Katrina Denza’s Lit Mag Roundup 2.0
The Lit Mag Roundup is a quarterly feature at Moorishgirl.com, in which North Carolina-based fiction writer Katrina Denza shares her literary discoveries of the season. In this installment, she reviews the latest from The Baltimore Review, Small Spiral Notebook, A Public Space, and Gulf Coast.
It’s the end of March and evidence of spring’s arrival can be found outside my house in various forms: forsythia and hyacinths were the first to bloom; narcissuses, daffodils, irises, violets have now risen up vibrant and lovely from beneath the ground and the first of the azaleas have blossomed. Just as the first flowers have appeared in the yard, so have the latest issues of some of my favorite journals begun to fill my mailbox–and some brand new to me as well.
The Baltimore Review‘s Winter/Spring issue begins with a note from managing editor Susan Muaddi Darraj, acknowledging the hard work of the editorial staff (fourteen volunteers in addition to the founding and managing editors). Of the six pieces of fiction, the first is Jacob M. Appel’s “Waterloo,” the hilarious story of a man who attends a birthday party for his girlfriend’s dead niece. In Clifford Garstang’s “Heading for Home,” tension builds as a sheriff is confronted with prejudice and doesn’t release until the last sentence. Shawn Behlen’s “As Children Do,” tells of a man struggling with the truth of his parents’ relationship. Told in alternating POVs, “The Middle Stretch,” by Holly Sanders, is an expertly controlled story of an exchange between a woman and the trooper who pulls her over. In Louis Gallo’s “Dark Matters,” a man and his wife ponder dark matters and dreams on the way to the podiatrist. Three siblings use their imagination to cope with violence in their home in the last story of the issue, Alaura Wilfert’s “Indians.” There are three pieces of creative nonfiction: Melanie Hoffert’s prizewinning “Going Home,” about the author’s connection with the land she grew up on and her attempt to speak openly of her sexuality on her return home; Marcia R. Aquíñiga shares her childhood experience of acting as translator for her Mexican grandmother in “Doing All the Talking;” and Jerry D. Mathes II has a riveting essay on fighting fires in north-central Idaho called, “Falling into Fire.” Of the ten poems, my favorites were Colleen Webster’s “Voices Along the Yangtzee;” Daniele Pantano’s “Patrimonial Recipe;” and Margaret J. Hoehn’s prizewinning “Five Prayers of Apples,” part of which reads:
Near the place where I stopped to rest,
what hung to the ground, like a bird’s injured wing,
was a branch that had splintered
beneath the ripening fruit, a way of saying
that even abundance has burdens,
that beauty sits side-by-side with loss.
The issue ends with six book reviews and a fascinating interview with author Tristan Davies by Nathan Leslie.
Small Spiral Notebook‘s latest issue is appealing in its elegance, but don’t let the slenderness of the volume fool you: it’s loaded with rich, sophisticated material. The fiction is impressive. In Aimee Pokwatka’s “Perennials,” a couple mourns their inability to grow a lush garden. Paul Yoon tells of a friendship between a sea woman and a wounded boy in “So That They Do Not Hear Us.”
“You Don’t Have to Live Here,” by Natasha Radojcic is a moving story of the romantic history of a young woman’s parents. Shari Goldhagen’s heartbreaking story, “It’s Really Called Nothing,” centers around a man whose life is pregnant with changes about to occur. In Pedro Ponce’s “Fingerprints,” a professor discusses his experience teaching Fundamentals of Romantic Detection. In Ladette Randolph’s “The Girls,” a college student takes a job dog-sitting for her professor and is transformed. Todd Zuniga’s “Cheating,” is a funny, fresh story of a cheating man, his girlfriend and a banana. A grieving man allows his lawn to grow despite his neighbors’ dismay in Joshua Mandelbaum’s “Yard Work.” In Scott McCabe’s “Eucalyptus,” a man travels across the country to visit an ex-lover and takes something with him on his return home. Six poets offer sixteen stunning poems between them in this issue. My favorite is Angela Lea Nemecek’s “Still Life With Lumberjack,” which begins:
I could have told you cruelty has a calendar.
By October, the year
Is sick of itself,
Sick of its trees and their bright green confessions.
And lastly, living out the pattern set by the women in her family before her, Alison Weaver’s “Running,” is a bravely honest memoir about the time in her life in which she sought the “Band-Aid” of drugs.
