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NewPages Lit Mag Reviews

Posted June 15, 2009

  • Issue Number Volume 26 Numbers 1 & 2
  • Published Date Spring & Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
“Late morning, and my sister and I have arrived,” begins Nancy Lord’s essay, “About a Moment,” the first line in the journal, an inviting opening, and a promise of not only what is to come in Lord’s piece – beautiful writing about a difficult subject, a visit to parents in a nursing home – but a great start to an issue that is replete with great starts (and great finishes). The other three essays in the issue begin with equally original and inviting leads (work by Timothy Irish Watt, John Gamel, and Kim van Alkemade).
  • Issue Number Volume 38 Number 3
  • Published Date May/June 2009
  • Publication Cycle Bimonthly
Whenever I pick up an issue of The American Poetry Review, I inadvertently stop whatever else I’m doing and am drawn into other worlds, and the current issue is no exception. These poems are beautiful but concrete, challenging yet not esoteric.
  • Issue Number Volume 12 Issue 43
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
Editor Stacey Swann opens this issue of American Short Fiction with a concise, impassioned defense of the short story, relishing its unique power. The modern short story, Swann says, “contains multitudes…multiple faces, multiple forms – so many, it seems constraining to define it as a single object.” The stories chosen for this issue seem to bear out this assessment. The three lengthy stories are interspersed with brief, somewhat experimental pieces that add a great deal of spice.
  • Issue Number Volume 35 Number 2
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Rarely can a literary magazine balance innovative and mainstream material so effortlessly. The Spring/Summer edition of the always innovative Black Warrior Review adroitly incorporates not only short stories, poetry, and art, but a veritable activity book for the literary-minded but child-at-heart brand of reader.
  • Issue Number Number 4
  • Published Date February 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
This literary journal is celebrating one year of publishing stories and modestly advertises itself as “The best new fiction on the web. Or anywhere else, for that matter.” The winter issue presents eight stories and an editor’s note giving a synopsis of their accomplishments to date. Certainly they have something to brag about when they state: “We’re developing something of a reputation around these parts. The word’s out that Freight Stories authors have published over 50 books, including finalists for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize and bestsellers.” They are also proud of the fact that they have brought the reader the work of first time and emerging writers, “just like we planned.”
  • Issue Number Volume 63 Number 1
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
When highly regarded essayist and self proclaimed heir of Thoreau Scott Russell Sanders submitted his essay, “Simplicity and Sanity,” to The Georgia Review, the editors thought his “yet familiar, yet vital” argument was a “strong starting and focal point for some important discussion of nothing less than the fate of our country and planet.” So, they sent an invitation to a number of accomplished essayists for responses, full-fledged essays in their own right that became this issue’s special feature, “Culture and Environment – A Conversation in Five Essays.” It’s a conversation worth listening to, and many other fine contributions notwithstanding (stories by Lori Ostlund and David Huddle, poems by J. Allyn Rosser, Margaret Gibson, David Clewell, and others, and numerous book reviews), it’s the most compelling reason to read the magazine.
  • Issue Number Volume 1
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Annual
Hawk & Handsaw – “The Journal of Creative Sustainability” – “was born out of a deceptively simple pair of truisms: first, reflective sustainability is crucially important to the collective health of our planet; secondly, figuring out how to be successfully sustainable requires a lot of thought and no small amount of patience and whimsy.” This first issue focuses on home – “no attempts at the grand statement, but rather, close observations of the particulars that sustain us.”
  • Issue Number Volume 29 Number 2
  • Published Date Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
Okay, maybe it's not an issue for most, but I'm a sucker for fonts. Ever picked up a lit mag and thought, “Good content, but it looks awful on the page”? A good lit mag isn't just about content, it's about presentation. And Mississippi State's Jabberwock Review is a brilliant example of just how much quality production can do for a magazine: the cover photo is austere, the pages are nice and thick, and, yes, the font is nice.
  • Issue Number Volume 25 Number 2
  • Published Date Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle Triannual
Whether or not it’s deliberate or simply a happy accident, the Table of Contents is, in and of itself, simply fabulous. Listen to these titles: “The poem I’m obsessed with,” “Have you ever noticed how many bugs,” “The Simple Life Reveals its Complications,” “Marriage, it turned out, was a disappointment,” “Swee’ Dadday’s Big Sanyo,” Going to Jail Free,” “Triptych of My Aunt Linda, Poet in Her Own Right, Frightened of Bicycles,” “The Wrong Thing, the Bad Thing the Untrue Thing.” A welcome and true sign of the originality to come.
