate pink petals, aside thistles, against a brick cross – beauty, troubles and truth. Art this journal has in abundance – photographs, reproductions of paintings, watercolors, drawings – all very stylish and in color.

A challenging opinion piece by Vitaly Kozyrev opens the issue: “Putin’s Heritage: Back to the U.S.S. R.?” Kozyrev, who teaches at Endicott College, tries to dispel the “myth” that Putin is returning Russia to its previous communistic roots, but does warn of a “delicate balance of power” and “Russia’s futile resistance to globalization.”

This issue contains a good deal of first-rate poetry. There is sincerity ringing through Joan E. Bauer’s “Remembering V.S. Naipul at the Dawn of a Dark Century”: “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow / themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” There is reverence in “To your usu daemon” by Beatriz Alba del Rio: “The suffering was it real or was it dream? / it was YOU.” There is sorrow, regret and acceptance in “Requiem” by Patricia Chaddock: “I came upon a cracker box of wonder: / rude home for three newborn kittens / discarded by some heartless wretch / in a vacant lot.” These poems are more than the verbal gymnastics of adjectives and imagery that pass for good poetry so often, they tell a story, show heart, reveal truths, heighten awareness.

A stirring picture of what death might feel like was created by Thomas A. West, Jr. in “The Light is Strong.” “Has the lease run out?” asks the main character of himself, and seemingly in whispers, we are led to his last moments. While the answer might not be novel, the telling is. This is polished, high-class, substantive work – what unites it is the quality – it is meaningful, thoughtful and sincere.
[www.tnrlitmag.org]

 

New York Quarterly coverNew York Quarterly

Number 65

2009

Quarterly

Review by Mary Baken

To start at the ending, I loved Melanie Lynn Moro-Huber’s straightforward essay “Checking the Pulse of Poetry Today,” in which Moro-Huber attempts to assess the value of poetry in contemporary culture. Beginning with a brief conversation with her husband, who sees little to no value in poetry, and continuing on with anyone who will listen, Moro-Huber receives a variety of responses from the owner of a music store, a fellow shopper at the local Walmart, MFA students, and academics. I loved the casual tone of Moro-Huber’s essay and the quirkiness of her approach, such as when she reiterates her husband’s response that “Poetry hits you in the nuts or it doesn’t.”

Judging by the contents of this issue, which spans nearly 200 pages and contains some 115 poems, poetry is clearly alive and well, appreciated, valued, and read. One can only imagine the high quality slush pile for each and every issue of the New York Quarterly.

One poem that definitely 'hit me in the nuts' was Ted Jonathan’s “Regina Einhorn”:

What planet she’s
dropped from,
nobody knows.
She hunts alone.
Coolly cruising
Rochambeau Avenue:
legs and
more legs, casual hips,
jagged shag, pillow lips,
and a mannish
two finger pinch
on her Parliament.

Jonathan’s poem cruises from beginning to end. I loved its sustained cool and then its whammy punch at the end. Likewise, Dorianne Laux’s “How We Were: A Lullaby,” with heartbreaking lines like: “We were not unloved, though / no one could hide the way / quail tended their eggs, crowed / when they broke open, the children / paraded from bush to low bush, / a careful display.” Then there’s Tony Gloeggler’s “Mid Life Poetry Crises,” which begins: “Sometimes I get sick / of seeing myself / in my poems, my Brooklyn / accent slurring its way / through every line,” and continues “I want to write a sonnet / about a thin woman viewing / a Matisse print from thirteen / different angles. Write a haiku, / put a bumblebee in it, / the sound its wings make / brushing a fucking tulip.” Or Tom C. Hunley’s poem “Ism-Ism” which beautifully repeats itself as it exonerates the process of thinking: “You’re not sure whether or not to divorce your spouse, / so you go for a walk to think-think-think, because / you’re a thinker. A pair of bluebirds fly in unison, sing / in unison. They shoot straight up in unison.”

