If you’re looking for writing that skirts, tunnels under, or transcends the ordinary, open any issue of The Bitter Oleander. Beyond any other criterion, this journal prefers provocative work – work that engenders a change in the mind of the reader, whether that change involves heightened sociopolitical awareness, or simply a gorgeous revolution of one’s perception of words and sound. Indeed, the best indicator of The Bitter Oleander’s character may be the uncompromising language found on nearly every page. Consider a sampling of lines from this issue’s poetry selections: “Your face breaks open to light” (Jacob Russell, “The Sea Bandits”); “the incarnate heart in your mouth pricks you” (Estrella del Valle, “My Room and Justine”); “Every morning the sun rises behind the guardhouses / wearing filthy hospital pajamas” (Titos Patrikios, “Habits of the Detainees,” in translation from the Greek). The short fiction offers similar raw intensity in lines like these from “Tale of a Long Winter” byAllen Kesten: “She remembered standing on her head after she had cut away the skin from her thighs, rivulets of blood running down her body and drying like prison bars on her torso.”
The Bitter Oleander is equally devoted to unsung writers. Each issue’s central pages present a feature-length writer introduction followed by a generous helping of that writer’s work. Here, an interview with Mexican poet Estrella del Valle is worth reading as much for del Valle’s unique poetic philosophies as for an expansion of literary acquaintance. Thanks to this feature and to translations, The Bitter Oleander exudes a kaleidoscopic world flavor. One caveat, though: A glance at past issues (and past reviews) of this biannual journal reveals a rather small inner circle of writers to whom The Bitter Oleander obsessively returns. Del Valle, for example, has appeared in these pages recently, as have Carol Dine, Shawn Fawson, James Fowler, Kenneth Frost, George Kalamaras, Christine Boyka Kluge, Anthony Seidman, and Ye Chun. Four of the writers in this list have had books published by Bitter Oleander Press. Discovering new writers is a good thing – corralling them, not so much. None of this detracts from The Bitter Oleander’s energy, but it’s something to think about before you subscribe.