I admire Bellevue Literary Review for its consistency and the polish, confidence, and competence of its contents. Produced at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, with a focus on “illness, health, and healing,” it is easy to conceive of a journal that might compromise on or sacrifice literary quality in its quest to adequately represent these themes, yet Bellevue pays as much attention to composition as to subject matter. Featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews, the journal presents the work of accomplished writers with impressive credentials from the world of medicine, literature, the social sciences, education, and the MFA poetry scene.
I appreciate the journal’s generous editorial stance which makes room for eclectic approaches, which include a memoir style piece, “She Might Die,” by Magda Montiel Davis, a brief meditation on the possibility of losing her mother, written from the perspective of her childhood self; a personal essay part family story/part geo-historical exploration of Galveston, Texas by Hazel Kight Witham; a nonfiction “short” by Kurt Maggsame, “The Consolation of Anatomy,” a kind of meditation on the body of death; sudden fiction by Christopher Shacht, “Shark Eyes”; stories from the perspective of patients, the perspective of doctors, and the perspective of those observing the interaction between the two; and a personal essay by New York-based Israeli writer Itzak Kronzon, translated from the Hebrew by Iris Karev Kronzon, “In Kalvarija Father Died,” what I am tempted to call a “medical immigration story.” I was particularly taken with Luther Magnussen’s “At War with General Franco,” a fascinating essay about the writer’s experience in the Thomas Jefferson Brigade in Spain. The piece is understated and all the more powerful for its restraint and an important glimpse into the history of the period.
This issue includes many fine poems as well, deftly, tautly composed work, though there is less variety in styles and approaches in the poetry than in the prose. I was impressed in particular, with a short poem by Karina Borowicz, “Martin, 1918,” which illustrates poetry’s potential for simultaneous economy and expansiveness:
When life was meted out
he was allowed childhood
transparent enough to be seen through
from beginning to end.
He did not of course know
about the epidemic standing sentinel
at the border between twelve and thirteen.
Some games he played halfheartedly,
before bed now and then he’d refuse
his mother’s embrace.
The last day of school
walking home on the dusty path
he dragged a stick
which drew a long line behind him.
And a poem, “Brazil, 1968,” by Claudia Cortese is breathtaking, terrifying, and unforgettable. Borowicz and Cortese convey nearly as much with their titles as they do in the body of their poems, but it’s the relationship between what these titles suggest and what the poems express (as much by what they do not say, as by what they do) that makes them exceptional.