With sixty poems, eight fiction pieces, three nonfiction essays, four reviews, five new translations and a featured artist, the 223-page 2016 winter issue of The Cincinnati Review has more than a little something for everyone. It’s biblical in scope, thick in thought and entertaining as hell.
Dave Mondy’s “And We’ll See You Tomorrow Night,” a non-fiction exploration of friendship and sports as art, is structured like a baseball game. Twelve innings top and bottom, with mid-inning stretches—quotes from David Mamet’s Three Uses of A Knife—make this essay remarkable. Not being a baseball fan (personally, I loathe the pastime) is not an obstacle, in fact, Mondy’s essay makes a non-fan want to give the sport another chance:
The strike-out is the fuck-you play in baseball; like the slam-dunk in basketball, it’s a mano-a-mano assertion of physical dominance over another human. The pitcher says, I will throw this little ball right past you, and the batter replies, Just try, and the pitcher pitches and the batter swings—and when the batter looks back, the ball is in the mitt of the man behind him. The pitcher does this three times, and the batter has to sit down like a bad little boy being put in time-out.
More notable prose is offered in Leslie Pietrzyk’s “How We Leave Home,” a story about a rebellious young woman who gets pregnant by her uncle on the eve of going off to college in Chicago. Capturing small town teenage angst, the noose of family pressure, and questioning if anyone can ever actually return home again, all from an energetic narrator conscious of the story-telling techniques she employs, makes the story exceptionally intimate. “That’s what a story is, just a long, fearless lie unwinding.”
Many of the poems are noteworthy, but Wendy Call’s translations of Irma Pineda’s poetry, written in Isthmus Zapotec, a language in danger of extinction, come across as vital, urgent and indispensable. The poems cover such themes as immigration, cultural irradiation, and umbilical-cord burial rituals. Pineda writes with tenderness and insight:
The sea went deaf and tossed us
into the desert’s arms
The sea went deaf and hurled us
on a path to other places
The resuscitation of endangered cultures is paramount to creating new work, and the editors should be applauded for this important and brave contribution. Another reason for editorial praise is the review section. In every issue, The Cincinnati Review publishes “multiple reviews of the same book in the hopes of bringing disparate commentary.” The system works, in this case three diverse points of view were offered on Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout. Although the separate reviews have some common ground, each reviewer focused on different themes: Rion Amilcar Scott on humor, Anne Valente on race, and Tom Williams on place. Patient readers get a full 360-degree view of the work in question, a democratic system which more magazines should practice.
Amidst the hard-hitting and intellectual, there are some lighter works that balance the issue and keep the pages turning. Charles Rafferty’s “Leisure” is a delightful piece capturing the joy of a morning lie-in, “We have curated a warmth by lying here, and we take turns hitting the snooze button. The dog has not complained. The birds will not die down. We wait for the eggs to cook themselves.”
The contributors are well established writers. Many of the biographical notes include: “This is from X’s fourth book of poems” or “X’s sixth book will be published by insert-big-name-press-here in 2017” or end with “X directs the MFA program at fill-in-the-blank University.” The list is full of fellowship winners and PhDs. This is the major leagues, folks. You need some serious devotion to publish here. Weekend coffee-house scribblers need not apply. But if you are deeply dedicated to the study of craft, and enjoy earnest thought in well-tuned phrases, then subscribe to these pros.