I’m ready for spring to hurry up and get here already, so I couldn’t help gravitating toward poems featuring plants in the Fall 2019 issue of The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.
Tara Bray focuses on plants in all three of her poems: “Inside the Sycamore,” “Milkweed: Doxology,” and “Lemon Verbena.” She writes with a hushed appreciation and admiration for each of these. There’s a familiarity and softness in her words. She calls the lemon verbena “sister,” she and her family fit themselves inside the sycamore, she feeds off the milkweed, a deep connection tying her to each plant.
This makes me appreciate Brian McDonald’s “Basil,” found on the following page, that much more. He heads in the completely opposite direction, beginning his poem with much less adoration: “Fuck. Another summer of trying to grow / these oily leaves I’ve always let fry / in the heat.” The basil plants lead McDonald to consider his shortcomings: other plants that have died in windowsills and his uncertainty about whether he’s treating his wife how she should be treated. He’s open and honest, deeply human, all with the help of these fragile basil plants.
It will still be cold here in Michigan for at least another month or two, so I definitely appreciate the writers that are able to deliver me from the chilliness and drop me in the middle of a sycamore or a warm backyard, a tray of basil plants in hand.
True crime seems to be all the rage lately, from books on famous cold cases to Netflix documentaries to hit podcasts. Blink-Ink tries its hand at covering this theme in Issue 38 wherein 16 writers use micro-fiction to explore true crime.
JR Walsh writes about a B&E at an ex’s house where the criminals’ “fingerprints never moved out.” Katie Yates writes of a husband who steals a puppy for his wife. In Craig Fishbane’s “Weapon of Choice,” one weapon is social media, the other is a gun. Leah Rogin-Roper provides four related pieces on a juvenile detention center. The stories in this issue cover a wide array of crimes in creative ways, and it’s fun to see a fictional take on truth.
Blink-Ink publishes stories that are 50 words or less. This makes for short, snappy stories that toss readers headfirst into the drama. In this issue, we never have to wait long to find out who did it in these whodunnits.
In the Issue 8 of The Common, Sarah Smarsh describes how her grandfather’s home became a central gathering place for friends and family and then how it was lost after his death. She begins two generations before her own and skillfully condenses her three-generational story into a compelling length.
Smarsh recounts how her drifter grandmother met her grandfather and finally settled down after a life of wandering with her teenage child—Smarsh’s mother. Though the farmhouse served as a communal space for family and friends and a home for eccentric farm traditions like sledding in a canoe behind a truck, the farm fell apart when her grandfather died, leaving a hole in their lives.
Smarsh speaks to all when she illustrates the importance of a central gathering place for a community, and she reaffirms the importance of small farms and the lives lived upon them.
About the reviewer: Makenzie Vance is a creative writing student at Utah State University.
Ellen Hinsey and Jakob Ziguras were invited to assist the New England Review in compiling a collection of poems written by previously untranslated Polish authors in a special issue titled “Polish Poetry in Translation: Bridging the Frontiers of Language” (Volume 40 Number 2, 2019). No doubt, Ellen Hinsey, who had previously used love as her guide to identify works to include in her book Scattering the Dark: An Anthology of Polish Women Poets, was chosen for her care and attention.
The introduction to Hinsey’s anthology is referenced in an editor’s note in this issue and highlights difficulties that translation presents. Hinsey describes how even best efforts are often unable to fully create expressions and understandings in English that exist uniquely in Polish (and other languages) while also preserving beauty in the verses. Continue reading “New England Review – Polish Poetry in Translation”
Mary Birnbaum’s nonfiction piece “Owosso” caught my eye in the latest issue of Crazyhorse, not only because it’s the winner of the Crazyhorse Nonfiction Prize, but because it’s a familiar name (though a surprise to see in a national literary journal); the tiny town in Michigan is a mere hour away from where I’ve lived my whole life. It’s also where Birnbaum’s grandfather lived, she learns as she reads his obituary at the gym. This discovery leads her on an exploration of the concept of ghosts and hauntings.
Across the country, Birnbaum writes of the ghostly characters of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and personal ghost stories shared by two friends. This leads her to look at the ghosts of her own life. These are not supernatural beings haunting the darkness, but are her father and her grandfather, two strangers removed from her life.
Birnbaum’s thoughts about her father and grandfather are complex and complicated. She breaks her ideas apart into small chunks, making them easily digestible as she bounces back and forth between ghost stories, the “what-ifs” of finding and confronting her father, and her discovery at the gym. At one point she wonders, “if it’s worse to be a ghost or to be haunted. I wonder if both are possible in me,” leading me to consider the ways in which I myself am a ghost or am being haunted in my own life.
