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Find literary magazine reviews on the NewPages Blog. These reviews include single literary pieces and an issue of a literary magazine as a whole.

Magazine Stand :: Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine – Fall 2023

Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine - Fall 2023 cover image

This nineteenth issue of Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine (Fall/Winter 2023) contains seven works of short fiction available to read online. In “Ana,” Gregory Jeffers spins a tale of mystery involving Russian aristocracy and small-town American values. Elizabeth Hansen tells of a couple’s struggles with their backyard and with each other in “Yardwork.” There are seven non-fiction pieces (essay, memoir, and creative non-fiction). “Desire” sets forth taut emotions and traces the path of a rocky relationship using the creative typography of Victoria Wiswell. Paul Rabinowitz relates an encounter in a Brooklyn cafe that has more to do with creativity than wine in “Clockwork.” The issue contains twenty-six poems, including Milagros Vilaplana’s “At Battersea Park” which paints a restful lyrical outdoor scene, while KB Ballentine’s lyric depicts nature as untamed. Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr opens the magazine with a poem about the confrontation between traditional religious values and LGBTQ individuals. SBLAAM includes artwork, with four images in this issue, including one of crafted jewelry, a picture of a mixed-media sculpture, and two outdoor photographs. SBLAAM has also just announced a writing contest for those 50 and older.

Find out more about many of these titles with our Guide to Literary Magazines and our Big List of Literary Magazines and Big List of Alternative Magazines. If you are a publication looking to be listed in our monthly roundup or featured on our blog and social media, please contact us.

Lit Mag Review :: Ecotone – Spring/Summer 2023

Ecotone Spring/Summer 2023 cover image

The Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Ecotone literary magazine includes four graphic literature pieces that drew me into the publication. Focusing on “Reminaging Place,” Ecotone’s mission is “to publish and promote the best place-based work being written today.” This includes graphic literature curated by invitation, with this issue offering four distinct works. The first is actually a tribute piece by Editor David Gessner for the feature Out of Place. “The Dead Writers’ Society: One Day I Hope to Join” is humorous, heartfelt, and historically informative using hand-drawn images and text as well as photos and photocopied ephemera. It is available to read on the Ecotone website. The three content pieces are offered in a full-color portfolio with an intro by each artist.

Image from "Network of Want" by Angie Kang

“Network of Want” by Angie Kang is hands-down my favorite piece, mainly because it explores desire paths – those pathways made by people and animals following their desired route. Kang uses a limited palate of blue-greens to violet for each scene with the pathway rendered in hot pink. She examines the myriad mindsets and biologies driving these pathways, to take shortcuts, to avoid, to be nearer, and to survive. Her work is a desire path in itself, as I find myself returning to it again and again to meditate on the shared meanings a simple worn path can offer. The intro to this work is available to read on the Ecotone website, but the work can only be viewed with a subscription.

Image from "Whale Fall" by Mita Mahato

“Whale Fall: Sequences 1, 2, 3” by Mita Mahato sources the term “whale fall” to create a series of images that reflect a system of metamorphizing by combining grids, letterforms, and colors. Whale fall, Mahato writes, “is “the ecosystem that emerges when a whale carcass falls to the ocean floor” and describes how “enmeshed” this phenomenon is with both marine and terrestrial systems of existence. My appreciation for Mahato’s work increased exponentially after seeing her process, which she shares in several videos and images on her Instagram page @mita_mahato. There is an intense amount of cutting out the grid and letters with an Exacto knife that cannot be fully captured in the print images, and that factors into the interpretation as well. Mahato’s intro and work are available to read on the Ecotone website.

Image from "Becoming Water" by S. J. Ghaus

“Becoming Water” by S. J. Ghaus is a hauntingly dreamy sequence exploring their sense of identity through self-naming. Ghaus opens the intro, “Four years ago, I picked up a blue colored pencil on New Year’s Eve and began to draw. I’ve been drawing and writing in that specific shade of blue ever since, and I don’t know when I’ll stop.” Coincidentally, this piece is about water, being in water, and identifying as water. Its compelling strength is that singular color and the depth and complexity Ghaus can create with this self-imposed limitation. This work is also available to read on the Ecotone website.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews material based on her own personal interests.

Comics Review :: Trans and Non-Binary Menstruation by Jac Dellaria

The Bathroom by Jac Dellaria comic panel image

I came across Jac Dellaria’s work thanks to the Chicago Zine Fest where he was tabling. He has an Instagram where he posts his most recent work, and I zine reviewed several of his indie publications. Dellaria also has an incredible series he created in collaboration with University of Wisconsin – Madison Sociology Professor Sarah E. Frank (“Frankie”) based on interview research conducted in 2018-19 with trans and nonbinary emerging adults (18-29). Frank writes that Dellaria “translated the findings and quotes into stunning comic panels, presenting . . . a visual narrative of menstruation for trans and genderqueer people.” The comics include “The Bathroom,” “Product Problems,” “At the Doctor’s,” and “On Identity.” These four comics are worth visiting and sharing, especially in light of continued basic bathroom rights for all and to understand what it is like for others whose experiences are real and valid yet not justly recognized. As one character in “On Identity” comments, “I feel kinda stuck because periods are such ‘a woman’s thing’ that if I speak up, then I’ll be seen as invalidating my identity. But If I don’t, then no one will ever learn.” Here’s hoping more people will care enough to learn.

Trans and Non-Binary Menstruation by Jac Dellaria. Teaching Frankly, 2020.

Queering Menstruation: Trans and Non-Binary Identity and Body Politics” by Sarah E. Frank. Sociological Inquiry, 2020.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.

Magazine Review :: Arc Poetry Magazine “How Poems Work”

Arc Poetry Issue 100 Spring 2023 cover image

Each issue of Arc Poetry Magazine includes “How Poems Work,” which offers readers a “case-study appreciation” of a single poem. The poem is reprinted in the issue along with the analysis, focusing on style, subject matter, influences, context, and the use of poetic elements. The spring 2023 issue featured Bardia Sinaee’s appreciation for “Epiphany” by Sara Venart. The poem opens with a series of visualized situations from everyday life, starting with the prompt “Here I am…” and coursing over a selection of events and feelings and questioning ‘what ifs.’ The closing line was a dagger to my heart in the most loving way and left me sobbing. “That’s a good poem,” I could have been satisfied to say, but then I read Sinaee’s commentary, which helped make connections I would not have, and offered a more authoritative assessment in ways I might not have felt confident making, but which made complete sense, such as, “This poem addresses us urgently and intimately.” While I felt that in reading the poem, seeing it said helped ground my feeling in shared reason. It helped me make sense, not of the poem, but of the effect the words had on me. It offered me a conversation partner in an otherwise solitary experience. It’s a wonderful feature for those of us who enjoy education but lack access to teachers—something to look forward to in each issue.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.

Review :: “To the Quick” by Karen McPherson

Southern Humanities Review volume 55 numbers 3 and 4 cover image

Post by Denise Hill

“To the Quick” by Karen McPherson is a brief poem made up of three tercets. It’s a poem of wizened recognitions that can truly only come with age, which the narrator acknowledges in her skin, “Hardening. // Softening. Veined and rugose.” where she wears her weariness for “hoarding my personal past while coveting others’ futures – ” (How does McPherson know my mind so well?) The speaker goes on to forgive and make plans, trim a kitten’s claws and compare those clever little mechanisms to her own nails, exposed and absurd as a result of tearing “away soft crescents with my teeth.” “To the Quick” delivers readers as promised, to that pit inside that yearns for understanding and connection while at the same time being fully grounded in the concrete non-attachment to time, which moves steadily forward. We eventually figure some things out, “forgive the lapses,” and remain mystified all the same. McPherson succinctly finds that sweet spot in “To the Quick.”

