Issue 212 of Cimarron Review includes what feel like the comfort food of poetry. After a long week, it felt good to sit wrapped up in a blanket with this issue in my lap.
Victoria Hudson offers warmth to readers of “11th & Quaker.” Inside the apartment, the speaker and another person complete a crossword and watch well-known The Office. There’s comfort in the familiarity of both tasks, a quiet intimacy surrounding them.
Kim Kent’s “At the YMCA” shows us a different scene of intimacy as YMCA lifeguards practice CPR on one another “just to be sure,” all of them “generous with our drowned / and undrowned lips.” Kent kindles the heat of summer and the closeness of the two bodies with expertise.
David Ruekberg offers a “Cure for Thought” with a list of instructions that both calm and inspire the reader. He quietly guides us to observe and imagine until we reach the final, always useful step: “Listen.”
Make time to stop and listen to the words of the writers in this issue of Cimarron Review and find your own comfort poems.
In the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Concho River Review, two ekphrastic poems can be found one after the other. First is “Abraham Preparing to Sacrifice His Son” by David Denny about Marc Chagall’s “Abraham Preparing to Sacrifice his Son, According to God’s Command,” and the second is “Telephone in a Dish with Three Grilled Sardines at the end of September” by Paul Dickey about Salvador Dali’s painting which the poem is titled after.
Denny’s poem describes Chagall’s piece and then slides the focus out of frame, to those not pictured. The speaker states, “[ . . . ] while the men / play out their little dramas of heaven and earth, / it’s those left out of the official portrait that make / the real sacrifices.” Denny then paints a picture of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, imaging the heartbreaking grief one would feel seeing her husband “tie her beloved boy to the saddle, / tuck his best knife into his belt.” I enjoyed this focus on the emotion the portrait fails to include.
Dickey’s poem questions the meaning of Dali’s painting again and again, walking us through the detail as his attention slips from one to the next. While Denny focuses on what’s not in the portrait, Dickey becomes focused on discovering what is presented to us and what it means.
These two poems work as great companion pieces for one another, well-placed within the pages of this issue.
The Fall 2020 issue of The MacGuffin is the Formal Poetry Issue featuring 43 formal poems. The issue is introduced by retiring Poetry Editor Carol Was. Sonnets, pantoums, villanelles, quatrains, and more make up the poetry portion of the issue.
Among these is “Coyote in Town,” a sestina by Marla Kay Houghteling. The speaker wakes one night to see a coyote through their window in the city, their new home not as removed from the “wild / watchers” as they once thought. This poem reads easily, both the reader and the speaker stalked by wildness and shadows throughout the piece.
In Terry Blackhawk’s villanelle “No Callous Shell,” the poetry speaks to Conrad Hilberry and wonders if she can even write a villanelle. This is a fun, good-humored poem that felt relatable thinking back to my own questionable attempts at penning a form poem.
The poets in this issue, however, have all done a great job of taking on form poems, introducing me to forms I was unfamiliar with and serving inspiration to maybe try my own hand at writing one again.
Holly Day has two pieces of work in the Fall 2020 issue of Tipton Poetry Journal. “The Last Days of the Flu” are rich with imagery as Day describes that feeling of breathlessness when sick: “gears almost catching but slipping again and again.”
“The Day the Leaves Start to Change” builds a church up around the reader and we’re suddenly sitting in a pew, watching a preacher react to a bird flying overhead.
Each poem ends with a stark finality. While they each cover separate subjects, the endings draw them together, unmistakably written by the same poet with the ability to craft a strong poetic ending. Both are lovely reads.
Not to be missed in Issue 212 of The Malahat Review: “It’s Here All the Beauty I Told You About” by Shane Rhodes.
This piece is an excerpt from a manuscript in progress. In it, Rhodes explores Shane, a 1949 Western pulp novel by Jack Schaefer; the origins of given names; and the ways in which Western novels continue to “obscure and rewrite the history of North American colonization and settlement and the racism that fuels them.”
This excerpt combines written work, cut-outs of overlapping book pages, and handwriting. Rhodes collects copies of Shane and is drawn to “the most abused copies” with writing in the margins, underlined words, browning pages, and this excerpt adopts this feeling of a much-used book. Each page offers something new and arrests the eye, a real treat to read through.
The Main Street Rag forwent their usual beautiful photographic cover art for a cartoon version of Donald Trump behind bars with the Fall 2020 issue. It seemed pretty appropriate, then, that I ended up opening the issue at random to find Bethany Bowman’s “Sometimes After Getting Off the Phone,” which begins with the speaker getting off the phone with their father “who confesses to voting for / Donald Trump to reverse Roe v. Wade” and observing a friend being confronted about her right to choose with her abortion in the 70’s.
The poem begins in a tense spot but we’re given relief, along with the speaker, in the form of animal facts given by the speaker’s son. These facts lead to biblical lessons and connections being “fed to the dogs” as the speaker realizes “you’ve always been filled with the spirit— / no external male force, no deity can grant it / or take it away.” There is power in this realization, a freedom granted from the sins stacked on women’s shoulders from the beginning of time.
While Trump may be behind bars on this issue’s cover, there is freedom to be found in the writing which Bowman graciously reminds us of.
During the first few months of the pandemic, I couldn’t read anything. My attention span was gone and anything I did manage to read left my mind immediately. But that ended when I sat in the park and read Dorothy Chan’s Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019) from cover to cover. My locked-away ability to read had found its key. Already a fan of Chan’s work, this just helped solidify my love for her poetry even more, and I’m always more than happy to check out any of her newly published poems. The October 2020 issue of Poetry gives the gift of her poem, “Ode to Chinese Superstitions, Haircuts, and Being a Girl.”
The poem flows in a rush, like a held breath finally exhaled. Chan begins with the Chinese superstition “it’s bad luck / to get a haircut when I’m sick” and leads into the role the speaker fulfills as a daughter, as a girl, as someone who “always bring[s] / the party, cause[s] the trouble . . . .” While there are specifics tied to her own self, culture, and family—her brother’s fate, her mother’s thoughts on her future, her father’s opinion on how “good Chinese girls” wear their hair—Chan leaves the reader plenty of room to relate to her words. If we don’t feel like her, we can still root for her and her “short skirt,” her “forehead forever exposed.”