With its intriguing cover art, its red and black print, and its comfortable size, the debut issue of A Public Space is a hit with this reader. At two hundred seven page, including contributors’ notes and founding subscriber acknowledgments, it’s no lightweight. This issue begins with a letter from editor Brigid Hughes discussing fiction in our time and the inspiration for the magazine’s title. The opening section, “If You See Something, Say Something,” is what Ms. Hughes refers to as a “literary magazine’s version of an op-ed page. In this section, Ian Chillag writes of the 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood in Logan West Virginia; Rick Moody discusses our culture’s responsibility in the James Frey and J. T. Leroy incidents; Antoine Wilson writes about two overheard, related conversations and Anna Deavere Smith writes of her visit to Rwanda after the genocide and explains the Rwandan phrase “Watches are Swiss, cars are Canadian, and women are Tutsi.” The fiction is quite beyond ordinary. In Charles D’Ambrosio’s “The Dead Fish Museum,” a man arrives on a job to build a porn set with a gun in his tool bag for comfort. In Kelly Link’s wildly imaginative “Origin Story,” a young superhero and her superhero lover get drunk and reminisce in an abandoned tourist attraction. Peter Orner stretches the moment in which a theatre actor forgets his lines in “No Light.” In “Galileo,” John Haskell tells of a playwright and his star actor. The tension is high in Tim O’Sullivan’s “Family Friend,” which eerily begins: “You haven’t been invited inside that house for three years because Sarah—and she mentions this often to Edgar—doesn’t like the way you look at their girls.” Of the poems–all beautifu–Eamon Grennan’s “Knowledge” and “Rest Stop,” two prose poems of nature and love, were my favorites. A Public Space also offers Focus Installments, a feature which, Ms. Hughes explains in her editor’s note, serves as a way to “look at literature that readers in other places admire and enjoy–the first installment takes us to Japan–and in that way, to try to understand something new about another culture, and, perhaps, to expand our tastes.” Lucy Raven offers “An Illustrated Guide to Copper Extraction,” that is as fascinating as it is excellent. The issue ends with a brilliant essay by Marilynne Robinson in which she explores man’s recent tendency toward over-simplification when attempting to understand the mind, and the move away from the larger questions of ancient times. Ms. Robinson presents fiction as an arena in which we can overcome that simplification and continue to learn about ourselves.
With over 350 pages, Gulf Coast‘s Winter/Spring issue is enormous and an excellent value. It begins with an editorial note by Gulf Coast‘s managing editor, Sasha West, in which she comments on the cover art and compares literary journals to ephemeral museums. The fiction is admirably accomplished. In Bryn Chancellor’s “Meet Me Here,” a woman vacations in Austria with her widowed mother and discovers grief can have different faces. Murzban F. Shroff writes of a young rejected writer taking a walk in the rain in “Muses over Manholes.” In Sandra Novack’s “Memphis,” a man’s mentally-ill brother takes off on a road trip with the narrator’s leaf blower and dog. John Weir’s stunning “Neorealism at the Infiniplex,” is the story of a young man’s grief over the death of his lover. In Christian A. Winn’s prizewinning story two boys, both dealing with absent mothers—one figuratively, one literally—form a friendship. A boy on the verge of becoming comfortable with his sexuality is the basis for Jonathan Strong’s “excerpts from The Dabney Gallery.” In Peter Bognanni’s “The Body Eternal,” a boy deals with the emotional pain of his older brother’s drug abuse. A young man thinks of his girlfriend and Van Gogh’s last painting in the moment before impact in Kevin Clouther’s brilliant story, “On the Highway near Fairfield, Connecticut.” The first of six non-fiction pieces is the prizewinning piece on language and AIDS, “One Sentence,” by John Medeiros. Diane Comer pays tribute to her mother in her short essay, “Viniagrette.” In Joshua Harmon’s essay, “The Annotated Mix-Tape #2,” he writes of his regret in choosing Spanish I over French I. In Tama Baldwin’s evocative piece, “Coastal Lexicon,” she reveals her adolescent preoccupation with martyrdom and her encounter with a group of older boys who threaten to crucify her. Miki Howard writes of her love of Pittsburgh and of love lost in “Three Hundred Fifty Ways.” Joshua Mohr’s heart-wrenching “Dressing the Dead,” is an installment of a series of short essays concerning the last days of his father’s life. There are six excellent book reviews, and two essays on the art featured this issue: two Houston houses transformed by artists Dan Havel, Kate Petley, and Dean Ruck. In the first of three interviews, Remica L. Bingham interviews poet A. Van Jordan; Gulf Coast fiction editor Guiseppe Taurino interviews author John Weir; and Gulf Coast nonfiction editor James Hall interviews poet Richard Siken. Of the almost forty poems, I simply found too many I loved to list, though Denise Duhamel prose poem, “Moonprint,” stands out for me as does David Siegel’s “The Love Doctor,” and Stefi Weisburd’s “Drafting on Robert Hass Writing His Mother’s Nipples.” I’ll end with an excerpt from Alison Townsend’s “Forty-Five This Spring:
All this year I have secretly been growing old,
the ovaries spilling their last burgundy stain,
dark as wild blackberries I plunged my hands into
twenty summers ago, heedless of scratches.
Bio: Originally from Vermont, Katrina Denza now lives in North Carolina with her husband and two sons. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Lynx Eye; New Delta Review; SmokeLong Quarterly; Emrys Journal; RE:AL; Cranky; The Jabberwock Review; and The MacGuffin among others.