“To the Quick” by Karen McPherson. Southern Humanities Review, v. 55 nos. 3&4.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is the Editor of NewPages.com, which welcomes reviews of books as well as individual poems, stories, and essays. If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Review :: “Porous” by Jessica Moore

Brick summer 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Megan Eralie

Published in the summer 2022 issue of Brick, “Porous” by Jessica Moore investigates motherhood and imagines the many types of containers in and around pregnancy, birth, and life. Moore opens by stating, “I have an affinity for the liminal.” This fascination of “spaces between” opens an exploration of moments and feelings “beyond the physical.” Reflecting on motherhood, both years before and after giving birth to twins, Moore muses on the space love contains and the boundaries, containers for love, that also grow with motherhood. A car crash eight years before giving birth results in a head injury which causes Moore to pay closer attention to losses and to memorize a passage from John Berger that sparks an unintended attention towards how the mind “alter[s] and appropriate[s]” our own words—memorized words are, themselves, unable to be contained. The containment of words read and memorized culminates in an observation that words, like fetal cells from a pregnancy, live in the body long after birth. The essay itself is a container of Moore’s words blended with other writers’, a container that goes on to live within the reader, revealing the liminality of language.

“Porous” by Jessica Moore. Brick: A Literary Journal, issue 108, Summer 2022.

Reviewer bio: Megan Eralie (she/her) is a nonfiction writer, poet, and graduate student living in Logan, Utah, who thinks having two cats is a personality trait. You can find her on twitter @smeggggs.

Review :: “Tom Is Dead” by Catherine Sinow

Marrow literary magazine logo

Guest Post by Virginia

A succinct nonfiction essay by Catherine Sinow, but one that will sit in the mind long after you’ve finished reading it, “Tom Is Dead” is about tragedy befalling a family and the complications of grief that come from no longer being close to that family. The work, published in Issue 3 of Marrow Magazine, is about rifts between people but also about closeness, and how those two things can co-exist sometimes in strange and painful ways. Sinow utilizes the small space the essay takes up well, and while the word count is low, the content is packed with effective language, like these opening lines, “Once I was friends with two brothers. I had a falling out with both of them. Eight months later, their dad was hit by a car and killed.” The blend of craft and content makes the essay a real brain-worm of a piece, and it’s a slightly morbid, slightly bittersweet, altogether powerful read.

Tom Is Dead” by Catherine Sinow. Marrow Magazine, Issue 3, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Virginia is an English graduate student at Utah State University. They like talking with cats better than talking with people.

Review :: “The Sum of Which Parts” by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart head shot

Guest Post by Zoe Dalley

“Our ideas of love were different, too. I wanted, I was desperate, to know you truly, Dad.”

Beth Kephart’s [pictured] short nonfiction piece “The Sum of Which Parts” focuses on a collection of items belonging to her now deceased father to let readers into his world at the end of his life during the COVID-19 lockdowns. From his wallet to a picture of his Wii bowling team, Kephart uses these items to help us understand what it was like for her father, and, in turn, what it must have been like at a time of extreme isolation for much of the older generation without the access or mastery over technology. Kephart then pairs the physical distance of the lockdowns, where she wasn’t able to visit her father without the barrier of technology, with the emotional distance she feels existed between her and her father. Beautifully weaving the two together, “The Sum of Which Parts” effectively tackles the complexity of parent/child relationships, in particular during strange and unforeseen circumstances, such as a global pandemic.

“The Sum of Parts” by Beth Kephart. Upstreet, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Zoe Dalley is a graduate student specializing in literature, composition and culture. They have a particular interest in horror, experimental literature, and anything within the realm of the bizarre.

Review :: “Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry” by Robin Gow

Mina Weeks review of "Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry" by Robin Gow published in Cream City Review literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Mina Weeks

Like the famous Milwaukee cream-colored bricks, Cream City Review’s Winter 2021 issue stands out from the crowd with its focus on marginalized works and experiences. In Robin Gow’s “Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry,” the beauty and heartache of the trans experience dance with the anguish of familial trauma and bittersweet aftertaste of romance gone wrong. The inability to cry—and its ties to testosterone and holding oneself together with mere stitches—explores the helplessness of bottled-up emotions through the lens of singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, whose famously morose lyrics wield the power of tightened chests and melancholic sighs. Through this, Gow expertly captures the trans experience and its ties to emotional suppression and release.

“Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry” by Robin Gow. Cream City Review, Fall/Winter 2021.

Reviewer bio: Mina Weeks (they/she) is a multi-marginalised K-pop stan who tweets, teaches, and writes fanfiction to get them through their existence. Find them on Twitter @minami_noel or on Instagram @meena.noel.

Review :: “A Place I Didn’t Try to Die in Los Angeles” by Jenny Catlin

Taylor Franson review of "A Place I didn't Try to Die in Los Angeles" by Jenny Catlin published in The Gettysburg Review headshot image of Catlin

Guest Post by Taylor Franson

Jenny Catlin’s [pictured] essay, “A Place I Didn’t Try to Die in Los Angeles,” touches on themes of shame, women’s lack of power, and personal agency. Throughout the piece are moments of dry humor, contrasted with surprising moments of tenderness. Catlin’s prose is both incredibly poignant and incredibly scathing. Her ability to create stark and bold images, while commenting on societal issues is phenomenal. You cheer for her, as she decides not to die, and moan as she makes other choices detrimental to her life. You cannot help but cry with her as she cries in “the Nut” (the now-closed seedy Nutel Motel), and understand what she means when she writes, “There is a kind of alone that only exists in cities as big as Los Angeles.” The piece is infused with emotion and power. Catlin’s diction carries the essay and sets the tone for the entirety of the piece as they expertly balance harsh realities with the inner turmoil that follows. Many women who have felt powerless and forced into difficult choices will not only relate to Catlin’s essay but may see a direct reflection of themselves here as well.

“A Place I Didn’t Try to Die in Los Angeles” by Jenny Catlin. The Gettysburg Review,

Reviewer bio: Taylor Franson Thiel is a creative writing graduate student at Utah State University. She wrote this review because she had to for a class, but she means every word. She can be found on Twitter @TaylorFranson

Review :: “Shame” by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

"Shame" by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers review by Lauren McKinnon from Cincinnati Review issue 19.1 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Lauren McKinnon

Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers explores isolation, class, and gender in her nonfiction essay, “Shame.” Set mostly in Guilford County, North Carolina, Rogers recollects her complicated relationship with her grandparents who live secluded on a gothic farm. Rogers sympathizes with her grandmother’s inability to escape a marriage to a man who acts as a family patriarch and predator. When Rogers graduates high school and attends Oberlin University, she fulfills a dream of higher education her grandma could never afford. Despite the liberal, nerdy, queer community Roger finds on campus, she feels out of place and looked down upon because of her ties to small town Guilford County. Rogers explores how humans value themselves above others based on class and education, both unearned privileges. She uses humor and calculated characterization of her grandmother to show readers how isolating it is to exist on the edges. The essay ends with a haunting image of Roger’s grandma, trapped behind the glass window above her sink, washing the dishes, staring at the view of an eroding barn and fields of clay. The image humanizes isolation as women observe the world around them but are unable to fully participate.

“Shame” by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers. The Cincinnati Review, 19.1, Spring 2022.

Reviewer bio: Lauren McKinnon is a creative writing master’s student at Utah State University. She teaches English and is the Assistant Graduate Director of Composition. Lauren is currently writing her first book of poetry about the Southern Utah desert, motherhood, and woman’s bodies.

