West Branch is the semiannual poetry publication of the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, though the journal does not restrict itself to poetry. This issue’s prose includes a beautiful essay by J. Malcolm García, and a short story by Christopher Torockio. García’s contribution, “A Good Life, Cowboy,” is the story of his saving a puppy in Afghanistan from a deadly, staged dogfight. As a journalist, García has a reporter’s eye for detail. As an essayist, he has a creative nonfiction writer’s gift for pace and timing. Torockio’s story, “Weights,” is a family story told in the authentic and appealing voice of a teen-aged boy, the kind of sturdy, traditional narrative that can be extremely satisfying. Torockio, happily, has a book of short stories coming out soon from Carnegie Mellon.
This issue also features seventeen poems from a dozen poets, which include poets as distinct from each other as Cornelius Eady, whose terse and tender poem, “The Hammer,” is quite marvelous; Robert Hedin, whose prose poem, “Houses at the Arctic Circle,” imagines the lonely landscape of ice houses melted in a summer thaw, a watery metaphor that is as expansive as the arctic is frigid; and Zachary Harris, who offers up three poems with coarser themes and an edgier tone (“That summer / everyone needed an abortion,” from “Provincetown, 1952”).
Sarah Kennedy contributes reviews of five books of poetry from Wales, work I venture to guess most of us would not know existed if it weren’t for Kennedy and West Branch. Ellen Wehle contributes reviews of new books from BOA, Illinois, and Arkansas, books that will “haunt us,” she claims, in different ways, all of which sound worth seeking out: Fire Baton by Elizabeth Hadaway, Darling Vulgarity by Michael Waters, and In the Black Window by Michael Van Walleghan.