The list goes on and on. Can I quote them all? Of course not. But I have to mention Marge Piercy’s “When the Floor Dissolves,” Christopher Cunningham’s “A Time of Rest,” Jackie Sheeler’s “Gloria’s Stories,” Kim Bridgford’s “The Glass Slippers,” Scott Bailey’s “Hallows,” E.J. Miller Laino’s “Picture Us,” Stephen S. Mills’s “The Scientists Don’t Know…” Steve Henn’s “Talking at Spike’s About a Friend Gone Mad,” and Scott Weaver’s “Etymology.”

The New York Quarterly is a lovely collection of wonderful work. Poetry is clearly alive and well and thriving.
[www.nyquarterly.org/]

 

Potomac Review coverPotomac Review

A Journal of Arts & Humanities

Issue 45

Spring 2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Potomac Review is a publication of the Paul Peck Humanities Institute at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. It’s not suburban Washington D.C., where the college is located, however, that graces this issue’s cover, but an exquisite black and white photograph of “Scotland’s Royal Mile,” by Roger Fritts. The street scene is viewed through a window behind a desk. The window’s divided light imposes its grid on a table of objects (drawing and scientific tools), the geometry of the buildings in the distance reflected in the instruments on the table.

Stupendous black and white photos of far-flung places by Jon Donnell, Inna Stair, and another by Roger Fritts are also featured in this issue. Jessica Snow’s “Chess Pieces” on the back cover, a perfect close-up of what appears to be a heavy crystal chess piece, provides a viewing experience of a different kind entirely. There isn’t a photo here I wouldn’t wish to see framed in my own living room, and in much the same way, I am happy to place this issue of Potomac Review on my bookshelves.

I was charmed by Sarah Domet’s story, “The McDoogle Family Home,” which begins:

Reenie McDoogle grows sick of the tour in week three. She’s done it thirteen times that weekend already, and now with the new group crookedly single-filing up her front lawn, this will be the fourteenth. It has started as a good idea, she thinks; she thought – opening her home so the public could see the inner-workings of a true American family.

Of course, thinking that one’s life and domicile could represent a true anything, let alone American family, is a recipe for mayhem at best, and disaster at worst. I won’t tell you which is closer to Domet’s version of “true American family life,” but it’s a true American story.

The stories we tell ourselves about our lives and family histories and futures are played out, too, in Jane Hoogestraat’s poem “For Daniel, Leaving Yale.” The distinction between Daniel’s present life at Yale, now ending, and his home, a place where “the combine grinds grain like brass” is cleverly drawn only through the relationship of the poem’s title to its body. There are no descriptions of Daniel, of Yale, or of Daniel at Yale. Yale is mentioned only in the title. Instead, the poem tells versions of his father’s homecomings and of the parts of these stories Daniel once liked, moving back and forth in time so that the homecomings merge into one. This was a successful and engaging strategy that turned the poem from merely an expression of sentimental personal longing into a well-shaped poem.

Two short essays about islands (one by Sue Eisenfeld, the other by Anne Wilson Gregory), which appear in the Table of Contents in a section titled “River Journeys,” managed to capture, at once, both the large and more focused view of this issue’s photographs, and the personal element of the Review’s short fiction, as well.
[www.montgomerycollege.edu/potomacreview]

 

Rattle coverRattle

Volume 15 Number 1

Summer 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Poetry as storytelling. Poetry as intimate conversation. Poetry as painting. If you know serious readers who say they don’t like poetry, give them an issue of Rattle. Especially this one, which features amazing “conversations” with Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes, conducted by editor Alan Fox, a “Tribute to African American Poets,” and contributors’ notes that contain brief personal (and personable) remarks rather than dull lists of credentials. “The hope is that a poem might walk the tightrope from which sloganeering topples,” writes David O’Connell in his note. Many of these notes are, happily, as satisfying in their own way as the poems.

“WOW!” is what I have written across the pages of the extensive conversation between Fox and Derricotte, who is as frank and open as always, something for which I hope she is recognized and appreciated. She questions the need for and significance of a special section on African American poets; discusses the ways in which the election of Obama may change what black and white people feel they may say about race; talks about her family; describes the revising of poems; and updates us on the latest with Cave Canem, the highly competitive and popular writing workshop/retreat program she founded with Cornelius Eady for African American writers.

