TCR absolutely delivers on this with Marlys West’s opening poem “Who Came Before,” a treatise of imagistic language in powerful, (grammatically) nonsensical combinations of form, like:
Brown silk lining the glass vaseThis piece seems to turn in on itself, twisting language and images throughout. Though, the ending—on a series of statement questions—left the poem on a weaker note than I wanted after so much intriguing word play.
full of old flowers and ferns,
how to put you back in feather? Your lips
two leaves beneath a wren.
Other poetry of note includes Dan Klen’s “Visit to Santorini,” a prose piece with more strong imagery floating on imagined realities, “From my balcony I can see the collapsed volcano’s heart sprouting out of the ocean, a small island of ash stirring itself like heavy coffee grains trying to float.”
Two villanelles meet side by side, both having fun with serious topics: “My Search for an Original Sin” by Lynn Domina and Gerry LaFemina’s “Villanelle.” LaFemina takes a meta-villanelle approach—analyzing the complexity and often failure writers suffer under this fixed form. “It’s felt at times like the Lex Luther of forms - / so hard, poets say, so damned problematic / like walking at night in a tropical storm” it begins, and goes on with the super hero vs. villain metaphor. Appearing after Domina’s work, I finished LaFemina’s and immediately went back to scrutinize Domina’s success or failure to overcome the villainous villanelle. Success, I declare, affirming Editor Gosnay’s claim of the writers’ clean control of even the most difficult forms.
Of the fiction and nonfiction, there seems a distinct collage pattern in editor’s choice. None fit precise chronological narrative timelines, sometimes jumping around in point of view as well. There are few smooth, linear transitions within the pieces. Instead, I found myself having to let go of such notions, to transit myself into the piece and let it take me where the author lead. It’s disconcerting at first, but also freeing and liberating to repeatedly break from such literary norms.
“The Splendid Reclamation of the Dynamo,” fiction by Caroline Tracey, is fantastic in forcing this transit into others’ worlds. Simplified: it’s about dams—the Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam. But of course it’s about so much more. The lives of those who witnessed the birth of the dam were astounded by its glory, its connection to the mythology of the Wild West and of taming wilderness. It’s about the lives that come later, that protest the building of the dams, about a father and son whose single generation spans the life of the dams, and the divides those dams have created in nature and in society’s politics of water.
Set in the 1920s, the story “Lady, The Mind-Reading Mare” by J. Bowers is an enjoyably bizarre journey. It took a bit of time to ascertain the author’s intent, because it’s about the kind of supernatural woo-woo stuff people actually believe in. Penn and Teller fans will appreciate how Bowers presents the mind-reading mare and the culture of superstition the debunkers are up against, and may even fall prey to themselves.
While I was able to be drawn in and carried through to the end by the fiction, I found the nonfiction less able to truly “transit” me. Of the three pieces included, each carried me in and through, but seemed to fall short in their conclusions. Each ends on a kind pithy wrap around statement that forces readers to a singular conclusion, which isn’t necessary—and is quite limiting—given the expanse their writing creates. Still, I give each Matthew Hummer, Carrie Oeding, and Éireann Lorsung credit for the rich beginnings and middles that drew me into the journey.
“Five Questions for Poets” closes the issue, with five poets each answering the same set of questions. While this is a repeat feature, it fell flat for me. Maybe it’s too many poets to include with some who don’t really say much—I’m guessing these were e-mail-style Q&As. Facebook has enough questionnaires. When I’ve got hard copy in my hands, I’d prefer something more in-depth with more take-aways I can use, remember, and want to retell to others. Nada here. I’d say ditch this and give the space to a real interview or more original writing.
The Cossack Review was not at all what I expected to find in a literary journal, and I’m glad for it. It was not a lazy, leisurely read, but one that engaged my intellect and pushed my comfort zone out a notch in each of its genres. Definitely a vehicle for transit of the best kind.