Category: Magazine Reviews

Find literary magazine reviews on the NewPages Blog. These reviews include single literary pieces and an issue of a literary magazine as a whole.

  • “Not For Us”

    Magazine Review by Katy Haas

    Rage Hezekiah has three poems in the Summer 2021 issue of Colorado Review. Of these, “Not For Us” stuck out to me the most, visually grabbing my attention as I paged through the issue.

    “Not For Us” is an erasure of rejection letters. I assume these were taken from publication rejections, and appreciated the poet’s ability to create new writing out of these. The reader takes in the sparse words left over and it’s interesting to see how similar the language is, the repetition leading the reader’s eyes over the two-page spread of rejections.

    Hezekiah’s piece is a good reminder that just because something is “not for us,” doesn’t mean that’s the end.

    Not For Us” by Rage Hezekiah. Colorado Review, Summer 2021.

  • Oddly Normal

    Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

    Visiting trampset‘s website, I had a problem. A good problem. I suddenly had five tabs of fiction open the moment I got there, unable to decide where to start. I wanted to read everything! I blew through the short fiction, enjoying each one, especially Kyle Seibel’s “The Two Women.”

    This story is told as if the narrator is writing a letter to their ex-partner, Liz. There is an urgency to connect with Liz and get down the details of a strange day, a fever dream of a day with odd details that also somehow seem incredibly real in their zaniness. The narrator is approached by two women, one offering help and one asking for help. These women and the narrator’s neighbor all appear as odd characters, and the story is told with a humorous voice, but is still filled with heart. The silliness gives the narrator a realization: “[ . . . ] my brain is buzzing because I’m starting to feel like the rest of my life, the life I’m living without you, will be a series of events that make less and less sense until I will be completely untethered from the planet.” With this, the strangeness becomes normal—who hasn’t felt lost and untethered after a big loss?

    There is no shortage of good reads at trampset, but if you’re unsure of where to start, give “The Two Women” a try.

    The Two Women” by Kyle Seibel. trampset, June 2021.

  • RYPA 2021

    I am delighted each time the annual Rattle Young Poets Anthology appears wrapped in the package with the companion issue of Rattle. Over twenty poets ranging from age five to fifteen are featured in this year’s publication. It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying, “These are great poems for writers so young,” when the truth is quite simply: These are great poems. The opening work by Maria Arrango, “¿Identity?” which begins “El president Donald Trump said / they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. // My brown sugar skin delicately / compresses me with warmth / as I try to understand / the anatomy of my body.” is the immediate indicator that these young poets hold their own among their elder peers. Age is indeed just a number.

    There are poems that disrupt the idea of idyllic youth, such as Matthew Burk’s “The Roller Coaster” and Maria Gil Harris’s “Like Magic,” as well as those that confront reality, like Adrianna Ho’s “Pasta Sandwiches in Quarantine” and Ivy Hoffman’s “Only Days Before Leaving for College, I Note the Existence of My Brother.” Some poems reach deep to connect imagery and emotion: Ha Trang Tran’s “A Love Letter for Home,” imagining a “grand return” to Hà Nộ, and Hannah Straub’s “Cadillac Mountain” with haunting lines like, “Though I was not falling / I was stumbling, in the way I clung to people / I could not reach, memories as useless / As the wire guardrails.” And there are plenty of works that raised a smile through their intellectual rhetoric, like “The Weight of Heavens” by Emma Hoff, which begins with the barb, “Was the minotaur / Really / A monster?” Kakul Gupta’s “Ten Haiku” are each effective meditations, and Mackenzie Munoz’s “Catching Dreams” reaches the metaphysic, while other works were just plain fun, like Paul Ghatak’s “Counting to One,” Grant’s “Lions Roar,” and Melissa A. Di Martino’s “Saive Me By Thes Wendrous.” Shreya Vikram’s “DIY Project” is the kind of poem that can only be experienced, and with good reason, as, in response to the Contributor’s Note question, “Why do you like writing poetry?” Vikram’s answer begins, “Without poetry, I’d waste language.”

