Cimarron Review, with its clean, slim design, wants to be read. The cover art speaks of rural America, and the pages blister with the richest poetry. The fiction and nonfiction, while skillful, act like a gap-stuffer, filling out the space between poems.
“Invocation,” a poem by Melissa Stein, leads the issue using natural rhythms to list incidents of sexual harassment and abuse:
and the one who, on his mother’s porch in suburban
Utah, one orange-mooned night, put his hand up
against my throat and squeezed, and squeezed,
pushing me back till my skull hit
the sharp edge of the chair’s wood arm—
Stein steers the poem toward the unexpected in the next few lines, suggesting the conflicting emotions that can emerge when faced with any of the situations. This turn helps anchor the honesty of the poem and draws the eye to every poem going forward in the issue.
“Itch” by Angela Voras-Hills, another spectacular poem, steps away from the literal. In these lines, bugs swarm and devour apocalyptically:
The man lying on shore watched the boys
splash, disappear, while filling his mouths with flies,
then spiders, sparrows, like the old woman
who’d swallow anything living
to get rid of the tickle inside her.
Each image extends the scene deeper into the bizarre. The word choice, the preciseness, expresses the tension of the events:
The train carries a woman in a winter coat,
carrying dirty bags full of dirty bags and empty bottles.
This is silently about the flies pouring from a slit
along the seam of her coat as she stands,
“Itch” and “Invocation” are indicative of the poetry is this issue—crafted and honed and speaking to the level of work accepted and displayed in this magazine.
For a taste of the prose, try “Family Stories” by Coby Hoffman. Usually, I find pieces with stoned characters juvenile. The I’m-so-stoned plot line is an overplayed archetype in freshman creative writing classes and is generally unsuccessful. In this case, the protagonist’s state of mind—his distance from the events at hand as a result of his intoxication—mirrors the state of his relationship with Sofia. He wants to be close to her, but the rift is too great.
Sofia’s telling me about her Uncle Frederick and something about his kidneys and there’s this Salvadoran woman stealing identities and Social Security checks, but I was too high and in love to put it all together. Even in sweatshirts and jeans, Sofia was an elegant girl, a Cleopatra with sleek black hair and dark eyes that glistened like swimming holes. She was also clumsy, fidgety, a nail biter, and she could have used a set of braces. She had her backpack slung over one shoulder and she looked like she hadn’t slept.
“I need you to come with me,”’ she said.
“Of course,” I said. “Whatever you need.”
This was the girl I was supposed to marry.
But the story isn’t about how it all works out in the end. This is a story of the dissolution of infatuation. And though it might be disappointing to the type of reader who enjoyed the epilogue in the final Harry Potter book, it’s real.
Cimarron Review showcases some of the best poetry I have read in the past year. Read this as a reversal of the typical literary magazine—the prose fills out the issue, balances the reading experience, but the momentum belongs to the poetry. This magazine is simply stellar.