Review :: “Deathbed” by Anna B. Moore

Pembroke Magazine number 54 print literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Sandra Edwards

Anna B. Moore’s “Deathbed” essay in Pembroke Magazine describes the end of her father’s life from her perspective as his primary caretaker. As a narrator, she questions her relationship with her father, but her feelings seem to change as she navigates his dying state. Rather than being a story of redemption or some other giant paradigmatic shift, it is instead one of understanding as she reflects on her father’s character. Interwoven with this narrative is her experience staying in a rented basement apartment while she is away to take care of her father.

Each scene offers details that serve to characterize her father, such as the description of his bedside table in the hospital: “Cluttered with old books, used drinking glasses, folded newspapers, used Kleenexes, his wallet, some coins and pens, a magnifying glass.” She also emphasizes his breathing throughout the piece, almost rhythmically, so that we not only see his physical deterioration into death, but also gain insight into his feelings just as she does. A seemingly simple piece on the surface, Moore captivates the reader and approaches the subject of death in a familiar yet sincere way.

“Deathbed” by Anna B. Moore. Pembroke Magazine, #54, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Sandra Edwards is a college student and aspiring writer currently pursuing her master’s degree.

Lit Mag Review :: Reckoning – Issue 6

Reckoning literary art magazine issue number 6 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Jacob Taylor

The sixth issue of Reckoning: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice gathers the words of diverse writers from around the world as they grapple with the future of our planet. This collection of fiction, essays, and poetry tells unflinching stories of Earth’s recent past and speculates on its future in vivid detail. Brothers dive for rare silvery sludge in the submerged streets of Oakland; wildfires tear through dry forests while governors calculate how much the burning lumber is worth (not enough to put out the fires); teens turn into trees (they thought it was just a phase at first), and then mothers do too; another strange chemical leaks into our water supply (GenX); oil rigs rape Mother Earth, and she retaliates without apology; Orocobix battles island-eating machines, and a trash compacter engineered to clean up Earth while humanity evacuates decides to nurture a colony of rats instead. The complex worldbuilding throughout the speculative pieces is particularly engaging and provides a nice contrast to the pieces that evaluate Earth’s present state. Much of the writing draws clear inspiration from recent social movements and the COVID-19 pandemic, making this publication both relevant and relatable.

Reckoning: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice, Issue 6, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jacob Taylor is a queer writer based in northern Utah, where they are currently completing an MA in creative writing at Utah State University.

Review :: “Plague Novel” by George Estreich

George Estreich author of "Plague Novel" published in Southern Humanities Review v55 n2 2022 headshot image

Guest Post by Zackary Gregory

In the short essay “Plague Novel,” published in Southern Humanities Review, George Estreich [pictured] uses Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One to make sense of his lived experience through the outbreak of Covid-19.

The essay begins in a small room filled with the “breath and bodies” of people slowly exiting a literary reception. A poet approaches and asks, “You write about science. Should we be worried about this coronavirus thing?” Estreich responds by “disavowing expertise,” but states that from what little he has read, “our behavior mattered.” In “a few weeks the great blur would begin,” people would start hoarding rolls of toilet paper in sparse grocery stores and his “hands would be cracked and raw” from applying hand sanitizer.

Estreich threads in a rich literary analysis of Zone One, drawing parallels and using scenes from the novel to name the mania caused by the pandemic. He describes Americans responding to crises like the characters in the novel, “Zombie-like, they cling to old routines, old stories, as the world falls apart around them.” Estreich claims the novel was “an escape true to the present’s depths,” depths he wouldn’t be able to plumb without Whitehead’s novel.

Plague Novel” by George Estreich. Southern Humanities Review, v55 n2, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Zackary Gregory (He/him) is an English grad student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. He likes bikes and books.

Review :: “How to Pray for Your Enemies” by Cristina Legarda

Cristina Legarda headshot

Post by Denise Hill

Like many well-intentioned meditators, I struggle with the concept of metta, that effort to show loving kindness both to ourselves and others, including our enemies. “Be like the Dalai Lama…” To which I respond, “We cannot all be Dalai Lamas.” However, “How to Pray for your Enemies” by Christina Legarda [pictured] from the most recent issue of Sky Island Journal has been the keenest instructional I have encountered.

It begins, “First, get the fantasy of vengeance / out of your system. The way / you would core them out / with your sharpest knife…” which is the most un-Dalai Lama thought we might gravitate toward (and which Mindset author Carol Dweck says is prevalent in both the fixed- and growth-minded). After filling out this fantasy with additional detail (which feels more disturbing than satisfying – and rightly so), Legarda moves the reader to the next phase, to cry and “collect all your tears / and put them in the sun till all you have / is their salt [. . . ] and how tiny / the heap will seem to you, after all / those tears, a little mountain no bigger / than the print from your thumb.” While that may seem dismissive, it actually acknowledges how the internalized pain and torment we manifest results in very little that is tangible or beneficial to us. It is both a validation and a call to “move on.”

Legarda moves on by taking the experience from the external to within, taking the reader to go “sit alone in the desert” until the vision of a child comes, “the hungry child, crying child / hiding behind your enemy’s face,” telling the reader to embrace this child, “until you no longer wish / to cut out your own core; / until the child inside you / weeps no more.”

With this, Legarda brings the instruction full circle to that initial vengeful evisceration, showing us how there is no other. The damage we do, we do to ourselves, and that child is our own self who needs loving kindness.

“How to Pray for Your Enemies” by Cristina Legarda. Sky Island Journal, Fall 2022.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is the Editor of NewPages, which welcomes reviews of books as well as individual poems, stories, and essays. If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Review :: “Café Loup” by Ben Lerner

The New Yorker August 8 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Sade Frame

“I started to narrate my choking to myself, as if transforming it into a story would keep me connected to a future in which I might tell it.”

Ben Lerner’s New Yorker short story, “Café Loup,” describes, in an almost comedic manner, the narrator’s fear of dying, his skepticism regarding the circumstances surrounding death, (how his family would react if he passed, the manner in which it happened, et cetera), life regrets, and the concept of mentally postponing his own demise. The piece opens, “When I became a father, I began to worry not only that I would die and not be able to care for my daughter but that I would die in an embarrassing way. . . ” In the story, the narrator chokes on a piece of steak at a restaurant, and in the first few moments, he looks back on his life. Readers get glimpses of his past, his values, his inner turmoil, and his regrets through Lerner’s use of exemplary imagery with each of his rambling – though always connected – thought loops. One of the more important elements highlighted in this piece was his relationship with his daughter, and how he felt that he deserved to die in the cafe because he wasn’t adequate enough or somehow deserved it. It truly highlights that we cannot afford to take any moment for granted, for we do not choose our time.

Café Loup” by Ben Lerner. The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2002.

Reviewer bio: Sade Frame is a Hawaii resident who is an aspiring recording artist and avid book reader.

Review :: “In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want” by Sydney Vogl

Booth literary magazine issue 17 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Sophia Kaawa-Aweau

Dreams of relationships past and romances dead are a bittersweet experience; a haunting reminder of what almost was and a bubble of joy amidst otherwise bleak times. In Sydney Vogl’s “In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want,” the willful delusions of our dreamer manifest in the form of a lost lover.

Vogl delivers a hauntingly charming image of a willfully ignorant romance, which sneaks by the problems present in their bond rather than addressing them. “i don’t want to / talk too loud. i’m worried one of us will wake up. / we walk by a field of tulips & i almost notice / each one is shaped like an open wound, but i don’t.” They happily ignore the disturbances of their flower field, choosing to not address things in fear of waking the other up to the problems present.

It’s a gripping narrative that almost inspires a yearning to experience love and loss so strongly it haunts my dreams. “i wake up / alone. it’s february.” is a line piercing in its finality but perfectly embodies the loneliness and sense of grief that causes her dreamscape to feel like a graveyard.

In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want” by Sydney Vogl. Booth, 8 July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Sophia Kaawa-Aweau is a college student, looking to improve her understanding and writing of poetry and literature.

