Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted December 15, 2009

Bartleby Snopes - Bellevue Literary Review - Bloodroot - Evergreen Review - Fifth Wednesday Journal - Gander Press Review - Gigantic Sequins - Hanging Loose - inscape - Iowa Review - Long Story - MAKE - make/shift - Malahat Review - The Meadow - Moon City Review - Paul Revere's Horse - Shenandoah

 

Bartleby Snopes logoBartleby Snopes

November 2009

Online Monthly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This literary journal presents eight stories a month to the reading public and then has viewers vote on their favorite. That story becomes the featured story of the month, to be included in a downloadable biannual collection produced in July and January. Two new stories are featured each week, encouraging frequent visitations to the website by interested readers. This is strictly a fiction website, and there is a range from microfiction up to 4000 words.

The November edition presents “Snapshot Resolutions” by Brent Krammes, an absorbing story about a man in a Las Vegas casino who has a heart attack when a performance artist, in the interest of self-promotion, throws out a string of firecrackers to the floor. We then learn of the involvement of numerous people in this tragedy, including the performing artist himself, the man’s wife, and the attending waitress. Nicely constructed.

David Erlewine writes a piece of flash fiction entitled “Go On, Please,” about an elderly man dying of cancer who rambles on to his disinterested social worker about Stanley Milgram, a psychologist in the ‘60’s who did a series of experiments proving that most people will voluntarily murder someone if given proper clearance by the right authority figure. There is black humor here, and the story can be appreciated even more if one is more intimately acquainted with the now-famous study (can be Googled).

In the October issue, Robert Meade writes “Lord of the Leaves,” an entertaining story about a young boy who is being beaten up regularly by two neighborhood thugs, and his creative way of ultimately exacting revenge. And Howie Good offers a nice stylistic prose-poem entitled “Hotel Dystopia,” a story that can be lingered over and tasted for a while.

Going back to the September issue, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Second Coming” by Townsend Walker, the September Story of the Month. It concerns a conniving preacher and a seventeen-year-old nymphet named Charity, both of whom have their agendas, but only one will achievement fulfillment (Gosh, I wonder which one?).

This journal is essentially a one-man show, run by Nathaniel Tower, who reviews all the submissions and even gives feedback concerning the ones he rejects – which compose about ninety per cent. All this and he publishes relatively prolifically himself on various online journals. Pretty impressive! A website to visit for sure.
[www.bartlebysnopes.com]

 

Bellevue Literary Review coverBellevue Literary Review

Volume 9 Number 2

Fall 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I admire Bellevue Literary Review for its consistency and the polish, confidence, and competence of its contents. Produced at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, with a focus on “illness, health, and healing,” it is easy to conceive of a journal that might compromise on or sacrifice literary quality in its quest to adequately represent these themes, yet Bellevue pays as much attention to composition as to subject matter. Featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews, the journal presents the work of accomplished writers with impressive credentials from the world of medicine, literature, the social sciences, education, and the MFA poetry scene.

I appreciate the journal’s generous editorial stance which makes room for eclectic approaches, which include a memoir style piece, “She Might Die,” by Magda Montiel Davis, a brief meditation on the possibility of losing her mother, written from the perspective of her childhood self; a personal essay part family story/part geo-historical exploration of Galveston, Texas by Hazel Kight Witham; a nonfiction “short” by Kurt Maggsame, “The Consolation of Anatomy,” a kind of meditation on the body of death; sudden fiction by Christopher Shacht, “Shark Eyes”; stories from the perspective of patients, the perspective of doctors, and the perspective of those observing the interaction between the two; and a personal essay by New York-based Israeli writer Itzak Kronzon, translated from the Hebrew by Iris Karev Kronzon, “In Kalvarija Father Died,” what I am tempted to call a “medical immigration story.” I was particularly taken with Luther Magnussen’s “At War with General Franco,” a fascinating essay about the writer’s experience in the Thomas Jefferson Brigade in Spain. The piece is understated and all the more powerful for its restraint and an important glimpse into the history of the period.

This issue includes many fine poems as well, deftly, tautly composed work, though there is less variety in styles and approaches in the poetry than in the prose. I was impressed in particular, with a short poem by Karina Borowicz, “Martin, 1918,” which illustrates poetry’s potential for simultaneous economy and expansiveness:

When life was meted out
he was allowed childhood
transparent enough to be seen through
from beginning to end.
He did not of course know
about the epidemic standing sentinel
at the border between twelve and thirteen.
Some games he played halfheartedly,
before bed now and then he’d refuse
his mother’s embrace.
The last day of school
walking home on the dusty path
he dragged a stick
which drew a long line behind him.

And a poem, “Brazil, 1968,” by Claudia Cortese is breathtaking, terrifying, and unforgettable. Borowicz and Cortese convey nearly as much with their titles as they do in the body of their poems, but it’s the relationship between what these titles suggest and what the poems express (as much by what they do not say, as by what they do) that makes them exceptional.
[www.BLReview.org]

 

Bloodroot coverBloodroot

Volume 2

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This second edition of Bloodroot, “dedicated to publishing diverse voices through the adventure of poetry, short fiction and creative nonfiction,” features the work of 27 poets, five fiction writers, and one essayist. Poems tend to fall into one of three categories, personal narratives, nature scenes, or personal encounters with nature, with a few exceptions (including a few more metaphysically oriented pieces). David Strait’s “Christmas Day” is characteristic of the personal narrative. The poem begins:

The box came on time
and I signed for it
with a shaking hand,
a broad smile.
Under a brightly lit tree,
I peeled back cardboard flaps
And sorted through a sea
of Styrofoam beads.

Gary Hanna’s “Lewes Beach in Winter” is characteristic of the journal’s “nature poems.” The poem begins:

Winter ice crowds
The beach, pushes up
The sand and folds
Like slabs of stone,
Crystal in the half-
light.

