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.

Service Workers’ Words

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Since March, we’ve been relying heavily on service workers, those operating the essentials while the rest of the country slows or stops. The second half of the Fall 2020 issue of Rattle features work by poets who have served long periods of time as service workers.

In this section, readers can find Marylisa DeDomenicis’s “Excuse Me” and Jackleen Holton’s “The Hunter,” both of which discuss working in a restaurant. DeDomenicis writes of the prevalent racism in the kitchen where the speaker works, and Holton focuses on the sexism and harassment the women face at the restaurant where her speaker works. In both of these, the other workers advocate for each other when the higher-ups either do nothing or contribute to the problem. The speaker in DeDomenicis’s piece sticks up for the bullied Mexican bus boy, and the waitresses in Holton’s piece work the buddy system together so they’re never alone, lessening the severity of their harassment.

Laurie Uttich’s “To My Student with the Dime-Sized Bruises on the Back of Her Arms Who’s Still on Her Cellphone” stuck out to me most starkly. In this poem, the speaker notices her student’s bruises and implores that she put down her phone, her abusive boyfriend on the other end, so she can trade it for a pen and “Take a piece of the dark and put it on a page.” Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf stand by as supporting characters, offering comfort and a room of one’s own. Uttich’s use of language as the poem addresses the student is clever and flows quickly, familiar images flashing through the lines.

While we continue to rely on service workers to keep the world running, make sure to take time to hear their voices and their stories in their own words.

Remembering September 11 with Wisława Szymborska

Guest Post by Autumn Barraclough 

With September 11 close at hand, I’ve found my thoughts turning back to another time in American history in which our country suffered. I found myself reflecting back on September 11 and pictures.

In the poem “Photography from September 11,” Wisława Szymborska captures my thoughts as she describes the figures, forever frozen in history, as they jump from the twin towers. Her solemn respect and care for these souls resonates throughout the poem as she describes their flight, rather than their demise. This poem helps me to remember the tragedy of September 11 without the political connections—just understanding that humans were hurt and that I still have a country to love and care for that is full of people that care for each other in their own way.

Reviewer bio: Autumn Barraclough is a college student studying English. She is a Virginian at heart and loves to delve into the connections between France and Virginia, aspiring to create a written work that expresses that relationship.

450 Pages of Poetry & Prose to Love

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Issue 48 of Paterson Literary Review is a hefty 450 pages. A reader is guaranteed to find something they admire or connect with in those near-500 pages.

Readers can look forward to Vivian Shipley’s “A Glossary of Literary Terms for My Son,” a poem creatively and seamlessly broken up into nine different literary terms. Mary Ann Mayer writes an ode to “Walt Whitman’s Pants,” a poem that ends up being educational with its historical context. Penny Perry’s “Fig Bars” ends up being extremely relevant as the speaker sits with her husband and daughter as a wildfire burns twenty miles from their house.

And that’s just a small sampling of the poetry. The issue also includes prose and reviews. It’s nearly impossible to walk away from this brick of an issue without finding something to love.

A Portal to Powerful Nonfiction

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

The art of John Belue dons the cover and pages of the Fall 2020 issue of Creative Nonfiction, and I absolutely love it. His work remixes vintage photos, thinly cut strips overlaying another photo to create an almost portal-like image. The art drew me into the “Memoir” issue of Creative Nonfiction and the writing made me stick around even longer.

Megan Doney’s nightmares haunt her after a shooting at the school where she teaches in “The Wolf and the Dog.” While her dreams leave her powerless, she imagines finding power if the situation ever happens again. The piece begins viscerally, a dark view into Doney’s mind after surviving a horrific event.

Mary Beth Ellis gets deeply personal in “Weaponry of the Cold War” as she walks readers through her vaginismus diagnosis. While the subject of her writing is both physically and emotionally painful, Ellis uses humor in unexpected places, her writing cynical and skeptical, light when it matters. As Ellis says, up to 14% of the female population suffers from vaginismus, and there is not much to read about the subject. Ellis adds her voice, her story, giving other people with vaginas something to relate to.

Whether you pick up Creative Nonfiction‘s latest issue because the art caught your eye, or because you crave powerful nonfiction, you will not be let down.

Works to Enjoy & Cherish

Guest Post by Regina Shumway

Salamander is a literary magazine that contains many works of poetry, fiction, and essays from a diverse collection of writers of varying backgrounds and writing styles. Issue 41 of this magazine is particularly spectacular. With themes ranging from the wonder found in the familiar to the indignity of a corpse, the works found in this issue provoke intense consideration for many different subjects and arguments.

Any type of reader is guaranteed to find a wide collection of works they will enjoy and cherish in Issue 41. A great deal of this magazine’s appeal is how each and every work requires the reader to delve deeper, often rereading the same lines over and over again to gain new, more profound meanings with each read through.  If you want to broaden your horizons in the writer’s world, Salamander is a magazine worthy of your time.

Reviewer bio: Regina Shumway is an eager writer, looking to improve her skills and experience. She is currently a student at Brigham Young University in Hawaii.

A Fallen Kingdom

Guest Post by Caleb Willis

“The Kingdom That Failed” is a piece of flash fiction by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, published by The New Yorker. The introduction grabs you with no hesitation, throwing you into a unique setting that prepares you for a grungy fantasy adventure written around a fallen kingdom. This lasts for a grand total of two paragraphs, at which point the story changes gears to a more modern setting, dealing with life and people, not swords and dragons. It is a change in direction that totally threw me off guard, opening me up to the rest of the narration.

The story continues with an in-depth description of this man named “Q,” or more the struggle to explain Q. He is a handsome man, five hundred and seventy times more handsome than our narrator, with a great personality, from a well-to-do home, yet he isn’t quite extraordinary in anything, yet good at everything. Q is a true kingdom, a character without flaws.

