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
Elizabeth Spencer Spragins’ passion for bardic verse in The Language of the Bones is irresistible. I can’t imagine a writer who, after reading this, wouldn’t try her hand at it or even use this as a class text to inspire students. Though Spragins does not provide ‘guidelines’ for the forms she utilizes – four Welsh (cywydd llosgyrnog, rhupunt, clogyrnach, cyhydedd hir) and one Gaelic (rannaigheacht ghairid) – a Google search offers plenty of resources (including an article by Spragins herself).
This “American Journeys in Bardic Verse” takes readers from Virginia to South and North Carolina, the deserts of the Southwest, the forests of the Northwest, and all the way to Alaska. Each poem is accompanied by endnotes to provide historical and cultural contexts. Because Spragins has specifically chosen to give “voice to the unspoken, the overlooked, and the forgotten,” these poems require prior knowledge for greatest appreciation, and each is a kind of history lesson. The “starving time” in colonial Jamestown; the forcible removal of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland; people, events, and landmarks of the American Civil War and the south are subjects Spragins educates her readers about through deftly crafted meter and rhyme which, she instructs, is traditionally read aloud.
Spragins also includes contemporary issues and does not shy away from controversy, as in her poem “At Standing Rock,” commenting on the treatment of Lakota Sioux. “Polar Night,” “Hunters,” and “Northern Lights” stand in witness to the devastations of climate change. And the book closes on a series of poems that return to places where nature and spirituality intersect, in “Sedona,” “The Garden of the Gods,” the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (“Sacred Songs”), and Muir Woods (“Spires”). A looking outward from who and where we are physically to something much greater and beyond.
Read more about Elizabeth Spencer Spragins and The Language of the Bones in an interview with Ceri Shaw on AmeriCymru.
Review by Denise Hill
It doesn’t matter if you gravitate toward fiction, nonfiction, or poetry when cracking open a new issue of literary magazine—the Spring/Summer 2019 Concho River Review has you covered.
John Blair kicks off the issue with “The Glass Mountain,” a piece that drips dark energy. Ray’s young, troubled niece moves in with him and his wife after her mother dies. Sexual and violent tension build throughout the story, finally culminating in an explosion of darkness.
In nonfiction, Brandon Daily revisits a dark time in his own life in “A Moment In Our Life, Again,” an intimate taste of the turmoil a couple feels when trying for children and experiencing multiple miscarriages. Daily gives the point of view of the father in the heartbreaking scenario, his pain orbiting his wife’s. The piece takes place as Daily waits outside the bathroom door, waiting for bad news, and then moves backward to shed light on the years and previous miscarriages that led up to this one, the moment suspended, hanging over readers like a shadow.
The issue concludes with twenty-seven poems by twenty-seven poets. Some of my favorites include “Migratory Bird Count” by Walter Bargen, a light piece on perception; “Some Good News” by Grant Clauser who points out the little bits of human kindness and comfort we can cling to; “AX” by Timothy Krcmarik, a small study on the speaker’s five-year-old son; and “Hunger” by Elena Lelia Radulescu, wives’ tales exploring the delicate balance of loneliness. Regardless of which poem a reader decides to start with, all are straight forward narratives telling stories in clear voices.
Both poetry and prose in this issue of Concho River Review promise readers a satisfying selection.
Review by Katy Haas
Dante Di Stefano creates a fascinating read of precise opinions and clever phrasing with poetry in his new book, Ill Angels. If I were to divide it roughly into subject chapters, one would be musicians, another would be portraits, then love poems to his wife, verses about America, and poems for his students. Throughout the book, a characteristic worthy of attention is his skill in giving fresh meaning to words.Read more...
In 2018, Driftwood Press began accepting graphic work for their book publishing arm, and as readers wait for their chance to pick up a new graphic novel, they can check out the graphic work in the literary magazine. The current issue published at the start of 2019 features three selections in graphic works: “LaughTrack” by J. Collings, “The Salton Sea” by Cindy House, and “Émigré Animals” by Jason Hart.
In “The Salton Sea,” House writes of her young son who, after refusing to complete a project, is given an alternate assignment at school. House’s eager willingness to patiently teach her poet son how to navigate in a world that doesn’t completely suit him is palpable in her poetic language and minimal illustrations, a touching piece.
Hart uses topiary animals to explore the immigrant experience in “Émigré Animals,” a man showcasing his resiliency as he creates the animals of his home country along the streets of his new home. The images of this comic reminded me of a children’s book, and I could easily see Hart’s topiary artist inhabiting a longer, expanded story.
“LaughTrack” is creative in its wordlessness; the only dialogue in the comic are streams of “hahahaha” laughter written in red. A man, miserable in his day to day life, feeds off the laughter he gleans from others, culminating in one final letdown. Despite the sullen tone hanging over the comic, the bright colors and sketchy lines make for a visually enjoyable read.
None of the three comics in Issue 6.1 of Driftwood Press are alike. Each brings something different to the table—different art styles, writing styles, subject matter—and I look forward to discovering even more comics offered in future issues and novels from Driftwood Press.