Suzanne Dudley Schon’s “Honeysuckle,” is characteristic of the last category, the intersection of a poem’s speaker with the natural world. The poem begins:

Honeysuckle
Climbing the back fence or
wrapping the trees with leafy skirts.
Honeysuckle
Where our fingers learn to
Pinch just enough to open the base
but not cut the little strand.

Two prose pieces stand out in particular, Josh Green’s personal essay, “The Aftermath: Why I Hitchhiked to Hurricane Katrina,” noteworthy, above all, for its contribution to the growing archive of literary images that help us develop a clearer picture of what that experience looked and felt like; and an usual story by Kerry Jones, “Los Días de los Muertos,” an unsentimental and surprising consideration of the aftermath of a miscarriage.
[www.bloodrootlm.com]

 

Evergreen Review coverEvergreen Review

Issue Number 120

October 2009

Online Bimonthly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This magazine was founded in 1957 in print form and none other than Jean Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett contributed to its pages. In the years to come, it continued to feature such luminaries as William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Terry Southern, and Allen Ginsberg until the final issue in 1973. The Review was revived as an online edition in 1998. The present edition, issue number 120, has a pleasant mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and several reprints from the past.

First off, there should be plaudits given for the marvelous essay by Alan Kaufman entitled, “The Electronic Book Burning,” which concerns the lamentable and inexorable closing of bookstores all over the country and the gradual movement of publishing companies toward electronic books. To say the author is furious about this would be an understatement. There are so many good lines in this text that it is unfortunate space restricts me to several, but: “Hi-tech propogandists [sic] tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better-off altogether if we euthanized it.” And: “Had I been told from youth that my literary destination would be some 7 inch plastic gizmo containing my texts shuffling alongside thousands of other “texts” I would have spit in the face of such a profession and become instead a hit man or a rabbi.”

Alan Kaufman also contributes an excellent short story entitled “In the Province,” a bare, haunting tale about a ruthless soldier trashing a village in the late Yugoslavian war. Richard Milazzo continues the international perspective with three nostalgic poems: “Saigon,” “Cambodia,” “The Green Lantern.” This excerpt is from “Cambodia”:

And where armless and legless antiquities
Do not describe the order of the day,
Land mines and leprosy and STDs do –
A kind of generic limblessness
Seems to have taken hold,
A dark corruption of the soul.

There is an interesting reprint of the 1959 article by B.H. Friedman entitled “The Most Expensive Restaurant Ever Built,” and three lively book reviews, one particularly controversial regarding Todd Farley’s Making the Grades, My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry, reviewed by Jim Feast. The author and reviewer appear to arrive at the conclusion that standardized testing in our society is practically useless – an extreme view, to say the least.
[www.evergreenreview.com/]

 

Fifth Wednesday Journal coverFifth Wednesday Journal

Issue 4

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“Defining literature. In real context.” is how Fifth Wednesday describes itself, making smart use of the multiple layers of meaning these terms evoke (I especially like “defining,” which works grammatical overtime). That said, I’m not sure what this actually does mean. What I do know, thanks to publisher Vern Miller's Editor’s Notes, is that each issue is guest edited (fiction editor this issue is J.C. Hallman and poetry editor is Nina Corwin); in this fourth issue the journal has now added a section of book reviews; and the magazine feels “obligated” to bring readers some new voices in literature. Alongside these emerging voices, Issue 4 also includes a poem by the incredibly prolific and popular novelist and poet Marge Piercy and award-winning poet Arielle Greenberg. An interview with Greenberg opens the issue.

Greenberg’s poems often straddle the space between buoyancy and restraint, and she admits in the interview with John Bradley to a decided preference for the use of humor in poetry. I would say that her work sometimes comes across as sly rather than funny.

“In the Pod House, Morren Fruits & Vegetables Farm,” while not humorous or sly, is typical of Greenberg’s work and her ability to convert a seemingly ordinary image into a personal epiphany:

that treefinger nodded at me all night long
against the fast of the moon in wane
and one star was my star
my hip joints opened as wide as they were supposed to
the screen door unlatched, singing on its hinge
and the night came in the gaps, came in, came over, came in

While much of the poetry in the issue is similar to Greenberg’s, quite a number of the works of fiction are less “real” (I am borrowing the word from the magazine’s self definition), with imagined, surreal, or fantastic elements. These include Michael Minassian’s story about a meeting with physicist Stephen Hawking in the supermarket; Edie Meidav’s parable “Kingdom of the Young”; and Henry Ronan-Daniell’s stream of consciousness style portrait of the changing landscape of “Alabama,” which may be intended as an essay, not fiction, or even as a prose poem. Works in the magazine are not identified by genre.

The middle of the issue features 13 black and white photographs by eight photographers in a section titled “Impressions.” Work by Leigh Wells, in particular, is stunning. Sharply observed and impeccably reproduced images that evoke stark landscapes and even starker emotions, the best of which is “Transamerican Picnic.” The interplay of snow, light, shadow, an electrical grid/tower, and a Transamerica truck parked under a warehouse evokes the loneliness of a deep winter night in a single glance.
[www.fifthwednesdayjournal.com]

 

Gander Press Review coverGander Press Review

Spring/Summer 2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I recognized only two names in the Table of Contents, Nahid Rachlin and Simon Perchik. Yet, even a quick glance at the Contributors’ Notes lets me know that most of the 16 fiction writers, three nonfiction writers, and more than two-dozen poets whose work appears here have substantial publishing credits. Despite the popular notion that people don’t read and the literary world is suffering, languishing, or on the decline, there are so many journals of all kinds, and so many people writing and publishing, it is difficult to keep up with them all. Gander Press Review, published by Loosey Goosey Press in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is doing its part to keep small press publishing thriving.

