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Katy Haas

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In a world of the increasingly gritty, beyond-experimental, post-post-modern and devil-may-care, The Sewanee Review feels almost old-fashioned in its emphasis on clarity, craftsmanship, and quality. It was a treat to carry it around with me, leave it beside my bed, and, before falling asleep underline stand-out bits of analysis in critical essays. Christopher Clausen’s “From the Mountain to the Monsters” intrigued me from the opening lines: “Take nature as your moral guide, and before long you find yourself haunted by nightmares of monsters. The relation between cosmic nature and human ethical conduct was the most important intellectual problem of the nineteenth century.”
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Poetry East is a 220-page journal containing nothing but poetry and contributors’ notes. The journal often publishes theme issues, past themes including post-war Italian poetry, Finnish poetry, and issues dedicated entirely to Robert Bly, Muriel Rukeyser, and “Ammons/Bukowski/Corman.” I’d like to get my hands on some of those past issues. The current issue has no purported theme, but a majority of the poems would fit well with the past issue “Praise,” (Poetry East has actually published a Praise I and a Praise II) or with the forthcoming issue, “Bliss.” I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t care for praising or blissful poems, but this relatively thick journal seemed to me, taken as a whole, a bit too even in tone. A good many of the poems could have pushed the envelope a little more.

Poetry - June 2007

June 30, 2007
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Once yearly, Poetry eschews its commentary and letters sections to focus on its namesake; this year, the month chosen is June, and the result is not disappointing. Left to fend for itself, the poetry feels less intellectual, and more kinetic, than generally. Its strongest offerings are surrealist satires; David Biespel’s “Rag and Bone Man” struggles to fasten a trickster mask around a Literatus; Ralph Sneeden’s “Prayer as Bomb” provides vibrant satire in which explosives come to be seen as individualized elements of misplaced hope. Heidi Steidlmayer’s brief, deft “Scree” is worth citing in its entirety:

Opium - 2007

June 30, 2007
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“Consider this the definitive statement of how to succeed in your life,” says the spine of Opium's fourth issue. Right under this is written, “What? No, that's all we wanted to say.” Maybe this issue, subtitled “Live Well Now” will have too much slapstick and too many cheap jokes for my taste, I think before opening it. Before that thought settles, it's erased. Easily the most zine-influenced journal I have ever read, Opium thrills me from cover to cover with its variety and is packed full of punch. This single issue is as thoroughly conceptualized as a Pink Floyd album, complete with background street sounds and stray barking dogs, even sparrows in the thirteenth layer of sound. The editorial statement “We promise it's like nothing you've seen before, and better yet: we promise you'll laugh,” is the truest one in the journal. A lineage of man follows, worth witnessing first-hand. Aptly enough, the first fiction is F. John Sharp's “Primal Urges.” The editors share with us more information: “Estimated reading time: 5:59.”
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Having just edited a story anthology in which four contributors were poets by trade, I was particularly interested in reading this installment of Open City, which offers “prose by poets.” It’s a bit of a departure for this venue – if only because those accustomed to its steady professionalism will find the quality here to vacillate wildly.

The Meadow - 2007

June 30, 2007
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While the title may give the impression of wide open spaces, this publication is anything but in its content. A mere 87 pages is packed with over 30 contributors of artwork, poetry, prose (fiction/non-fiction? can’t always tell), and an interview with Ellen Hopkins (author of the poetry novel Crank). The authorship range is varied, with contributions coming from Truckee Meadows Community College students to such well knowns as Suzanne Roberts and Lyn Lifshin (“I Remember Haifa Being Lovely But” reprint). Part of the Hopkins’s interview focuses on the Ash Canyon Poets, some of whose work is featured. Hopkins agrees with the interviewer that the poets’ focus on place is “fed mostly by this stunning place where we live.”
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This issue of The Kenyon Review contains three absolutely delicious article-length book reviews of collected letters: The Letters of Robert Lowell (2005), reviewed by Willard Spiegelman; Love Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt (2005), reviewed by Sam Pickering; and A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright (2005), reviewed by Saskia Hamilton. (Hamilton’s review is double, covering also the 2005 Selected Poems by James Wright.) These critiques of three great 20th century poets emphasize the personal letter—that intimate form of correspondence, sadly retired in our internet-driven world—as an art form. The reviewers’ insights into the life and work of Lowell, Clampitt, and Wright renew my reverence for them; yes, I will read the letters and return once again to their poetry!
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Test the weight of your best thoughts. If they are turgid with inspiration, and quotes like “To be or not to be,” then you are beyond the ordinary good writer. The Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT) is for those writers who realize that editing is half the writing, and to get to the level of an everyday Shakespeare, there are many thoughts that need to be discarded or reshaped. JOT imagines the landscape of thought as one where no words should be culled. All the ordinariness of language is settled here like the surface of a sea of jetsam and flotsam. Sounds bad, right? But the effect is quite the opposite. In her short essay “Me and Time,” Pennie Holmes-Brinson begins: “Time and I don't get along well.” She continues the personification of time with sentences like “Then it stands there with one hand on its hip, pointing at its wristwatch with another hand, and reaching out at me with yet another hand!” JOT is littered with such gems, and they all lie on the surface.
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If you ever thought science and literature didn’t get along, Isotope will prove you wrong. Non-fiction is the strength of this issue. Much is similarly styled in the use of densely layered narratives which are both story and informative (science) writing. David Gessner’s essay, “Field Notes on my Daughter” is as much about his daughter and the family of foxes he observes as it is about his being a father, a scientific observer, a writer, and what all of this means together in one human existence. It’s an amazing piece that, like the observation notes he writes and analyzes, becomes its own surprising creation. So, too, are non-fiction works by Bonnie J. Rough (“Looking for Sacajawea”), Jeffery Thomson (“Turbulence”), Pete Gomben (“Succession”) and George Handley (“Eddies”). If I had been able to learn natural science and history from reading these works in high school, I may have had a much greater appreciation for the discipline – or at least higher grades. As it is, with bare minimum science knowledge, every piece in this magazine is accessible, educational and enjoyable.

Image - Spring 2007

June 30, 2007
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For a literary journal that is “informed by – or grapples with – religious faith,” Image is really “with it”. Editor Gregory Wolfe's introductory essay “East and West in Miniature” is a discourse on Pope Benedict XVI's recent controversial lecture, and meditates on the issue of Islamic extremism in the light of some mystic concepts.
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