“After a disarmingly calm opening, this issue plunges right into the temptations of sex and chocolate, which even Death seems to find irresistible,” says editor and publisher Dan Veach in his “Welcome.” The calm is Catherine Tahmin’s “Small Talk” (“It’s raining and that’s all / we want to know.”); the sex is Michale Myerhofer’s “First Crush” (“Across our little circle jived this ribboned thing / with her anatomical differences / of which we Catholic boys knew nothing.”); Janet Jennings and Mary Soon Lee contribute the chocolate with “The Chocolate Factory” (“You can smell the roast from two miles away”) and “Master of Chocolate” (“After fifty-six years selling chocolate, / he knows what his customers want”). It’s Soon Lee’s poem that brings us death, too, though somehow it seems unfair that it’s the person who sells the chocolate, not the one indulging (“The old woman who leaves her dachshund outside / wants foil-wrapped liqueurs for her sister / and a single hazelnut cream for her dog.”) who must die. (To be fair, death eats her chocolate slowly and allows the salesman “to write a last note to his wife.”).
This issue also includes prizewinners from the International Competition. For the most part, these are accessible, narrative efforts, including the grand-prize winning poem by Michael Lee Philips, “Grip,” a family tale in verse. I was struck by the distinctly different images of death in Soon Lee’s poem and death in Jude Nutter’s “Photography, Germany, 1970” (“in a world where death has not yet connected / the dream and the dwelling place”). Nutter’s stark lyricism (“This girl, bludgeoned by sunlight,”) is one of the issue’s harsh (consider the subject) highlights.