The most exceptional or unusual piece is a short essay by Adeline Scout, one of the few writers in the issue whose bio lists no publishing credits at all. The editor’s note that precedes her short essay, “Naked on Charrette,” explains: “When I received this article (written under a pseudonym), I was both intrigued and a bit suspicious. But the author’s story has been verified. While I certainly cannot condone some of her actions, I found her writing to be instructive in what occurs within the correctional system as well as the mind and family of the incarcerated.” The story is odd, disturbing, and, as the editor says, intriguing and makes a valuable contribution to “prison literature.”

Another terrific prose contribution is Anne Walls’s story, “No Pink,” with its successful anaphoric structure (“I hate licking envelopes; I hate shopping; I hate the way I looked in junior high school; I hate dealing with florists; I hate paper cuts; I hate the first few minutes of any social gathering; I love the feeling of being everywhere and nowhere all at the same time; I love how everything looks after it rains, etc.). Readable, engaging, original.

A poem by Jean Paul Ferro, “Letter from a Soldier,” brought me to tears:

But I am just a little bit broken,
broke in all the right places –
a million little jewels that split apart
all across the ground

And I found myself wanting more from Taylur Thu Hien Hgo whose prose poems “The Somnambulist Journal” and “Memoir” moved and impressed me with their deceptively simple language. These are powerful pieces with the capacity to lead a reader from complacency to great emotion.

What most of the pieces in this journal have in common is movement toward the unexpected or unanticipated – surprises, twists, a quirky turn of events or resolution. The same could be said of the relationship between the journal’s cover, an almost fairy-tale like drawing of a goose (or is it a gander?) and two geese perched on a book, and the journal’s contents.
[www.ganderpress.com/review]

 

Gigantic Sequins coverGigantic Sequins

Volume 1 Number 1

2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Editor-in-Chief Kimberly Ann Southwick kicks off her new mag with a warm welcome to potential contributors:

The irony of our name is supposed to be that the small guy is the big guy to us. We don’t need you to be anyone we’ve ever heard of to consider putting your words out there: we just want you to be good at what you do…we merely prefer that you are multi-talented. We want you to be a musician and a writer; a painter and a poet; run your own brewery when you’re not building sculptures in your garage.

Small does, indeed, describe the journal’s format, which fits in my palm. Busy-at-more-than-one-pursuit may well be true of the journal’s contributors, but it is difficult to determine this from most of their bios. Peter Harren, for example, “started in 1984 and is free sometimes.” Max Goransoon is “an unassuming character of few words [who] lives in Brooklyn.” Jeff Laughlin isn’t in college anymore and enjoys it, he says. Shoni Lamar “would like to have an exceptionally cold corpse, not now, when he’s dead.”

The journal features poetry, short fiction, a personal essay (family memoir), book reviews, and a series of whimsical (though not always lighthearted) pen and ink drawings by Peter Harren. Jeff Laughlin’s poem “List” is characteristic of the style of much of the work in this inaugural issue, direct, unadorned language that means to be digested quickly in one gulp, even as it may be slightly off-center or inventive. The poem begins:

List, you sit anchored by a book of fictions and facing an oscillating fan.
I wonder what you hold in store for my roommate. Groceries? To-dos?
Inane drunken ideas?
No. You are a list of grand accomplishments – mountains climbed,
women wrested, missions accomplished, footprints scattered across the
globe like broken down cars on an interstate.

My favorite piece in Gigantic Sequins is the opening poem, “We Don’t Need Boats We Swim,” a short, accomplished poem by Ben Fama (who is, as is happens, indeed, multi-talented; he co-edits the poetry journal Supermachine, works with Ugly Ducking Presse, and is composing a chapbook.) The poem is deceptively easy, asks me to dig under the surface once I’ve realized my mistake in underestimating its impact, and leaves me wanting another Ben Fama poem. Just one more little sequin.
[www.giganticmagazine.org]

 

Hanging Loose coverHanging Loose

95

2009

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Hanging Loose always does a good job of mixing it up: a combination of established poets and newer voices, along with the fresh work of “writers of high school age.” The youthful poems are particularly appealing this issue, more mature in their insights than one has a right to expect from such young writers.

Here is Randie Adler’s “Detention Center”:

I once heard of a boy who
picked fights
so someone would throw him
in juvie,
and he could write.
What a fool.
Not because he has incriminated himself
(people incriminate themselves every day)
but because
every mind is solitary confinement
and every poem
a fight.

To escape the solitary confinement of the mind, we seek the company of good poems, I think, precisely because they “fight” for our salvation as part of more than a community of one. We are, at least temporarily, engaged in something larger than our own sense of isolation.

In this issue, that engagement includes wonderful poems by Maureen Owen, “my neighbors relax on their southwestern porch chatting in Spanish / Just like I always wanted my neighbors to do / Christian monasteries and Ottomon mosques or there arrives the fitful pinched” and “the beauty of the air So tonic draught intensity a liquid or when you were dead will I still always be there.” These poems are composed, as their titles suggest, of the unlikely and delightful juxtaposition of images and ideas that are hard to imagine coalescing into a meaningful whole, yet they do. Owen loves lush sounds and she shoves them together with a kind of force that can be abrupt, but somehow also fluid (“the sound of real string beans snapping / punish the dense and the glamorous”). Her poems are paintings (references to Courbet and Monet), their images both dense and precise, but they are not painterly. The sheer urgency of her breath at work just below the surface of the lines gives them a sense of quick movement and immediacy.