Review :: “The Hill” by Lena Moses-Schmitt

32 Poems literary magazine Summer 2022 issue cover image

Guest Post by Kekoa Makuahi

In “The Hill,” poet Lena Moses-Schmitt offers readers a short, beautiful experience into pure unadulterated emotion of what it feels like to love something or someone so much, but to then lose it, and in the process of dealing with that loss, find yourself once again. The poem begins:

I remember I used to receive love
letters from him and found them so pleasurable
I could only read in quick gulps,
trying not to get brain freeze, skipping whole phrases
so that they slid straight down
the back of my throat.

“The Hill ” spoke out loud in a way to say to the reader that it is okay to feel like you are on top of the world, or in this case top of the hill, as Moses-Schmitt continues,

I reached the top
and cried with no warning. I used to be very new
to myself and now I was accustomed to everything.
How embarrassing.

But, as the work concludes, sometimes you have to come back down and make sure to not lose yourself in that process.

The Hill” by Lena Moses-Schmitt. 32 Poems, No. 39, Summer 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Kekoa is a student of the literary arts looking to further his knowledge and understanding of the abundance of forms.

Magazine Review :: Red Rover

Red Rover Magazine online literary magazine logo image

Guest Post by Mandy Medina

Although the online Red Rover Magazine is fairly new and has only produced one annual issue in Winter 2021, what they have holds deep messages for those who need them. I was particularly drawn to the poem “valleys to the heart” by Marciel Laquindanum, which speaks of how there are those who have gone through similar situations before:

there i saw in the reflection of the river
people who found their emotions
and cried because they saw them
for the first time . . .

But also, how they were (and now the speaker is) able to find their way through the hardships that filled their short lives:

and at that moment
i knew

those before me needed to cross the valley
to see what was in their heart
so now i walk through this valley
with their flowers in my hand
ready to see what is in mine

Red Rover is a publication focused on mental health but does not limit itself to works of “well-being as a product.” Rather, the editors “are more interested in works that inspired well-being as a process.”

As a resource for those who are dealing with mental issues, magazines like Red Rover show that they are not alone, what they are going through is normal, and there are people out there who have gone through similar situations. Having magazines with a mental health and well-being focus allows people to have creative outlets to share their stories through poetry, photos, and fiction. It gives them a sense that they are not alone and perhaps gives them the strength to move forward in their life so they can also assist someone else who is lost.

Red Rover is currently accepting submissions through October 31, 2022, for its second issue.

Red Rover Magazine was founded by James N. Pollard in March 2020.

Reviewer bio: Mandy Medina is a game enthusiast who uses creative writing and music to make it through the day.

Poem Review :: Ode on My Nightingale by Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby headshot

Guest Post by Aimee L.

The nightingale is often considered a songbird well known for its melodies that spur feelings of love and romance in people. It is a bird that symbolizes romanticism, which is something that Barbara Hamby’s “Ode on My Nightingale” captures. Hamby [pictured], like a nightingale, strings together a melody depicting the beauty and terror that nighttime brings—the broken dreams, regrets, the loneliness. But despite these quieter moments, she depicts a sense of wonder. “My nightingale is the conquistador of moonlight.” Reading this opening line, I felt reassured. I realized how life shines in the darkness—in the “derivative of sin,” as Hamby puts it. One passage, in particular, speaks to me: “…and I am your little god, / your drinking water straight from the stream, / for my song is spooling into the night forever / and ever, amen.” It’s a little magical.

Ode on My Nightingale” by Barbara Hamby. 32 Poems, Spring/Summer 2020.

Reviewer Bio: Aimee L. is a regular college student and aspiring “writer.”

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Review :: Two Poems by Maria Zoccola

two poems by Maria Zoccola from Booth online literary magazine link image

Guest Post by Hayley Davis

I came across two striking poems by Maria Zoccoloa while reading Booth online literary journal. I enjoyed the first poem, “helen of troy makes an entrance,” because it is about the beauty of childbirth and compares it to an egg being broken to reveal a baby. The author talks about how she came into this world, a story waiting to be told and with a name meant to be given to her. The second poem I found to be equally interesting. Titled, “loggerhead excavation, tybee island,” this poem is about a biologist hatching babies into the world. It is another poem exploring the gift of life, and how animals and people are born into this world with the intention of living and being free.

Two Poems by Maria Zoccola. Booth, September 2, 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Hayley Davis is 27 years old and living in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hayley is a student at Windward Community College studying for a liberal arts degree.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Magazine Review :: Crazyhorse Spring 2022

Crazyhorse literary magazine Spring 2022 issue cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Dale

It gets expensive entering contests. So, I love it when a journal includes a copy of the contest issue with the entrance fee. Case in point: Crazyhorse. No, I didn’t win, but the College of Charleston’s Crazyhorse includes a year’s subscription with your entry fee. From the very first story, Marian Crotty’s “Near Strangers,” I was hooked. Crotty masterfully interweaves the story of Betsy’s evening as a hospital volunteer assisting a rape victim with the story of her own fractured relationship with her gay son. Pair this story with Daniel Garcia’s unsettling poem about abuse, “What I’m Trying to Say Is.” Kris Willcox’s “In May” considers the long arc of a woman’s life concluding with, “It’s not the things that matter to me. It’s the choices over what to keep, and what to throw away.” The story closes with the narrator quietly feeding a handful of old sequestered photos into the fire pit. I found myself thinking about old photos again with Gregory Dunne’s poem “Quiet Blizzard.” The Crazyhorse Spring 2022 issue is 165 beautiful pages of an astounding range of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This is an issue to be slowly savored by readers all summer long, and for writers, the Crazyhorse Prizes in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry open to submissions January 1-31 each year.

Reviewer bio: Cindy Dale has published over twenty short stories in literary journals and anthologies. She lives on a barrier beach off the coast of Long Island.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Magazine Review :: Youth Communication

Youth Communication My Parents are Anti Vaxxers story image

I curate the NewPages Publications for Young Writers Guide, and as much as I do this to provide a resource for young readers, writers, teachers, and parents, we could all benefit from spending some time reading the voices of young people. I was distracted from my work (a regular occurrence here, as you can imagine) when I came across “My Parents Are Anti-Vaxxers” by an anonymous contributor to YouthComm Magazine. In it, the author recounts how shocked they were when their parents went down the Facebook “Covid hoax” rabbit hole, declined vaccinations even in the face of losing a job/income, and then what they put their children through when one parent contracted the virus and declined medical care. The plaintive yet matter-of-fact style in which the author presents their perspective is frustrating to read, even heartbreaking, “It has made me question the people that I idolized growing up. The people that I believed, in my childhood innocence, could do no wrong.” Yet there is some consolation, “This experience has taught me a lot about the complexities of humans. It’s hard to accept that we can be good people and still go down the wrong paths. That things aren’t always simply black and white, though it’d be easier if they were.” And the final resolution, “But I’ve learned other people can provide guidance when your parents can’t.” It’s a sad commentary on the kind of division this experience created, and that we see continue among family, friends, and communities. It’s tough to imagine these youth experiencing the need to break away from their parents’ ideologies, but at the same time, encouraging that they (and we all) may be better off as adults as a result.

Youth Communication offers short, nonfiction stories and related lessons to help students improve their reading and writing skills, and improve the social and emotional skills that support school success. They provide workshops and publications, including Represent Magazine: Stories by Teens in Foster Care.

