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Journal Review: The Kenyon Review 33.2

The Kenyon Review
Vol. 33, No. 2

Last Spring’s excellent edition of The Kenyon Review is prefaced by Editor David H.  Lynn’s notes on their online readership survey.  Fact: over two-thirds of respondents read the print version, while obviously also tuned into their website offerings.  This bit of data says something about print journals in the digital age, specifically this venerable international volume.  Everything about this publication carries a tangible steadiness of quality, like 400-thread-count sheets in a fine hotel.  You can pull back the covers and slide in, knowing you’re going to have a lush five-star experience.  The feel of the paper stock, the size of the journal, its layout and design is assured, elegant, as are the authors whose fiction, poetry, non-fiction and reviews are featured within.  For a cover price of ten dollars, readers of this issue are swathed in the luxurious work of seventeen highly accomplished writers from around the world.

What adds to the satisfaction of the issue is the editors’ masterful blend of unified quality with impressive diversity of subject and style.  Marilyn Hacker, a poet (and former KR editor) who needs no introduction, collaborates with Palestinian-American poet Deema Shehabi (three-time Pushcart Prize nominee) in “From ‘Diasporenga’”, an ‘alternating renga.’”

Kenyon Review 332Alternating serif and sans serif fonts with white space shape the women’s duet in renga form, sections of three /two /three /two-line stanzas that play off the each other like two soloists trading riffs.  A last couplet of ‘as she stumbles in her long / nightgown: “Sabâh el-fûll yâ âmar.”’ prompts ‘“Morning of roses,” / she wishes the greengrocer.  / “Morning of light,” he // answers.  Early cherries ripen, / and the small sweet strawberries.’ The whole poem is fragrant with the language of women poets, including Emily Dickinson, while it is a modern, unflinching diaspora of women’s family casualties from ongoing cultural clashes in places such as Gaza and Darfur, of names ‘of villages razed / in 1948 stitched with golden thread’ on a Palestinian tent in an exhibit in Houston.

Turn the page and you’re in Robert Yune’s fictional “Solitude City,” being woken up in an Alaskan condo to take a conference call from Korea to deal with a family emergency.  From there the story unravels transcontinentally with an enigmatic confidence comparable to the proverb on ‘the stupid scroll on the wall.  Speak of the tiger and it will come.  And here it is, a silent, fiery messenger of change.  The signal fades, and it’s back to text.’ An intricate alternating current as developed, international and graceful as the renga, Yune’s short story is enlightening: deft storytelling with a savvy of world markets, corporate gamesmanship and Korean culture.  Characters are smart and sharp and tender and funny – polysyndeton intentional – as is the dialogue, internal, external, digital, human.  Speaking of dialogue, there’s an online conversation of Yune at KR’s website here.

Earlier, there’s “Hellen Keller Answers the Iron,” Andrew Hudgins’s kickass non-fiction piece, the only one of the genre.  Read it.  That is all.  Andrew M.  Wells contributes two stark poems of grief.  Jeffrey Meyers reviews Saul Bellow letters; Cynthia Haven covers Milosz and Brodsky.  Katharine Larson begins the poem, “Lake of Little Birds” with “Let me begin with the lepers at Lake Bunyonyi.” And that’s literally not the half of it; I’ve mentioned only six of seventeen contributors.  Albert Goldbarth.  Kevin Young.  Still not the half.

As it says above the masthead, The Kenyon Review is “an international journal of literature, culture and the arts.” And yeah, everybody knows that, but do you know what a delight it is to spend time with, to hold, to look at, to read?  From the cover photograph of a woman in an outdoor cemetery carrying wood for a pyre, the sky around her filled with dragonflies, the Spring 2011 issue remains rock solid as it floats through the bittersweet metaphysics of reality in a digital, still-conflicted international community, with our losses and loved ones, our wounded beauty, our stupid jokes.  It’s always reassuring to see what language, in the right hands, can do.  As if a poem could save the world.

