Literary Magazine Reviews
Posted September 17, 2009
Review by Henry F. Tonn
As a reviewer who regularly decries the sloppy and disorganized presentation standards of many emerging and established online literary magazines, it is refreshing to find one which states openly: “A good online magazine is accessible, intelligently designed, and carefully organized.” They go on to say: “Above all other technical considerations, the writing selected to appear in 42opus deserves a respectful presentation; we strive toward this goal through design that is contemporary, uncluttered, and professional.” Well, bravo, and I am happy to report that they succeed in this endeavor.
I am always dubious about poems I don’t understand. Norman Dubie’s “Not Noon, 1904” falls into that category, but I liked the poem anyway. The first stanza:
Poincaré sits in the turning dark
of the stairwell
folded in a thin nightshirt
eating a dry husk of carp, mostly
all huge brass head, eyes
with declining bones like a harp.
In the fiction section, “Lillian in White” by Jen Michalski, who also happens to be editor of the online journal JMWW, is a classically constructed piece about a girl who tells her ex-boyfriend that she is pregnant and would like him to drive her to and from the hospital for an abortion. The author’s excellent command of structure here allows an otherwise banal plot to move along smoothly. It is a good story for beginning writers to read concerning the evolution of plot from superb characterization. A peculiarly arresting story is “The Kingdom of Norway” by Bryan Hurt, which concerns an excursion by three friends to a bar: “No one we know has ever been there and no one you know has ever been there either.”
There are also offerings in nonfiction, art, and the
classics, the latter having no less than 133 poems and stories
by such luminaries as John Milton, Charles Dickens, and Anton
Chekhov. It’s a well organized website with enough readable
material to please anyone who has a healthy appetite for
literature. Definitely one to explore periodically.
Review by Henry F. Tonn
This is a difficult review to write for two reasons: 1) Much of the content found in this quarterly defies easy description and interpretation; 2) They are closing their operation as of October 1. Nonetheless, it is such a well organized and interesting website, a somewhat belated review is better than no review at all.
I don’t know who Farrago is, but my dictionary defines “wainscot” as a fine grade of oak imported for woodwork – an intriguing combination of words for a “journal of the literary weird in fiction, poetry, and experimental word forms.” In this quarter’s edition, “The Non-Epistemological Universe of Emmaeus Holt” certainly fits the category. The story is a complicated affair of a recluse professor who has disappeared, and when police investigate his observatory they find bizarre painted walls, manuscripts in many languages, 5179 holes bored into the walls, each stuffed with rolls of parchment, and a telescope which reveals a strange secret when it is dismantled. “Hollow Woman” by Angie Smibert, quotes T.S. Eliot in the beginning of the narrative, and then traces the ruminations of a woman who has somehow survived the end of the world, not with a bang, but a whimper.
An engaging poem by Amy Riddle, entitled “Mimes at Dinner,” begins: “She doesn’t know / the other woman’s name / he doesn’t know / she spit in his tuna.” Amy’s humor extends to her bio in which she states, “And while she appreciates the progress humankind has made in terms of sanitation, she disapproves of automatic-flush toilets.”
My favorite offering in this issue, however, is “Nine Views of Mount Fuji” by Mike Keith, a series of poems connected thematically to the famous woodblock prints by the master, Hokusai. The reproduction of these prints is lovely and the poetry does the art justice. This is an example of exploiting the potential of online publishing to the fullest.
It is a shame that a publication like this has to fold, and
one wonders where work of this ilk can find a home in the
future. They are publishing one more issue and the archives are
readily available. Check it out before it disappears into the
great electronic hinterland.
Volume 12 Number 1
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Never on the fence, this journal is persistently – almost relentlessly – inventive, provocative, and unconventional. Not shocking. Not wildly unreadable. But certainly dogged in its desire to startle me out of complacency. “You find a little sick cognition,” begins “Gay Trade,” a poem by Sean Kilpatrick. “Lately my hand is an alligator,” opens James Gendron’s prose poem, “Number One Country.” And here is the beginning of “How to Make Something Funny of Something Serious into a Funny Joke and Then Back Again into Something Serious,” a short story by Colin Bassett:
Rebecca called me from work and said, “My parents died – I just got a call from the hospital – I’m not sure what happened. The people at the hospital seemed very worried – I told them it was just my parents and it would be okay. Then they didn’t say anything – then they hung up.”
