The Hollins Critic is a unique literary magazine focusing on a serious survey of a contemporary writer’s work, while also sharing book reviews and poetry. Each cover features a unique portrait image of the writer made especially for the publication by Susan Avishai.
The April 2017 issue of The Hollins Critic focuses on the words of Helen Simonson in “The Awful Fragility of Love: Helen Simonson’s Sussex Novels.” Helen Simonson is the author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Summer Before the War. Amanda Cockrell, the managing editor of The Hollins Critic and the Director of the Hollins University Graduate Programs in Children’s Literature, provides the survey of Simonson’s work, detailing the plots of these two books. In her survey, Cockrell focuses specifically on the unique and intricate relationships formed between characters in each book.
As Cockrell points out, “Even among the secondary characters we find a piercing look at what one will and won’t do for love.” She also notes that “If love and war are ultimately the only plots there are, Helen Simonson has done an excellent job of having her say.” Cockrell clearly makes these connections and shows us the intricacies and delicacies of relationships in a way that does Simonson’s work justice.
This issue also contains many beautiful poems. One that stood out to me was “Nightlight,” by George Witte. Here, the poet points out that while everyone might say “Don’t bury your light,” people have a tendency to immediately “rush to blind our dead” when someone passes away through the act of closing their eyes. This felt very powerful to me—if we want our loved ones to still be the beautiful source of light they have been in our lives, why would we so hurriedly cover their eyes?
Jenna Le asks a similar question in her poem, “Tịnh Độ Tông.” The speaker notes how Buddhists have the “Pure Land” and Hebrews have the “Promised Land” as their versions of heaven, detailing the beauty that awaits us in life after death. However, she points out:
If we could somehow see our flawed homeland
as equal to the heaven that awaits us,
we’d be at once transported to that Land—
its lotuses would leap into our hands.
How true this thought is. If we could only create the beauty on earth that we expect in the afterlife, then wouldn’t we already be there in that “Promised Land,” right now, rather than having to wait for it?
In addition to poems and the survey of Helen Simonson, this issue of The Hollins Critic also contains book reviews for Star Journal: Selected Poems and The Exploded View: A Novel. I really enjoyed reading about Star Journal and plan to buy a copy of my own. As Nikki Stavile shares, “There is a deep musicality to this collection, from the whispers of trees, to the heartbeat of the speaker, to the radio crackling in the background, to the silent passage of time that seems to ebb and flow as Buckley guides us across its waters.” It sounds like a wonderful collection of poems that would sooth the soul and leave the reader with “a sense of wonder.”
Produced by Hollins University, celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, has proudly published The Hollins Critic for 54 of those years. I was struck by the beautiful simplicity of this publication from the survey of a contemporary writer to the book reviews to the variety of beautiful poems. It is the first literary magazine I have reviewed that provides surveys of contemporary authors, and I believe this is one of its many strengths. Here, we have the opportunity to see, experience, and learn more about contemporary writers, exploring the themes of their work in a well-written analysis. I look forward to seeing who their next contemporary author will be!