The Spring 2020 issue of Cimarron Review is a slim one, but here is still plenty in its pages to keep a reader company, including a fine selection of poetry.
This selection includes Ethan Joella’s ruminations on the titular magazines that his “wife’s mother read in the hospital,” and a desire to destroy them to protect his wife in her grief. Joella creates a tender piece that focuses on his wife’s love for her mother, as well as his love for his wife.
Leslie McGrath asks one eight-word question in “Pink Inquiry,” a poem that makes impact with its simplicity. Christopher Brean Murray reflects on his childhood dogs “Duke & Pam,” and the way he has “never been able / to get into a poem the way” he felt about them. What results is a sweet poem about the three finding warmth and comfort in one another.
William Reichard in “Tinnitus (in Four Movements)” describes his relationship with the ringing in his ears, using the sound of cicadas as a way to lead this exploration. I read the fourth movement repeatedly, pulled in. “There was no escape from / the pulse of his own blood,” it reads, the stanza itself feeling as inescapable as the sound.
Take some time to visit the poetry in this issue of Cimarron Review, as well as the five pieces of prose also inside.
Now more than ever it’s important to find the beauty in whatever is around us. As writers, as artists, and as humans struggling through a traumatic period of time, it’s necessary to find bright spots. The Fall 2020 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly puts this into practice, the theme of the issue being “The Secret Life of Objects.”
Throughout the pages, writers and artists look at what’s around them and capture their beauty. Adrienne Stevenson writes an ode to a “Kitchen Timer,” an appliance one doesn’t have to think much about until it’s gone. Kathleen Miller draws pared-down sketches of telephones, boats, pitchers, eliminating the details to follow Georgia O’Keeffe’s sentiment of “get[ting] at the real meaning of things.” Most of MJ Edwards’s compelling photography focuses on treasures of trash found on the beach, as they wonder about the “untold stories” the objects carry with them.
Art can be found in the everyday items around us, the objects easily overlooked. Don’t forget to look around you and find the beauty and inspiration they can hold.
Since March, we’ve been relying heavily on service workers, those operating the essentials while the rest of the country slows or stops. The second half of the Fall 2020 issue of Rattle features work by poets who have served long periods of time as service workers.
In this section, readers can find Marylisa DeDomenicis’s “Excuse Me” and Jackleen Holton’s “The Hunter,” both of which discuss working in a restaurant. DeDomenicis writes of the prevalent racism in the kitchen where the speaker works, and Holton focuses on the sexism and harassment the women face at the restaurant where her speaker works. In both of these, the other workers advocate for each other when the higher-ups either do nothing or contribute to the problem. The speaker in DeDomenicis’s piece sticks up for the bullied Mexican bus boy, and the waitresses in Holton’s piece work the buddy system together so they’re never alone, lessening the severity of their harassment.
Laurie Uttich’s “To My Student with the Dime-Sized Bruises on the Back of Her Arms Who’s Still on Her Cellphone” stuck out to me most starkly. In this poem, the speaker notices her student’s bruises and implores that she put down her phone, her abusive boyfriend on the other end, so she can trade it for a pen and “Take a piece of the dark and put it on a page.” Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf stand by as supporting characters, offering comfort and a room of one’s own. Uttich’s use of language as the poem addresses the student is clever and flows quickly, familiar images flashing through the lines.
While we continue to rely on service workers to keep the world running, make sure to take time to hear their voices and their stories in their own words.
With September 11 close at hand, I’ve found my thoughts turning back to another time in American history in which our country suffered. I found myself reflecting back on September 11 and pictures.
In the poem “Photography from September 11,” Wisława Szymborska captures my thoughts as she describes the figures, forever frozen in history, as they jump from the twin towers. Her solemn respect and care for these souls resonates throughout the poem as she describes their flight, rather than their demise. This poem helps me to remember the tragedy of September 11 without the political connections—just understanding that humans were hurt and that I still have a country to love and care for that is full of people that care for each other in their own way.
Reviewer bio: Autumn Barraclough is a college student studying English. She is a Virginian at heart and loves to delve into the connections between France and Virginia, aspiring to create a written work that expresses that relationship.
Issue 48 of Paterson Literary Review is a hefty 450 pages. A reader is guaranteed to find something they admire or connect with in those near-500 pages.
Readers can look forward to Vivian Shipley’s “A Glossary of Literary Terms for My Son,” a poem creatively and seamlessly broken up into nine different literary terms. Mary Ann Mayer writes an ode to “Walt Whitman’s Pants,” a poem that ends up being educational with its historical context. Penny Perry’s “Fig Bars” ends up being extremely relevant as the speaker sits with her husband and daughter as a wildfire burns twenty miles from their house.
And that’s just a small sampling of the poetry. The issue also includes prose and reviews. It’s nearly impossible to walk away from this brick of an issue without finding something to love.
The art of John Belue dons the cover and pages of the Fall 2020 issue of Creative Nonfiction, and I absolutely love it. His work remixes vintage photos, thinly cut strips overlaying another photo to create an almost portal-like image. The art drew me into the “Memoir” issue of Creative Nonfiction and the writing made me stick around even longer.
Megan Doney’s nightmares haunt her after a shooting at the school where she teaches in “The Wolf and the Dog.” While her dreams leave her powerless, she imagines finding power if the situation ever happens again. The piece begins viscerally, a dark view into Doney’s mind after surviving a horrific event.
Mary Beth Ellis gets deeply personal in “Weaponry of the Cold War” as she walks readers through her vaginismus diagnosis. While the subject of her writing is both physically and emotionally painful, Ellis uses humor in unexpected places, her writing cynical and skeptical, light when it matters. As Ellis says, up to 14% of the female population suffers from vaginismus, and there is not much to read about the subject. Ellis adds her voice, her story, giving other people with vaginas something to relate to.
Whether you pick up Creative Nonfiction‘s latest issue because the art caught your eye, or because you crave powerful nonfiction, you will not be let down.
