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.

“Shelter in Place” with Bishakh Som

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

In the Summer 2020 issue of The Georgia Review, Bishakh Som finds a creative way to process feelings of longing and isolation in “Shelter in Place.” This graphic poem spans days in May, the images taking readers into a futuristic, sci-fi setting. Calendar dates guide the piece along, moving us from one day to the next as the speaker writes of what and who she misses in this strange state of life. At the end of the piece, we’re met with that now familiar feeling of time becoming unreal and immeasurable as the calendar page reads “May 32.”

While we all process our feelings about sheltering in place, living in a time of a global pandemic, and missing the physical connection with people we were once allotted, I appreciated this different and creative take. The change in setting and the beautiful language make “Shelter in Place” a stand-out among other pieces of writing that are responding to current life in COVID-19.

Powerful Piece on Self-Reflection

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

The latest issue of the Missouri Review features the winners of the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. The nonfiction winner, “The Trailer” by Jennifer Anderson is a powerful piece on self-reflection.

In “The Trailer,” a trailer appears on land Anderson owns. For awhile, it stays empty, and then one day a man and woman appear inside. Anderson then works on getting the inhabitants removed, and the trailer towed from the property.

In doing this, though, she ends up looking inside herself and examining her response to the two people that have begun squatting on her property. As a teen, she drank, did drugs, and engaged in risky behavior and she realizes she easily could have ended up just like the woman she evicts from her property. Later, when one of the women she delivers food to on her Meals on Wheels route must move out from her care facility and is essentially homeless, Anderson is filled with compassion and the desire to help, a response that is much different than her response to the woman in the trailer. After the woman leaves the trailer and the trailer is hauled away, Anderson continues to see her around town, each time having to face her past actions and feeling shame.

The piece is introspective and honest, a good reminder to examine our own actions. Anderson’s writing is compelling and hard to look away from, well-deserving of its placement as the nonfiction Editors’ Prize winner.

Maggie Smith Writes to America

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

In Cave Wall Number 16, Maggie Smith writes a poem to America. “Tender Age” focuses on the reality of the country, which is decidedly “not what I learned / in grade school.” Instead, this America “caged / even the babies.”

She questions who our laws serve, questions where the country’s conscience lives, or where it’s been removed from. Reminiscing on the past, Smith writes of the street she grew up on and the church she attended, as well as the handbells played there. These memories are unburied again as she wonders whether there will be “neighborhoods / named for this undeclared war” like we’ve named ones “Lexington, / Bunker Hill, Valley Forge.” Finally, the piece ends on the images of the handbells again ins sobering stanza:

America, when we want to silence
the bells, we extinguish
their open mouths
on our chests.

This poem is unfortunately continuously timely and relevant with the continued practice of caging migrant children and following the recent news that another 1,500 have been “lost.” Smith’s poem encourages readers to join in as she speaks to America and against the horrific, harmful systems we’ve created.

Jessica Hertz Examines Five Fictional Women

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

In the latest issue of Pembroke Magazine, Jessica Hertz writes of the “Fictional Women I Have Known.” This five-part piece focuses on Alice from Alice in Wonderland, the mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s or Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Persephone, the sister from “The Six Swans” fairy tale, and Eve.

Each section explores the complexities of their feelings, their desires, and their realities. They’re not flat women on a page but are thought-out and developed even in the small space provided. I enjoyed Hertz’s take on each of them, and my favorites were the mermaid and Eve. The mermaid is faced with having to choose between a voice or the ability to dance, a choice she wishes she did not have to make. Eve is faced with a choice—eat the offered fruit or don’t—and Hertz asserts she knew exactly what she was doing when she accepted, a take I appreciated.

Peer into the inner thoughts and feelings of these five fictional women with Hertz as your guide.

Challenging “Supposed To”

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

If you’re using pride month as a time to become more familiar with LGBTQIA+ writers, I recommend grabbing a copy of the Spring 2020 issue of Hiram Poetry Review. Inside is the four-page poem “I Didn’t Know You Were Transgender” by Mercury Marvin Sunderland. This poem is a response to the observation cisgender people have made: “I didn’t know you were transgender / they tell me / I thought you were a cis man.”

Sunderland spends the poem speaking to these people, asserting his place in the gender spectrum. At one point he declares:

if you knew
even a scrap
of trans culture
you’d know i
already do look
like a trans man
because we are a diverse multitude all over the earth.

With this poem, he challenges the idea of what someone is “supposed” to or expected to look like, challenges the argument that using “they” as singular “destroy[s] the english language,” challenges the idea that “stick[ing] medicine in me” means “i want to be cisgender.”

Throughout the four pages, Sunderland provides a better understanding of what it means to be a trans man, and what it means to be Sunderland himself.

Reading “Insomnia in Moonlight” by Alice Friman

Gettysburg Review - Autumn 2019Guest Post by Emily Lowe

Alice Friman’s “Insomnia in Moonlight” in The Gettysburg Review Fall 2019 is a moving poem that grapples with a popular theme within this issue: death. Friman handles the topic delicately, with humor, and with heft. The poem is broken into four irregular stanzas beginning with the dead waking in the night, making noise. This stanza read with immediate intrigue through the life Friman breathed into death about a speaker who cannot sleep because the dead are alive in their thoughts. It suggests playfulness, too, written with a lighter tone than often associated with death and mourning.