As the essay wraps up, Birnbaum decides to label Owosso a mythical location. But while the small city is something separated from herself, it did conjure up from the shadows a tiny, welcomed connection between writer and this reader.
Alyssa Quinn’s “Transcendence: A Schematic”—Meridian Editors’ Prize 2019 winner—explores her efforts to process the loss of her brother. Weaving together a pilgrimage to Walden Pond, her memories of her brother, and her own beliefs and doubts, Quinn probes the hollowed out spaces, searching for a truth she can hold in the absence of her brother.
The exploration of emptiness leads Quinn to consider the places others turn to for truth. She explores science, religion, and maps, searching for a space where she can find her brother. Even in form, Quinn demonstrates absence as she creates a schematic, seeking answers from figures that do not exist. As Quinn tries to present an answer to her questions about death, transcendence, and reality she can only state with absolute uncertainty, “Perhaps the center is just as elusive as the beyond; matter as problematic as spirit.” In death, Quinn’s brother has shattered Quinn’s understanding of reality.
While the essay pulses with the agony of living in an emptied reality, Quinn recognizes that even her writing has been reformed by the loss of her brother. Quinn must confront the fact that “Syntax cannot convey true absence—say ‘I miss him’ and there he is again—there is no language for loss, for such awful missing.” Her work plunges into the loss of her brother, and emerges with the knowledge that Quinn must create a space to hold her brother within her own words.
About the reviewer: Shaun Anderson is a creative writing student at Utah State University.
The Fall 2019 issue of the Missouri Review invites readers to wander away from the ordinary into a world that’s a little bit “off” in its feature. In “Dream Logic: The Art of Ten Contemporary Surrealists,”Kristine Somerville offers a brief history of the surrealist art movement.
While we learn the history, we also see full-color images of surreal artwork, including embroidered mixed media images by Robin McCarthy, clay sculptures by Ronit Baranga, collages by Rodriguez Calero, and more. Indeed, these all carry dreamlike qualities as they challenge our expectations. Each piece grabs the eye and forces it to take in new, creative perspectives. Baranga’s work features grotesque human features emerging from delicate teacups. Gensis Belanger’s work seems to showcase the ordinary until you blink and realize a stool is supported by four large cigarettes instead of regular legs, and the foot inside the sandal that rests on the stool is actually a hot dog. Whimsy and dream logic reign in this feature. The provided history grounds us, though, giving a clear lens through which we can examine the art.
Somerville closes with the reminder, “surrealism provides an outlet for creativity and spontaneity and an escape from the tyranny of the real.” Allow yourself to escape for a moment and wander into the dreams of the surreal artists found in the Fall 2019 issue.
The Fall 2019 issue of Weber includes two poems by Bill Snyder: “Redundancy” and “Home.”
Snyder travels through time in these poems. In “Home,” he brings us to 1972 as he hitchhikes to his father’s house in Florida to surprise him with his arrival, and in “Redundancy,” he brings us to 1995 while he plays Scrabble with his mother.
Snyder writes with clarity, each poem rich with description that never bogs the message down. Each feels like a tiny short story, grabbing readers and pulling them into the scene. We are sitting at the table with his mother, “sunlight seeping in.” We are standing on the side of the road waiting in the humid air for a car to stop, “the sun behind a Burger King, Kentucky Fried, / all the rest.”
These poems are a pleasure to read, an intimate gaze at the familial bonds of Snyder’s speaker.
Each issue of Ruminate opens with “Readers’ Notes,” a response from a variety of readers/writers on the issue’s theme. This is one of my favorite parts of the issue—the little snippets of connection. The Winter 2019/20 theme is “Shelter,” and thirteen readers write in with their thoughts on the subject.
It’s interesting to see the variety of approaches writers take as they cover this topic. A few speak of physical structures that offer shelter. Benjamin Malay writes of an abandoned farmhouse found while hitchhiking; Duane L. Herrmann’s shelter is a screened-in porch during childhood; and Sharon Esterly writes of a DIY Cold War bomb shelter. Moving away from man-made structures, Rebecca Martin observes a child’s own body being their shelter; Liz Degregorio’s shelter is “the kindest lie” her father could tell her as a child; and Sarah Swandell’s shelter is a womb.
Each of these pieces is short and succinct. All grab attention and hold fast as readers unfold the layers that reveal the shelter within. The Readers’ Notes section serves as a great opener for Ruminate, both as a warm-up for the rest of the issue, and as a way to jog one’s own creativity, prompting consideration on how we too might briefly write on the given topic.