Salamander is a literary magazine that contains many works of poetry, fiction, and essays from a diverse collection of writers of varying backgrounds and writing styles. Issue 41 of this magazine is particularly spectacular. With themes ranging from the wonder found in the familiar to the indignity of a corpse, the works found in this issue provoke intense consideration for many different subjects and arguments.
Any type of reader is guaranteed to find a wide collection of works they will enjoy and cherish in Issue 41. A great deal of this magazine’s appeal is how each and every work requires the reader to delve deeper, often rereading the same lines over and over again to gain new, more profound meanings with each read through. If you want to broaden your horizons in the writer’s world, Salamander is a magazine worthy of your time.
Reviewer bio: Regina Shumway is an eager writer, looking to improve her skills and experience. She is currently a student at Brigham Young University in Hawaii.
“The Kingdom That Failed” is a piece of flash fiction by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, published by The New Yorker. The introduction grabs you with no hesitation, throwing you into a unique setting that prepares you for a grungy fantasy adventure written around a fallen kingdom. This lasts for a grand total of two paragraphs, at which point the story changes gears to a more modern setting, dealing with life and people, not swords and dragons. It is a change in direction that totally threw me off guard, opening me up to the rest of the narration.
The story continues with an in-depth description of this man named “Q,” or more the struggle to explain Q. He is a handsome man, five hundred and seventy times more handsome than our narrator, with a great personality, from a well-to-do home, yet he isn’t quite extraordinary in anything, yet good at everything. Q is a true kingdom, a character without flaws.
Inspired by the quote, “To see a splendid kingdom fade away, is far sadder than seeing a second-rate republic collapse,” this story quickly and briefly shows a glimpse into the future life of Q. It delivers the known-too-well feeling of failed potential. While we are content to see the narrator complacent with where he is at in life, it is striking yet subtle to see the fall of Q. It isn’t a grand fall of a literal kingdom, and it doesn’t have the imagery of crumbling stone bricks and thick black smoke. Instead, we see a defeated man covered in soda, stuck in a thankless career. “The Kingdom That Failed” is a reminder of the somber reality of humanity, one that trumps any attempts of fantasy.
Reviewer bio: Caleb Willis is a college student studying Biochemistry and Applied Mathematics. He likes to read in his fleeting spare time.
Throughout these difficult times, we all attempt to find meaning in our lives. We search for something that reassures us that we will make it through the never-ending struggles we endure. More than that, we seek an escape from these struggles. For many of us, words provide the perfect escape.
Whether the words come through books or TED Talks, they can have such a beautiful impact on our lives. Words change us. Words heal us, if we let them. However, I have found that the most colorful way words can reach us is through poetry. A well-written poem embodies the art of writing. Poetry can hold more emotion with a hundred words than many books do with a hundred pages. Its messy, imperfect words can weave together to create a masterpiece. As humans, we embrace anything as beautifully chaotic as we are; we can find exactly what we need in the relatable words of a disheveled poem.
A favorite place of mine to find some of the best poems is Poetry Foundation, providing poetry with words that touch the hearts of people in all walks of life. It provides poems for children and adults. It includes collections of poems for those struggling in school or those trying to relieve stress. The Poetry Foundation has poems available for anyone. The poems I have found on Poetry Foundation have surely blessed me; I have found words that express my emotions in a way I am incapable of doing on my own. The beautifully written poems included on this website and they’re literary journal Poetry have surely impressed me.
Poetry Foundation, in addition to poems, includes audio and guides for various poems. It successfully provides tools and poetry for anyone looking for words that could change his/her life.
Reviewer bio: Haley Marks is a student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii where she studies creative writing.
Should I say shame on me for not knowing about Grace Jones till this “Lockdown Year” when I read a February 3, 2020 article on The Cut where Janelle Monáe’s definition of Afrofuture was put forward by herself as: “It looks like an orgasm and the big bang happening while skydiving as Grace Jones smiles.”? The article was written by no other than the inimitable Roxane Gay. I remember rushing to do my homework on who Grace Jones is, and what her smile looked like.
I wouldn’t tell you that I enjoyed the task, but I wouldn’t also say it wasn’t worth the stress; maybe this was better reflected when Irenosen Okojie won the Caine Prize for African Writing, an award described by many as the African Booker. Her story was titled “Grace Jones” and she was announced the winner of the prize on July 27, 2020, almost six months after I first stumbled on the “original” Grace Jones. Irenosen Okojie’s winning story is about a Grace Jones impersonator who mourns the death of her family in a house fire.
Frankly speaking, the story is hugely experimental and may not appeal to readers of literary fiction. The story itself is as strange as a rainbow in the night sky can be. Here is a writer who isn’t scared to take risks, and for which the judges praised her thus: “risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold.” It is a story steeped in dark experimentation and yet offers a chance for entertainment. It is also worthy of note to know that the Nigerian-British author says the £10,000 award for African writing has given her confidence as a black and female experimental writer. This, to me, is a huge personal win; a win too for African speculative fiction.
Reviewer bio: Marvel Chukwudi Pephel is a prolific Nigerian writer who writes poems, short stories and other things besides.
I like a piece of writing that piques my interest and leads me to do even more reading. Gail Peck’s “The Minister of Loneliness” in the Summer 2020 issue of The Main Street Rag managed to do just that for me.
The poem is introduced with a note: “The U.K. created the position of Minister of Loneliness, two years before COVID-19.” The title “Minister of Loneliness” was enough to interest me on its own, and even more so learning that it’s a real position. Peck’s poem addresses the minister in the days of COVID-19, women calling with their moments of loneliness. “It was bad enough before,” they admit, and now it’s gotten worse, their loneliness filled with uncertainties: “should they let the delivery boy in?”
The poem is touching and relevant. In addition to giving me something further to read about, it also gave me a point of connection as someone who lives alone and spent the early days of my state lockdown feeling incredibly lonely. What more could one ask from a poem about loneliness but a moment of connection and understanding? Peck’s poem itself works as a listening ear, a kind voice in the emptiness.
