The inaugural issue of Sakura Review is striking in its simplicity. The cover of this perfect-bound journal sports a line drawing of a naked tree surrounded by its fallen leaves, and the back cover just a stump, still surrounded by the undisturbed leaves.
Sakura Review is not about fancy literary tricks, or bells and whistles that distract from the writing at hand. The clean layout lends itself to this showcasing. The artwork included is really fun, and kind of irreverent (in a good way): line drawings of the natural world that invoke wonder and curiosity – beavers, tree stumps, flames – some with directions and some without.
An interesting observation: a lot of animals die this issue. They don't die sad deaths, but they die confusing deaths. "Killing Rabbits" by Alison Hennessee, the last and longest prose piece included, is about a small town police officer who becomes obsessed with a serial rabbit murderer. Putting it that way makes it seem almost funny, but Hennessee's prose makes the story creepy, grotesque, and compulsively readable. The main character, a man who lets his relationship with his wife and children begin to fall apart because of his obsession with the rabbit case, is strangely sympathetic. On the one hand, he is neglecting his family to spend hours in the library researching rabbits; on the other hand, he is the only officer who gives the innocent rabbits any respect.
There are also dead butterflies and a broken-necked giraffe in Kevin Debs's "Several Descriptions Concerning Paintings of Animals in Unusual Circumstances," three short prose pieces narrated by a painter. Debs's pieces, despite their animal casualties, are my favorite pieces in Sakura Review. His prose is spare and his premises incredible: like paintings, they evoke the scenes at hand with grisly, accurate, gorgeous detail.
The poetry included has a sort of spare aesthetic as well. Dorine Jennette's "Tracking the Woodcutter" begins "Woodsmoke. Dawn in Montana. Above the botprint's crust, the bark – here, where the blade scored out – an accusation. White-gold splinters of hair." This prose poem has a strange violence to it, perfectly captured with the short, direct lines.
Also recommended are Erinn Batykefer's "Operation – Ages 6 and Up," a funny, if disturbing, take on the old childhood game and its ramifications in real life; and Beth Marzoni's "Meanwhile," a longer poem of couplets about displacement: "I wake and my lungs are two lakes, / my breaths tiny sailboats crossing them."
There is much to be enjoyed in these pages. Although the editor's note talks about a journal that "would represent the unique character of the District [of Columbia], a town embodied by location temporary yet always maintaining an indefinable shape," I'm not sure I see that exact incarnation just yet. But it is so early in the game, and Sakura Review number one holds such promise, that I'm sure its visions will come true.