Visit this month’s featured selection: “From Lewisburg to Syracuse: An interview with Bruce Smith by Chard deNiord.” Sydney Lea, in nonfiction, writes “Inviting the Reader: Narrative Values, Lyric Poems” and Donovan McAbee reviews Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry by John Murillo. See poetry contributors at the Mag Stand.
The August issue of The Lake, at this week’s Mag Stand, is now online featuring Rey Armenteros, Robert G. Cowser, Rhienna Renèe Guedry, Stella Hayes, Karen McAferty Morris, Anthony Owen, Fiona Sinclair, Shelby Stephenson, Hannah Stone, Grant Tarbard. Reviews of Oz Hardwick’s The Lithium Codex, Jeffrey McDaniel’s Holiday in the Islands of Grief, and J.R. Solonche’s The Time of Your Life.
The latest issue of Colorado Review features fiction by Jessica Treadway; nonfiction by Jennifer Genest; and poetry by Saretta Morgan, M.A. Cowgill, and Matthew Gellman. See the other contributors to this issue at the Mag Stand.
Chinese Literature Today Volume 9 Number 1 features short science fiction by Liu Cixin, Isaac (Shuntang) Hsu, and Dung Kai-cheung; an exploration of Xu Zechen’s urban fiction; a novella by Li Jing; and a look at diverse works by Sinologist Michael Berry. Find it on this week’s Mag Stand.
The Summer 2020 issue of Baltimore Review features work by Chera Hammons, Anita Olivia Koester, John Haggerty, Seth Grindstaff, Katy Mullins, Cara Lynn Albert, Dennis Cummings, Marlene Olin, Kathleen Melin, Kate Gale, Jehanne Dubrow, and more. Find a full list of contributors at the Mag Stand.
Magazine Review by Katy Haas
From Issue 38 of Bellevue Literary Review, Kathi Hansen’s “We the Mothers” (honorable mention in the 2020 BLR Prize) imagines the mothers of boys who have been accused of sexual assault. They meet together in book-club-like fashion, able to speak freely with one another when no one else understands.
Hansen writes of them in a collective. They speak of their sons as one being as they look back to their childhoods, their teenage years, and the ways their boys were raised in their homes. Only when one woman begins to question her son’s innocence does the story diverge, separating her from the rest of the group, finally naming her apart from the others. I found this to be a cool, well done device for this piece, and a unique point of view to have on these now familiar stories.
Despite focusing on this side of the story, Hansen does a good job of avoiding too much sentimentality. The mothers tell their collective story without demanding understanding or sympathy from the reader. After all, as they point out, only those in their group can truly understand.
Fred Marchant views the inexplicable and gives us the air it breathed in his poems in Said Not Said. I have been looking at this book, reading it, studying with Marchant, and looking at it again for the past three years. Most of that time I worked as a graveyard-shift custodian cleaning university buildings. Now, I live at my parents’ and take care of the both of them during the days of the pandemic. What Marchant sees in his life is revealed in this book. He sees what is not fair. He sees reality but events he cannot control. Here we are in 2020: sitting ducks. Marchant’s poems get into the feeling of this but also access the profound stability of peace and understanding. In “Fennel” he writes:
At the end maybe you were thinking
of Whitman and his claim that dying
was luckier than we had supposed.
Or not. Or not. Here is the bee . . .
Marchant shows us that nature with a capital N intercedes, maybe not to change the course of events he witnesses, but to carry an event to another place, a different emotion. [Read more…] about Witness. Vulnerable. Mystery.
Rereading The Intangibles by Elaine Equi, during the pandemic, it suddenly reads like a meditation, yet it was published “before” in 2019. Well, it matches the feeling of ennui of the pandemic, police brutality, and the more overarching panic of the climate crisis. This is also true of a lot of poetry I read now, Because of my state of mind, and I am sure others would agree (desperate/bored/searching/hopeful/raw/terrorized), we are also mesmerized by poetry and what poets have to say.
What Equi has to say in The Intangibles is as straightforward as she’s always been. From her titular poem: “Prove you’re not a robot / Answer the question: / What color is the silver basket?”
Her poems are directed outwards but also fold endlessly in on themselves. They are playful in their sense of what it feels like to be confined, in quarantine, yes, and even before the quarantine period we are currently in even happened. From her poem “Faces” we see ourselves and others in a bleak, yet hopeful way: “I love to watch / the dough of faces / flower.”
This book slays with amazing titles. Here are some: “Deep In The Rectangular Forest,” “Ode To Weird,” “Ghosts and Fashion,” “Home On The Range” (okay, not such a weird title, but a very exquisite and wonderful poem), “Granular Time/Granular Distance,” and “Looking Out The Window In A Novel.”
Each of these poems blossoms into a novel (and not a virus).