Inspired by the quote, “To see a splendid kingdom fade away, is far sadder than seeing a second-rate republic collapse,” this story quickly and briefly shows a glimpse into the future life of Q. It delivers the known-too-well feeling of failed potential. While we are content to see the narrator complacent with where he is at in life, it is striking yet subtle to see the fall of Q. It isn’t a grand fall of a literal kingdom, and it doesn’t have the imagery of crumbling stone bricks and thick black smoke. Instead, we see a defeated man covered in soda, stuck in a thankless career. “The Kingdom That Failed” is a reminder of the somber reality of humanity, one that trumps any attempts of fantasy.

Reviewer bio: Caleb Willis is a college student studying Biochemistry and Applied Mathematics. He likes to read in his fleeting spare time.

Words Change Lives

Guest Post by Haley Marks

Throughout these difficult times, we all attempt to find meaning in our lives. We search for something that reassures us that we will make it through the never-ending struggles we endure. More than that, we seek an escape from these struggles. For many of us, words provide the perfect escape.

Whether the words come through books or TED Talks, they can have such a beautiful impact on our lives. Words change us. Words heal us, if we let them. However, I have found that the most colorful way words can reach us is through poetry. A well-written poem embodies the art of writing. Poetry can hold more emotion with a hundred words than many books do with a hundred pages. Its messy, imperfect words can weave together to create a masterpiece. As humans, we embrace anything as beautifully chaotic as we are; we can find exactly what we need in the relatable words of a disheveled poem.

A favorite place of mine to find some of the best poems is Poetry Foundation, providing poetry with words that touch the hearts of people in all walks of life. It provides poems for children and adults. It includes collections of poems for those struggling in school or those trying to relieve stress. The Poetry Foundation has poems available for anyone. The poems I have found on Poetry Foundation have surely blessed me; I have found words that express my emotions in a way I am incapable of doing on my own. The beautifully written poems included on this website and they’re literary journal Poetry have surely impressed me.

Poetry Foundation, in addition to poems, includes audio and guides for various poems. It successfully provides tools and poetry for anyone looking for words that could change his/her life.

Reviewer bio: Haley Marks is a student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii where she studies creative writing.

Janelle Monáe Plus Irenosen Okojie Times Grace Jones

Guest Post by Marvel Chukwudi Pephel

Should I say shame on me for not knowing about Grace Jones till this “Lockdown Year” when I read a February 3, 2020 article on The Cut where Janelle Monáe’s definition of Afrofuture was put forward by herself as: “It looks like an orgasm and the big bang happening while skydiving as Grace Jones smiles.”? The article was written by no other than the inimitable Roxane Gay. I remember rushing to do my homework on who Grace Jones is, and what her smile looked like.

I wouldn’t tell you that I enjoyed the task, but I wouldn’t also say it wasn’t worth the stress; maybe this was better reflected when Irenosen Okojie won the Caine Prize for African Writing, an award described by many as the African Booker. Her story was titled “Grace Jones” and she was announced the winner of the prize on July 27, 2020, almost six months after I first stumbled on the “original” Grace Jones. Irenosen Okojie’s winning story is about a Grace Jones impersonator who mourns the death of her family in a house fire.

Frankly speaking, the story is hugely experimental and may not appeal to readers of literary fiction. The story itself is as strange as a rainbow in the night sky can be. Here is a writer who isn’t scared to take risks, and for which the judges praised her thus: “risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold.” It is a story steeped in dark experimentation and yet offers a chance for entertainment. It is also worthy of note to know that the Nigerian-British author says the £10,000 award for African writing has given her confidence as a black and female experimental writer. This, to me, is a huge personal win; a win too for African speculative fiction.

Reviewer bio: Marvel Chukwudi Pephel is a prolific Nigerian writer who writes poems, short stories and other things besides.

A Kind Voice in the Emptiness

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

I like a piece of writing that piques my interest and leads me to do even more reading. Gail Peck’s “The Minister of Loneliness” in the Summer 2020 issue of The Main Street Rag managed to do just that for me.

The poem is introduced with a note: “The U.K. created the position of Minister of Loneliness, two years before COVID-19.” The title “Minister of Loneliness” was enough to interest me on its own, and even more so learning that it’s a real position. Peck’s poem addresses the minister in the days of COVID-19, women calling with their moments of loneliness. “It was bad enough before,” they admit, and now it’s gotten worse, their loneliness filled with uncertainties: “should they let the delivery boy in?”

The poem is touching and relevant. In addition to giving me something further to read about, it also gave me a point of connection as someone who lives alone and spent the early days of my state lockdown feeling incredibly lonely. What more could one ask from a poem about loneliness but a moment of connection and understanding? Peck’s poem itself works as a listening ear, a kind voice in the emptiness.

Eating Candy with Josh Luckenbach

Guest Post by Grace Tuthill

Who doesn’t love candy? We all (at least most of us) have happy memories tied to these sweet treats. So then why did Josh Luckenbach use a tootsie roll wrapper as a catalyst for death? This very common candy beloved by many is the object used to tell a vivid story of love and death between two siblings. In this poem, “Eating the Tootsie Roll,” Luckenbach dances with death as a girl simply eats candy with unknown origins. Her brother prophecies her death, almost as a threat, and the girl then goes home and kills herself. The ending of the poem leads readers to wonder if this suicide because of a controlling and abusive poisoning of her mind or food poisoning. The last line is a hunting echo of a sister listening to her brother and the lasting effects, either good or bad, that siblings can have on each other.

Reviewer bio: Grace Tuthill is a Marine Biologist with a special interest in writing. She has no published work but likes the ocean and photographing sea life.