Who doesn’t love candy? We all (at least most of us) have happy memories tied to these sweet treats. So then why did Josh Luckenbach use a tootsie roll wrapper as a catalyst for death? This very common candy beloved by many is the object used to tell a vivid story of love and death between two siblings. In this poem, “Eating the Tootsie Roll,” Luckenbach dances with death as a girl simply eats candy with unknown origins. Her brother prophecies her death, almost as a threat, and the girl then goes home and kills herself. The ending of the poem leads readers to wonder if this suicide because of a controlling and abusive poisoning of her mind or food poisoning. The last line is a hunting echo of a sister listening to her brother and the lasting effects, either good or bad, that siblings can have on each other.
Reviewer bio: Grace Tuthill is a Marine Biologist with a special interest in writing. She has no published work but likes the ocean and photographing sea life.
At a time when I felt incredibly alone, Ira Sukrungruang kept me company with his collection of essays, Buddha’s Dog: & Other Meditations. I stayed up all night reading it, telling myself I’d just read one more essay and then sleep and before I knew it, the book was finished and dawn was right around the corner. So now when I again feel those nagging feelings of loneliness, I was excited to see he had a new nonfiction piece in the Spring 2020 issue of Crazyhorse to help fill in the spaces around me: “Eulogy for My Father.”
This eulogy is written in short, one-sentence paragraphs that rapidly fall down the sixteen pages they occupy. “Let me start again,” he repeatedly states and follows another thread as he sorts the complicated thoughts and feelings surrounding the relationship he had with his father, his father’s absence, and the ways in which these feelings now echo over his relationship with his son.
The piece is honest and tender, bringing tears to my eyes by the time I reached the end and his final “restart.” It was nice seeing Sukrungruang once again show off his mastery of the nonfiction form. Even sitting with his grief, it was also nice to feel close to something for the moment.
In the early days of lockdown, I had friends comment to me that they felt almost a sense of relief. Despite the tragedies reported in the news and the uncertainty of the new world we found ourselves in, they felt like they were able to breathe for the first time—to spend days resting or creating or getting personal work done or fully focusing on their families, none of which they were able to accomplish during the busyness of everyday life.
In the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Salamander, Anne Kilfoyle’s story “Double-Yolked” reminded me of those conversations and feelings. As narrator Keera and her husband Jesse prepare for an emergency evacuation following an unnamed global threat, she reflects:
The last three days have been good days, some of the best. We have been holding our breath but also our problems got smaller. [ . . . ] Our biggest fear wasn’t mass annihilation, it was that we’d have to go back to how things were, back to our jobs and our lives [ . . . ].
Despite their lack of preparation, she feels okay with what’s coming to them, feels capable knowing they have each other, now somehow stronger together, as they move forward.
The short piece is relatable and timely: empty store shelves, last minute orders from Amazon in an attempt to ease the new worries, the uncertainty that surrounds them, and that strange relief of being released from normal life. It can be difficult to read disaster-themed writing while living through a similar situation, but Kilfoyle manages to cover the topic in a way that’s casual and comforting without adding to the current, similar stresses.
From Issue 38 of Bellevue Literary Review, Kathi Hansen’s “We the Mothers” (honorable mention in the 2020 BLR Prize) imagines the mothers of boys who have been accused of sexual assault. They meet together in book-club-like fashion, able to speak freely with one another when no one else understands.
Hansen writes of them in a collective. They speak of their sons as one being as they look back to their childhoods, their teenage years, and the ways their boys were raised in their homes. Only when one woman begins to question her son’s innocence does the story diverge, separating her from the rest of the group, finally naming her apart from the others. I found this to be a cool, well done device for this piece, and a unique point of view to have on these now familiar stories.
Despite focusing on this side of the story, Hansen does a good job of avoiding too much sentimentality. The mothers tell their collective story without demanding understanding or sympathy from the reader. After all, as they point out, only those in their group can truly understand.
Emily Steinberg takes a walk “In the Woods” with her dog, Gus, in her visual narrative found in the Midsummer 2020 issue of Cleaver. During her walk, she focuses on Gus and her surroundings, reflecting on the way the real world and its real problems seem far away. In the woods, “All human makings disappear . . .” and there is only the sounds of the wind in the trees and the creek and Gus’s paws around her. This moment doesn’t last forever, though. She has to cross the threshold back into the real world where everything “comes sweeping back. Crowding my brain. Not letting me breathe.” But for a moment there is peace.
This short visual narrative gives readers a moment of peace as well as we soak in the quiet moment of respite along with Steinberg. Each panel features only Gus, a fluffy scribble of a dog padding through the woods, a dog always good comfort when it’s needed. The piece works as a good reminder to take a moment to find calm and quiet in the midst of the tragedies and turmoil swirling around us. By taking these moments, we’re able to recharge as we head back into the real world to face everything once more.
Say, “I see dead people,” to just about anyone, and they’ll likely be able to name the movie it came from. But unlike Haley Joel Osment’s character in The Sixth Sense, attempting to help the dead find peace, Jasmine, the narrator in Catherine Stansfield’s “I See Dead People and Other Gags” uses the concept to help herself.
Jasmine tells people she can speak to their dead loved ones, and uses social media to glean information that she later uses in her sessions. Having lost her own mother at a young age and never really speaking about it again gives her a detachment from death and the sentimental feelings surrounding it, so she profits off other people’s pain and grief. However, at the end of the story, she’s hit with a surprise that may make her change her mind about her career path.
I would’ve enjoyed reading more about Jasmine and her work, getting to know more about her clients and her grandmother who casts a shadow over her mother’s death. Stansfield’s writing style is matter of fact and straight forward, fitting for Jasmine’s no-nonsense character. But what we are given is a fun read, a peak behind the medium’s curtain.
March and the beginning of lockdowns in the United States somehow seems like it was years ago and just days ago. Time continues to slip by in strange ways. Emma Moran touches upon this in her nonfiction piece “What I Will Say” found in the Summer 2020 issue of Sky Island Journal: “Times had changed. The quality of time had changed. Hours extended and compressed. Two hours talking to your sister passed in ten minutes. Ten minutes extended into days, as you listened to the clock counting out the seconds you couldn’t sleep through.”