I have to confess that the first line of nearly every piece in the journal is either so curious or strange or seductive or surprising in such a compelling way that I read the whole journal once through moving from first line to first line before returning to read the pieces individually with the seriousness and attention they warrant. I did, on occasion, stop to consider a form that matched the first line for its unusual shape and contours, such as Heather Winterer’s diamond of a poem (literally), “Pearl,” with its jeweled geometry and emphasis on “composition” (“was / a baby / beautifully / composed”); or Eugene Ostashevsky’s “The Pirate Who Does Not Know The Value of Pi,” with its upper case letters, exclamation points, font size variations, and bold components, and verses in lines, columns, prose, and in dialogue: “'Will we exist when this book is over?' he suddenly asked / ‘If it’s a good book,’ said the parrot,” the piece concludes.
In the middle of all this dazzling competition for my attention are some likeable and credible narrators, as illustrated in a very short story, “Oversight,” by Paola Peroni, for example:
A year had passed in my new apartment before someone pointed it out. In the skyline outside my window I had confused the Chrysler building with the Empire State Building.
“It is only an oversight,” my friend said. She is twenty-five, married, and starting out. I am forty-four, unmarried, and starting over.
Along with the work of more than two dozen poets and five fiction writers are five entries categorized as “Other,” which include the proceedings from a session at the Associated Writers Program (AWP) Conference in 2009 on “non-realist fiction,” an essay on “Brecht in L.A.,” by Peter Wollen, and a strange and enticing little creative nonfiction entry by Rebecca Wolff entitled “Op-Ed: ‘Who’s Buying?’” which quotes from NY Times real estate material and certainly fits among the considerations of “non-realist fiction,” whatever its intentions might have been.
Just when I was tempted to wonder if Fence is principally an intellectual exercise, despite the excitement of finding such strangely satisfying surprises at every turn, I came upon Marina Lazzara’s untitled poem:
Out of its burst the heat’s excitation
The city though believing indefinite pursuits
Welcomes each grief the length of an acute
Engima, perching the green of its nuance won
So little, the birds lowering
Onto the last of their self-alliance
Bursting, small light, asking choice or choosing
No answers contain mannered-vision, and then
There’s more to this poem and more of Lazarra’s work. Jump
over the fence and take a look.
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“Not reading books is escapism,” insists editor in chief, Troy Ehlers. Reading is an “engagement,” a chance to “contemplate and process.” Minnetonka Review offers eight short stories, the work of two nonfiction writers, and poems from close to two dozen poets to help us think about how we relate to the world, including a section of Editor’s Prize winners with poetry by Rhonda C. Poynter and prose by Tim Keppel.
Prolific poet Philip Dacey’s poem “My Bill Holm Story,” which opens the Review is not atypical of the poetry that appears in this issue, approachable and narrative driven. Holm was a Minnesota institution (Minnetonka Review is published in a suburb of Minneapolis), known himself for approachable and often entertaining verse.
While narrative poems predominate, the journal does not favor them exclusively. Christy Ferrato’s “For,” a prose poem in the style of a dictionary entry – or is this a new form of creative nonfiction? – is an exception. This is one of my favorite pieces in the issue, one that might truly be considered “engagement” in the original sense, work that is explicitly political:
for prep. 1. Used to indicate purpose: As in, uranium is a critical component for both nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. From 1945 to 1988, uranium was mined on the Navajo reservation for the purpose of making atomic bombs, as part of the Manhattan Project.
The prose, too, is approachable – a kind of reading that makes it easy to engage. Worth noting in particular are a story by Fred Skolnik, “The Iceman,” and a personal essay by Mary Lou Anderson Simms about her odd, unexpected relationship with a Canada goose.
Simms’s essay is complemented by three wonderful black and
white photos by Karen Rosenow. There are a number of other fine
black and white photographs in the journal, though it is not
clear who the photographers are. My favorite is a jubilant dog
leaping straight toward me, tail taller than his pointy ears,
impressive trees behind me, pages of poems ahead.