The Intangibles by Elaine Equi. Coffee House Press, 2019.
Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson’s first book of poems is Mezzanine, from Finishing Line Press, 2019. She also has work forthcoming in Sleet, and another book from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Oregon.
Information and news are increasingly weaponized. While not new, the weaponization of news and information has been set on steroids by the rise of social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their counterparts in other countries, such as in Russia and China, have become the main source of news for citizens.
It is in and through social media that propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation thrive. The first, propaganda, is a way to tell one’s own story and can be used for good or ill. Advertising, for instance, is a form of propaganda. The second, misinformation, is false and faulty news that need not be deliberately false but can be harmful. The last, disinformation, is the deliberate spreading of false and misleading news and information with the intention to create confusion and cause harm.
Because social media is now the most widely used source of news and information, persons become easily misled and fooled because social media is a fertile breeding ground for misinformation and disinformation.
In Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It, Richard Stengel tells how false and faulty news is now normalized. The former editor of Time Magazine, Stengel was recruited by the State Department during the Obama Administration to counter misinformation and disinformation, especially those put out by Russia and ISIS, the terrorist group.
It was a Byzantine experience. An admixture of outdated technology, ill-prepared and ill-informed government officials and workers, turf wars, career ambitions, ego, and more, got in the way of countering the coordinated and concerted attack on truth and facts, both within the United States and globally.
Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It by Richard Stengel. Atlantic Books, October 2019
Reviewer bio: Eron Henry is a communications consultant. He blogs at https://oletimesumting.com.
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Lacrimore by SJ Costello explores our relationship with grief and tragedy through a speculative lens. The gothic novel draws readers in with beautifully dark prose that builds a haunting world. While the story unfolds slowly, the flawed characters and mystery compel readers to turn the page.
The novel opens with Sivre Sen, a faithless medium journeying across a stormy lake to a small island. There sits Lacrimore, a crumbling labyrinth of a mansion shrouded by legends. During a vision, a ghost called her there to complete his funeral rites. In Costello’s Victorian-inspired world, mediums are revered and influential, especially after a recent epidemic. However, Sen has never before experienced visions of the dead. After arriving, she meets the dead man (who is still alive), a staff trapped by circumstances, and a dubious doctor in exile. As Sivre searches the house for answers and closure, she discovers dark secrets in its rotting walls. The book is like Lacrimore itself—a quiet, mysterious tale standing alone in a much larger world.
Though in development before the COVID-19, the novel was a poignant and refreshing take on pandemic literature. Instead of focusing on dystopian survival, the story centers on what happens after survival. How do we process our grief? How do we reflect on the societal failures that came to light? What change is required to be better? Lacrimore doesn’t claim to answers all these questions. It remains a spooky story that is fun to read, but opens the door for those who want to ponder its deeper themes.
Lacrimore by SJ Costello. June 2020.
Reviewer bio: Laura Kincaid is a writer, editor, and lover of the fantastical. Find her work in Twist in Time and at laurakincaidmusings.wordpress.com.
I’m rereading Peter Orner’s collection of essays, Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live. (What a title! I’m also rereading Jonathan Franzen’s How to Be Alone.) Orner’s essays are ideal stay-at-home reading—easy-to-digest, elegantly composed—and his sparing prose is second-to-none at conveying depths of feeling in few words. The result is a perfectly-paced, heartfelt, sad, funny, and breathtaking book.
Orner seamlessly blends craft analysis (examinations of Chekhov, Welty, Malamud, Hurston, Wideman, Kafka, and scores of other writers) with memoir (stories of fathers, children, love, loss, joys, regrets, the pleasures—and solitude—of reading). Each essay is inspired by an act of reading, prompting explorations into the ways in which the books we read inform, intersect with, and sometimes mirror our lives:
It gets me every time. The way a story about characters, nonexistent people, pushes us back to our own, the people who do exist, who do walk the earth.”
It’s Orner’s voice, however, that draws me in. Though I’ve never met him, the feeling I get reading his essays is akin to sharing stories of hurt and redemption with an old friend over a cold beer, sitting on lawn chairs in the yard at sunset.
We have all done things we wish we could erase, forever, from the record. No matter how we airbrush our histories, the hurt we have caused will, always, reach out for us—like for me today—out of the December rain.”
Orner’s objective was to write about literature that “rattles the soul,” and in so doing, he amassed a collection of essays that continues to rattle mine. This is my go-to recommendation for readers wanting bite-size, ruminative literary essays—and these days, for anyone looking, as the title beckons, for some company in isolation.
Am I Alone Here? by Peter Orner. Catapult, 2016.
Reviewer bio: Brian Phillip Whalen’s debut collection of fiction, Semiotic Love [Stories], will be released in 2021 (Awst Press). Find him here: www.brianphillipwhalen.com.
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