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Harvard Review - 2009

  • Issue Number: Number 37
  • Published Date: 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

I’m always pleased when a Table of Contents includes some of my favorite, but lesser known writers, in this case Mark Conway and Christina Davis. Both are moderately well established (impressive publication credentials), but not entirely familiar names even to avid poetry readers (like Jane Hirshfield or Kim Addonizio, both of whom appear in this issue, as well). Conway’s work is always beautifully crafted, tender, moving, and memorable. While his work often narrates a personal or family story (which interests me less, admittedly, than work of a more metaphysical nature), he always reaches beyond the daily images for something larger and fuller. He has just one poem here, “Scholar of the Sorrows,” but it is representative of his work and I am happy to find him in this prestigious location.

Davis is typically philosophical, often wistful, and always economical in the extreme, which I admire. Her one poem in this issue, “For the Dark and Blazing Truths,” is gorgeous, preoccupied with language in the very best sense, as most of her poems tend to be, sleek, searching, and refined:

We did not after
speak, since “I” is the heading
to every exile

Conway and Davis are well accompanied by Tom Sleigh, David Hernandez, Peter Balakian, Yusef Komunyakaa, Clarence Major, Susan Rich, Tomaz Salamun, among others of similar stature.

Four solid and appealing stories and four equally appealing essays – strong, deftly composed prose, original but not quirky – by such stars as Alice Hoffman and Philip Lopate, and the equally talented and less recognized names Chris Leslie-Hynan and Peter Silver, rival the poetry’s competence and pleasures. I especially appreciated Fred McGavran’s story, “The Reincarnation of Horlach Spencer,” I suppose, in part, because any story with the name Horlach in the title simply demands attention, and because the opening paragraph has a kind of narrative buoyancy that simply makes one glad to read. And I love Lopate and believe his reputation is well earned and much deserved, and this essay about Brooklyn, “Brooklyn the Unknowable,” couldn’t be more enjoyable.

There is much odd and oddly fascinating art in this issue, including reproductions of work by Nellie King Solomon, Roland Flexner, Richard Snyder, David Goldes, Xiaoze Xie, Michal Rovner, and Ross Bleckner. From molecules to the spines of books, much of this work is about defamiliarizing the familiar or making familiar the unknowable.

More than a dozen and half reviews round out the issue, including Mary Jo Bang on Richard Howard and Cole Swenson, Diann Blakely on Jill Bialosky, and Andrew DuBois on Kevin A. Gonzalez.

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Review Posted on May 14, 2010

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