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Big Muddy - Spring/Summer 2014

  • Image: Image
  • Issue Number: Volume 14 Issue 1
  • Published Date: Spring/Summer 2014
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

This issue of Big Muddy contains a lot of technically very good writing. Descriptive pieces of fiction and poetry are showcased throughout its pages. The glossy cover photo of a filthy rider by Bradley Phillips should be interpreted as an invitation to explore in detail the trails that others have forged. I am left feeling the pages are a little devoid of emotion compared to a number of other publications I've reviewed, but that is the wonderful thing about the wide world literary magazines: there is a venue for all types!

Speaking of trails, one of the 18 poems included is titled “Trails Are Trials” by James Valvis. The poem speaks to giving over to circumstances in life and surviving, regardless. I especially enjoyed the following lines, "Each step I could not be sure / the ground would catch my foot. / The trail grew muddy, treacherous."

Katherine A. Baskin, in her poem “The Chester Bridge”, talks about a trail to and from home. We all have those trails, and it is interesting to recognize the parallels between how the author experiences routine in such a similar fashion to the way I experience routine. There is a comfort found in having a landmark to wish a person well when striking out for the day, to welcome a person home. My favorite lines from the poem read, " . . . I will return to her embrace / in evening — she welcomes me every time."

John Samuel Tieman is the author responsible for my favorite poem in this issue. “Word” is one of the rare emotional highlights I was able to find a connection with while reading. It is not a happy emotion, recounting how old age is affecting one of the author's family members, but it certainly contains universal truths for anyone with older relatives. Here are some of the sweeter lines from the poem, still resonating with me: "To my mother dementia is a complex disease. / To me it's as simple as emptiness. / Like an old song that's more a bird / than a lyric . . . ."

The ten pieces of fiction contained in the pages really do cover quite the gamut of material. Robert Garner McBrearty was awarded the Wilda Hearne Flash Fiction Award with his opening story titled “What Happened to Laura?” It is as close to surrealism as is contained in the issue, leaving me happily confused as to whether or not the scene described was supposed to be unfolding in a dream or reality. I definitely found a point of connection as the setting brought to mind any number of coffee shops I've ever been in. I found the following lines particularly appealing: "The barista, a young man with dragon tattoos on his forearms, comes out from behind the bar and sets a steamy cup in front of the man. It looks loaded with all the hard stuff, maybe a double mocha."

Mighty River Short Story Award winning author Catherine Browder's “The Canine Cure” could have been presented as a piece of creative nonfiction and I would have believed it. Iraqi war veterans and one mother's struggle to continue her son's legacy take front and center in this powerful reminder that so many people need so many things. Sentimentality is placed to the side in presenting the story, and I would have liked a little more of the emotional side of things, but that takes nothing away from good storytelling. Browder does a wonderful job of creating characters that left me caring for them in only a few pages. "I smile at Josh, the vet with a new leg, the boy who stammers and cannot sleep. I'm suddenly unable to collect my thoughts," is a passage that makes me want to connect with a local veteran in need.

My favorite piece of fiction in the pages, however, goes to “The Facebook Babies” by Katherine Kipp. It is an emotionally charged story dealing with loss, desire, drug addiction, recovery, and family dynamics. Kipp masterfully created a very dynamic tale, and I would like to read more about these sisters based on this story that could easily comprise the framework for a novel. One of the outstanding passages reads, "Before Luke's cremation, I made a bracelet out of dandelions for my sister. She wore it until each flower died. But not everything in life can be solved by a bracelet made out of flowers."

Aside from the pieces mentioned, a whole lot has been left out, but I've got to leave some intrigue for you to encounter! Don't expect this issue of Big Muddy to leave you overly affected, but writers can learn a lot from the way each poem and story was crafted. Readers can expect to be taken into different realities, immersed as if they were the ones who wrote the words presented.

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Review Posted on November 16, 2014

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