Another particularly engaging entry this issue are excerpts from a “memoir in letters” by Hettie Jones, Love, H: A Correspondence. Jones, author of 23 books for children and adults, traces her literary and social life from 1960 forward and provides a great view into the New York literary scene that is now, unbelievably, a half century gone in chronological accounting and a whole lot more gone than that in a kind of metaphorical literary time. I can’t wait to read more of the memoir.

Another stunning way to forget one’s solitary confinement is to engage with “Coming Attractions,” a series of acrylic on canvas paintings by Arnold Mesches, well reproduced here. The paintings are preceded with the artist’s brief remarks: “I have lived through . . . the Great Depression, wars and threats of wars, reactionary times and massive demonstrations for peace and civility. I’ve organized, mobilized, picketed and screamed, marched, cried, been thrilled and frightened, uplifted and thrown to the ground, only to paint again.” These are beautiful, mysterious, dense, colorful, sometimes whimsical, sometimes scary paintings with rich historical references and sharp political and social perspectives. “Questioning lasts longer than dogmatism,” Mesches says. This must certainly be why Hanging Loose has survived, happily, for so long.
[www.hangingloosepress.com]

 

inscape coverinscape

Volume 34

2009

Annual

Review by Terri Denton

This edition of inscape finds loss of every sort within its pages. Each piece is different, naturally, but the element of emptiness seems to touch each poem, each story, in this journal. The first I’ll give a glimpse of is Brian Brown’s “History of Time”:

while you stare blankly at the Folio Shakespeare
you’ll never read, vacuous to a fault.
Cigarettes and their condiments of drink and sex
are the bad chi in your library of loss.
Yet there are volumes you’ve set to memory,
thin and lyrical histories of the wiregrass,
[. . .]
Books such as this you’ve read your whole life, heard
in the crackle of longleaf pine against the dawn,
but you never liked the way they ended.
So here begins your autobiography.

Brown’s piece, here, is about the loss of history, inherent in our failure to read and understand what has come before us.

Brown has another beautifully written poem, this one, perhaps, about the loss of faith, but with it, an acknowledgement of the need that’s inhabited faith’s empty space. “Theory of Relativity,” a scientific phrase, to be sure, nonetheless becomes the lynchpin for this piece on faith. Offers Brown, “We try to hold every epiphany / but always come up short. // [. . .] Waiting for God / isn’t something we do, / but rather / the energy of everything.”

John Boucher’s nonfiction piece, “Speaking in Tongues,” is a heartbreaking rendition of the loss of his life-partner and lover, Rex. Reading this, I was brought nearly to tears. Pouring out his soul, the author writes, “When Rex got off the phone, he found me waiting on our couch. The couch we picked out. / The couch we made love on / the couch we watched TV on / the couch we read to each other on / [. . .] the couch we almost broke-up on / the couch I would wait with my parents to go to his funeral. The couch I finally had to throw out.” Further in Rex’s story, Boucher has asked Rex’s estranged mother if she’d like something of Rex’s. Rex’s sister, Ruth, leaves a message on John’s answering machine with Rex’s mom’s request: “She said what she’d really like is a picture – of you both. She said when you spoke to her at that restaurant it was just like talkin’ to married people.” When Boucher explains that he sent the last picture that was saved on Rex’s camera – of the two of them at John’s father’s birthday – it is a palpable loss that the reader feels. It is as if Boucher’s loss belongs to each and every one.

I was particularly touched, in this atmosphere, and at this time in which we live, by Zachary Kluckman’s “Dog-Tags and Butterflies” poem:

In the silence there is nothing.
A void of sound like the failure of emotion to capture
the moment when a flag falls over a soldier,
and the ground swallows both.
When the gunfire ceases suddenly
the ground echoes with the sound for minutes afterward.
The thunder of fire swallowed by the sand;
a pulse you can feel with your hand.
A storm you can play in your head like a song.
Press your ear to the ground and you can still hear the dead.

The loss that permeates this edition of inscape should not dissuade the reader from picking up a copy, rather it should be the very reason that one does.
[inscapewashburn.wordpress.com/]

 

The Iowa Review coverThe Iowa Review

Volume 39 Number 2

Fall 2009

Triannual

Review by Terri Denton

In May and June of 2008, The Cedar River, after days of torrential rain, broke through its restraints, and the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was suddenly plunged into a flood, destroying the city and displacing most of its inhabitants. The memory of this event permeates the pages of this edition of the Iowa review, and the journal cannot be read without feeling the loss that these people, and these writers, felt. So deep was their loss, and their shock, that stories and poems about the river fill each and every page, with nostalgia, sadness and anger. All manner of emotion can be found within The Iowa Review’s pages.

Guilt, perhaps not surprising, is felt by the survivors, the ones who are back to their lives despite the river’s attempts to ruin them. For example, Joe Blair cannot help but recall the beauty of destruction, but is surprised by his own reaction:

The days of the flood are the most beautiful days. I know that’s blasphemy. How could I say that when over one thousand city blocks in Cedar Rapids were under water? When the Quaker Oats plant shut down. When retired people who lived a mile from the Cedar River, so far from the river that they never had a fleeting thought of buying flood insurance, lost the largest investment of their lives and were forced, in some cases, to live on the streets? But it’s true. At the very moment the river, at the last second, changed its mind, and decided to fuck everything up, the sun broke through and the wind died down and there was a blindingly beautiful river where a city used to be.

Amy Leach, another victim of nature’s wrath, likens the caprice of the river to a dance: “if you have been frantically stationary, wishing to spin or to be spun but being suspended; there is music that will dissolve your anchors, your sanctuaries, floating you off your feet, fetching you away with itself.”

David Wagoner’s piece, “By a Creek,” also invokes the river. “It kept saying / I’m here. I wasn’t here / an instant ago, but now / I’m here and gone. I’m going / to be here again this moment, / and already I’m falling / out of the same place / I’m going to always be.” The beauty of this piece cannot be ignored, but it, too, can’t help but elicit responses of grief, and the frustration of the persistence of a river’s unstoppable flow.