In this piece, she reflects on her dad’s instruction to “Remember this. One day your grandchildren will ask what it was like, living through this. Remember it all, so you can tell them.” In the following four paragraphs she explains the way life changed during the first few months of the pandemic, and she does so poetically and eloquently: “People built fortresses out of plans. I will write those letters, I will train the dog, I will learn to speak French, I will learn to knit, I will learn, I will learn. We would try to learn.”
Time continues to pass and the push to return to the normal life we used to know is insistent, but Moran remembers and gives a reminder of what we did for others and how we “learned; how we changed” during those first few weeks and months, writing with a thoughtful and sympathetic voice.
Who didn’t have an embarrassing crush growing up? For thirteen-year-old Chava in “I Love You, Dr. Rudnitsky” by Avigayl Sharp, her new crush is her titular dentist.
Chava, deep in the throes of the brutality of puberty, falls in love with her dentist one day. Her newfound crush with its accompanying fantasies serves as a respite from her real life: being Jewish and bullied at her Catholic school, a disconnect with her distant mother, and disgust at her own body—her weight, her body hair, her budding sexuality.
Sharp gives Chava a voice that’s somehow both humorous and tragic, bringing me back to those awkward days of adolescence and the torturous process of puberty. She’s upfront and honest, telling us truths she doesn’t admit to others, while simultaneously wrapping us up in one lie after the other. By the end of the story, it feels like we’re reading her Dr. Rudnitsky fanfiction she’s posting on some secret blog. One can’t help feeling sympathy for Chava, for wanting to sit her down and give her a hug and some advice, and we can thank Sharp for creating such a cringe-worthy yet completely loveable character.
There’s a fine selection of short fiction in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Concho River Review. Among them is the five-page “Tacos Callejeros” by Kenneth Hinegardner.
In this story, Steven observes a mother and her two children at a restaurant. The children misbehave as he eats and watches their behavior, and he ends up taking a liking to their mother, Melanie. Between these observations are passages about watching a dog fight on a past trip to Tijuana. As we read, it becomes clear Steven is not a caring and concerned individual, but is closer to a dog, its teeth around another dog’s throat.
Hinegardner writes with a slow build to the end, writing with precision and subtlety. The final character in this story, Ruben, acts the reader’s place, recognizing this part of Steven that is slowly revealed across the pages in this chilling, short piece.
I love when a poem has visual components, so I was happy to see a couple pieces by Ryan Mihaly in the Summer 2020 issue of The Massachusetts Review with visual accompaniment.
“[B]” and “[A♯/B♭]” are paired with clarinet fingering charts. In “[B],” the speaker looks back at “a catalogue of embarrassments,” which are broken down and pointed out on the chart as “Wrong name,” “Loss of language,” and “Failed elegance.” “[A♯/B♭]” explores language and communication, finishing, “Music is not a language because it cannot be translated into anything. It can only be described. A♯, then, is the word ‘handiwork’ mispronounced ‘hand-eye-work.’” The chart above shows a corresponding “Hand,” “Eye,” and “Work.”
While both poems would work just fine without the visual aspect, their presence is still welcome and enhances each piece, the text almost working as a footnote to guide the reader through the charts.
I may be an atheist, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Liz Bruno’s poem in the latest issue of The Cape Rock. “Jesus, The Original Disney Princess” compares the religious figure to the familiar cartoon girls of our youth. I found the comparison to be lighthearted and sweet, the connections between Jesus and the girls clear. They’re all “Westernized beauty queen[s],” with “endless magic.” They teach “girls and boys to dream big and look pretty” and are friends with animals, are critics of the bourgeois, and rise above their humble beginnings.
A new and different take on the familiar religious figure, Bruno creates an endearing poem with an eye-catching title.
In the Summer 2020 issue of The Georgia Review, Bishakh Som finds a creative way to process feelings of longing and isolation in “Shelter in Place.” This graphic poem spans days in May, the images taking readers into a futuristic, sci-fi setting. Calendar dates guide the piece along, moving us from one day to the next as the speaker writes of what and who she misses in this strange state of life. At the end of the piece, we’re met with that now familiar feeling of time becoming unreal and immeasurable as the calendar page reads “May 32.”
While we all process our feelings about sheltering in place, living in a time of a global pandemic, and missing the physical connection with people we were once allotted, I appreciated this different and creative take. The change in setting and the beautiful language make “Shelter in Place” a stand-out among other pieces of writing that are responding to current life in COVID-19.
The latest issue of the Missouri Review features the winners of the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. The nonfiction winner, “The Trailer” by Jennifer Anderson is a powerful piece on self-reflection.
In “The Trailer,” a trailer appears on land Anderson owns. For awhile, it stays empty, and then one day a man and woman appear inside. Anderson then works on getting the inhabitants removed, and the trailer towed from the property.
In doing this, though, she ends up looking inside herself and examining her response to the two people that have begun squatting on her property. As a teen, she drank, did drugs, and engaged in risky behavior and she realizes she easily could have ended up just like the woman she evicts from her property. Later, when one of the women she delivers food to on her Meals on Wheels route must move out from her care facility and is essentially homeless, Anderson is filled with compassion and the desire to help, a response that is much different than her response to the woman in the trailer. After the woman leaves the trailer and the trailer is hauled away, Anderson continues to see her around town, each time having to face her past actions and feeling shame.
The piece is introspective and honest, a good reminder to examine our own actions. Anderson’s writing is compelling and hard to look away from, well-deserving of its placement as the nonfiction Editors’ Prize winner.
In Cave Wall Number 16, Maggie Smith writes a poem to America. “Tender Age” focuses on the reality of the country, which is decidedly “not what I learned / in grade school.” Instead, this America “caged / even the babies.”
She questions who our laws serve, questions where the country’s conscience lives, or where it’s been removed from. Reminiscing on the past, Smith writes of the street she grew up on and the church she attended, as well as the handbells played there. These memories are unburied again as she wonders whether there will be “neighborhoods / named for this undeclared war” like we’ve named ones “Lexington, / Bunker Hill, Valley Forge.” Finally, the piece ends on the images of the handbells again ins sobering stanza:
America, when we want to silence the bells, we extinguish their open mouths on our chests.