Friman then equates the dead to the sun, something bright and fixed, and the speaker to the changeable moon, “she wears my child face—round, / sunburnt, and pensive.” The final lines in the poem are the most striking, offering up the speaker’s recount of a total eclipse where the moon tried to “blot out the sun.” It felt like a reflection of their desire to hold death in their hands and make sense of it, but the speaker admits that the moon fails in its attempt to resist permanence, to resist, as Friman puts so eloquently in her final two lines: “geometric progression, the unerasable / dead, and everything else I don’t understand.”

Reviewer bio: Emily Lowe is an MFA candidate in Nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she is also a fiction editor for Ecotone literary magazine.

Find New Favorites in The Malahat Review

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

The cover of the latest issue of The Malahat Review is a calming scene: a full moon framed by powerlines over a pastel sky. It invites readers to pick it up and open it to discover what’s inside. I had found two new favorites in the pages: “Nice Girl” by Hollie Adams and “A High Frequency Words List” by Matthew Gwathmey.

In “Nice Girl,” Adams’s speaker likens herself to a mall who would “never automatically / open the doors even though / there’d be a sign saying / Automatic Doors.” She admits she’d keep them locked because she’s “evil / even though in real life / I’m always doing nice things.” This poem is a fun exploration of one’s inner self and the intentions behind actions. There’s a sense of humor in this piece even as it leads to introspection, an enjoyable aspect.

Gwathmey’s poem is in four sections, each one a list of words picked from the Fry and the Dolch sight word lists, used in children’s vocabulary development. This piece is just four paragraphs listing off words, a cool form of recycling.

There is plenty more poetry and prose to find inside this issue of The Malahat Review. Grab a copy to find your own favorites.

James Braun Brings Readers Back to Winter

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Everything is green and warm outside my window right now, but James Braun takes readers back to winter in his story “The Salt Man” from the Spring 2020 issue of Zone 3.

The story centers on two young sisters mid-winter. They are sent outside to wait for the salt man to come salt their roads before they’re allowed to play outside their yard. This is a dark piece. Poverty hangs heavy over the story. What once was green and beautiful has been covered by rocks. They have no heat in the house. Their neighbor loses fingers to frostbite. A woman cries on a couch while they go door to door asking if they can shovel driveways for cash to pay for a doctor bill. And the person they’re told will bring them a level of safety—the salt man—ends up being a source of danger in himself.

I enjoyed Braun’s writing style. There’s a level of flippancy with all the characters who view their lifestyle as ordinary. The story is short but holds a lot inside it. We’re able to discern as much meaning in what isn’t said as in what is clearly stated. And even though it is warm enough that I have my window open, a warm breeze blowing into my living room as I write this, Braun’s writing still makes a reader feel that inescapable cold of winter.

Emi Nietfeld Investigates Her Past

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Opening the Spring 2020 issue of Boulevard is the winner of the journal’s 2019 Nonfiction Contest for Emerging Writers: “My Mom Claims I Had a Drink with My Rapist. I Investigate.” by Emi Nietfeld.

In this piece, Nietfeld looks back to June 28, 2010 when she was raped while in Budapest and to the conversations she had with her mother immediately after and eight years later about the incident. This investigation focuses on the drink that Nietfeld did or didn’t have and the influence the drink had on her mother’s reaction to the rape.

Nietfeld breaks the piece up into sections, investigating in-person conversations, emails that were sent in 2010, and her old computer documents. After she presents the “evidence,” she breaks it down and discusses it. I found this approach to be interesting and impactful as she turns a critical eye on past conversations, her memory, and her relationship with her mother.

Not only is this piece a strong start to the issue, but it demonstrates why Nietfeld deserves to have won the Nonfiction Contest for Emerging Writers.

Feel the Pulse of LitMag

Guest Post by Jamie Tews

LitMag is a literary magazine published annually from New York City. The magazine’s pulse is found on page sixty-three with a quote from Aryeh Lev Stollman’s fiction piece “Dreams Emerging,” which states “true art is the condensation of ineffable yearning.” An ineffable yearning is a longing so strong it cannot be described; however, this issue’s work attempts description, and through writing, pieces of the unsaid become real. With fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and tributary letters, LitMag’s third issue holds work that embodies the condensation of ineffable yearning.

Meghan E. O’Toole’s fiction story “Abditory” carries the loudest pulse. It is a hazy and dreamlike exploration of how longing can manifest in dreams and become necessary for engaging with reality. O’Toole uses the image of milk to connect the main character’s past and present with their dream-images, and it is in the way the milk moves, the way it rises in the bedroom or pools on the road, that the story supplements the issue’s character of yearning. O’Toole’s story successfully employs elements of magical realism, which create a vivid sense of place that is consistent in every scene. I instantly believed in the fictional world she created, and this lack of hesitancy to trust and settle into the story’s place drew me back for a second and third read.

The magazine’s cohesion comes from every piece having its own sense of magnetism, and I read the magazine in one sitting. Each piece easily pulled me into the next, and it is for this ease and sense of connectivity that recommend LitMag.

Reviewer bio: Jamie is an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Indiana Wesleyan University. She has contributed work to Appalachian Voice, Appalachia Service Project, and has work forthcoming in the Chestnut Review.