At first glance, the Fall 2008 issue of Red Rock Review may seem to be fairly provincial in tone, but a deeper look shows the work to be as wide in locale and subject matter as it is rich in expression. From Hari Bhajan Khalsa’s poem about the swaying rhythms of summertime in Los Angeles to Mark Sanders’s deceptively simple poems about the inner lives of horses, Red Rock Review charts the forgotten ghosts and breathing minority of the American Southwest.
One of the joys of Red Rock Review is that a majority of the issue’s poets are afforded multiple pieces. Myrna Stone, for instance, starts off the issue with three poems, the strongest of which – “How like You” – charts the reflections she has about the death of a good friend. She writes: “Sink, old friend, I’ll repeat later, long after death / has again driven you away. But for now we sort / our options like bulldogs fenced on either side.”
Doug Ramspeck’s poem “Siblings” is one of the gems of the issue. An almost matter-of-fact narrative of an iron filing lodging itself in the narrator’s eye, Ramspeck quickly veers into unexpected, surprisingly tender territory:
That morning my eyes came open –
not to the apparition of the creaking
upper bunk I dreamed each night
signaled your return,
but to the iron filing,
falling then lodging love
beside the iris.
On the whole, the poetry in the issue leans against the traditional (which is only to say the non-experimental), although the content does not. Brady Rhoades’s wonderful poem “What Your Dad’s Underpants Have to Do with Space Travel” turns on an absurd point of detail: the fact that a certain astronaut lost to the cosmos was wearing normal terrestrial underpants. Rhoades writes: “Nobody wants to admit that sad diaper was loosed / on the universe, but it was, an artifact / of the human race, and they’ll draw conclusions, you know.”
The fiction in Red Rock Review is by and large short, and at times veers on flash fiction. Kathy Stevenson’s “Clear Creek” is a brief, although thoroughly touching, story about a teenager’s relationship with his uncle following the death of his father in Vietnam. In four short pages, Stevenson is able to collect the appropriate pieces for a tense, cathartic finale involving a ’59 Chevy with “swooping tail fins,” a lake, and two regurgitated six packs of Coors. Another strong story included is H. Lee Barnes’s “Mannequins,” an obsessive-minded story that rides a Tilt-a-Whirl through the tonal junctures of chilling, madcap, sad-sweet, and then all the way back again to the start. “What’s most appealing about mannequins,” the story begins, “is they don’t complain.” You can guess where it goes from there.
Yet the poetry in Red Rock Review shimmers quite a bit brighter than their fiction cousins, which is probably because the poets are given the chance to write beyond the scope of a single piece. In toto, the work in the Fall 2008 issue of Red Rock Review is engaging and interesting, if not a bit too safe. The issue is enjoyable regardless – a pleasure from cover to cover, and worth picking up.