    For any readers out there with young writers in your circle, please introduce them to Rattle and this annual collection. It’s essential for young writers to connect with other young writers and find encouragement for their own reading, writing, and submissions. For more resources, check out the NewPages Young Writers Guide to Publications and NewPages Young Writers Guide to Contests.

    [It is challenging to include mention of every work in a review, but I want to acknowledge the remaining poets from this collection and commend them for their contributions, all of which brought me immense pleasure to read: Natalia Chepel, Natalie Friis, Kevin Gu, Jessie Johnson, Dahee Joy Kang, Chloe Lin, Naomi Ling, Joseph Miner, and Perry Sloan.]

  • Unclassifiable Content in Arts & Letters

    In the table of contents of Arts & Letters latest issue, the heading “Unclassifiable” caught my eye, promising a walk off the beaten path. This section features the winner of the journal’s annual Unclassifiable Contest.

    When I paged to this winning piece—”Voidopolis” by Kat Mustatea—I was greeted with a series of photos with accompanying text. This excerpt is from a project Mustatea began on an Instagram page, loosely retelling Dante’s Inferno. Throughout this 46-part series, Mustatea never uses words with the letter “E.” This combined with the format of the photo-sharing app gave me a burst of inspiration to try new things and to challenge myself while doing it.

    There is just enough included in the issue to hook the reader along and lead them to check out the rest of the story on Mustatea’s Instagram. The project has ended, so there’s no wait for new readers to reach the conclusion. Step away from the usual, the classifiable, and check out this piece in the Spring 2021 issue of Arts & Letters.

  • Touch-Starved Poetry

    Magazine Review by Katy Haas.

    In Volume 33 of The Briar Cliff Review, readers can find a poem that I think most people can relate to after the past year. “Gargoyles” by Sara Wallace describes the empty of feeling of craving someone else’s touch. While the poem does lean toward the romantic side of touch (“No one’s biting your lips, / no one’s tasting you.), it comes at a time when I’m seeing my friends celebrate the ability to hug their loved ones again after, and ends up feeling more general. After being separated from friends and family during the pandemic, who hasn’t missed the intimacy of touch?

    Wallace carries the idea of gargoyles through the poem, first as a smoker standing in a doorway of a bodega, and finally as the game “statues, / how when you were tagged // you had to pretend you were stone,” and could only move again when “someone touched you.” I love this thread she carries through from present to past, keeping with that yearning for physical touch.

    Gargoyles” by Sara Wallace. The Briar Cliff Review, 2021.

  • The Necessity of Human Myth

    Guest Post by Adrian Thomson.

    Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “The Boy Who Drew Cats” speaks both to our current time and to the necessity of human myth. Confined to a house in Uruguay as her children face quarantine in Japan, Kercheval connects to the hero of a Japanese fable, the titular drawer of cats, in an attempt to find solace within herself through her own artistic ventures.

    This connection to cultural myth—and Kercheval does cement her own tale very concretely to the modern as well as the mythical—inspires the author in its assertions of safety, balance, and a sense of stability. The myth helps her recapture her own love of art and facilitates a return to  the page where flowers transform into felines. Kercheval does not uphold the myth as a perfect guideline, either—she comments upon it, accepting the good she sees there while acknowledging elements she appears to dislike.

    But her inclusion of the fable also speaks to the wider purpose of human myth—as a necessity of the imagination to allow us to “visit” faraway places and to inspire. Kercheval places both within the story to generate trust that the world will get better, as well as trust in her own abilities.

    The Boy Who Drew Cats” by Jesse Lee Kercheval. Brevity, January 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Adrian Thomson is a graduate student at Utah State University, currently working toward his MS by way of a thesis in poetry.

  • At the Intersection of Religion & Generational Conflict

    Guest Post by Madeline Thomas.

    When a combination of a Catholic upbringing and the unforgettable viewing of a commercial for The Exorcist sends a young girl’s mind to the inevitability of a personal demon possession, the first steps are taken on a path to parental disappointment. Jessica Power Braun’s “Black Alpaca” places readers at the intersection of religion, generational conflict, and closet-Jesus nightmares with sharp humor and unflinching honesty.

