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Saltwater Quarterly - Winter 2011

In this issue, Saltwater Quarterly channels inspiration through one of the most powerful and seductive emotions of the human condition: desire. Whether it is carnal or the spiritual, the maternal or the romantic, the selection of poems and prose are crafted by a sense of urgent yearning, carved from the deepest truths of the human heart.

In the poem, “Korean American Tongue,” Bo Schwabacher longs to break language barriers that threaten a friendship and also rattle the narrator’s sense of self-identity. Something as simple and commonplace as a daily telephone call emphasizes the poem’s looming sense of cultural alienation, as well as the author’s sense of disconnect. Interestingly, the language of the poem is straightforward, stanzas utilizing unadorned and concise imagery in favor of extremely detailed physical descriptions. To further showcase the narrator’s sense of disorientation, Schwabacher writes in both English and Korean. Upon reaching the last stanza, it’s clear that the narrator wants to achieve much more than a confusion-free conversation with her best friend; she longs to make a genuine and heartfelt connection.

Similarly, Marita Isabel’s “Clothespinned Beauty” is a colorful confection of sharp wit and clever reflection that uses a child’s curiosity and innocence to challenge and question American beauty standards. On Christmas, the seven-year-old narrator receives a bright and shiny new Barbie doll, an assembly-perfect model that “looked like Christy Turlington, only more symmetrical, all pointy nosed and big, blue eyed.” A plastic pinnacle of perfection, Barbie is a direct contrast to Isabel’s Filipina heritage; she eventually yanks off the head of the doll and tosses her into the toilet. Perhaps some readers would say this final act of redemption is too obvious, but the described childhood memory coupled with the narrator’s matured voice of adult poet only make this particular cause of doll death pleasantly fitting.

The majority of the pieces in Saltwater Quarterly are lyrical and insightful; the words echo in your head long after the last period has been placed. Edmund Sandoval’s “Burning the Horse,” a dreamy slice of prose with flashes of cinematic clairvoyance, packs as much of a punch as Jeremy Halinen’s three-line poem, “In the Combat Zone.” David Glen Smith’s “Another Variation on a Theme of Desire” flows with the soft-filtered serenity of a jazz album while capturing the pain and pleasure of lust-induced nostalgia. Smith examines the nature of memory and the process of remembering; concrete details, such as ash falling from a cigarette, are in stark contrast to Smith’s ending scene of realized truth and unrequited attraction: “we unbraided the feelings of desire / which were casually wound between our fingers— // allowing us to drown back into the anticlimax of our lives.” Throughout the poem, stanzas are haunted by a sense of disappointment and regret, demanding some kind of brilliant and crackling resolution. Instead, the final stanza expresses a much gloomier and realistic portrait of suppressed desire.

Self-proclaimed literary advocates of “underrepresented authors, specifically members of oppressed communities,” Saltwater Quarterly’s winter issue hosts a multicultural crew of authors.

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Review Posted on May 15, 2011

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