The front cover of the 2009 issue of Barn Owl Review depicts a destroyed playground, the aftermath, perhaps, of a tornado: a blue twisting slide on its side, trees smashed into the remnants of a swing set, what might have been a plastic fort. On the magazine’s back cover is a picture of a little plastic lion cub sitting on a toilet, tail lifted. These photos are nothing too out of the ordinary yet convey states of mind caught between damage and play, humor and humanity’s excreta, metaphoric and otherwise.
Violence, sex, and drugs, this issue’s prevalent topics, have definitely been captured here, the strange and suffering fleshed out in sometimes graphic diction and always vivid imagery. While the overall writing is inventive and skillful, it is also mostly dark and uncomfortably quirky, such as Aimee Baker’s “Light/Dark,” a poem about the fate of yet another missing girl; the harrowing “after death” in “Return as Black Currant,” by Anna Journey, and the grotesque but quick “Seconds” by Edward Mullany, which consists of a single sentence.
Other material lets in a bit more light: “Love Poem for Lamoni, Iowa,” by Deborah Ager whose poem serves up wry, elegant lines; Jennifer Sullivan’s prose poem “Snapshot of Ellet Park Gardens,” is both humorous and honest, even compassionate from a healthy I’m-open-to-all-humanity point of view. “Etiquette,” by Sarah Sloat, is a witty piece about feeling trapped at a party: “When the talk died of boredom, I began / building a little city in my throat, complete / with harbor.” The short poem “Harlem” by Sean Singer is an interesting quick glimpse, a fresh take on a brief in medias res. I also enjoyed reading “Other People’s Children,” a story by Christina Knapp about a past extramarital affair, a familiar situation with a different plot twist. Sheba Karim’s “Saturn Returns” gives the reader a good look into the rather bleak world of Edie, a seemingly lost soul in need of three kinds of love, parental, platonic, and romantic.
Many of these offerings might not make for the most comfortable reading, but as we all know, literature doesn’t always slip us into something cozy – life on this polarized planet is too often lost somewhere between play and pain, hope and catastrophe.