Magazine Review :: “The Memory of Clay” by Bruce Ballenger

The Sun May 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The May 2022 issue of The Sun is loosely tied together by a focus on food or nourishment, so Bruce Ballenger’s essay, “The Memory of Clay,” initially looks like an outlier, as he focuses on his relationship with his father. He uses the metaphor of clay to guide his essay, as Ballenger’s daughter Julia explains why she works with clay, despite its unwillingness to easily follow the form she sets for it. Ballenger struggles to shape his memories of his father, an alcoholic journalist who was abusive toward their family, into something that helps him understand his father. Ballenger works to mold the story he tells about his father, ranging from the narrative of the wronged son to learning why his father never published the book he had a contract for. The essay ends largely unresolved, as Ballenger isn’t sure what to do with the complicated memories he has, but he returns to something else his daughter has taught him about clay. There are times when it resists taking any shape at all, and so there is nothing to do with it but start again. Ballenger leaves the reader and himself there, knowing that that is what we all have to do.

The Memory of Clay” by Bruce Bellenger. The Sun, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Take a Journey with The Birdseed

Guest Post by Emma Foster.

Literary journal The Birdseed knows where the best of flash comes from: the sky and sea, the beginning and end of things. In its third issue of volume one, The Birdseed’s flash pieces appear from those mysterious depths in succinct one hundred and fifty words or less each time.

The issue’s five themes, Space, Sea, Myth, Magic, and Death, all examine the unknown, the enigmatic corners of ourselves. Whether ominous with dark exploration like Katie Holloway’s “Reaching for Nana,” or composed of poignant emotion like Lou Faber’s “On the Shelf,” each flash piece leaves the reader with a little something afterwards. The emotional resonance of each either packs a punch or leaves reader’s hearts full, creating beauty and calm among the issue’s heavy, potentially heartbreaking themes.

As someone who loves and writes flash and microfiction, being dropped into a descriptive setting or a complex mind for a few moments never fails to surprise and challenge. The Birdseed’s journey into the places we dare to tread turns up satisfying results.

The Birdseed, December 2021.

Emma Foster’s fiction and poetry has appeared in The Aurora Journal, The Drabble, Sledgehammer Lit, and others. Links: https://fosteryourwriting.com/

Delectable Poetry by Dorothy Chan

I love Dorothy Chan’s poetry, so I’m always excited to see her name in a lit mag’s table of contents. Two of her poems are included in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Colorado Review: “You Might Change Your Mind About Kids” and “Triple Sonnet for Batman Villains and Whatever This Is.”

In “You Might Change Your Mind About Kids,” the speaker is told this titular sentence by a man she has a romantic relationship with. The poem is the mental dissection of his opinion on this topic, an inner rebellion broiling beneath the surface. Who is this man to claim her body, her future, her future child? How is she seen as “the place to reserve / for a baby, the hotel for a womb?” She feels palpable derision toward his assumptions and I love that clarity of the speaker knowing exactly what she wants and does not want. She’s not going to change for this man or any other man and she finishes the poem with, “If I ever love someone, I’ll be baby forever.”

“Triple Sonnet for Batman Villains and Whatever This Is” is such a fun poem that still holds a hefty dose of seriousness in its final stanza. This poem has one thing I always enjoy about Chan’s poetry which is the absolute pleasure of experiencing different foods. These two pieces are just as delectable as “sashimi and Snow / Beauty sake and mango mochi for dessert.”

“Blowback” by Mimi Drop

Guest Post by Bonnie Meekums.

As a flash fiction writer myself, I love to read other writers’ work, usually while making myself a cup of tea or waiting for an appointment to start. That’s one of the beauties of flash. You can devour a complete word-cake, and feel ready for more.

Mimi Drop’s offering “Blowback,” at 755 words, isn’t as short as some of the micros I read (and write), but even the title pulls its weight. It was only after reading the story a couple of times that I understood the significance. Dealing as it does with the difficult topic of PTSD, it has resonances with the word ‘flashback,’ examples of which are given in the story as the protagonist struggles to disassociate normal, everyday actions from his traumatic memory. But there is another, more sinister meaning to this word, which has to do with the precise nature of that traumatic memory.

I’m not in the business of giving spoilers, so you will just have to read it to discover that other meaning. Suffice it to say there is a juicy twist towards the end of the story.

Blowback” by Mimi Drop. Flash FIction Magazine, September 2021.

Reviewer bio: Bonnie writes novels (A Kind of Family, Between the Lines), flash fiction/memoir (Dear Damsels, Reflex, Open Page, Moss Puppy, Dribble Drabble), and the odd poem. www.bonniemeekums.weebly.com

Confessional Voicemails

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

I’ve decided I will never be a mother, but when friends tell me the good news of their pregnancies, I feel so incredibly happy and excited for them. Hiding under that happiness, though, is always a small part of me that feels sad to know priorities are changing and our friendship is changing along with them. The speaker in “Charles, Delete This Voicemail” by Nate Duke grapples with this sad acceptance.

The poem is honest. Confessional. The speaker admits to their friend they wish “I could turn you / back from a dad into the boys we swore / we’d stay [ . . . ]” and goes on to compare Charles’s daughter to a bear “grunting [ . . . ] outside the tent” she was conceived in. The comparison isn’t pretty. The confession isn’t a pretty thought. And that’s what makes it feel so real, so relatable to the thoughts we hold back from the people we love so we don’t hurt them with our ugly truths. The title brings everything together—a wish to take protect the loved one from those truths, to take it all back. “Charles, Delete This Voicemail” is an almost painfully honest (yet still fully enjoyable) read.

Charles, Delete This Voicemail” by Nate Duke. Willow Springs, Fall 2021.

A Lifetime in a Minute

Guest Post by Mimi Drop.

“I hurled paper and paste into space, as a tortured howl climbed from occult depths. I knew what I must do.”

Flash fiction has a way of getting under my skin, like poetry. I read it once, twice, looking for meaning. Just as I reach understanding, it elevates. Oh, there’s another level. I found it. And above? Another.

“After I Do” by Bonnie Meekums appears to sum up a marriage in trouble. Or is it? Marriages are long, complicated tomes punctuated by passages of reflection and climax. We remember how we began. We begin again. The writing, lovely in both conception and execution, gives a lifetime in a minute, which is about how long it takes to read it. Enjoy.

After I Do” by Bonnie Meekums. Reflex Press, May 2020.

Mimi Drop’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, and THAT Literary Review, to name a few. Links at http://mimidrop.com/.

128 Words: Review of Work from Flash Frog June 2021

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

128 words. That’s what Cathy Ulrich gives us in “I Do Not Want to Live Without You.” Just 128 words. And somehow that’s exactly enough.

We’re introduced to characters in a motel and the motel’s swimming pool, a quick snapshot but a vivid one. The narrator says, “maybe later there will be consequences and police cars, maybe later it will be like our parents said,” and this is the perfect amount of information to allow readers to put together a backstory for this snapshot.

Is it the backstory Ulrich imagined when writing this piece of flash? Is the backstory you assign it the same as mine? Maybe or maybe not. And that’s what I love about it. There’s beauty in the language used and beauty in what’s kept from us.

I Do Not Want to Live Without You” by Cathy Ulrich. Flash Frog, June 2021.

Fallibility of Memory

What if there existed a span in your memory that wasn’t really your memory at all?

Jeff Ewing goes through this in “Impermanence,” his account of experiencing Transient Global Amnesia (TGA), “a temporary condition marked by the sudden onset of anterograde amnesia, a disquieting inability for a period of 5-12 hours to make any new memories.” During this time, “the brain resets every 30 seconds or so, the slate is wiped clean, [ . . . ].”

Due to TGA, Ewing loses eight hours of his life. While his body moved around an ER and underwent tests, he doesn’t really remember it. And the faint memories he does have may not even be his. Ewing goes on to talk about the ways our memories fail us. We perform “memory thefts,” sometimes subconsciously taking someone else’s memory and believing it’s our own. What he remembers could actually just be what has been told to him. Suddenly intimately aware of this fallibility of memory, he tries to savor moments in his life post-TGA, to “fasten it all down for good.”