This poem is unfortunately continuously timely and relevant with the continued practice of caging migrant children and following the recent news that another 1,500 have been “lost.” Smith’s poem encourages readers to join in as she speaks to America and against the horrific, harmful systems we’ve created.
In the latest issue of Pembroke Magazine, Jessica Hertz writes of the “Fictional Women I Have Known.” This five-part piece focuses on Alice from Alice in Wonderland, the mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s or Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Persephone, the sister from “The Six Swans” fairy tale, and Eve.
Each section explores the complexities of their feelings, their desires, and their realities. They’re not flat women on a page but are thought-out and developed even in the small space provided. I enjoyed Hertz’s take on each of them, and my favorites were the mermaid and Eve. The mermaid is faced with having to choose between a voice or the ability to dance, a choice she wishes she did not have to make. Eve is faced with a choice—eat the offered fruit or don’t—and Hertz asserts she knew exactly what she was doing when she accepted, a take I appreciated.
Peer into the inner thoughts and feelings of these five fictional women with Hertz as your guide.
If you’re using pride month as a time to become more familiar with LGBTQIA+ writers, I recommend grabbing a copy of the Spring 2020 issue of Hiram Poetry Review. Inside is the four-page poem “I Didn’t Know You Were Transgender” by Mercury Marvin Sunderland. This poem is a response to the observation cisgender people have made: “I didn’t know you were transgender / they tell me / I thought you were a cis man.”
Sunderland spends the poem speaking to these people, asserting his place in the gender spectrum. At one point he declares:
if you knew even a scrap of trans culture you’d know i already do look like a trans man because we are a diverse multitude all over the earth.
With this poem, he challenges the idea of what someone is “supposed” to or expected to look like, challenges the argument that using “they” as singular “destroy[s] the english language,” challenges the idea that “stick[ing] medicine in me” means “i want to be cisgender.”
Throughout the four pages, Sunderland provides a better understanding of what it means to be a trans man, and what it means to be Sunderland himself.
Alice Friman’s “Insomnia in Moonlight” in The Gettysburg ReviewFall 2019 is a moving poem that grapples with a popular theme within this issue: death. Friman handles the topic delicately, with humor, and with heft. The poem is broken into four irregular stanzas beginning with the dead waking in the night, making noise. This stanza read with immediate intrigue through the life Friman breathed into death about a speaker who cannot sleep because the dead are alive in their thoughts. It suggests playfulness, too, written with a lighter tone than often associated with death and mourning.
Friman then equates the dead to the sun, something bright and fixed, and the speaker to the changeable moon, “she wears my child face—round, / sunburnt, and pensive.” The final lines in the poem are the most striking, offering up the speaker’s recount of a total eclipse where the moon tried to “blot out the sun.” It felt like a reflection of their desire to hold death in their hands and make sense of it, but the speaker admits that the moon fails in its attempt to resist permanence, to resist, as Friman puts so eloquently in her final two lines: “geometric progression, the unerasable / dead, and everything else I don’t understand.”
Reviewer bio: Emily Lowe is an MFA candidate in Nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she is also a fiction editor for Ecotone literary magazine.
The cover of the latest issue of The Malahat Review is a calming scene: a full moon framed by powerlines over a pastel sky. It invites readers to pick it up and open it to discover what’s inside. I had found two new favorites in the pages: “Nice Girl” by Hollie Adams and “A High Frequency Words List” by Matthew Gwathmey.
In “Nice Girl,” Adams’s speaker likens herself to a mall who would “never automatically / open the doors even though / there’d be a sign saying / Automatic Doors.” She admits she’d keep them locked because she’s “evil / even though in real life / I’m always doing nice things.” This poem is a fun exploration of one’s inner self and the intentions behind actions. There’s a sense of humor in this piece even as it leads to introspection, an enjoyable aspect.
Gwathmey’s poem is in four sections, each one a list of words picked from the Fry and the Dolch sight word lists, used in children’s vocabulary development. This piece is just four paragraphs listing off words, a cool form of recycling.
There is plenty more poetry and prose to find inside this issue of The Malahat Review. Grab a copy to find your own favorites.
Everything is green and warm outside my window right now, but James Braun takes readers back to winter in his story “The Salt Man” from the Spring 2020 issue of Zone 3.
The story centers on two young sisters mid-winter. They are sent outside to wait for the salt man to come salt their roads before they’re allowed to play outside their yard. This is a dark piece. Poverty hangs heavy over the story. What once was green and beautiful has been covered by rocks. They have no heat in the house. Their neighbor loses fingers to frostbite. A woman cries on a couch while they go door to door asking if they can shovel driveways for cash to pay for a doctor bill. And the person they’re told will bring them a level of safety—the salt man—ends up being a source of danger in himself.
I enjoyed Braun’s writing style. There’s a level of flippancy with all the characters who view their lifestyle as ordinary. The story is short but holds a lot inside it. We’re able to discern as much meaning in what isn’t said as in what is clearly stated. And even though it is warm enough that I have my window open, a warm breeze blowing into my living room as I write this, Braun’s writing still makes a reader feel that inescapable cold of winter.
Opening the Spring 2020 issue of Boulevard is the winner of the journal’s 2019 Nonfiction Contest for Emerging Writers: “My Mom Claims I Had a Drink with My Rapist. I Investigate.” by Emi Nietfeld.
In this piece, Nietfeld looks back to June 28, 2010 when she was raped while in Budapest and to the conversations she had with her mother immediately after and eight years later about the incident. This investigation focuses on the drink that Nietfeld did or didn’t have and the influence the drink had on her mother’s reaction to the rape.
Nietfeld breaks the piece up into sections, investigating in-person conversations, emails that were sent in 2010, and her old computer documents. After she presents the “evidence,” she breaks it down and discusses it. I found this approach to be interesting and impactful as she turns a critical eye on past conversations, her memory, and her relationship with her mother.
