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Published June 03, 2019

anthony oliveira dayspringIt was the illustration by Ricardo Bessa that originally drew me to Anthony Oliveira’s [pictured] short and poetic “Dayspring.” The image caught my eye as I scrolled down the front page of Hazlitt: browns and tans and reds, one man lying on another’s chest, their beards brushing; the embracing figures exude warmth and intimacy as sunlight filters through leaves above them. The story behind this depiction imagines (an unnamed) John, “the disciple whom he loved,” as Jesus’ lover in the days before the crucifixion.

Writing in short poetic bursts, Oliveira roots the story in two religious parables or folktales, one involving a donkey, the other involving a nun. The conversation shows Jesus’ words in red, the two speaking in modern vernacular, including “dudes” and “what the fucks,” making the characters more relatable. The red is striking on the screen whenever Jesus speaks, and these two stories give us something to come back to—something to be anchored to in the chaos that follows.

I couldn’t help thinking of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles while reading “Dayspring” as both pieces of writing display a mythological queer relationship of love and gentleness with a strong foreshadowing of violence and tragedy. Knowing the story of Jesus and his crucifixion, you can guess where Oliveira ends up taking us: to Gethsemane where everything falls apart, where Jesus is arrested, and the chain of events leading to his death begins, only this time we see it through the eyes of the one he loved.

While the piece is short and a sparsely written, the language is strong and beautifully built up. Oliveira writes with a poetic voice that eases readers in and creates the warmth that Ricardo Bessa’s illustrations kindle.

Published June 01, 2019

too many questions about strawberries hirtBrandi Pischke’s cover art of sparkly strawberries invites us into Jen Hirt’s book of poems, Too Many Questions About Strawberries. Can we expect a romp through a garden or farmer’s market? Not necessarily, though Hirt’s book takes us through fun, rowdy poems, as well as challenging ones that do, in some cases, concern plant life.

Let’s start with “Why not malachite for resurrection.”  In this poem, an apartment’s appeal is heightened because its back steps are perfect for a container garden.

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Published May 30, 2019

rattleThe Summer 2019 issue of Rattle includes a "Tribute to Instagram Poets." The editor's preface explains that the poems were originally published on Instagram, which uses captions that are included along with the poems. The editors assert that the poems were selected based "on their own merits and not the popularity of their authors."

Some works include long poetic commentary, such as Benjamin Aleshire's "Good Manners," while others, such as Luigi Coppola's and Jeni D La O's only include a user name and series of hashtags. When applied, the hashtags range from simply labeling the obvious (#poetry #poem) to adding to the poetic image/text in the Instagram, as in Vini Emery's: "All of the things that have been done to me have been done with out me." hashtagged: #disassociation #trauma #power. Because the image is of handwritten text, it's actually difficult to decipher if there is a space or not between "with" and "out," which seems fitting for the work that this should be ambiguous.

Still other poems, such as Raquel Franco's, add comment text without hashtags: "You are more than paper thin. / You are more than sad girl. / You are ink + paragraphs, / an anthology of purpose." with "You are more than your circumstance." as added comment.

A unique feature to include in this issue of Rattle, and one that opens whole new dialogues for poetry writing, reading, and analysis.

Review by Denise Hill

Published May 29, 2019
country house barberKnowing you can no longer build
with it or kill, a needle-point-covered brick
hugs itself.

          —from “Doorstop”

At eighty-nine pages, plus extensive notes, Sarah Barber's Country Housewinner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry—offers a plethora of material for a reader to draw out shared experience, contemplate history, raise questions, engage thoughtful research, and marvel at linguistic nuances. My own way into the text is undoubtedly as personal as it is unique, and I believe another reader would see something slightly, or maybe completely, different than I do in the poetry.

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Published May 27, 2019

patron saint of lost girls aitkenMaureen Aitken’s linked short stories, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, is the winner of the 2018 Nilsen Prize, awarded to American writers who have not yet published a novel. The fourteen stories follow Mary, a sometimes artist, struggling through the economic recession in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. Told in the first-person point of view, Aitken’s stories are intimately close to Mary’s life and relationships all the while reflecting more broadly on the Midwest. Aitken’s stories are small and intimate but backed by the weight of broader themes: urban decay and what it means to survive as a woman.

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Published May 24, 2019

leopard lady valerie niemanValerie Nieman’s Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse sweeps aside everything you might think about sideshow and carnival performers of the mid-20th century. Her poems open up the private life of a mixed-race woman, Dinah, the titular Leopard Lady.

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Published May 23, 2019

something like end morrow hermsmeierAshley Morrow Hermsmeier dedicates Something Like the End—winner of the Fall 2017 Black River Chapbook Competition—to “the strange and lonely,” appropriate when the characters of her six-story chapbook are living lives that are just that: a bit strange and a bit lonely.

