Jelly Bucket is the literary magazine of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. As previous reviewers have noted, this magazine welcomes a broad diversity of work in fiction, nonfiction, interviews, poetry (including translation), and art. Graphic design is bright and lively without sacrificing readability. Big pages and proportionally ample margins present writers and artists well. The quality of the work is a bit uneven, but overall, standards are high and there are some really fine works.
The one that I will remember the longest, because it is so unusual in the current climate of literature, is Alexander N. Tan Jr.’s short story “Sea Voyage.” Tan, a practicing physician in the Philippines, has written a tale of refugees crossing stormy, shark-infest open water in a small boat. It is a survival story of mythic proportions, told with all the stops out and not a bit of irony. There are a handful of characters, each one finely chiseled. By the time their fates play out, we know them and care about them. Some live, most die. There’s no justice in who lives and dies. The story ends as the narrator, convulsed with anger, “turned and shook a fist at the grinning sea.”
Equally strong is Adriana Paramo’s memoir “Chocolate Water Running Down Her Legs.” It’s an account of Paramo’s efforts to get medical help for Lucy, her Indian servant in Kuwait, where abortion is strictly forbidden. Lucy’s alcoholic husband has gotten her pregnant, and they cannot support another child. An illegal abortion goes wrong, and Paramo races against bleeding, infection, official callousness and medical cowardice in an effort to save the lift of this gentle, uncomplaining, suffering woman. Want to know how it turned out? Get the magazine. Read the story.
In addition to the standard practice of publishing one or two poems by a number of authors, Jelly Bucket does readers a service by presenting several poets at more length. I particularly enjoyed Joel Peckham’s eight-poem sequence “Psalms for the Fallen World” and Daniel Bourne’s translations from the Polish of five poems by Bronislaw Maj. Like Tan’s short story, Maj’s poetry admits us into a style different from what we are used to—in Maj’s case, the short, pithy, interior monologue, the poet talking to himself and perhaps “the God / disowned from his own house.”
The 180 pages of this issue also include many more poets and prose writers as well as interviews of Adam Day and Glen Retief. Art portfolios by Brian Dettmer, Marco Ambrosi, Monica Dengo, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, and Patricia Dahlman all deal with the written word as an art object. They are eye-catching and provocative.