Review by Kenneth Nichols
Pank Magazine seems to delight in thoughts born of the abstract. The unassuming cover art sets the tone and establishes the journal’s aesthetic. The brush-painted invitation/confession “to anyone I have ever met:” precedes poems and short fiction that meditate on the serendipity that can be found in the life of a contemplative, literary person.
In the poem “Another Uncertainty Principle,” Les Kay illustrates the common result of the left brain/right brain dilemma a literary person experiences in the course of their education. “I guess I couldn’t fathom the language / Newton fashioned to explain his world, / so I came back to my tongue: the tip / touches the teeth to make meaning.” When math turns from concrete numbers to imagined contrivances, language and literature are a ready refuge.
Luke Geddes makes an interesting choice, allowing his third person narrator to inhabit the titular character of his story, “Bongo the Space Ape.” Poor Bongo has had a long, storied career with his guardian, Jon, and is now making the rounds of science fiction conventions. What sustains Bongo? He and Jon “have each other.”
While deconstructing the fairy tale has become fashionable, it seems that Naoko Awa’s “The End of the Dream” (translated from the Japanese by Toshiya Kamei) manages to create a modern fable that stands up to the classics. There can certainly be danger and threat when a young woman uses products from “Dream Cosmetics.”
Chris Gavaler tells a story through a story through an
English 10 assignment with “Name:___________.” Even if the
reader has never taught a class in the humanities, he or she
will appreciate the adolescent coyness and understanding
displayed in the student’s writing.
Review by Greg Gerke
Post Road has everything. The sixteenth issue contains short stories, flash fiction, poetry, nonfiction, criticism, portions of a play, an interview, excerpts from journals, literary recommendations and full color artwork.
In Dawson Wright Albertsen’s “Chris Stops the Boys,” a paranoid single father interrogates his two young sons about their weekend with their mother. The story is 90% dialogue with a bounty of ‘he asks’ and ‘he says’ tags. The boys’ sedate behavior only highlights the perversity of the father’s position. There is no neat conclusion and the world seems a little crueler after observing this fractured family. It’s an ending worthy of Carver, saying this is how it is, better start changing if you want to make things better.
Two titans of the flash fiction realm are also featured: Diane Williams and Kim Chinquee. In her piece “Body Language,” Chinquee tells of a woman watching a nature TV show while her boyfriend calls his mother in Greece. It is a rich story as the plight of inseminated pandas is a backdrop against the couple’s attempts to avoid making babies, all in 300 words.
Christopher Higgs’s “Hold Your Horses the Elephants are Coming,” a eulogy for circuses, gives an accelerated and uncanny history of performance artists from Roman times to the late seventies in America. This essay includes short recaps of Europe’s wars, plagues and famines in the Middle Ages and anecdotes of famous performers who succumbed to early death, topped off by an account of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey (“this monumental troupe began with a single stilt walker, a pallbearer who went to the cemetery with other stilt walkers to mourn the death of a comrade”). It is a highly entertaining look at this neglected and lost art of entertainment.
On the poetry side, Sarah Murphy’s two poems stand out with their shock and awe of attack verbs exemplified by “Breathless, My Venom Spent, I Lay Down My Weapons” – the title and also last line of this unflinching confessional poem. Though “Horoscope” is quieter, it is no less powerful “I swore you sold my soul for a song. But / what if I forced it? What if I’m wrong?” This plain, blunt language contains echoes of Anne Sexton’s rage and Elizabeth Bishop’s finely wrought lines.
Post Road is 270 pages devoted to the love of
literature. While the recommendations section touches on some of
usual suspects (Faulkner, Yates) and some not so (Mikhail
Bulgakov and Roger Charles Wilson), the wonderful, two-page odes
are written by the likes of Noy Holland, Robert Olen Butler, and
John McNally, who says of Yates’ Revolutionary Road, “I am
no less astonished by this book’s perfection. Every word is the
right word; every semicolon is perfectly placed.” The same can
be said of this issue.
Volume 14 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
You’ll always find a few big stars in Salamander (Chase Twichell, Maura Stanton, Michael Collins). What’s more important, though, is that you’ll always find some stellar work. And this issue is no exception. I am thrilled to see two poems from Catherine Sasanov’s new collection, Had Slaves. I heard her read from this book last year prior to its publication and was quite taken with these spare (with the exception of their titles!), beautifully composed, and astoundingly moving poems about a family history of slave ownership.