Review by Katy Haas
When her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 60s, Wolf’s father conspired with doctors, friends, and family to conceal the truth from her, a secret he ends up taking to the grave, a family member the one to finally break the silence. Wolf’s poems are about this time in her family’s lives, the title drawing from the conversation in which Wolf finds out about her mother’s illness:
“Did you know?” she asked.
“Know what?” I responded.
“Did you know the secret?” she asked.
“What secret?” I responded.
[ . . . ]
Now there was an “us”:
the ones who did not know.
Following the revelation about her health, Wolf’s mother challenges the life she created behind the shield of her husband’s secrecy; Wolf the voice in her ear urging her to finally do whatever she wants.
Wolf writes in a straightforward voice, never losing readers in overly flowery language, instead focusing on clearly relating her mother’s story, giving her a voice when she was denied one by her husband for so long.
Reading Did You Know? is an intimate peek into an archaic practice—a husband able to dictate his wife’s medical care while hiding it from her—but as women are currently fighting for bodily autonomy while access to abortion is challenged, the chapbook ends up feeling incredibly current.
Review by Katy Haas
If my mother and I walk out of a store into the center of the mall or exit a building onto any town’s main street, there’s a 95% chance she’ll ask me which way we came from and which way we’re now headed. If we park in a crowded lot, she follows as I lead to her hidden car. When I’m with her, I am the navigator, the way-finder.
The 33-page nonfiction piece begins in an airport, Sellers struggling to find her way out to her car. From here, we work back, finding this was always an issue, cultivated when she was young as her mother struggled with mental illness and her father with alcoholism. Knowing which way to turn, when it’s okay to turn on a red light, how to navigate a college campus or a familiar neighborhood, recognizing faces—this is all foreign to Sellers. However, Sellers writes all of this straightforwardly and clearly as if she’s describing how we can make it out of an airport, a route we can effortlessly follow, her words a way-finder at our side.
After tracing back to examine the possible source of this predicament, she puts a name to it: prosopagnosia or topographical agnosia. Once it has a name, it’s easier to understand and cope with, which leads to the deeper point of Sellers’ piece. In witnessing others struggle, she notes that she’s not uniquely alone, and she realizes the compassion and patience she shows others lost with or around her. This sympathy is missing when dealing with her own directional mishaps, the rest of the piece a steady reminder for readers to treat ourselves and others with more compassion as we find our ways through the world.
Review by Katy Haas
"People in glass houses should not throw stones"
The characters within the novel are very thought out, and the reader is able to visualize their appearance as well as learn about their personalities through the words on the page. Gabby, who is a detective, is a strong female lead, and this is nice to read as she is seen as a feminist character. Each character adds their own input into the story and their lives are all intertwined through a series of events which will be revealed within the novel.
Each chapter is full of suspense, and they are short, so the reader is not left hanging or bored with the content. The plot is structured into two strands: before and after the murder.
The settings are beautiful within the book, and they can only be described as a paradisiacal haven where only the rich of the rich get to go. The story is set, for the most part, in a huge glass rental house, and though cliché, the saying “people in glass houses should not throw stones” perfectly applies to this novel. Pathetic fallacy is used a lot to set the tone of each chapter as the plot twists and turns.
As the reader, you go through a roller coaster of emotions throughout, deciding who to side with and trying to work out who is lying and who is telling the truth. And you constantly question yourself as to whodunit.
Overall, this was a very good novel by Holahan, and I will not hesitate to pick up another of her books in the future, as I read this one in only one weekend!
Review by Tom Walker
In response to the recent abortion bans in the United States, Jellyfish Review has been publishing a series of “Pro-Choice stories” with their usual selections. In the days surrounding the bans, my social media accounts exploded with people in my life coming forward with their own abortion stories, each of their needs and wants behind their choices unique. The Pro-Choice stories of Jellyfish Review mimic this: varying voices and points of view from different walks of life, all of them valid.
“Now That I’m Being Honest” by Holly Pelesky is addressed to the child the narrator planned to abort and didn’t, back before she found her voice, highlighting how important the ability to make a choice is in a life. In “A Fetus Walks into a Bar,” Jonathan Cardew’s imagined fetus is cold-blooded and gun-toting, leading readers to consider the rights afforded gun owners vs. uterus owners.
“None of It Was Easy” by Meghan Louise Wagner is a short, thirteen-part nonfiction piece that walks through each step, from the first hint that Wagner is pregnant to the afternoon the day of her abortion, ending with the sentence “I felt sick and empty but, most of all, I felt relieved,” her relief palpable.
Filled with tension is “The Morning After” by Andrea Rinard, a mother supporting her daughter after her daughter’s assault, the desire to protect her battling with the knowledge that she must let her daughter make her own choices.
The stories continue, each different, each important. The editors include links to pro-choice organizations after every piece, inviting readers to continue to support the choices others make for their bodies, all as different and important and valid as the stories Jellyfish Review presents.
Review by Katy Haas