Review by Susan Lynch
© 2012, All Rights Reserved

Book Review: Iceberg

Written by Paul Kavanagh
Honest Publishing, 2012
ISBN 9780957142701

Iceburg Photo 2Paul Kavanagh’s writing is inimitable, and his novel Iceberg resists both summary and analogy, says David Rose in his review blurb on Honest Publishing’s website, which appears directly below the summary.  An enthused commenter suggests ‘hoovering’ is a neologism.  I disagree.  After I write this, I’m going to open red wine.  On page 62, Don removes his rucksack, leans it against the wall and searches for a bottle of wine.  This sentence is repeated as the next line of the next paragraph.  I wasn’t sure by that point if it was intentional.
I wasn’t sure by that point if it was intentional.Such is the hypnotic, laconic and somewhat stultifying style of the surrealistic travel adventure about Don and Phoebe’s escape from grim to grim in a changing world.  What I’m calling stultifying is the relentless sentence structure of subject, verb, {adjective}, object, such as the description of one of the tale’s wonderfully philosophic characters who give Don and Phoebe rides down Africa, on their way to claim the iceberg they won back in their grim Northern town.  “Youssef was small, had large ears, and a massive smile.  He drove a white van and chainsmoked.  Don climbed into the back and made a throne out of heavy wooden boxes.  Phoebe sat in the front.  Youssef was Tunisian and he was going to Rabat.”
Open to any random page, like where they get malaria and meet a doctor: “A Norwegian doctor visited them in their motel.  He was a tall man with lapis lazuli eyes and blond hair.  His soft voice was pleasant after the engines of lorries, cars and motorbikes. […] Phoebe started.  […] Don looked.”  I get the post-postmodernist juxtaposition of simple repetitive sentences against an increasingly dissociative plot, a style that attempts to avoid promoting good feelings and produces a trance-like state.  There’s quite a lot of it in print, my argument against the use of the word inimitable.  In Iceberg it predominates the changing landscape and colorful peripheral characters so as to make me curiously numb to Don and Phoebe’s kaleidoscopic equanimity timeline.  Is that how I’m supposed to feel?
Iceburg Cover 1Happily, Kavanagh peppers his diction with lexical swerves, in the form of funny dialogue, poetic descriptive microparagraphs – “Palm trees sprouted from pools of abandoned seawater” – and sudden vocabulary.  When Don goes to a wave-beaten bar in Elmina for three rounds of drinks, the bartender is first ‘rachitic’, then ‘hypnagogic’ and lastly feared to have narcolepsy, lashings of sesquipedalian loquaciousness I quite enjoyed.  Although, in the case of: “Don watched the virga over the buildings sway and hold the sunlight.  It was a soporific picture.  // Kristian sat down and sipped his coffee.” the device clangs loudly, and if I may say so, somewhat solipsistically.  But that’s just me.
The third section, about life on the iceberg itself, changes form to huge, unbroken paragraphs of dialogue and description – perhaps to mimic the cover illustration of the berg? It’s a perplexing choice.  Don and Phoebe’s denouement is original and charming enough, and certainly different enough from the grim Northern and grim African sections of the novel, to not need this distancing, textural shift.  I couldn’t tell if it was meant to slow the story down or speed it up.  Or what.  A lot happens in Iceberg.  In 116 small pages Don and Phoebe’s world changes, as do they while somehow sort of staying the same.  Maybe I should read it again.
Review by Susan Lynch
© 2012, All Rights Reserved

Journal Review: Prick of the Spindle 5.3

Prick of the Spindle
Vol. 5, No. 3

Prick of the Spindle, now in its fifth year of online publishing, with both Kindle and print editions (No. 1 in October, 2011) also available, is what it set out to be: well-rounded. Editor-in-Chief and Founder Cynthia Reeser and her editors must burn the midnight oil to produce so much quarterly content. The first literary journal to come out as a Kindle magazine, prickofthespindle.com quietly goes about its business of publishing original writers and artists in a plethora of genres.

In this edition, the journal’s (what’s its “barn” name, I wonder? the prick? the spin? ps? sprindle?) slightly shamanized—no, wait, that’s just a white eagle with jackalope antlers—nostalgic screen presence presents, in sheer volume, 14 fiction writers, nine articles, 17 poets, some with quartets and quintets of their work, two plays, five non-fiction pieces, multiple reviews and interviews, and a 1:19 minute Vimeo film of a poet’s eye while she recites “sucks her” to the accompaniment of a violin. And art. Twenty-eight artists are featured in a wide spectrum collection of digital art, collage, paintings, “fauxtography,” charcoal and graphite, mixed media, and photography. And if that’s not enough content for you, the links page sends you to a herd of other online journals and literary organizations helpful to submitting writers and artists. Although one, to Insolent Rudder, links to a null blog page, others link to The Adirondack ReviewDuotrope, etc.The journal encourages submission of interesting, diverse, unique statements.Mark Reep’s miniature charcoal and graphite dreamscapes, such as the 3.5” x 2” “Chapel Bell”, are mesmerizing B&W miniworlds of mysterious stone, misty chasms and lone trees hanging off cliffs. Featured Visual Artist George McKim’s “Dictionary Drawings” are single page erasure fictionesque creations that I would have appreciated being able to click to enlarge. Brian Anderson’s non-fiction piece “Sprinkler Hose: Something Something Something Phallus Joke” is about *spoiler alert* masturbation. Cynthia Tracy Larsen’s flash fiction, “After the Tire Blew” has olfactory notes of piss, “rotten farm garbage” and “baked-bean-and-hotdog-dinner smell.” J. Camp Brown is showcased with four poems in a most persuasive Arkansas diction, including the fabulously-titled, “Diddleybow” with its wonderworded “thrang,” “turnbuckle,” and “her skimpy unmissables.” Managing Fiction EditorCynthia Hawkins discusses process with a group of writers in a featured group interview, “Writer’s Round-Up.” An interview with writer/musician/recording artist Allan Ross attests to Reeser’s continual search, as stated in the bio on her personal website cynthiareeser.com, “to unite literature, art and music.”Prick of the Spindle is Cynthia Reeser’s creation. As an artist, photographer, writer, website designer, editor, and publisher, Reeser’s passion and hard work is evident throughout. Her design strives to achieve a non-digital feel, as if created with movable type on a composing stick; while it’s an intriguing concept, I honestly found it a bit difficult to read at times. Some webpages have inconsistent design elements (the artists pages in the gallery section, for example) that feel like they’re from earlier editions. So many hats, so little time. And there is a lot going on. If indeed there’s magic at work in the wee hours as each edition is published, there are certainly no sleep-inducing spindles in her Florida workroom. Maybe a mythic antlered eagle or something.

Review by Susan Lynch
© 2011, All Rights Reserved