Marvin Bell’s “The Book of the Dead Man (The River)” imagines a protector of the victims. The poem is filled with both pathos and hope: “The dead man stands on the banks of a river that overcame its banks. / He stands where the river has made a new road to ride. / He strides the shore and salutes those in boats looking to help, / the homeowners in rubber boots and the store owners / who carried their inventory on their backs.” Pattiann Roger’s “The Great Deluge and Its Coming” can be seen as somewhat of a companion piece to Bell’s, but it stands alone just as effectively, with its horror: “We were mewing / and choking, spitting / and barking in our plight, the bundle / of us in a jumble, struggling, shifting constantly, losing hold / in white water, breaking apart // carried away, found again. / . . . Direction was destiny.”

Other jewels in this collection are Fleda Brown’s “Northern Pike” and Laura Rigal’s “Watershed Days on the Treaty Line, 1836- 1839.” All the pieces in this collection of sadness are remarkable in their ability to rise above the water, and make themselves heard.
[www.uiowa.edu/~iareview/mainpages/tirweb.html]

 

The Long Story coverThe Long Story

Number 27

2009

Annual

Review by Terri Denton

This journal is, not the least surprisingly, composed almost entirely by long, short stories. It was a joy to read, and it is my sincere hope that, at the end of this review, I will have convinced you to purchase a copy.

There is humor to be found, for example, in Jan Schmidt’s “The Cab Driver, the Yoga Lady, and the Cell Phone”: “He wondered if aliens from outer space looked at the earth, if they would think the streets were veins bringing people corpuscles to feed the buildings. Not to mention the lady on the corner scooping the dog doo-doo with a plastic bag over her hand. Aliens would probably think humans revered their dogs, even collected their sacred droppings.” Schmidt’s story is filled with everything from regret to mild-shock, but her humor is the part that I enjoyed most.

With Kathleen J. Stowe’s “A Good Old Dog,” I sympathized, perhaps too much, with the family’s reaction, and in particular, the son’s reaction, to his father’s stay at a hospital in the final stages of his life. Stowe solemnly writes, “But in my father’s lonely room, there seemed no purpose at all for the bright intrusive light that shone down from the fluorescent fixture above his bed. [. . .] It lit his head and shoulders in a way that made the wisps of his blond hair shine dark and greasy, and the hollows in his cheeks were gray and so unlike my father’s usual ruddy tan.” I think we’ve all got memories such as this, of loved ones passing away so slowly and yet so quickly that the shock stings for a long time after.

T. L. Toma’s “This Vision of the World,” too, is a standout amongst these stories. The lead character, named only as Knapp, had his world revealed perfectly by Toma, puzzling piece by puzzling piece. When Knapp’s self-owned business had begun to fail, his wife, Claire, an actress, arrived at home at the critical moment: “Still, none of this might have mattered had Claire not come home one afternoon – this was during the low moment of his difficulties at work – churning with good news.” This is a wonderfully written glimpse into Knapp’s future and, while I could not possibly detail the rest of the story, just know that Knapp’s love for Claire shines through every word.

I thoroughly enjoyed this journal, and will be certain to pick up future issues should I see them at my local bookstore. A collection such as this doesn’t appear too often in the vast landscape of literary journals, and it deserves a space on every bookshelf.
[web.me.com/rpburnham/Site/LongStory.html]

 

MAKE coverMAKE

Issue 8

Summer/Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Anthony Bonds

One appreciates a literary magazine with a central theme, and this is precisely what MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine delivers. It trains it sights on the underdogs of society, with stories and poem focused on character and a sense of place, depicting individuals who have been brushed aside or overlooked by society.

This is MAKE's 8th issue, and the theme this time is “This Everyday.” According the editors, the theme suggests “a celebration of the normal, an exaltation of the banal . . . In this issue, you will find work that observes and deconstructs the quotidian, discovers worth in modesty, and unveils the sublime in the most unlikely of places. The authors and visual artists herein look at what we often overlook and try to name it, rename it, and otherwise make sense of our relationships with each other and with our selves.”

This deceptively slim volume is densely packed, and although the print is somewhat small (with two-column pages), the stories and poems are infectiously readable. But what sets MAKE apart from many other magazines is that, in addition to first-rate fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art, there are a few extra touches: book reviews, interviews and collaborations.

Okay, maybe book reviews aren't all that uncommon, but it's nice to read well-written and insightful reviews on widely distributed titles from Simon and Schuster alongside reviews of the more modestly distributed, university press titles.

“This Everyday” features two interviews, and both of them are conversations between two big names and mediated and transcribed by a third person. “I Don't Understand the God Part: A Conversation Between Dorothea Lasky and Lauren Berlant” hits on heady subjects you'd expect to overhear at a sociology conference: case studies, their inherent jump from the individual to the general, and how the ideas therein can be applied to art. The second interview is slightly less academic, but for aspiring writers, may be a shade more grim. In “Two Separate Conversations: An Interview with Dave Daley and Stephen Elliot,” the subjects discuss the present and uncertain future of the rapidly changing publishing industry.

This issue also involves a collaboration between Marvin Bell and Marvin Tate. Four years ago, Chicago poet and musician Marvin Tate interviewed Marvin Bell, Iowa's first Poet Laureate, for the inaugural issue of MAKE. For this issue, “The Marvin and Marvin Show” reunited for a collaboration via e-mail merging song, poetry, and the theme “This Everyday.” The reader encounters this collaboration in sequence, on one page is the song, written out in musical notation on a treble clef staff, and on the adjacent page is other-Marvin's response poem, then another song, then another poem. The ingenious part of this collaboration is that the poems and songs were subsequently recorded, and the album is available at the magazine’s website.

