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Katy Haas

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This issue of Red Rock Review is packed with words. Fifty-seven poems, six short stories, two interviews, two reviews and one essay all crowd between the covers. While not all of the writing is to my taste, I still found plenty to enjoy.

Night Train - 2007

August 31, 2007
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This issue of Night Train is 175 pages of prose – presumably fiction – with an interview of Chimamanda Ngozi Lockett and an essay on the history of Normal, Illinois. I can’t decipher a theme nor can I give any sweeping summary about this issue. Instead, here’s a list of quotes that represent the variety of stories and voices. “Where a woman might look even beatific with all mouths open, a man – even a handsome man, with a broad jaw, solid chest and a stomach you could use as a spice rack – even that man, masturbating, looks like an imbecile.” That’s from Grant Bailie’s “You Are One Click Away from Pictures of Naked Girls,” whose narrator is more concerned with his clumsiness regarding sex rather than internet porn.
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tnr is truly an international journal, featuring in this issue the written work and artwork of people from over a dozen countries. Translations of poems from Bengali, Bosnian, and Spanish sit side by side with original English-language works. Among the poems, which include works by Stephen Todd Booker, Alice Jay, Luis Miguel Aguilar, and others, “This Shooting” by Bosnian writer Marko Vešovi? is particularly compelling. With his translation of Hanns Heinz Ewers’s (1871-1943 ) “Abenteuer in Hamburg,” Don Maurer also gifts Anglophones with the quirky tale of a man obsessed with using the new invention of the era – a mechanical pencil sharpener – to sharpen his cache of “723 almost complete ones, 641 halves, and 379 stumpchens.

Lyric - 2006

August 31, 2007
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“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” wrote Emily Dickinson.
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The current issue of The Louisville Review contains a fascinating interview with W.S. Merwin. Merwin was a guest author at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA program in the Fall of 2006.
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The Ledge lives up to its name. Unsparing, unafraid, and with a disdain for pretensions, this journal prefers writing that flashes some kind of edge. Sometimes, as in Kennedy Weible’s offbeat story, “Obedience School,” that edge takes the form of dark humor – culminating in the bizarre chaos experienced by a young couple at a dog’s funeral. Other times, that edge illuminates sad realities like child sexual abuse (Suzanne Clores’ “Scary Monsters in the Dark”) or human alienation (Michael Leone, “Bad in Bed”; Franny French, “The Heights.”) Many of the poems concern issues related to the body, sex, and self-destruction. A few, like Philip Dacey’s “Wildly At Home: Her Rhapsody,” skirt lurid borders: “So I mounted him. / I was on top and he was blind – what more / could any modern woman want of power?” Coming from a male poet, this question begs many responses, not all of which will second its vicarious assumptions. Al Sim’s story, “Big Empty Tuesday,” takes similar liberties, needlessly oversexualizing its main female character.
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Years ago, I was watching a newscast of a California wildfire. Eyewitness news brought me to a refugee shelter, where overfed mountain-people lounged on cots. The newscaster explained that a local Wal-Mart “had responded to the disaster by providing blankets, food, and videocassettes.” This last item shocked me. But did Sarjaevo, symbolic epicenter of modern ethnic cleansing, have the same problem? According to Jakob Finci, Jewish community leader, the city’s most urgent issue during the 1993-5 siege was not a lack of food or medicine, but of stimulation; cooped up indoors, people were, frankly, bored. Apparently Sarjaevans took to learning languages – “the optimists learn[ing] English, the pessimists learn[ing] Arabic.” Habitus, a new journal which takes Diasporic writing one city at a time, consistently discovers the details that separate stimulating journalism from mere recitations. A Korean cover band elicits municipal pride, an anonymous medieval manuscript becomes the nation’s most prized national treasure.
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Guest Editor Grace Bauer was given the reins of this issue of Prairie Schooner. Influenced by the number of recent baby boomer milestones, including news reports about their first retirements and the golden anniversary of Barbie, Bauer decided to dedicate the volume to the generation. Not only have boomers produced a wide range of work, she notes, but they are, perhaps, the most-written-about generation of Americans. The choice is an apt one; baby boomers witnessed vast societal change. They are capable of writing about the times of both typewriters and computers. They bridge the gap between 45s and the ubiquitous iPod.

Image - Summer 2009

November 16, 2009
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In an unusual and enlightening “conversation,” visual artist Bruce Herman and his patron (patron!) Walter Hansen discuss a three-year project that “involved producing a cycle of images on the life of the Virgin Mary in two large altarpieces that have been exhibited in the United States and are now installed semi-permanently in Monastery San Pedro, a thirteenth-century Benedictine convent in Orvieto, Italy.” They discuss the commissioning, making, and exhibiting of contemporary religious art in the context of the patron’s active participation. If this is a highly unusual situation, and a highly unusual “find” in a magazine, Herman’s approach to his art is, instead, what we might expect – and even hope for – when it comes to art making: “the losing and the finding is the whole point – both in the making process, and in the symbolism – which is why I’m always feeling that the meaning of the work is a fluid thing, not something I control or micromanage.”
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This literary magazine overwhelms the senses with information. Their home page is chock full of fiction, nonfiction, interviews, poetry, book, music, and film reviews, art, and a social justice blog. They have a sizable list of staff members and they are looking for more. One gets the impression that there is much to read and learn here, and maintaining this website must be a formidable task.
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