To my mind (and perhaps those of women all over America), the acronym PMS as it appears boldly on the journal cover arouses thoughts of the combination of discomforts women experience at a certain time of the lunar cycle. So why, when it would have been so simple to scramble the letters into other combinations, is this quality journal called PMS? Title aside, there is much to appreciate in this review, which exclusively features women’s works and is divided evenly between the three genres.
Pairs of poems by Gail Giewont, Lois Marie Harrod, Maxine Chernoff, and Jennifer J. Gandel represent all stages in these poets’ careers. Susan McLean’s single poem “Like the Boys,” which is powerful in both its tone and content, provides a new take on equality of the sexes, one that left me exclaiming “Damn!” The prose poems, too, are interesting. Of the five, Christine Tierney’s stream-of-consciousness-like “Getting to White” and “The Darker” juxtapose each other in title but not in their intense tone. Reading these poems requires the reader to participate. In the former s/he must fill in the gaps about Emma (why would she “blind into white”), while in the latter the reader is drawn into the painful drama of the unnamed girl who “could tell you how it felt to sit in the dark of some broken down closet and think of every single comeback she could tell you no she could whisper how in the absence of light fat becomes nothing more than heat.” (38)
The M portion of the journal contains two memoirs about medical issues (“Love Is Finished” and “Cracking Open”). They are written in very different tones: the clinical yet caring voice of a nurse working in an African AIDS clinic and orphanage, and the mother of a baby born with birth defects. “Four decades ago, when I was young and stupid and didn’t know a baby from a wormy kapusta, a according to my Polish mother,” writes Patricia Brieschke, “I gave birth to a tiny damaged boy on my kitchen table.” (64) From the perspective of dealing with a “damaged” child, the reader can move on to another new perspective. “Dancing Lessons from God” gives westerners a welcome aperture into life in Yemen in the late 1970s. Thank you, Ginna Vogt. We need more such stories to humanize our Muslim neighbors.
I was disappointed with the fiction in this issue. Vicki Covington’s short story “The Haircut” is rather engagingly written but ends badly because at the climax the author tells the reader what to think. “Unfinished” by Kim Aubrey revolves around a woman’s repeated experiences of the art of Yoko Ono, but the tone is so flat that it is difficult to care about the protagonist’s experience. Readers can find the best fiction in this issue in the prose poems. Overall, two out of three letters is pretty good.