    The essay, published in Hippocampus Magazine, works through the realities of fear and guilt in the Catholic Church, the slow movement away from your family’s religious identity, and the discovery of a poignant black alpaca painting in the context of Braun’s identities as a mother, wife, and daughter. Humor forms the heart of the piece, but the essay makes no attempt to pull away from what is both painful and real—forming a balance that cultivates both emotional impact and investment for readers.

    In a time where I feel the need for constant breaks from the mire of news and the world in general, the humor and tone present in “Black Alpaca” provides needed relief. Braun utilizes her power in storytelling to craft something worth connecting with.

    Black Alpaca” by Jessica Power Braun. Hippocampus Magazine, January 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Madeline Thomas is a graduate student and writer at Utah State University.

  • The Power of Fiction

    Guest Post by Elle Smith.

    Michael Keenan Gutierrez explores the meaning of truth and the power of fiction in his essay “Lies I’ll Tell My Son.” Gutierrez starts the reader grounded in fact. His great grandfather, Red, was a bookie: “This is true.” Then the details of Red’s life grow murkier. The story of Red winning a WWI draft card in a poker game sounds dramatic enough it might have come from a movie. Red’s birth certificates and draft cards have different dates and names. Gutierrez’s uncle proclaims, “They were all a bunch of fucking liars.”

    Gutierrez has heard that we aren’t supposed to lie to children “except about Santa Claus and death.” But what is the purpose of the lies that build such fantastic family lore? The tales are in contrast to a more recent generation that lived “the standard formula of work, retirement, and death.” The lore of Red paints the world as “more magical than a paycheck and a mortgage.”

    Gutierrez resolves to tell his son the tales of his family and “shade the truth in fiction.” What about the hard truths about life and death? Well, Gutierrez explains: “I’ll let him figure out heaven on his own.”

    Lies I’ll Tell My Son” by Michael Keenan Gutierrez. 805 Lit + Art, February 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Elle Smith is a graduate student at Utah State University.

  • When Gaps Become Story

    Guest Post by Mark Smeltzer.

    “We don’t know much about Mr. Otomatsu Wada of Unit B in Barrack 14 in Block 63 of the Gila River Relocation Center,” Eric L. Muller admits at the start of his essay, “The Desert Was His Home.” This lack of knowledge does not deter Muller from examining the pain and power of absence, as well as how deep research becomes an avenue for creative discovery.

    Throughout this essay, Muller lays out the facts about this one Japanese-American, among many, held prisoner in the U.S. during World War II. Muller uses what little is known of this man to sketch out a rough but potent portrait of his life. Most notable was Wada’s “two-year-old mystery” marked by the refrain “We don’t know” that Muller uses until Wada’s fate is revealed.

    This essay demonstrates how seamlessly and naturally a story can incorporate the many don’t knows and can’t knows inevitable in research. It is even possible, as “The Desert” shows us, how the gaps in a subject’s life can become the story. This piece can be found in Issue 74 of Creative Nonfiction.

    The Desert Was His Home” by Eric L. Muller. Creative Nonfiction, Winter 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Mark Smeltzer is a graduate student in Utah State University’s English Department. His area of specialization is in poetry.

  • “Cathedrals of Hope” by Lauren Markham

    Guest Post by Holly Vasic.

    In the 35th-anniversary edition of the San Francisco-based literary magazine ZYZZYVA, Lauren Markham’s essay, “Cathedrals of Hope,” reminisces on the women’s suffrage movement. This piece is timely as 2020 America marked the centennial anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Markham not only reflects on the women who sacrificed their freedom and endured abuse so that women can vote today but also discusses populations forgotten in the 1920s: men and women of color.

    Markham weaves her own narrative into the larger historical picture, describing how her first-time voting was marked with devastation when George Bush Jr. won—again. Markham takes a unique look at where we as Americans are in regard to democracy while commentating on where we came from. Markham writes, “How easy human beings can forget the people who came before us, and the debts we owe.”

    Cathedrals of Hope” by Lauren Markham. ZYZZYVA, 2020.

    Reviewer bio: Holly Vasic is a Graduate Instructor seeking a Master’s in Folklore at Utah State University with an undergrad in Journalism.

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