Not only is this piece a strong start to the issue, but it demonstrates why Nietfeld deserves to have won the Nonfiction Contest for Emerging Writers.
LitMag is a literary magazine published annually from New York City. The magazine’s pulse is found on page sixty-three with a quote from Aryeh Lev Stollman’s fiction piece “Dreams Emerging,” which states “true art is the condensation of ineffable yearning.” An ineffable yearning is a longing so strong it cannot be described; however, this issue’s work attempts description, and through writing, pieces of the unsaid become real. With fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and tributary letters, LitMag’s third issue holds work that embodies the condensation of ineffable yearning.
Meghan E. O’Toole’s fiction story “Abditory” carries the loudest pulse. It is a hazy and dreamlike exploration of how longing can manifest in dreams and become necessary for engaging with reality. O’Toole uses the image of milk to connect the main character’s past and present with their dream-images, and it is in the way the milk moves, the way it rises in the bedroom or pools on the road, that the story supplements the issue’s character of yearning. O’Toole’s story successfully employs elements of magical realism, which create a vivid sense of place that is consistent in every scene. I instantly believed in the fictional world she created, and this lack of hesitancy to trust and settle into the story’s place drew me back for a second and third read.
The magazine’s cohesion comes from every piece having its own sense of magnetism, and I read the magazine in one sitting. Each piece easily pulled me into the next, and it is for this ease and sense of connectivity that recommend LitMag.
Reviewer bio: Jamie is an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Indiana Wesleyan University. She has contributed work to Appalachian Voice, Appalachia Service Project, and has work forthcoming in the Chestnut Review.
The Fall 2019 issue of Seneca Review includes four pieces by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram. These visual pieces draw in the eye with text boxes layered over one another, reminding me of a house of cards that’s fallen, the cards now strewn in overlapping angles. They’re all titled “World Map:” with a different year following the colon.
In these pieces, Bertram speaks about race and sexuality. The exploration of these themes comes in snippets that repeat and fade away like memories that resurface repeatedly: instant messenger conversations, conversations with her mother, antagonization on the basketball court.
Bertram uses the visuals in an inventive way that helps the poetry move along and creates a bigger impact for the message. I read the four pieces over and over, fully admiring the way in which they were presented.
In the Spring 2020 issue of Southern Humanities Review, Heather Corrigan Phillips dives into the use of language in “A Scattershot Approach.” Broken up into different sections, this piece looks at the idioms and metaphors relating to gunfire that English uses. Each section is a different phrase or word.
This nonfiction piece looks at a span of time immediately after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Her brother-in-law was a first responder at the school that day and we learn about him and the way his health and family were impacted. Phillips writes about this while living out of the country and learns more in spurts through Skype and phone calls, and readers subsequently learn about this in similar ways. Little bits of his story are revealed and then explorations of gun-adjacent language is placed in between.
Reading this really does bring to light the amount of idioms and metaphors that we use which relate back to guns, and this only scratches the surface. There are plenty more that weren’t included. We’re lead to question why this language is so prevalent while also seeing into the lives of humans who have gone through a traumatic event. Here is the perfect balance of fact and emotion, a quick yet powerful read.
The Spring 2020 issue of The Georgia Review was released around the time U.S. citizens were receiving census information in the mail, and the work inside the issue relates back to this: the census and citizenship. Jenni(f)fer Tamayo’s “The Citizenship Question” is a stand-out among these.
The piece reimagines the Application for Naturalization, or the U.S. Citizenship Application. This piece spans three pages, and Tamayo rewrites the questions and options given. The first two pages are straight forward enough, with the third falling into a more chaotic format with text written upside down, overlapping other text, or fading away into blank space.
I always enjoy this type of writing that mixes the cold format of a form (Marissa Spear does something similar with her medical reports in “How Many Ways Can One Spell Hysteria?” found in Moonchild Magazine) and reworks it with heart, feeling, and poetry. It can be a bizarre feeling to see personal information about yourself reduced to a few lines and checkboxes in someone’s files, and Tamayo takes that information back, reclaims it as hers, and connects it back to her life and identity in an inventive and enjoyable read.
In the latest issue of Parehlion, readers can find a selection of poetry by Sierra Lindsay. In this set of four poems, “The Line Between” especially stood out to me.
In this poem, Lindsay explores her name in three stanzas. The beginning draws readers in and explains the origin of this study: “I get lumps cut out of my breasts & on the hospital bracelet, last name first.” The second stanza studies the name as it’s used by people she “shouldn’t be fucking,” and the last stanza focuses on the name as it stands on a workplace name tag as customers question its source. The ending is explosive with its reclamation of her name and the power there, “I will put your name on my / tongue & make you taste it.”
The layout of the poem makes it even more enjoyable to read, along with Lindsay’s careful construction of language that ebbs and flows.
The Spring 2020 issue of Sheila-Na-Gig online features the winner and honorable mentions of the Spring Poetry Contest. Winner Kari Gunter-Seymour pens the poignant “Trigger Warning.”
In this piece, the speaker’s son grapples with PTSD which worsens in November, the result of time in the military. The speaker’s ability to relate is limited; the closest thing she has is watching her father die, and holding dogs as they’ve died. Throughout the poem she mourns not only her father, but also “the farm boy, the quipster, / the Ren & Stimpy impersonator” who her son used to be before he “boarded the plane, now camouflaged / in anxiety meds and a skeletal body.” I really liked the use of “camouflage” here, an image that not only describes the concealing the person he was, but one that also conjures up military uniforms he once donned.
Gunter-Seymour sums up the message of the poem in two truthful lines, “We don’t get to choose our memories, / they are triggered.”
The other day while combing the world of literary magazines I came across something both unique and refreshing. I’m referring to Tyler Dempsey’s two poems most recently published in Re-Side Magazine Issue 5. These pieces use erasure poetry crafted from letters from Dempsey’s brother Travis Dempsey, who has been serving a prison sentence since 2009 in Oklahoma.