The fiction element of MAKE's “This Everyday” issue seems to focus on characters on the periphery, but each story deals with this theme in its own way. In Laura Gabel-Hartman's “The Cookout,” a woman who struggles to put a little fire back into her relationship is faced with the horror of finding her kindergarten-age daughter with her hand down a young boy's pants during a cookout. “Koba's Bad Cut,” by Jim Snowden, is a Kafka-esque story about a Russian officer's chance encounter with Joseph Stalin, and the agony of debating with himself over how to best answer a single question posed by the iconic leader: “Do you like my new haircut?”

The nonfiction pieces are similarly focused on the outsider. With his essay, “Them,” Bryan Furuness takes us through a frenzied snippet of his life as an insurance salesman and illustrates the pitfalls of being a moderate liberal in a sea of hyper-conservatives. “Receptionist,” by Christen Enos, is a fun look at what it's like to be a fly on the wall at PR firm that represents famous Hollywood celebrities, but the social divisions observed by the author are stark, and very much black and white.

The photography in this issue is striking. The art is printed in full color on non-glossy paper, which adds a certain warmth to the images. Keeping the paper consistent also helps to ease the reader's transition from text-material to image. Just another nice touch in the aesthetic of the magazine.

All in all, even though this is only MAKE’s 8th issue, the layout is as slick and professional as any journal that has been around for decades. My recommendation: this magazine is well worth the $10 cover price.
[makemag.com/]

 

make/shift covermake/shift

Number 6

Fall/winter 2009/2010

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I didn’t even realize publications like make/shift still existed. What a relief! Reading this radical magazine-style (not journal, magazine!) publication made me nostalgic for Off Our Backs (maybe even for On Our Backs) and Lesbian Connections and the let’s-turn-the-world-upside-down rags I looked forward to every month in the 70’s and 80’s when women’s bookstores were (sometimes) dangerous and (always) exhilarating, and I could rely on feminist writing to inspire and sustain me.

make/shift “creates and documents contemporary feminist culture and action by publishing journalism, critical analysis, and visual and text art.” And, of course, there is an editorial collective. (Music to my ears.) And a commitment to “antiracist, transnational, and queer perspectives.” If this feels like something of a time warp, believe me, it isn’t. In the years since the publications I cited above, we’ve reckoned with HIV/AIDS as evidenced in the interview with choreographer Sean Dorsey about his work Uncovered: The Diary Project; seen an explosion of interest in and connection to transgender issues, as evidenced in Kai Kohlsdorf’s essay “ReSexing Trans,” and numerous other pieces here; and continue to indulge the preoccupation with the relationship between new technologies and new identities, as expressed in an interview between librarians Emily Drabinsky and Lia Friedman in “When Reference is Radical.”

The magazine includes reviews of books by mainstream and indie presses; brief personal essays; and poetry (though I wouldn’t say this is the magazine’s strength); and this issue contains a special feature “Beyond the Medical-Industrial Complex: Health and Healing in Community,” with a series of short essays/articles which are personal, political, critical, and significant on so many levels. It is unlikely that the people who really need to read these pieces (hello, White House staff) will actually see them.

There is something that can feel terribly youthful (or perhaps I mean playful) about the publication – the writer’s bios, for example: “J. Max Stein is a dirty, happy queer living in Brooklyn”; “Jessica Lawless is exploring her new home in Santa Fe. Come visit”; “Teht Ashmani is a genderqueer trans of color cross-dresser, writer, and student.” But not only, not exclusively. There are also Kebby Warner “a woman prisoner, mother, and anarchist fighting for her freedom” and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore “the author of So Many Ways to Sleep Badly and Nobody Passes and That’s Revolting.

“We lived to tell the tale,” writes Lennle Moïse (a self-described “award-winning poet, playwright, and performance artist”) of her experience of being verbally assaulted by a “skinhead” on the 1 train (subway) in Manhattan. I ride the 1 every day. make/shift helps me believe that I will survive the MTA (Manhattan Transportation Authority), healthcare reform, on-going discrimination of more kinds than I wish to acknowledge, and our culture’s general stupidity and narrow-mindedness to tell the tale.
[www.makeshiftmag.com]

 

The Malahat Review coverThe Malahat Review

Number 168

Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Despite much evidence to the contrary, or the apparent – or at least underestimated – challenges of doing so, it is possible to write an original and unforgettable speaker-meets-nature poem; or a speaker talks-to-poem poem; or a family story poem; or a poem with diction as casual as a nonchalant conversation; or a poem with images of popular culture; or yet one more poem about the mystery of math. It is possible to write an original and satisfying story from the perspective of a child or an adolescent that is also mature and inventive, not excessively playful or childish. It is possible to write a book review that exhibits intellectual sophistication without resorting to jargon. It is, in fact, possible to find all of these original and exceptional pieces in one place, writing by Susan Gillis, Jefferey Donaldson, Sam Cheuk, Rachel Rose, Eve Joseph, Ross Leckie, Eliza Robertson, Devon Code, Jackie Gay, Eric Miller – in The Malahat Review.

Don’t skip a single piece in this issue. Not Priscilla Uppal’s rant, “Fortress,” which concludes:

Deep in the gut
of this millennium, our amazing graces
are sanctioned like cigars. We hold them
up to the light for appreciation, smell
our delicate fingertips, await the arrival
of zillions of more vulnerable babies,
until a large man with a bass tone
breaks plate after plate upon
the force field of mankind

Or Stuart Friebert’s personal essay, “Germany’s Ganges,” which retells his experience of a biking accident and a brief hospital stay in 1949 in the Rhineland in the context of post-war sentiments, perspectives, and regrets.