  • Issue Number Volume 48 Number 2
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
Laurence Goldstein, Michigan Quarterly Review’s editor for 32 years, is stepping down. His last issue is a doozey. But, let me back up and start at the beginning. Not with his brief and poignant farewell, but with the journal’s cover. A stunning photograph of Orson Welles in a 1947 production of Macbeth introducing the portfolio of letters and memos from the Orson Welles Collections at the University of Michigan, curated and introduced here by Catherine L. Benamou. But, let me back up even further and start “above the fold,” for the photo is the bottom half of the cover. The top half is a glorious and amusing juxtaposition of the extremes of academe: “On the Originals of American Modernist Poetry,” an essay by Frank Lentricchia and “The Dirty Little Secret of Sabbatical,” an essay by Susannah B Mintz. Okay, I might as well admit it. I went straight for Mintz’s essay. “The Adored Long Ago: Poets on their Long-Lost Loves,” by Mark Halliday (also announced on the cover) competed, but only briefly, for my attention. Mintz’s dirty secret won out.
  • Issue Number Volume 35 Number 1
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Triannual
I love guest editor Eleanor Wilner’s work, so it is terrific to have a chance to read her picks for the magazine. Some of her choices surprised me; almost all interested and satisfied me for they are unpredictable and wildly engaging in their use of language. Jaswinder Bolina’s poem “Make Believe” merges language that can border on the ordinary with syntax, line breaks, and images that magnify and elevate it: “We will eventually be archaeology, but now in America / I tell my young daughter the new headlights are a bluish-white / instead of the smoky yellow / of my upbringing.” and “It’s that time when I’m alone in America with my young / daughter that she startles / herself realizing the woodpile beneath the black oak is itself / formerly a tree, / and she wants to know whether these trees have feelings.”
  • Issue Number Volume 104 Numbers 1 & 2
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
“[T]he way you can feel his intelligence moving on the page in the choices and turns he makes.” This is Cornelius Eady describing the work of Gregory Pardlo, the poet whose work he has chosen for “Poets Introducing Poets,” always one of this magazine’s finest features. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a better description of that elusive and spectacular quality that makes great poetry so hard to define and so easy to love. And Eady – who praises Pardlo’s line and his ear, as well as his poetic intelligence – couldn’t be more right about Pardlo. His work is “dense, but it’s never a burden to navigate” (“Kite / strings tensing the load of a saddle- / backed wind”).
  • Issue Number Number 6
  • Published Date 2008
  • Publication Cycle Annual
You can hold Sentence in one hand. It’s fat, but also squat, and just the right size for a one-fisted read, so you can hold a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, in one hand and hold up the journal in the other. But, wait – you won’t need the caffeine or the booze. Sentence provides its own special and particular high. I have loved it from the first issue, and this one is easy to love, too.
  • Issue Number Volume 117 Number 1
  • Published Date Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
Only three writers have ever published plays in The Sewanee Review, including William Hoffman, whose drama in this issue, “The Spirit in Me,” based on a story of the same title, appeared in the Review twenty-five years ago. The play takes place in a southern West Virginia coal town (Hoffman’s father, incidentally, owned a coal mine) in the sweltering summer of 1936 and is an exploration of race and class issues which unfold inside the framework of a love story, shaped by the strong arm of the law and the church. The dialogue is fast-paced, despite the sluggish, heavy heat, and the voices clear and true and particular. It’s easy to imagine a production of this short play, with its spicy, clipped dialogue, finely etched characters, enormous imaginative opportunities for a set, and historical importance.
  • Issue Number Volume 10
  • Publication Cycle Annual
South Loop Review is the creative nonfiction and art annual published by the English Department of Columbia College Chicago, and though said to “give greater emphasis to non-linear narratives and blended genres,” I would say the publication as a whole is fairly balanced in its variety. It might be more accurate to say the non-linear and blended genres are the stronger and more lasting pieces in this issue.
  • Issue Number Number 64
  • Published Date Spring/Summer 2009
  • Publication Cycle Biannual
It’s the range – and, in some cases, the combination – of tones, voices, and diction that make this issue of West Branch exciting. Poems from Christopher Weese’s series “Marvels” will help me illustrate my point about diction. Here is an excerpt from XXII:
  • Issue Number Volume 83 Number 3
  • Published Date May-June 2009
  • Publication Cycle Quarterly
Newspapers everywhere are disappearing. Magazines are closing shop. The New York Times is consolidating sections, no more “Escapes,” no more Sunday “City.” Yet, somehow, WLT, as gorgeous as always, manages to survive into its eighty-third year with as expansive and broad a vision as ever. The first eighty years (way back to when WLT was Books Abroad!) will soon be available online through JSTOR. So, now we have the best of both worlds.
  • Issue Number Volume 25 Number 1
  • Published Date Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle Triannual
When I first read – or rather, studied – this issue of ZYZZYVA, I had no idea how to review the thing. The entire issue is in “textimage, instances in which text and image collide on the page,” and since I’ve been interested in the written word for over twenty years and visual art for only five, I ought to be excused for my quandary. On my second reading, I decided to describe what is in the journal and encourage readers pick up a copy and make their own commentary.
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