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Katy Haas

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I loved learning that New Madrid (emphasis on “mad”) is named for a seismic zone in Mississippi and Kentucky where, in 1811-12, four earthquakes struck of such magnitude that they changed the course of the Mississippi River. Great power follows the name of such a place!
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The cover of this slim volume (nine poems, three short stories, one great interview) depicts an ethereal white horse splashing in, or wading through, or rising up from, blue waves of grass against a stark black background. The spine is the blue of the grass; the title is the white of the horse. The whole effect is classy and dreamlike at the same time, a little like the contents of the journal—an image you want to remember, and yet it doesn’t feel quite like home.
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Published at the University of Michigan, The Michigan Quarterly Review is an attractive journal. At roughly 150 pages, it is fairly slim, with a vibrant glossy cover. More importantly, what’s inside is also interesting: an attractive mix of the creative and academic essays alongside fiction and poetry.
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I’ve admitted on several different occasions, perhaps even during previous reviews, that I absolutely judge books by their covers. Sure, maybe this is partially because of laziness, but also I believe a journal’s aesthetic comes through not just in its material, but also in its design. It’s not a strategy I swear by, but very often a journal’s look can be telling of the type of material inside.
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The Ledge, lyrical and relentlessly beautiful, may lead a reader safely away from any kind of cliff or precipice, despite the suggestion of its title. The connotation for this volume does ring true if one reads ‘ledge’ as an embodiment of ‘edgy,’ but not with the metaphor of a natural feature entailing the risk of falling. The work is precise and challenging and invites further consideration; I examine a few especially rich works here.
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Every issue of The Kenyon Review offers reason to celebrate, but this issue is particularly special, as it commemorates the journal’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Even better, the editors are taking a look back as they continue to publish cutting-edge work. The Kenyon Review’s first editor, John Crowe Ransom, published philosophical and aspirational statements composed by prominent intellectuals of the day. The tradition will continue in the coming year; sixteen writers who published in The Kenyon Review early in their careers will offer their own “contemporary credos.”
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The journal Fiction International provokes fantastic response in its “Real Time / Virtual” edition. On the one hand, the crime fantasy of Michael Hemmingson’s “Tranquility” evokes Kafka in an astute commentary of family law in American jurisprudence: it presents content (the nature of freedom) and framework (idea of cyber-cognitive implementation of punishment). On the other hand, Robert Hamburger’s “The Michelangelo Massacre” is too convincing to be of the fantasy genre, but it is fantastic in the second sense of the word—superlative. The journal is uniformly excellent in its focus and quality of execution and exemplifies its mission to marry formal innovation and social activism.
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Gris-Gris is a new online journal featuring poetry, fiction, and art. “We see the gris-gris as a rich symbol of creative cultural borrowing and blending,” write the editors, “an emblem of the unique mix of cultures that have shaped southern Louisiana. The gris-gris shares the root inspiration of the creative arts: the casting and the breaking of the spell.”
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Guest editor Jimmy Santiago Baca writes that work submitted for the issue “resounded with emotional and spiritual conviction.” With forms, styles, and subject matter befitting a TOC that includes four-dozen writers, these convictions are expressed in nearly 300 pages of poems that include family narratives, lyric explorations of the natural world, and inventive forms that explore the limits of language. The poetry is well accompanied by prose selections, which include excerpts of novels, and brief essays on creativity and the pedagogy of creative writing.

Tin House - Summer 2009

September 16, 2009
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Tin House is celebrating its tenth anniversary, but it is the reader who receives the birthday present. The editors celebrate “art that provokes intense emotion,” presenting both psychologically potent stories and poems and interviews that invite the reader to reflect upon their own understanding of art. The top-notch graphic design, with full-bleed photograph pages before each story, makes the stories that much more inviting.
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