Or Ross Leckie’s exquisite metaphysical poems with their long lines and even longer meanings. Here is the beginning of “The Brain a Cauliflower”:

There is the negative judgement, the one that bends the tulips to the ground.
Nothing is possible in empty time. Small wonder. The brain, that is,
with its various habitats, the ants tunneling in its moist soil.

Or Eve Joseph’s poem “White Camellias,” so much restraint and refined yearning (“Those I don’t write are loyal like all broken things.”) Or Gwendolyn Jensen’s poem “Earth Has a Thousand Faces,” which sounds like so much hyperbole, and is not, not, not.

Or Eliza Robertson’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and cleverly composed story, “Ship’s Log,” winner of the magazine’s Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction, about an imaginary voyage to China. A made-up story about a made-up story.

Don’t skip the reviews or even the ads (you’ll find out what’s happening on the Canadian poetry scene). If you go slowly enough, you might just have enough to get you through to issue one hundred and sixty-nine.
[www.malahatreview.ca]

 

The Meadow coverThe Meadow

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The Meadow is an annual journal published by Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada. Truckee Meadows students serve on the editorial board and represent the largest group of contributors to the magazine, although this issue’s contributors also include several MFA students from large universities and a few more seasoned writers. The centerpiece of the issue is an interview with novelist and memoirist Kim Barnes (A Country Called Home, Finding Caruso, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country, Hungry for the World), conducted by the journal’s fiction editor, Mark Maynard. They discuss the genesis of Barnes’s most recent novel, the importance of place in that book, her writing process, and her upcoming work.

Most of the writing, poetry and fiction, in this issue has a decidedly casual tone, as exemplified by Kelly Ogilvie’s poem, “Alaskan/Firefighter/Psychologist,” which begins:

I went to the bar Friday night
to be alone.
And this Alaskan started talking to me.
He asked me if I was frustrated
because I had peeled the labels off my beer.
And then he asked me
if I wanted to peel the label off his.

Or Krista Benjamin’s “Dad,” which begins:

I don’t know which one of us snapped
the picture, but Dad is successfully ignoring
the photographer. He wears what we called
the “O” shirt: brown rayon covered
with little white circles, an endless, single-player
game of tic-tac-toe.

The nonfiction work, three personal essays, is the most memorable writing in the issue, in particular Linh Cao’s “The Ex-Camp Site,” which recounts a visit to Viet Nam where the author’s family still lives. The author’s father was imprisoned in Central Viet Nam in the 1970’s and a desire to understand that experience is at the heart of the essay.

A section of well-reproduced photographs by Abraham Abebe, Amy Alden, John Kett, Brandon Lacow, Joy Wong, and Naho Hasegawa, both color and black and white, rounds out the issue. All exhibit a thoughtful sense of composition and original ideas of how to frame a subject to optimize its unique stance in the world.
[www.tmcc.edu/meadow]

 

Moon City Review coverMoon City Review

2009

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

For twenty years, Moon City Review was a student-run biannual journal published by the Missouri State University department of English. With the 2009 issue, the magazine transitions to a “book annual featuring work in various genres from multiple communities; from current students and faculty to celebrated alums and artists of regional, national, and even international reputation.” The new journal will include a section titled “Archival Treasures from the Ozarks,” which will “’bring back’ artists whose works lie languishing, and largely forgotten.” In their lengthy introduction announcing these changes, the editors invite submissions for future issues, which will focus on special themes, though not to the exclusion of other work, to include “speculative fictions,” an alumni issue, and the art and literature of children and adolescents.

In its status as a literary-artistic annual (and as an academic small press of the same name), Moon City remains a mythic place, forever a ‘new town’ . . . where Ozarks history and literary artistic-culture can be both remembered and re-constructed, engaging back-and-forth with the rest (and best) of the world.

If every issue includes one feature as interesting as the essay on the inventor of the Kewpie doll, “Portraits of Womanhood in the Artwork of Rose O’Neill,” by Missouri State University professors of English James S. Baumlin and Lanette Cadle, Moon City Review will certainly be worth keeping eye on. Kewpie, a “wildly collectible popular-culture icon” considered the greatest success in the history of toys, turns 100 this year, and the story of the woman who dreamed her up is a fascinating glimpse into issues of class, gender, commercialism, and creativity. The essay includes wonderful photos and illustrations.

Another fine contribution is Billy Clem’s memoir essay, “Some Confirmation: A Gay Man Comes of Age in the Missouri Ozarks.” Clem’s poems also appear in the issue, along with the work of more than a dozen other poets. Clem’s prose is plain, yet appealing, and his writing is at once modest and engaging. His poetry is representative of much of the poetry in the issue, language that avoids heightened, imagistic tendencies and tends towards a casual approach in both tone and diction. A “conversation” between former Missouri State University classmates Kevin Brockmeier and Shannon Wooden, the former now a fiction writer and essayist, and the latter a professor of English, is also worthwhile.
[english.missouristate.edu/moon_city_review.htm]

 

Paul Revere's Horse coverPaul Revere’s Horse

Volume 1 Number 1

Spring 2009

Biannual

Review by Terri Denton

For those of us fortunate to live in Massachusetts, the name Paul Revere nearly conjures magic, in the fairy-tale sense. Perhaps it was by design, then, that the publishers of this journal’s very first edition would use tales that evoke feelings of long-agos, and far, far-aways. Micaela Morrissette’s tale, “The Glowing Light in the Forest” is the perfect ambassador for Paul Revere’s Horse’s first foray, and the perfect example of magic conjured by pen. Truly, I can give but a hint or two of her ingenious story/poem. For example, “In the cool, damp, dark forest, a princess.” If this seems like a slight tease, then I’ll add one of Morrissette’s devilishly clever lists: “The forest. The princess. The well. The tower. The red rose. The frog. The ring. The dog. The tear. The servant. The key. The mirror. The witch. The disguise.” But that is all I will say. To give you, the reader, more would spoil the surprise that is Morrissette’s writing, and her utterly captivating tale. This imagining would be enough to recommend the journal; it’s that good, but Paul Revere’s Horse has so much more to offer.

