Robb T. White’s lead story “A Civilized Man” is provided as a sample of the July 2019 Thriller Magazine (2.1). White’s narrator opens the story with, “What is a civilized man?” and walks readers through his fiancé’s disappearance and ultimate discovery of her brutalized dead body. The predictable dead-end investigation is offset by the narrator’s unexpected choice of action as he lays down his own justice. “It’s odd that I feel no guilt or shame.” The narrator confesses, “Quite the opposite. I feel . . . pleased, if that’s the right word.” Likewise, in reading the objectively detailed sequence of events, I felt no guilt or shame in his actions either. Pleased ? Maybe that is the right word.
Review by Denise Hill
Two whirlwind prose poems by Leslie Marie Aguilar in the May 2019 issue of wildness online speak in abstractions melded with concrete symbols, creating a contemporary mythology of the self. “Bone Altar” begins, “Legends begin with valerian root, red clover, & a touch of tequila.” and instructs the reader to call upon ancestors. “Cartography,” just at the moment I think the poem’s speaker is deeply troubled, assures me, “If this sounds like a cry for help, like shouting into a canyon & hoping to hear a voice different than your own, it’s not.” Two dizzyingly brief works with lasting impact.
Review by Denise Hill
CRAFT Literary’s mission is to “explore the art of fiction with a focus on the elements of craft.” They do this through publishing fiction with commentary, pieces on craft, interviews, and more.
Recent publications include Cathy Ulrich’s flash fiction piece “Being the Murdered Extra.” Ulrich imagines the backstory for the quintessential crime show “dead girl.” Written in second person, readers are put in the place of the auditioning girl while still feeling disconnected (you’re dead after all) as the story moves on to breathe life into the background characters of the background character: her mother and her roommates. This story is accompanied by two paragraphs of commentary on the craft.
The “Craft” section of the website includes sections titled “Essays,” “Interviews,” “Books,” and “Roundups.” In “Books,” find reviews, and in “Roundups” check out lists like “TV Adaptations We Love” and “CRAFT Fiction by the Elements.” A recent interview with Ariel Gore is introduced by a bonus essay on Gore’s We Were Witches by interviewer Melissa Benton Barker.
Jody Hobbs Hesler in “If You Can Name It, You Can Fix It: A Craft Glossary” writes about the benefits of giving clear feedback during writing workshops. In the essay, she points out how it’s easy to provide feedback of what’s working, but harder to articulate what could use some help, so she offers her own help by pointing out some common issues such as “Cliches of the Body” or “Too Much Reality vs. Realism.” Hesler provides a convenient little glossary for writers and those who workshop.
CRAFT Literary provides a deeper look into fiction while offering writers plenty of material to help out with their own writing processes.
Review by Katy Haas
Jillian Weise’s bio at the back of her latest collection, Cyborg Detective, boasts an impressive professional history, from books published to awards won to disability rights activism to starring in the tongue-in-cheek web series “Tips for Writers by Tipsy Tullivan.” In Cyborg Detective, Weise continues to show off her skills while holding the mirror up to the literary community.
Poems such as “Cattulus Tells Me Not to Write the Rant Against Maggie Smith’s ‘Good Bones,’” “10 Postcards to Marie Howe,” and “The Phantom Limbs of the Poets” cover the topic of ableism in the writing community and the ableist language and ideation that many writers and artists keep using in their craft. Using this language might not seem like a huge deal to writers without disabilities, but poems like “Attack List” (which is continued on Weise’s Twitter as a transcription informs [braille included]) show the danger of these microaggressions by making us face full-on, violent aggressions. In her list, Weise rethinks Josef Kaplan’s Kill List and Steven Trull’s “Fuck List” with the headlines or summaries of murders and rapes of disabled women. The words we choose matter.
A favorite part of Cyborg Detective for me is “Cathedral by Raymond Carver,” in which Weise reimagines the three characters of “Cathedral,” the blind man actually given a background, a personality, sexuality, agency, all things Carver did not provide.
As a nondisabled reader and writer, I find Weise’s work revealing and informative, a reminder to check my own vocabulary for ableist language and my own thoughts for ableist ideas, and to put an end to them. Weise never resorts to handholding as she does all this, but points out the bullshit with biting wit, dark humor, and a punk rock, cyborg attitude.
Review by Katy Haas
The latest issue of Blood Orange Review offers plenty of good writing, the nonfiction inviting readers to consider where they come from as the three writers do the same.
Melissa Matthewson answers the question of her essay’s title “Aren’t There Any Beautiful Things in Your Own Country?” with “Yes. No. Also, fewer.” A response to Susan Sontag’s “Unguided Tour,” Matthewson writes of the beauty living along the California/Mexico border, the beauty that continues to fade as time passes.
In “We Carry Smoke and Paper,” a desire to perform a Chinese red egg ceremony for her daughter’s one-month celebration leads Melody S. Gee to think about how she and her mother each fit into the label of “Chinese,” and how Gee particularly fits, raised in America for basically her entire life, daughter of a mother who single-handedly tries to keep her Chinese traditions alive. This is an insightful and revealing piece on cultural and familial identity.
Questioning familial identity is the backbone of “Crescent” by Rochelle Smith. The piece begins:“John Coltrane is my father. The jazz saxophonist, yes [ . . . ]. I’ve known this all my life. Or that’s not true, not all my life, really only since I first heard his music, which was in college.” Readers may have their doubts, but Smith backs up her claim with proof of how Kenneth, the man her mother marries, couldn’t possibly be her real father. “I’ll tell you two stories about Kenneth,” she says, letting the reader into her story, “and then you tell me.” But we find this is all wishful thinking, like the angsty teenage years where the flitting thought comes up: “maybe I am adopted—there’s no way I come from these people.”
