Never has PMS been so delightful! PMS PoemMemoirStory is a journal of women’s writing, full of energy, life, color, politics, love, and verve. Issue number nine combines 40 pages of poetry, 47 pages of memoir, and 41 pages of fiction—all well-crafted and all high-quality.
First, the selection of poetry in PMS is of great variety—some narrative, some experimental, many laced with underlying politics—all accessible. Ashley McWaters’ opening poems “All the Girls” and “Spell against Drowning” are the perfect introduction to this journal: compelling, disorienting, vivid. From “Spell against Drowning”:
Some nights, it will take a party and searchlight to find me:
See, there I am waving from a great height. And there:
the tiny splash it took me years to master.
Other poems, especially Rae Gouirand’s “Low Stars,” Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis’s “As It Were a Frozenn Music,” and Julie Hensley’s “Pica” are masterfully written, pulling me into them—the poems included in PMS beg to be read over and over again.
While I must admit that I was apprehensive of the Memoir section (for entirely personal reasons; I’ve come to associate memoirs with self-indulgence), I was surprised and charmed by the five included here. These essays are carefully constructed, thoughtful pieces on real lives that were changed in some way—by an encounter with the Lord’s Resistance Army in a busy Uganda market (Beatrice Lamkawa, “The Markey Vendor”), or a household battle with lice (Jane Kokernak, “Little Creatures”), or the decision to teach Paradise Lost to high-security prison inmates (Alison A. Chapman, “Milton’s Captive Audience”).
I was particularly struck by Chapman’s piece, which quietly captures her mixed emotions toward her weekly teaching sessions with violent prisoners who wholeheartedly understand and love Paradise Lost as she teaches it to them. She says, “I did not at all like the idea that I was so charmed by men who might qualify as monsters.” But a few paragraphs later, as she is using the internet to search each of her students’ release dates, and finding all but one are serving life sentences, you can feel her sadness for “the men who had impressed me so much with their intelligence, good humor, and courtesy.”
The last section, Story, contains five pieces of fiction—covering infidelity, the loss of a baby, a young girl’s battle with tuberculosis, raising a “gifted” daughter, and the loneliness after your parents’ death. As with the Poetry and Memoir sections, the fiction pieces are well-crafted, subtle, beguiling. They drew me in, and especially in the case of Lorissa Rinehart’s “Julie and Her Chickens,” left me almost aching with the disappointment that each narrator won’t let herself feel.
While each section of PMS stands alone and cohesively, they are bound together in a way that shows each piece to its best advantage. One theme, consciously included or not, is the color red. It appears in one title in each section (Roberta Fein’s “Red Fruit: 1933,” Gina Troisi’s “The Red House,” and Paula Peterson’s “My Life in Red”), and the color, in all its passionate, angry, seductive guises, appears in several pieces throughout PMS.
I read PMS quickly, because the work is so good, so readable, but I also wanted to savor each piece. The secret (and not so secret) lives of women, so varied, so cacophonous, so symmetrical, really shine here. The profound, the mundane, the downright unbelievable, all coexist in PMS. It is, without a doubt, one of the best literary magazines I’ve picked up in the last year.