This issue of the journal includes two from the book, “Line Drawing of Ex-Slave, Columbia Bigbee, 1840-1899, Consisting of Ink Lifted from Newsprint, Census Data, Burial Records, Divorce Proceedings, Tax Rolls, Marriage Licenses, Land Deeds, and One Civil War Widow’s Pension Application: Denied” and “Revisionist (History).” Sasanov demonstrates here, as she has in the past, that it is possible to tell a story in verse that takes advantage of what makes poetry so powerful, its magnificent potential for restraint, economy, and a kind of emotional precision that nearly defies comprehension. Sasanov reminds us that poetry is not merely narrative broken into lines, yet she manages to make poetry work as story and as history.
Poems by Julia Lisella, Melissa Apperson, and Taylor Altman impressed me for other reasons, principally a taut energy that moved the verse beyond the merely “accessible” into a heightened realm that was approachable, but not ordinary. And I was especially moved by a poem from Ellen Kaufman, “Emergency,” because I seldom find poems written from the perspective of parents about their children to be of interest (often they are merely sentimental anecdotes), and this one is exceptionally fine. Kaufman’s “Emergency” manages to create a rhythm of urgency supported by images that are thoughtfully and successfully played out across the poem’s two dozen lines.
This issue also includes four short stories by Geoff Kronik,
Siobhan Fallon, Aaron Hellem, and Christine Dywer Hicky, all of
which are competent, traditional narratives, but none of which
seemed as exciting to me as the poetry in this issue. Finally,
editor Jennifer Barber interviews fiction writer Edward P.
Jones, who discusses the inspiration for his characters and the
relationship between his books. He doesn’t admit he thinks much
about peoples’ mysterious nature outside of his books. “The
world is out there, and I’m in here, and that’s all I know,” he
says. Salamander knows how to bring the world “out there”
to a place “in here” – a place you’ll want to go.
Tar River Poetry
Volume 48 Number 2
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
If you’re a poetry reader, you’ll recognize many names here (John Balaban, Nicholas Samaras, Sydney Lea, Gloria Vando) and be pleased to see their new work. And you’ll be pleased, too, with the quality of the work presented by poets whose names you may not necessarily recognize (Shannon Ward, Patrick Hicks, Caleb Beissert) and then most especially with the fine reviews by Phebe Davidson, Peter Makuck, and Richard Simpson.
I was moved by “To Take Them From the Air,” by Marcus Myers, a 9/11-themed poem that is vivid and memorable, bringing to life a child’s perspective on the sheer awe of the event: “That just happened!” I was also move by Shannon Ward’s “Stray,” with its vast bi-coastal perspective honed to a measured, restrained lament: “If the breadcrumb trail of relics I’ve left / along America’s coastal highways // somehow resembles my concept of self, / then the discarded coins // and stray earrings shine holy / under empty hotel beds.” Ward creates an atmosphere and a complex set of emotional realities in nine spare couplets.
Doug Ramspeck’s “Palm of the Hand,” is an effective poem
about work, a theme that never ceases to fascinate me, since it
is the way in which most of us spend the majority of our time,
yet seems to occupy so little of our artistic exploration.
Ramspeck knows how to make lyric of narrative and turn story
into image. Patrick Hicks turns Shakespeare (“After the First
Performance of Hamlet”) into more Shakespeare, extending
the Bard’s legacy: “and everyone, including Shakespeare, / will
go to bed believing that just another day / has changed costume
Volume 10 Number 4
Review by Kenneth Nichols
Tin House is celebrating its tenth anniversary, but it is the reader who receives the birthday present. The editors celebrate “art that provokes intense emotion,” presenting both psychologically potent stories and poems and interviews that invite the reader to reflect upon their own understanding of art. The top-notch graphic design, with full-bleed photograph pages before each story, makes the stories that much more inviting.
Steve Almond’s “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched” packs a huge wallop. Dr. Raymond Oss, a psychoanalyst, enjoys the challenge he finds at the poker table. Gary “Card” Sharpe, “enfant terrible of the World Poker Tour,” becomes a patient. Almond weaves the story of the two men together, creating an ending that almost seems inevitable.
