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The Portland Review - Spring 2006

  • Issue Number: Volume 53 Number 1
  • Published Date: Spring 2006
  • Publication Cycle: Triannual

The 50th Anniversary issue of Portland Review offers a mixed bag of poetry, fiction and photography. The editors favor prose poems and unpretentious narrative verse, which is of varying quality. The fiction, however, is quite appealing, including “Plenty of Room in Heaven” by Jonathan Evison, which kick-starts the journal. The narrator writes of a depressed former philosophy professor: “He even went so far as to devise what he called the Sweats to Pants Ratio (S.P.R.), by which success was measured relative to the number of days a week one spent in casual versus formal attire, formal being anything with pockets.” Evison goes from Sartre to sweatpants in a single page; his story is witty and enticing, yet it’s incomplete even by the standards of a sketch. “Rainbow Party” by Matt Williamson is a more fully realized, effective piece. The story, a biting critique of the American military and its handling of Muslim detainees, is arresting, funny, bizarre, brave and poignant. In his ability to commingle the sacred and profane, the pop and the highbrow, Williamson recalls David Foster Wallace. While describing an event in which he and other U.S. soldiers make innocent prisoners perform sex acts on one another, the narrator admits: “Khalid’s been sulky ever since I showed him those pictures of his children. Later on-once we’d conclusively determined he had no Actual Ties to the Regime-I set him straight, and even apologized; they weren’t pictures of his children; they were postcards from German provocateur Gunther von Hagens’ controversial Bodyworks exhibition in Chicago. (‘I wondered,’ Khalid said, ‘Why my dead son should be playing basketball’).” Portland Review should be commended for not flinching in the face of such a strong, difficult and potentially incendiary work. The weak link in this issue is the photography, some of which evokes the inspirational posters hung in corporate offices. Few literary journals handle artwork effectively, and Portland Review is no exception. Small budgets generally lead to poor design values, which means that quarterlies should seriously question whether the inclusion of visual art is a wise option.

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Review Posted on June 07, 2016

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