Check out the nonfiction in the latest issue of Blood Orange Review and take some time to think about where you came from.
Review by Katy Haas
Our families and the people we care about affect much of how we feel or what we do in life, so it’s appropriate that many of the poems in the Spring 2019 issue of Apple Valley Review center on family.
Gail Peck’s speaker thinks of “The Perfume I Never Gave My Mother,” the scents of “flowers [ . . . ] desire [ . . . ] youth” clouding around her as her mother’s health fails, scents reminding her of the way her “mother loved flowers. [ . . . ] Always an arrangement / on her table that could take your breath away.” Mark Belair considers the silence and absence of his grandfather’s house after he dies, offering us a tiny glimpse through “the mail slot,” also the title of the piece. Seen through the innocent scope of the speaker’s childhood self gives us a refresher on loss as he fully understands it for maybe the first time.
Lynne Knight writes of two family members in her set of poems, her father in “At Twenty” and her sister in “After My Sister’s Mastectomy.” The former recounts a tumultuous relationship between father and daughter as she watches him angrily smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk below her apartment. Knight expertly captures the complicated push and pull of loving someone while hating parts of them at the same time:
hating his daughter
even as he loved her, for making him yield
to love’s weakness, its longing
for nothing to change.
The latter poem of Knight’s draws on images of outdoors and nature to explore the finiteness of life while encouraging us to appreciate the bits of beauty, wonder, and humor the outside world offers while we’re here.
In addition to these works, this issue offers much to discover, including two fiction pieces by Jeff Ewing and Jeff Moreland, poems by Doug Rampseck, and more.
Review by Katy Haas
In the latest issue, American Literary Review brings readers the winners of the annual ALR Awards. The 2019 winners feature Ellen Seusy in poetry, Cady Vishniac in fiction, and Julialicia Case in nonfiction.
Seusy’s “The Spiral Jetty” is an ekphrastic poem about Robert Smithson’s titular art piece. Seusy’s speaker compares Smithson’s creation with six-year-olds creating bowls from mud and spit, pointing out how “It’s the making that matters most,” even now that “we’re / out of breath, still running. Still tasting / dirt and salt. The work holds water, still.” It isn’t the finished product or the public reception that matters most—it’s the act of creating.
The narrator in Vishniac’s “Bumper Crop” faces the consequences he’s created for himself. The main character—bitter and a bit insufferable after his recent separation from his wife—encounters chickens on the way to the daycare where he works, an interruption to his usual day of hitting on his co-teacher, being too protective of his son who attends the daycare, and holding grudges against children. Vishniac crafts an entertaining story with a satisfying karmic ending.
Karmic endings also come into play in Case’s “The Stories I Do Not Know For Sure.” The nonfiction piece centers on Case’s former coworker David and his wife Sandra. The two concoct stories about their lives, stories that eventually fall apart, revealing muddled truths underneath. Case ends the piece reflecting on the stories we tell and the realities they create, recreate, or destroy. The gripping piece almost reads like a thriller, each paragraph revealing a new detail about Case’s story and the stories David and Sandra weave.
The winners of the ALR Awards are a great introduction to American Literary Review, and this year’s contest is currently open for submissions until October.
Review by Katy Haas
A recent series of poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey in the Spoon River Poetry Review is a testament to the tenacity of poetry and its poet. In her first chapbook, Female Comic Book Superheroes (Pudding House Publishing, 2005), I met Gailey as a stealthy kick-ass feminist poet. Her works were subtle but fierce, drawing character, voice, and reader into a collective sense of powerful control. Her following five books continued on this vein through recurring themes of mythology, fairy tale, feminism, science, science fiction, and the apocalypse. Through the years, I also kept up with her blog, where she shared her diagnosis of MS. But, as she first noted, back in 2013, “. . . I don’t want to define myself by this or any of the other weirdo health stuff I have. I am maybe a mutant, but I have a lot of good things in my life too.”Read more...
Perhaps it is because this was written in January, and in my part of the world, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees. Maybe it is the hours I had spent hibernating and devouring hours of classic movies from the 1940s and 50s aired on TCM. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of a ‘radio in the sand’ emitting static and faint music from another place in the universe—Hollywood.Read more...
After twenty-seven years, Jennifer Barber has left her position as Editor-in-Chief of Salamander. In the Summer 2019 issue, readers can find a portfolio, edited by Fred Marchant, dedicated to Barber’s work with Salamander over the years.
Location is a strong theme among these poems. Martha Collins writes of Santa Fe in “Passing,” flashes of scene and memory flitting by as she walks us through the streets; Valerie Duff sits at the titular “Fry’s Spring Filling Station” in Charlottesville, VA and thinks of the passage of time; Danielle Legros Georges lands in Cap-Haitien, Haiti in “Green Offering”; Yusef Komunyakaa quietly reflects on the train stop at Liberty Airport in Newark, NJ; and Gail Mazur considers hiking Ice Glen trails in Massachusetts, thoughts of romanticism and friendship drawing her there. If you’re unable to get out and travel this summer, take a mini literary vacation through this selection of Salamander.
Between those stops on the map are other great poems including “Selected Haiku for Jenny” by Maxine Hong Kingston, a set of three-lined stanzas that seem almost like a writing exercise to urge her to write, as it begins “There are days of no poems. / Not even 17 sounds will come.” And then later “Haiku master: ‘No need / for 17 syllables. [ . . . ] / Be free.” In “Recovery,” Jeffrey Harrison writes of a familiar feeling for me: the fear of breaking a favorite coffee cup. In one moment, he thinks he’s lost it, and in the next it’s still there, “its yellow somehow brighter,” better now that he’s felt its loss.
There are plenty more poems to check out in this portfolio, a fitting good-bye for Jennifer Barber and her dedicated work throughout the years.
Review by Katy Haas