This piece of nonfiction is an interesting look at memory and TGA, something I had never heard of before. Ewing’s writing style is inviting, and he casually yet carefully explains TGA and memory, making sure the reader is following along. He doesn’t bask too long in the emotional, but leads us there gently, wrapping up this piece with a reminder to take stock of what it is we’d want to “fasten down” in our own memories.

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Impermanence” by Jeff Ewing. Zone 3, Spring 2021.

A Slow Burn ‘By the Creeks of Wyoming’

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

Shoshana Akabas begins “By the Creeks of Wyoming” with just a hint of what’s happening: “Aspen leans over and says, ‘You know, Natalie’s telling everyone about your brother,’ [ . . . ].” Who is Natalie and what’s going on with the narrator’s brother? Akabas hooks us into the story and then reels slowly, the answers appearing one by one, so brief they could almost be overlooked.

While the story of what happened to the narrator’s brother becomes distorted through the gossip of Natalie, the narrator’s friend who is slowly drifting in a different direction now that they’re in high school, it becomes clearer for the readers each time the narrator responds to the classmates who have heard the gossip. I loved this slow burn, the piecing together of the puzzle until the full picture is revealed.

The narrator’s brother plays a large role in the story, but Akabas chooses never to actually place him in the story. He’s always on the other side of the door or wall, an unreachable and almost legendary figure.

Melancholy and rife with the emotional ups and downs of high school, “By the Creeks of Wyoming,” is a quick yet beautiful read.

By the Creeks of Wyoming” by Shoshana Akabas. AGNI, 2021.

“Not For Us”

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Rage Hezekiah has three poems in the Summer 2021 issue of Colorado Review. Of these, “Not For Us” stuck out to me the most, visually grabbing my attention as I paged through the issue.

“Not For Us” is an erasure of rejection letters. I assume these were taken from publication rejections, and appreciated the poet’s ability to create new writing out of these. The reader takes in the sparse words left over and it’s interesting to see how similar the language is, the repetition leading the reader’s eyes over the two-page spread of rejections.

Hezekiah’s piece is a good reminder that just because something is “not for us,” doesn’t mean that’s the end.

Not For Us” by Rage Hezekiah. Colorado Review, Summer 2021.

Oddly Normal

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

Visiting trampset‘s website, I had a problem. A good problem. I suddenly had five tabs of fiction open the moment I got there, unable to decide where to start. I wanted to read everything! I blew through the short fiction, enjoying each one, especially Kyle Seibel’s “The Two Women.”

This story is told as if the narrator is writing a letter to their ex-partner, Liz. There is an urgency to connect with Liz and get down the details of a strange day, a fever dream of a day with odd details that also somehow seem incredibly real in their zaniness. The narrator is approached by two women, one offering help and one asking for help. These women and the narrator’s neighbor all appear as odd characters, and the story is told with a humorous voice, but is still filled with heart. The silliness gives the narrator a realization: “[ . . . ] my brain is buzzing because I’m starting to feel like the rest of my life, the life I’m living without you, will be a series of events that make less and less sense until I will be completely untethered from the planet.” With this, the strangeness becomes normal—who hasn’t felt lost and untethered after a big loss?

There is no shortage of good reads at trampset, but if you’re unsure of where to start, give “The Two Women” a try.

The Two Women” by Kyle Seibel. trampset, June 2021.

RYPA 2021

I am delighted each time the annual Rattle Young Poets Anthology appears wrapped in the package with the companion issue of Rattle. Over twenty poets ranging from age five to fifteen are featured in this year’s publication. It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying, “These are great poems for writers so young,” when the truth is quite simply: These are great poems. The opening work by Maria Arrango, “¿Identity?” which begins “El president Donald Trump said / they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. // My brown sugar skin delicately / compresses me with warmth / as I try to understand / the anatomy of my body.” is the immediate indicator that these young poets hold their own among their elder peers. Age is indeed just a number.

There are poems that disrupt the idea of idyllic youth, such as Matthew Burk’s “The Roller Coaster” and Maria Gil Harris’s “Like Magic,” as well as those that confront reality, like Adrianna Ho’s “Pasta Sandwiches in Quarantine” and Ivy Hoffman’s “Only Days Before Leaving for College, I Note the Existence of My Brother.” Some poems reach deep to connect imagery and emotion: Ha Trang Tran’s “A Love Letter for Home,” imagining a “grand return” to Hà Nộ, and Hannah Straub’s “Cadillac Mountain” with haunting lines like, “Though I was not falling / I was stumbling, in the way I clung to people / I could not reach, memories as useless / As the wire guardrails.” And there are plenty of works that raised a smile through their intellectual rhetoric, like “The Weight of Heavens” by Emma Hoff, which begins with the barb, “Was the minotaur / Really / A monster?” Kakul Gupta’s “Ten Haiku” are each effective meditations, and Mackenzie Munoz’s “Catching Dreams” reaches the metaphysic, while other works were just plain fun, like Paul Ghatak’s “Counting to One,” Grant’s “Lions Roar,” and Melissa A. Di Martino’s “Saive Me By Thes Wendrous.” Shreya Vikram’s “DIY Project” is the kind of poem that can only be experienced, and with good reason, as, in response to the Contributor’s Note question, “Why do you like writing poetry?” Vikram’s answer begins, “Without poetry, I’d waste language.”

For any readers out there with young writers in your circle, please introduce them to Rattle and this annual collection. It’s essential for young writers to connect with other young writers and find encouragement for their own reading, writing, and submissions. For more resources, check out the NewPages Young Writers Guide to Publications and NewPages Young Writers Guide to Contests.

[It is challenging to include mention of every work in a review, but I want to acknowledge the remaining poets from this collection and commend them for their contributions, all of which brought me immense pleasure to read: Natalia Chepel, Natalie Friis, Kevin Gu, Jessie Johnson, Dahee Joy Kang, Chloe Lin, Naomi Ling, Joseph Miner, and Perry Sloan.]

Unclassifiable Content in Arts & Letters

In the table of contents of Arts & Letters latest issue, the heading “Unclassifiable” caught my eye, promising a walk off the beaten path. This section features the winner of the journal’s annual Unclassifiable Contest.

When I paged to this winning piece—”Voidopolis” by Kat Mustatea—I was greeted with a series of photos with accompanying text. This excerpt is from a project Mustatea began on an Instagram page, loosely retelling Dante’s Inferno. Throughout this 46-part series, Mustatea never uses words with the letter “E.” This combined with the format of the photo-sharing app gave me a burst of inspiration to try new things and to challenge myself while doing it.

There is just enough included in the issue to hook the reader along and lead them to check out the rest of the story on Mustatea’s Instagram. The project has ended, so there’s no wait for new readers to reach the conclusion. Step away from the usual, the classifiable, and check out this piece in the Spring 2021 issue of Arts & Letters.

Touch-Starved Poetry

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

In Volume 33 of The Briar Cliff Review, readers can find a poem that I think most people can relate to after the past year. “Gargoyles” by Sara Wallace describes the empty of feeling of craving someone else’s touch. While the poem does lean toward the romantic side of touch (“No one’s biting your lips, / no one’s tasting you.), it comes at a time when I’m seeing my friends celebrate the ability to hug their loved ones again after, and ends up feeling more general. After being separated from friends and family during the pandemic, who hasn’t missed the intimacy of touch?

Wallace carries the idea of gargoyles through the poem, first as a smoker standing in a doorway of a bodega, and finally as the game “statues, / how when you were tagged // you had to pretend you were stone,” and could only move again when “someone touched you.” I love this thread she carries through from present to past, keeping with that yearning for physical touch.

Gargoyles” by Sara Wallace. The Briar Cliff Review, 2021.

The Necessity of Human Myth

Guest Post by Adrian Thomson.

Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “The Boy Who Drew Cats” speaks both to our current time and to the necessity of human myth. Confined to a house in Uruguay as her children face quarantine in Japan, Kercheval connects to the hero of a Japanese fable, the titular drawer of cats, in an attempt to find solace within herself through her own artistic ventures.

This connection to cultural myth—and Kercheval does cement her own tale very concretely to the modern as well as the mythical—inspires the author in its assertions of safety, balance, and a sense of stability. The myth helps her recapture her own love of art and facilitates a return to  the page where flowers transform into felines. Kercheval does not uphold the myth as a perfect guideline, either—she comments upon it, accepting the good she sees there while acknowledging elements she appears to dislike.

But her inclusion of the fable also speaks to the wider purpose of human myth—as a necessity of the imagination to allow us to “visit” faraway places and to inspire. Kercheval places both within the story to generate trust that the world will get better, as well as trust in her own abilities.

The Boy Who Drew Cats” by Jesse Lee Kercheval. Brevity, January 2021.

Reviewer bio: Adrian Thomson is a graduate student at Utah State University, currently working toward his MS by way of a thesis in poetry.

At the Intersection of Religion & Generational Conflict

Guest Post by Madeline Thomas.

When a combination of a Catholic upbringing and the unforgettable viewing of a commercial for The Exorcist sends a young girl’s mind to the inevitability of a personal demon possession, the first steps are taken on a path to parental disappointment. Jessica Power Braun’s “Black Alpaca” places readers at the intersection of religion, generational conflict, and closet-Jesus nightmares with sharp humor and unflinching honesty.

The essay, published in Hippocampus Magazine, works through the realities of fear and guilt in the Catholic Church, the slow movement away from your family’s religious identity, and the discovery of a poignant black alpaca painting in the context of Braun’s identities as a mother, wife, and daughter. Humor forms the heart of the piece, but the essay makes no attempt to pull away from what is both painful and real—forming a balance that cultivates both emotional impact and investment for readers.

In a time where I feel the need for constant breaks from the mire of news and the world in general, the humor and tone present in “Black Alpaca” provides needed relief. Braun utilizes her power in storytelling to craft something worth connecting with.

Black Alpaca” by Jessica Power Braun. Hippocampus Magazine, January 2021.

Reviewer bio: Madeline Thomas is a graduate student and writer at Utah State University.

The Power of Fiction

Guest Post by Elle Smith.

Michael Keenan Gutierrez explores the meaning of truth and the power of fiction in his essay “Lies I’ll Tell My Son.” Gutierrez starts the reader grounded in fact. His great grandfather, Red, was a bookie: “This is true.” Then the details of Red’s life grow murkier. The story of Red winning a WWI draft card in a poker game sounds dramatic enough it might have come from a movie. Red’s birth certificates and draft cards have different dates and names. Gutierrez’s uncle proclaims, “They were all a bunch of fucking liars.”

Gutierrez has heard that we aren’t supposed to lie to children “except about Santa Claus and death.” But what is the purpose of the lies that build such fantastic family lore? The tales are in contrast to a more recent generation that lived “the standard formula of work, retirement, and death.” The lore of Red paints the world as “more magical than a paycheck and a mortgage.”

Gutierrez resolves to tell his son the tales of his family and “shade the truth in fiction.” What about the hard truths about life and death? Well, Gutierrez explains: “I’ll let him figure out heaven on his own.”

Lies I’ll Tell My Son” by Michael Keenan Gutierrez. 805 Lit + Art, February 2021.

Reviewer bio: Elle Smith is a graduate student at Utah State University.

When Gaps Become Story

Guest Post by Mark Smeltzer.

“We don’t know much about Mr. Otomatsu Wada of Unit B in Barrack 14 in Block 63 of the Gila River Relocation Center,” Eric L. Muller admits at the start of his essay, “The Desert Was His Home.” This lack of knowledge does not deter Muller from examining the pain and power of absence, as well as how deep research becomes an avenue for creative discovery.

Throughout this essay, Muller lays out the facts about this one Japanese-American, among many, held prisoner in the U.S. during World War II. Muller uses what little is known of this man to sketch out a rough but potent portrait of his life. Most notable was Wada’s “two-year-old mystery” marked by the refrain “We don’t know” that Muller uses until Wada’s fate is revealed.

This essay demonstrates how seamlessly and naturally a story can incorporate the many don’t knows and can’t knows inevitable in research. It is even possible, as “The Desert” shows us, how the gaps in a subject’s life can become the story. This piece can be found in Issue 74 of Creative Nonfiction.

The Desert Was His Home” by Eric L. Muller. Creative Nonfiction, Winter 2021.

Reviewer bio: Mark Smeltzer is a graduate student in Utah State University’s English Department. His area of specialization is in poetry.

“Cathedrals of Hope” by Lauren Markham

Guest Post by Holly Vasic.

In the 35th-anniversary edition of the San Francisco-based literary magazine ZYZZYVA, Lauren Markham’s essay, “Cathedrals of Hope,” reminisces on the women’s suffrage movement. This piece is timely as 2020 America marked the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Markham not only reflects on the women who sacrificed their freedom and endured abuse so that women can vote today but also discusses populations forgotten in the 1920s: men and women of color.

Markham weaves her own narrative into the larger historical picture, describing how her first-time voting was marked with devastation when George Bush Jr. won—again. Markham takes a unique look at where we as Americans are in regard to democracy while commentating on where we came from. Markham writes, “How easy human beings can forget the people who came before us, and the debts we owe.”

Cathedrals of Hope” by Lauren Markham. ZYZZYVA, 2020.

Reviewer bio: Holly Vasic is a Graduate Instructor seeking a Master’s in Folklore at Utah State University with an undergrad in Journalism.

Plundered Beliefs

Guest Post by Andrew Romriell.

In “White Witchery,” from Guernica, Elissa Washuta offers fierce insight into the varied and complex ways whiteness has plundered Indigenous bodies and beliefs. Here, Washuta offers difficult truths surrounding colonialism and settler violence alongside the strength of her own perseverance.

Growing up in a “heavily Catholic, forest-and-farmland slice of New Jersey,” Washuta found a sincere desire to make magic, to be a witch who “brings change to the seen world using unseen forces.” To Washuta, magic became a way of finding stability within the uncontrollable world surrounding Native women in America, an America where, Washuta describes, “[colonizers whisper] that I’m not wanted here, not worthy of protection, nothing but a body to be pummeled and played with and threatened into submission.” Yet, through magic, her own tenacity, and the communal strength she finds in a women’s spiritual circle, Washuta says, “ My whole body is a fire” and “I have not died yet.”

“White Witchery” grants a rare and vulnerable insight into the capitalistic industry of the United States, the pop-culture surrounding self-care and self-healing, and the internal struggle of surviving a colonized America as a Native woman, a woman with “nothing now but my big aura, my fistful of keys, and my throat that still knows how to scream because no man has succeeded in closing it.” Though the journey Washuta takes us on is not an easy one, it is one of the most compelling, vulnerable, and important ones we can take.

White Witchery” by Elissa Washuta. Guernica, February 2019.

Reviewer bio: Andrew Romriell is an avid writer, teacher, and student who is passionate about experimental forms, research-based writing, and intersections of genre. Learn more at ajromriell.com.

What the Heart Remembers

Guest Post by Kelsie Peterson.

Catherine Young’s essay, “In That River I Saw Him Again,” published online in November 2020 by Hippocampus Magazine, reads like a coal train passing by you. It is full of glimpses of beauty and wonder, as well as the past, with a poetic through line that moves like the “shadows” Young describes. Using the imagery of coal trains from her childhood, photographs, and early motion pictures, Young’s essay wonders at the idea of memory, of life, and of those lost in her childhood.