A woman prepares for an oncoming plague-like wave of bees, and, alone, faces that there are other things to be cautious of in the end of days; a city experiences an unending earthquake; a woman drawn to a mysterious stray cat can’t help thinking about her ex; a woman buries and reburies zombified past versions of herself that keep showing up at her door, versions that died so she could keep living; a futuristic assisted suicide is advertised, its five simple steps outlined for interested parties; and a beauty and beast couple can’t stop dancing as the world ends around them.

While short, each piece manages to push the boundaries of what’s expected. Love stories are surrounded by ruin, break-up stories are haunted by feral animals and zombies, and in each piece, we see the complex ways in which we interact with other humans, or how we interact with the earth that is rapidly changing around us.

Morrow Hermsmeier’s work in this chapbook is imaginative and arresting as it offers solidarity to the strange, lonely reader.

Review by Katy Haas

Published May 15, 2019

glimmer trainIn the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Glimmer Train, find “Lady-Ghost Roles” by Laura Roque. The short story explores the oncoming end of a crumbling relationship while casting the familiar break-up story in a new light: the narrator and her boyfriend, Javi, are both dead and are now stuck haunting their old home together.

Tensions still palpable between them, the two watch as loved ones come and go, a realtor enters the picture, and a moving crew starts carrying away their belongings in the days after their deaths. Together, they reflect on moments of their relationship and what brought them to where they currently stand.

Early on, the narrator thinks about Javi: “[ . . . ] I need the universe to transport him somewhere I’m not, maybe hell, or the gym. In life, he’d spent more time touching dumbbells than me anyway.” As time passes, her views soften, though they never settle on a resolution.

Roque gives her narrator a tough exterior, her attitude remaining wry, never too sappy or sentimental. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t read the last two pages with a lump growing in my throat, Roque’s world and character building too strong to resist.

With just enough gentleness and intimacy, Roque’s “Lady-Ghost Roles” is an inventive, enjoyable read.

Review by Katy Haas.

Published May 13, 2019

southern review v54 n3 summer 2018Sitting on the shelf of my university library, the Summer 2018 issue of The Southern Review intrigued me with its curious cover art by Gina Phillips, a New Orleans–based artist. Upon close inspection of the issue, I found quite a generous collection of portraits created by using mixed media and titled Friends and Neighbors. Gina Phillips shares her process of creating these portraits:

I begin by photographing the subject multiple times. Then I sketch from the photos, sometimes combining elements of several photos into one sketch. After the sketch is complete, I trace the drawing onto a transparency and enlarge the figure using an overhead projector; then I redraw it on a piece of plain muslin. At this point, I use acrylic washes to complete an underpainting. After the underpainting is dry, I load the piece onto a long-arm quilting machine and begin the process of appliqueing various combinations of fabric, thread, yarn, and hair. After rendering the figure with fabric and thread, I cut it out of its background and pin to the wall.

The results of this unique process are strikingly vibrant. As the artist notes, these portraits reflect the essence of the people and animals depicted in them.

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Published May 08, 2019

zone 3“Mixed Drinks” in Zone 3 Spring 2019 is one of many collaborative works by Brenda Miller and Julie Marie Wade, erasing their cross country divide to create a memoir which blends (no pun intended) a list of drinks with associated memories from childhood (Shirley Temple) through adolescence (Bloody Mary), college years (Old Fashioned) to adulthood (Cosmopolitan). Recipes included.

Told in the second person, each vignette contains vivid pop culture details of the time, relatable to many, as well as a conflicting set of feelings the speaker must overcome – between what is expected by others, what is expected of ourselves, and what we are able to finally experience and deliver. “You know that the beer and the hamburger will provide you at least five minutes of purpose in this bar where you don’t belong, and that you’ll walk home afterward in the dwindling light of autumn, along the river, to your sparsely furnished studio apartment, where you’ll feel both lonely and relieved.”

The end of the piece didn't feel finished, but rather the start of something larger, yet unattached. This might seem a fault if it didn’t at the same time feel so polished. An interview with the two writers cleared this up. Wade comments on their collaborative style, “We don’t really know what’s going to happen or emerge, in terms of the content or the final form, until we reach an ending – and even these endings feel more like stopping points or plateaus in our momentum rather than definitive conclusions.”

For more on collaborative writing, including another by Miller and Wade, Jet Fuel Review #17 (Spring 2019) features a Collaborative Works Special Section: “These selections embody the magic that arises out of collaboration and the bringing together of separate voices and identities to craft a singular, resonant body of work.”

Review by Denise Hill

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