His poem “protein” captures the woes of the incarcerated for the outside world to hear. It draws attention to the role of economics in prisons to deal with basic everyday needs like nutrition. In “150MphWinds,” Dempsey points to his brother’s everyday observations. He finds the crux between complex and the dignity of simplicity by again showing what we take for granted.
While Tyler Dempsey is the curator of these poems, the words present a unique voice filled with legitimacy for the reader. It feels as if Dempsey’s brother is talking himself, creating a poetic mirroring of these letters. I chose to review these poems to not only produce more reviews on indie authors, but also to bring the attention of the privileged to the art coming from those with the least amount of civil liberties.
Reviewer bio: C.L. Butler is an African American and Dutch poet, historian, and entrepreneur from Philadelphia based in Houston, TX. In 2017 his poem Laissez Faire was published by The Bayou Review. In 2019 he published academic research with the Journal of International Relations & Diplomacy.
This month’s issue of The Ring magazine (“The Bible of Boxing”) straddles what has come to feel like two very distinct, almost distant, time periods. It arrived two days ago but, given the timeline for magazine publishing, most of the issue’s content covers events that happened roughly six weeks ago.
Example: the cover features Román “Chocolatito” González, hand raised in victory after his Feb 29 defeat of Khalid Yafai. Example: Robert “The Nordic Nightmare” Helenius is deemed “Fighter of the Month” for his upset over rising star Adam Kownacki on March 7.
I savor this issue of The Ring with a hastily cultivated sense of nostalgia; so much distance between that March to this April. Locked down in Ohio, it feels like time is telescoping away, these fights from another world, another life. Didn’t I just have friends over to watch Helenius vs Kownacki? Didn’t we share a pizza? Sit next to each other on the couch? How long ago was that?
There is some coronavirus coverage as well. An article titled “Standstill” opens with an arresting photo of an amateur bout being held in an empty stadium. And in “Voices from the Outbreak,” various fighters comment on how shutdowns and fight cancellations have upended their lives. “This is a time when we shouldn’t be talking about ‘We miss boxing,’” says recent Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins. “This is a time we have to re-evaluate our good deeds and evil deeds.”
Known for responding to short questions with passionate, sometimes drifting monologues, Hopkins continues: “Ask someone you love how they’re doing. Ask someone about their dog.”
Reviewer bio: Andrew Rihn wrote Revelation, a book of poetry about Mike Tyson. He also writes The Pugilist, a monthly boxing column with a literary edge.
With the weather warming up, I see new green sprouting in my backyard daily. This seems like a good time to focus on poems about flowers found in the Spring 2020 issue of Colorado Review.
In “Bloom,” Emily Van Kley’s speaker talks to the forsythia plant “beside the house.” Together, they move through the seasons: gray in winter, blooming in summer just for the blooms to quickly disappear into leaves. Van Kley’s images are beautiful and strong with lines that really pulled at me, like “The sadness that carries / my thoughts close to its chest / will unpack it’s summer / wardrobe,” and “Soon the last rains // will poor themselves down / storm sewers’ gullets.”
Leah Tieger also writes of flowers in “Five Sunflowers,” which are a gift from “the man who loves me.” The flowers “turn the room from real / to magazine, so picture my life perpetually happy.” The flowers urge the speaker to be grateful, “if not for your presence, / at least for the hands that brought you.” The piece feels warm and loving, the same “brilliant / and saturated” yellow of the flowers.
Welcome in spring and some much needed color with these poems from Colorado Review.
A big fan of graphic novels (and nonfiction and poetry), I’m always thrilled when a literary magazine releases an issue featuring graphic work. World Literature Today’s Spring 2020 issue features a selection of graphic nonfiction by seven artists.
Each piece brings something different to the table. The art styles are all vastly different and each focuses on something unique: politics, history, art, ego, love.
My favorite of these is “Shadow Portrait” by Rachel Ang. Ang’s art is calming and enjoyable to look at, muted tones splayed across the page. She writes of love and ego, the ways in which we see ourselves in art, in stories, in the people we love.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is an excerpt from Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Notorious Prison by Sarah Mirk, illustrated by Omar Khouri. Unlike Ang’s calming tones, this excerpt uses bold lines and an orange color scheme which ramps up the feeling of anxiety the story produces. I’m a little disappointed at the length of the excerpt—the four pages we’re given leave on a cliffhanger that left me wanting more, though I suppose that just highlights the writer’s and artist’s skill.
This selection of graphic nonfiction has a little bit of something for everyone, and each artist/writer utilizes their craft impressively. This issue of World Literature Today is a real treat to read.
Three poems by Laurinda Lind can be found in Issue 29 of High Desert Journal: “When I Lived in Soda Springs, Idaho & I Had a Belly at the Bar,” “When I Lived in Soda Springs, Idaho & the Cashier at the Convenience Store Was Friendly to Me,” and “When I Lived in Soda Springs, Idaho & I Had Not Yet Killed a Black Widow Spider.”
This series of prose poems is strong in its storytelling. They read quickly with sentences that run on as if the speaker can’t wait to get the words out. The speaker is not the only person in these pieces. They all include other people the speaker interacts with, a cast of characters that Lind brings to life for us: her neighbor “who later stole several hundred dollars from me & nearly killed my cat,” the “old guy” who “wanted to buy us beers,” the friendly cashier who was “short & pretty” with “huge green eyes” and later robbed the store she worked at, and the man who calls her and harasses her over the phone.
There’s an edge to the writing, a take-no-nonsense attitude in every piece. The speaker is a woman who is surviving against the odds in this strange, unfamiliar place with people and animals who make living there difficult. Lind fleshes out a speaker who readers can root for.
I’m a fan of reading and making blackout poetry, and the Spring 2020 issue of Willow Springs offers one piece of blackout by Jackson Burgess. What makes this a little more unique than other pieces of blackout I’ve read in the past is that Burgess blacks out his own poem.
On one page, readers can find a prose poem called “Medicine,” which details an almost nightmarish account of medical themes exploring a “lifetime trying to learn what another body needs.” On the next page, the prose poem is blacked out leaving only twelve words from the original piece. Dark and creative, I enjoyed the construction and deconstruction of Burgess’s work.