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Skidrow Penthouse - 2010

  • Issue Number: Issue 11 Number 1
  • Published Date: 2010
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

Any Table of Contents where the names Simon Perchik and Catherine Sasanov appear is a good sign! These favorites of mine are joined by more than 50 other poets and 5 fiction writers whose work comprises an engaging issue of this magazine.

“In the Temperature of Barn” by Heller Levinson tops my list of highlights this issue. I am a reader who very much appreciates poems inspired by works of art – Levinson’s piece is based on a photograph by Harry N. Abrams, “Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave” – and this one is quite fine. The poem is masterful in its manipulation of sound, its horse-inspired rhythms, and its avoidance of clichéd animal imagery.

Marina Rubin’s fast-paced prose poems “Gypsy Punk Ska” and “The Palace” are highlights, too, demonstrating the ways in which a deliberate shaping of form really counts, no matter how often we try to pretend it is a happy accident. Somehow these pieces would fail utterly for me as poems in verse-like lines or as narrative with conventional punctuation and formatting. But in their solid unbroken block they somehow work precisely as they should. “a certain five-star hotel in the diplomatic area of new dehli lost my reservation, as a courtesy i was upgraded to the penthouse,” begins “The Palace.”

Poems in Skidrow Penthouse tend to be “in your face,” rough around the edges, even violent, with notable exceptions (including the examples above). While I don’t tend to favor this type of work or seek it out, I am able to appreciate the skill and originality in much of what appears here.

There is a lot of raw, unadulterated pain in Skidrow Penthouse, and I am impressed above all, by the artful (as in deliberate, controlled, masterfully rendered) expression of the human condition. Here is Robert Pesich’s “Doing Time During the Holidays,” a poem that leaves an impression as deep and fierce as the scars it describes, deftly composed, and well worth the distress it evokes – if I am going to suffer, I want it to be for a good reason, and here is one:

Winter solstice.
Time to slit myself again
just enough to slip
another small watch
between the fat and the muscle.

Stories by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, Francine Witte, Deborah Emin, Nava Renek, and editor Stephanie Dickinson are similarly smartly composed and emotionally harsh. My two favorites were inspired, coincidentally, by two favorite literary giants, Palermo Stevenson’s “Kafka at Rudolf Steiner’s” and Dickinson’s “Vallejo to Isabella.”

Artwork, too, is edgy, provocative, and original, with a few exceptions, which include Michael Weston’s “Fish Eating in Midair,” an enticing drawing that seems to embody the best of what any image can do: render something familiar, unfamiliar, as to make it familiar again in new way.

What is most familiar, and beloved, as I said above, is the work of writers whose marvelous poems I have followed for years now, including Sasanov. The two poems here are from the work to which she has dedicated herself over the last few years, her family’s history of slave ownership, about which she was unaware until recently. I am impressed, in particular, by “In the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia,” tercets that exemplify Sasanov’s talent for precision, originality, and reverence for language in the service of an important – and historically and ethically significant and challenging – idea or reality. She is a bit more strident here than I am used to (“four thousand / household / objects fashioned // lovingly from hate.”), but that is precisely, given the subject, what is called for.

“In the Temperature of Barn” by Heller Levinson tops my list of highlights this issue. I am a reader who very much appreciates poems inspired by works of art – Levinson’s piece is based on a photograph by Harry N. Abrams, “Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave” – and this one is quite fine. The poem is masterful in its manipulation of sound, its horse-inspired rhythms, and its avoidance of clichéd animal imagery.

Marina Rubin’s fast-paced prose poems “Gypsy Punk Ska” and “The Palace” are highlights, too, demonstrating the ways in which a deliberate shaping of form really counts, no matter how often we try to pretend it is a happy accident. Somehow these pieces would fail utterly for me as poems in verse-like lines or as narrative with conventional punctuation and formatting. But in their solid unbroken block they somehow work precisely as they should. “a certain five-star hotel in the diplomatic area of new dehli lost my reservation, as a courtesy i was upgraded to the penthouse,” begins “The Palace.”

Poems in Skidrow Penthouse tend to be “in your face,” rough around the edges, even violent, with notable exceptions (including the examples above). While I don’t tend to favor this type of work or seek it out, I am able to appreciate the skill and originality in much of what appears here.

There is a lot of raw, unadulterated pain in Skidrow Penthouse, and I am impressed above all, by the artful (as in deliberate, controlled, masterfully rendered) expression of the human condition. Here is Robert Pesich’s “Doing Time During the Holidays,” a poem that leaves an impression as deep and fierce as the scars it describes, deftly composed, and well worth the distress it evokes – if I am going to suffer, I want it to be for a good reason, and here is one:

Winter solstice.
Time to slit myself again
just enough to slip
another small watch
between the fat and the muscle.

Stories by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, Francine Witte, Deborah Emin, Nava Renek, and editor Stephanie Dickinson are similarly smartly composed and emotionally harsh. My two favorites were inspired, coincidentally, by two favorite literary giants, Palermo Stevenson’s “Kafka at Rudolf Steiner’s” and Dickinson’s “Vallejo to Isabella.”

Artwork, too, is edgy, provocative, and original, with a few exceptions, which include Michael Weston’s “Fish Eating in Midair,” an enticing drawing that seems to embody the best of what any image can do: render something familiar, unfamiliar, as to make it familiar again in new way.

What is most familiar, and beloved, as I said above, is the work of writers whose marvelous poems I have followed for years now, including Sasanov. The two poems here are from the work to which she has dedicated herself over the last few years, her family’s history of slave ownership, about which she was unaware until recently. I am impressed, in particular, by “In the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia,” tercets that exemplify Sasanov’s talent for precision, originality, and reverence for language in the service of an important – and historically and ethically significant and challenging – idea or reality. She is a bit more strident here than I am used to (“four thousand / household / objects fashioned // lovingly from hate.”), but that is precisely, given the subject, what is called for.
[skidrowpenthouse.com/]

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Review Posted on November 29, 2010
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