Here, too, is a collection of works by John Murray. Simply encapsulated as “Three Poems,” they are everything but simple. In “Ghost/Home,” Murray writes, “You are the sailor / Twenty years gone // Seashell on the water // Magician / Pirate // Witch of the mountain/ Witch of the sea.” Are you feeling Murray’s magic yet? Perhaps “Visitant” will do it for you. In it, the author writes, “The dreamcatcher caught me / Darting past your window in deep winds of sleep, / Spied you draped across your bed.” Finally comes Murray’s last poem, “The Dark of the Moon,” of which I will not share a single word: It is a very short poem. While not as magical as its completing pair, it makes up for it in sheer delight. “Three Poems” is a collection not to be missed.

Next up is Miranda Mellis’s “Transformer: Excerpt, Part 1.” Not to be outdone, Mellis tosses her pen into the witch’s brew of literary sleight of hand. To wit: “A girl’s mother, testing her, asks her daughter to set fire to the woods behind their house from a distance, with her mind. Wanting to please her mother, and curious to see if she can, the girl tries. She looks up at the forest and thinks, OK now burn. But it doesn’t. She fails.”

Also to be found is Christine Choi’s “Fifteen Love Letters.” Number 1 is as follows “I. DO NOT CLARIFY. IN CLARIFYING, YOU ARE SAYING THAT THE SHORTEST DISTANCE BETWEEN POINTS IS A LINE – WHEN IT ISN’T.” Continuing with the first letter, Choi writes that, “I want to tell you about a swollen animals dream. A cushion dream, logged with faded dog-eared texts, the tavern lamp and its moths, cumulous clouds puffing up on the horizon. In my dream, we all eat fruit and understand that we are animals. We love our pet mice and birds as if we’d built a language together from scratch.” There is something magical in the speaker’s dream, rounding out these pieces.

Perhaps, again, it is only because I live a scant 20 miles from the scene of Paul Revere’s ride, the image of Paul Revere’s horse racing through the streets of Lexington has an evocation of long-ago, and a bit of far, far away for me. And this edition of Paul Revere’s Horse elicits these same feelings. But I suspect that you need not live in the cradle of liberty to feel the unrestrained magic of this journal. It’s absolutely enchanting.
[paulrevereshorse.org]

 

Shenandoah coverShenandoah

Volume 59 Number 2

Fall 2009

Quarterly

Review by Sally Molini

As usual there are great poems and stories in the latest issue of Shenandoah, though I must say that the two essays, Jeffrey Hammond’s engaging “My Father’s Hats, and a wrenching must-read by Shari Wagner, “Camels, Cowries & A Poem for Aisha,” about harrowing conditions in Somalia, are stand-outs. Set within the frame of a memoir, Jeffrey Hammond’s essay, “My Father’s Hats,” is an entertaining history of the hat, beginning with the snug pilos, the Greek name for a common, helmet-shaped cap made of felt. I sat at my computer as I read, Googling the names of hats as Hammond’s prose moved through the centuries.

Shari Wagner’s essay discusses life in troubled Somalia, a country she describes as a terribly "harsh place for women – especially during their childbearing years." Wagner’s article includes the stoning of thirteen-year-old Aisha who, after having informed the militia that she had been raped by three men, was executed for adultery. How the image of a cowrie shell fits into Wagner’s narrative is painfully apt and devastatingly poetic.

Poetry claims the largest section of this issue, with several pieces being about animals, birds, insects, hunting, and fishing. Margaret Reges’s two poems are beautiful, with long, undulating lines filled with in-the-moment detail. “Saguaro,” a piece by Pablo Peshiera, is an arresting depiction of Cabeza de Vaca, Spanish explorer of the New World, its piercing lines spoken by a native voice. Wendell Hawken’s “Elegaic” and “A View” are deftly rendered poems on two different kinds of hunting; and Katy Didden’s “Mind’s-Eyed Island,” about Surtsey, Earth’s newest island, is set in triplets and reminds the reader where "earth’s beginning gets re-set" and that it is "so hard to leave be what the law ropes off."

The six stories that appear in this issue share various threads of sex and precarious situations in which the characters often feel cornered. Holly Goddard Jones’ story, “Allegory of a Cave,” is a rather reluctant coming-of-age tale about Ben, a ten-year-old whose eyesight is deteriorating; his other cross to bear is his can’t-be-intermittent-enough relationship with his father. Jones’ tale reminds this reader of how children are constantly at the mercy of a parent’s state of mind. Sheba Karim’s fiction piece, “Telescope,” offers a meaningful glimpse into the life of a Pakistani couple, Firoze and Fariha, living in a suburban neighborhood, the title suggesting that objects observed from a distance may be colored with the viewer’s own projections.

An interview with fiction writer Robert Olmstead closes the issue. Responding to interviewer Bruce Bays’s question on the habits of a writer, Olmstead answers, “Your ear becomes a sort of pickup, a mike for all kinds of ambient conversations, ambient sound, the turns of phrase.” Shenandoah’s does indeed reflect current ambient conversations: always with us are creatures of nature; acts of violence of one kind or another; the birth of something new, even land; abuse; prejudice – all reflect human states of consciousness, ransacking, empathetic, harsh, generous, etc. Whether poem, essay or story, all the pieces here stand as witness to the wide, raging vicissitudes of human perception, which are, as always, both real and imagined.
[www.wlu.edu/x31904.xml]

 

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