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West Branch - Fall/Winter 2005

  • Issue Number: Number 57
  • Published Date: Fall/Winter 2005
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

West Branch, published by Bucknell University's prestigious Stadler Center for Poetry, isn't a poetry journal, but poetry clearly lies at the heart of its editorial tastes. Clocking in at 134 pages and cloaked in a vibrant, gorgeously weathered oil painting cover, this issue boasts 19 poems, 4 stories, one essay, 2 book reviews and 2 translations. The nonfiction is a transcribed lecture, "On Sentimentality," delivered at Vermont College in 1994 by poet Mary Ruefle—literary minutia to some, but likely many poets' bread and butter. Poet and essayist Garth Greenwell's review is a passionate analysis of four first poetry books that never gets burdened in marble-mouth academia-speak, which, as any fan of good criticism knows, can ruin many a fascinating topic. Sarah Kennedy's review, in a similarly approachable voice, covers five book-length poems. Matthew Ladd's three landscape-inspired poems managed to mesmerize even a short story fanatic like me, as did Charles Jensen's "Vapor Boys": "Every day the world sucks down more sun / and packs it away. Nights, then, / are about radiation: this warmth / hissing back toward the blinding noise / that gave it up." As for fiction, Catherine Sexton's "Reckoning," a story of adolescent "Freaks" who hang around a Midwestern graveyard, centers on a boy with OCD. Amy Shearn's "Questions and Answers from the Book of Knowledge" portrays a tense woman's struggle to accept her father's descent into old age and her own aging process, and who finds perspective in a chance encounter with a high school acquaintance. Subheadings often seem like unnecessarily overconscious installations, but Shearn's, a nod to the heirloom the story is named for, lends a heightened sense of the protagonist's fears without distraction. From editors to professors, West Branch's contributors have published in the nation's best journals, and that, like the journals advertising in the back—The Southern Review, Cimarron Review, Shenandoah—speaks to West Branch's stature. West Branch may not have Tin House's name recognition or distribution, but it has proven that, after 29 years in print, it will continue to publish consistently engaging, innovative work for decades to come. 

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Review Posted on May 31, 2006
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