Some teenagers think that teachers cease to exist when the final bell rings. The protagonist of Ron Carlson’s “Sunday in Windy Key” learns that there is more to Mr. Prendergas than it seems from his classroom persona.
The poetry in the issue experiments with ideas while remaining accessible. In her poem, “Goo in the Void,” Lucia Perillo creates art out of the one little slip made by Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, the astronaut who accidentally lost her tools in space: “And thanks / to your helmet camera’s not getting smeared, // in the inch between your glove and bag – irrevocable inch – / we see the blue Earth, glowing so lit-up’dly / despite the refuse we’ve dumped in its oceans.” Stephen King’s “Mostly Old Men” casts melancholy light on that necessary nuisance: travel.
The “Lost and Found” book reviews remind the reader about
books from the last decade the editors “don’t want to see laid
to rest.” The entertaining reviews certainly make the books seem
interesting, particularly Brian DeLeeuw’s comments regarding
Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, a book
in which Carl Wilson does the unthinkable: attempts to truly
understand what people love about schmaltz, particularly the
work of Celine Dion.
Yellow Medicine Review
A Journal of Indigenous
Literature, Art, and Thought
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
Guest editor Jimmy Santiago Baca writes that work submitted for the issue “resounded with emotional and spiritual conviction.” With forms, styles, and subject matter befitting a TOC that includes four-dozen writers, these convictions are expressed in nearly 300 pages of poems that include family narratives, lyric explorations of the natural world, and inventive forms that explore the limits of language. The poetry is well accompanied by prose selections, which include excerpts of novels, and brief essays on creativity and the pedagogy of creative writing.
Yellow Medicine Review defines itself as a journal of “indigenous literature,” so it seems appropriate here to note the large number of cultural, ethnic, and “social” (for lack of a better term) identities represented by the contributors, as reported in their bios, which include: “Ah Ish Ka’a Full Blood Karuk of northern California,” “gay Puerto Rican,” “Cherokee and European,” “Indio-Mexican,” “Chicano,” “Taos Pueblo and Mexican American,” “Choctaw/Chickasaw/African American,” “Catskill Native of Mohawk/Seneca/Blackfoot lineage,” “Métis with Ojibwa, Scottish, and French-Canadian ancestry,” Samoan, Hawaiian, “southern Cheyenne,” “Cherokee, African American, and Scott-Irish,” “Anishinaabe-Han Métis,” “Cherokee/Irish/Dutch,” "Nimmipuu (Nez Peree),” “Hispanic,” “Anishnaabe from Curve Lake First Nation,” “Haida Indian Nations of the Northwest Coast,” Nicaraguan, among others.
As a white woman, I am reminded by these contributors’ notes of the geographic, ethnic, cultural, historical, sociological, and national diversity of the indigenous populations of North America. As a reader of poetry, I am reminded of poetry’s vast possibilities for captivating attention, generating meaning, preserving images and traditions, questioning the status quo (yes!), and provoking new thinking.
We begin with harsh truths and heartbreak (an excerpt from “Poor White Girls Ain’t Got No Culture,” by Aharen Richardson):
You know the girls
Poor white girls
From poor white mothers
Letting TV tell them who to be
Shooting speed and vodka shots
Who needs culture when you’ve got your freedom?
Instead you can watch the world spin by
From the prison of your mind
Dream of murdering your husband
Before he murders you
Drown your children in the lake
Before they drown you
Then wash in tears of righteousness,
float away in a river of denial
A colorless corpse of an unborn soul;
mankind’s bastard daughter.
And conclude with a connection to the other-worldly (an excerpt from M. J. Rowe’s “Ice and Roses”):
I take a deep breath
And open the outside gate
That encloses this lonely World of Ice
A frozen tear slides down my cheek
As the gate clicks closed
In between these bookends: the whole world. And, finally, not
to be missed, the journal’s stunning covers (front and back) –
unforgettable and color photographs by RAEchel Running (“Homage
to the Spirit of the Buffalo Hunters”) of Rex Bizahaloni (Dinéé-Navajo),
her “collaborator, model, assistant, brother, and friend.” The
images are dedicated to Rex’s grandfather and they are, like the
journal, truly memorable.