Rarely can a literary magazine balance innovative and mainstream material so effortlessly. The Spring/Summer edition of the always innovative Black Warrior Review adroitly incorporates not only short stories, poetry, and art, but a veritable activity book for the literary-minded but child-at-heart brand of reader.
Think of this installment as two-in-one. The first half showcases what one might expect from a first-rate literary magazine: well crafted, carefully told short stories and poetry. Among the gems here is Vauhini Vara's “A Girl is Turning Ten,” a short story told in clipped, childlike sentences, from the point of view of a girl who is visiting her father and meeting, for the first time, his Brazilian wife. Also included here are the winners of the Fourth-Ever Fiction and Poetry Contests. Jamey Bradbury, a second-year MFA student, took home the prize in fiction with her phenomenal, “We All Go Through It,” a haunting tale told from the collective point of view of a class of children. In it a boy disappears, the children don't know what happened, the adults won't talk about it. Fear of the unknown builds tension and culminates in an unsettling, but finely crafted climax, illustrating the cruelties of which even children are capable.
On the poetry side, it's no surprise that Jennifer Perrine's, “Portrait of My Daughter as Pink Flamingo,” won the contest, as it marries succulent language to borderline-surreal imagery:
Your Tongue, too, will be a delicacy
in certain lands: this way of opening
to the world, upside-down, sifting single
cells from the silt and swallowing their names
Smack in the middle of this magazine is a series of stunning, full color drawings by artist and sometimes illustrator, Deth P. Sun. What's notable here is the glossy pages, which help to keep the crisp strokes and nuances of the art intact, but also illustrate Black Warrior Review's commitment to showcasing their art in a quality medium rather than an exploiting it page-filler.
The second half of the magazine is called “The DIY Feature” and begins with a letter from the editors that begins with the instructions “Please Circle One,” and continues: “Dear (Reader / Writer / Partner In Crime.” In stark contrast to the first half of the book, this is a workbook of tongue-in-cheek activities such as Mad Libs directly lifted from Italo Calvino's “If on a winter night a traveler”; a comic strip where the reader must turn the book to help the character through a tunnel; and a couple of somber, Tim Burton-esque “Mump” paper cut-out puppets complete with such mundane props as a shovel, a lamp, and a bottle of booze. But it's not all camp in this latter half. “Cum Hoc Ergo Proper Hoc,” by Mika Taylor, explores the agony of a sibling who struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. The story is printed on playing cards, four to a page, with these instructions: “Cards should be shuffled and read, then shuffled and reread.”
As always, this Black Warrior Review also includes a chapbook by nationally-known poet, Cynthia Lowen. Every poem in this collection, “The Self Casts a Shadow,” takes on J. Robert Oppenheimer and the nuclear warfare from a number of angles, with disarmingly touching insight.
The Black Warrior Review, run by the University of Alabama, touts having published Pulitzer Prize winning authors and National Book Award winners, among other honors. With all the looks of a top-notch professional magazine, and the swagger of an indie, experimental rag, everyone is sure to find something of great value between these covers.