The “Tribute” section includes poems by 32 poets, including Derricotte. I am always pleased to see work by Patricia Smith whose “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” is typical of her poetry, a powerful story told in rich images. I was glad to be introduced to the lovely, understated work of DéLana R.A. Dameron (“Cartographer”) and the sharp, brilliant verse of Myronn Hardy (“Mucambo”). Watch out for Thomas Sayers Ellis who makes a brief, but powerful appearance here and whose work is becoming increasing prominent on the national scene (not to mention Facebook). Exquisite black and white profiles of several of the poets by photographer Rachel Eliza Griffiths are frame worthy even as reproduced here.

Poems by 55 poets appear in the non-tribute portion of the magazine, including Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Lyn Lifshin, David Wagoner, and editor Alan Fox. The magazine favors poems that tell vivid stories in conversational language (with some exceptions). At the same time, the majority of these poems have what I might call a “poetry intention” which is effective and deliberate, as in Larry Crist’s “Last Day on Earth”: “On this the last day of earth / I bathe, wash my hair, clean my nails / shave with a new blade” or in these lines from Michael Campagnoli’s “Beirut (1982-84): A Cycle of Poems: “Coco, the parrot, was skilled / at imitating the incoming.”

“Transformation should be in everyone’s definition of poetry,” Terrance Hayes says in his conversation with Alan Fox. Read Rattle and be transformed.
[www.rattle.com/]

 

Red Rock ReviewRed Rock Review

Issue 23

Fall 2008

Biannual

Review by Shane Jiménez

At first glance, the Fall 2008 issue of Red Rock Review may seem to be fairly provincial in tone, but a deeper look shows the work to be as wide in locale and subject matter as it is rich in expression. From Hari Bhajan Khalsa’s poem about the swaying rhythms of summertime in Los Angeles to Mark Sanders’s deceptively simple poems about the inner lives of horses, Red Rock Review charts the forgotten ghosts and breathing minority of the American Southwest.

One of the joys of Red Rock Review is that a majority of the issue’s poets are afforded multiple pieces. Myrna Stone, for instance, starts off the issue with three poems, the strongest of which – “How like You” – charts the reflections she has about the death of a good friend. She writes: “Sink, old friend, I’ll repeat later, long after death / has again driven you away. But for now we sort / our options like bulldogs fenced on either side.”

Doug Ramspeck’s poem “Siblings” is one of the gems of the issue. An almost matter-of-fact narrative of an iron filing lodging itself in the narrator’s eye, Ramspeck quickly veers into unexpected, surprisingly tender territory:

That morning my eyes came open –
not to the apparition of the creaking
upper bunk I dreamed each night
signaled your return,
but to the iron filing,
falling then lodging love
beside the iris.

On the whole, the poetry in the issue leans against the traditional (which is only to say the non-experimental), although the content does not. Brady Rhoades’s wonderful poem “What Your Dad’s Underpants Have to Do with Space Travel” turns on an absurd point of detail: the fact that a certain astronaut lost to the cosmos was wearing normal terrestrial underpants. Rhoades writes: “Nobody wants to admit that sad diaper was loosed / on the universe, but it was, an artifact / of the human race, and they’ll draw conclusions, you know.”

The fiction in Red Rock Review is by and large short, and at times veers on flash fiction. Kathy Stevenson’s “Clear Creek” is a brief, although thoroughly touching, story about a teenager’s relationship with his uncle following the death of his father in Vietnam. In four short pages, Stevenson is able to collect the appropriate pieces for a tense, cathartic finale involving a ’59 Chevy with “swooping tail fins,” a lake, and two regurgitated six packs of Coors. Another strong story included is H. Lee Barnes’s “Mannequins,” an obsessive-minded story that rides a Tilt-a-Whirl through the tonal junctures of chilling, madcap, sad-sweet, and then all the way back again to the start. “What’s most appealing about mannequins,” the story begins, “is they don’t complain.” You can guess where it goes from there.

Yet the poetry in Red Rock Review shimmers quite a bit brighter than their fiction cousins, which is probably because the poets are given the chance to write beyond the scope of a single piece. In toto, the work in the Fall 2008 issue of Red Rock Review is engaging and interesting, if not a bit too safe. The issue is enjoyable regardless – a pleasure from cover to cover, and worth picking up.
[sites.csn.edu/english/redrockreview/]

 

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