The central question running through this essay is, “What can the heart remember? Young invites readers to discover an answer with her as moving pictures first allow her father to come alive once more, and then ultimately, her uncle. Young’s writing offers a unique and engaging perspective on the life of memory.

What engaged me most as a reader was this piece’s inventive use of engaging imagery and repetition of poetic meditations. The reading experience mirrored that of a train passing or of the flicker of the early motion picture. The flashes of ideas flowed together in a truly unforgettable piece.

In That River I Saw Him Again” by Catherine Young. Hippocampus Magazine, November 2020.

Reviewer bio: Kelsie Peterson is completing her last semester at Utah State University and will graduate with her MS in English.

Sweetness of Honey

Guest Post by Christopher Nicholson.

The best friend I ever had was my dog Milo. He offered the best kind of love—not unconditional but predicated on the most reasonable conditions. I had to earn his love and could feel good about that, but he didn’t expect me to be perfect. This sensation is nothing new to most people who have had a pet.

In “Honey, I’m Home: Beyond the Rescue Door,” published in the Fall/Winter 2020-2021 edition of Magnets and Ladders, Bonnie Blose reminisces on sharing such a love with the titular cat, Honey, who found her at a local rescue shelter and chose her immediately. Honey had some traumatic experiences in her past that affected her behavior and didn’t make her an easy pet. Blose committed from the very beginning to give her the love she needed, no matter what, for however much time they had together. She did exactly that.

Blose extols her cat’s intelligence and emotion, painting her as almost human—or as Blose would insist, better than human. This is also a relatable mindset for me and other past or present pet owners. They are not mere accessories; they are our friends, our family, our confidantes. Honey shows as much personality in the story as any human character, and one senses that it’s true to life, that Blose isn’t just anthropomorphizing her for dramatic purposes.

Magnets and Ladders is an online magazine for writers with disabilities, and this story won first place in the nonfiction category of the National Federation of the Blind Writers’ Division’s 2020 contest, so the author’s disability is a constant subtext without ever being stated outright in the story. One gets the impression that Blose needed Honey as much as Honey needed her, that their relationship was symbiotic in a way. Many people are so preoccupied with finding romantic companionship to “complete” themselves that they overlook the potential of pets—but in this time when human connection is so limited, they may rediscover an appreciation for the one-of-a-kind bonds that animals can offer.

Take a few minutes, open your heart, and give this story a chance.

“Honey, I’m Home: Beyond the Rescue Door” by Bonnie Blose. Magnets and Ladders, Fall/Winter 2020-2021.

Reviewer bio: Christopher Nicholson is an English 1010 instructor and Creative Writing graduate student at Utah State University. He writes and blogs about all kinds of things at https://www.christopherrandallnicholson.com.

Mortality and Motherhood

Guest Post by Mia Jensen.

“When the butterfly struggles out of its pupa, for three long hours its wings are wet and as utterly useless as a newborn’s hands.”

In “Life Inside,” found in Issue 211 of Cimarron Review, author Caroline Sutton contemplates the limitations of mortality and motherhood amid the upcoming birth of her first granddaughter. Sutton ingeniously weaves the eager experiences of her pregnant daughter with the vulnerable life cycle of monarch butterflies and their fruitless efforts for survival in a hostile world.

Reflecting on her own complicated pregnancy decades before, Sutton likens the near loss of her infant to the toxic consumption of milkweed leaves. Monarch mothers lay eggs on milkweed plants and milkweed plants alone, for when monarch larvae ingest the plant’s toxic properties, predators avoid the black and yellow creature. Sutton thinks back to her traumatic delivery and questions her blind trust during the delivery, her assumptions that everything would be alright because it always was, because mothers always offered protection. But, in a world strung with chaos and turmoil, perhaps there are some obstacles a mother cannot predict.

Sutton concludes by comparing her daughter’s upcoming delivery with a caterpillar’s metamorphic emergence. Rather than reflecting on the cliché symbol of hope, Sutton contemplates the feebleness of the new creature. Its wings, wet, useless, and unable to defend against predators looking to “attack and devour the butterfly, toxins and all, before the wings ever open fully.” Although monarch mothers provide protection from larvae to pupa, they cannot predict the perils awaiting beyond the chrysalis.

Life Inside” by Caroline Sutton. Cimarron Review, Spring 2020.

Reviewer bio: Mia Jensen is a graduate student at Utah State University studying creative writing. She loves horror novels, trail running, and her Australian Shepherd.

“She” by Grace Camille

Guest Post by Tyler Hurst.

In “She,” published in Issue 18 of Into the Void, author Grace Camille begins with an inventory of the things that the she has chosen to hold onto. Through the memories the objects invoke, we are introduced to the narrator’s own addiction, a need to belong, to be a part of something and to nurture “a proper addiction” that “began as a Hail Mary plan to be accepted by sleek, serious coworkers.”

Camille’s loneliness becomes our loneliness through the use of the third person, creating an emotional distance from events that still allows the reader to recognize. When she meets “him,” he makes her feel needed, wanted. When he leaves for the Peace Corps, the world becomes one of routines. “She jogs in the evenings, washes her hair weekly, flosses daily, eats sometimes,” and the list goes on. One-hundred-and-three days later, she’s still wishing after him, remembering him and longing for what she cannot hold. While she “reaches for his hand,” he is “reaching for a firefly,” revealing the futility of trying to hold onto that which does not wish to be held.

She” by Grace Camille. Into the Void, 2021.

Reviewer bio: Tyler Hurst is a graduate student at Utah State University studying creative writing while completing his last semester there.

Blackout Poems by Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

The Winter 2020 issue of the Missouri Review includes a selection of blackout poetry by Jennifer Sperry Steinorth. These poems move beyond the traditional blackout poem, though, and move into a realm beyond, each poem a well-crafted work of art. The variety in style is inspiring as she demonstrates the creative ways one can manipulate text. The art speaks as much as the selected words do. Each turn of the page reveals something inventive and exciting, a treasured find in this issue.

“An Email to the Rose Creek School Board”

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

I’ve been watching a lot of comedy movies and TV shows lately, enjoying the much needed escape from reality, so it makes sense that I’d gravitate toward Wesley Korpela’s “An Email to the Rose Creek School Board” in the Fall 2020 issue of Emerald City.

Korpela writes an email to the “Members of the Facilities Committee” from Genevieve Powers-Harrison’s point of view. Genevieve requests the elementary school’s name be changed to honor her still-living ex-husband Carl. Carl’s obsession with getting on the show America’s Funniest Home Videos drives the couple apart, but ultimately Genevieve believes he deserves the award as “a ‘win.'” After all, “he’s a nice enough man.”

I loved the voice Korpela gives to Genevieve and found the obsession with AFV to be a fun and fresh twist on the divorce story. There’s no ill-will between the two, just many failed attempts at five seconds of fame. A good, silly story is just what I needed.

Brobby’s Double Jeopardy

Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

The Winter 2020 issue of The Malahat Review opens with the winner of the 2020 Constance Rooke Prize for Creative Nonfiction: “On Playing Double Jeopardy!” by Christina Brobby. This piece works through the different money categories in a game of Jeopardy all on the theme of photographic terms. Like the show, Brobby is given the answer and she responds with the appropriate question as she connects the term to her life.

I enjoyed the set-up of this piece. It flows seamlessly, Brobby always taking care to weave the photographic terms into the moments of her life. She examines how she presents as her race, in her adoptive family, as a wife, a partner, a mother. When she gives the answer of “What is a filter?” she ends the section turning it back inward: “Be more or less vibrant, act more coolly, like when the man after your husband said you were too emotional and that’ s not what he was signing up for. You donned your neutral-density filter . . . ”

This piece is a great opener for the issue, and well-deserved of taking home the Constance Rooke Prize. It immediately caught my eye and drew me in with its unique format, something greatly appreciated in the these days of shortened attention spans.