Contributor's copies: Thin Air 17, Naugatuck River Review 5, Ramshackle Review 3
Making good on my pledge to read and recognize work I like in journals that publish my writing, I've spent some time with the current issues of Thin Air and Naugatuck River Review, as well as the online journal Ramshackle Review.
I'll start with the web journal. Ramshackle Review appears to have an aesthetic that is part gritty realism, part playfulness. The poems and stories in this issue do feel connected, by and large fitting well together. They offer real-world problems, pop-culture awareness, a wry understanding of how hard things are sometimes. The 1936 dust-bowl Dorothea Lange photo that leads the issue seems, somehow, to fit with almost every piece. Poems by Jim Davis, John Tustin, Susan Tepper and Heather Abner were among the hits for me.
Moving on to the print journals ...
My favorite poem in Thin Air is "Sounds Like Home" by Delicia Daniels. It's a taut, sensual love poem in seven couplets, at once grounded in place: "when Ames and Tallahassee / move closer together" and floating breathlessly above the earth, as in the excellent final lines: "the way we language lust / again and again." I like this poem so much I'll forgive it its lowercase i.
Other highlights from this issue include "Lisped in Numbers" by Christopher Mulrooney, as well as Korkut Onaran's "Intercourse."
Naugatuck River Review focuses on narrative poetry, and the winter 2011 issue is the contest issue, with the winning piece judged by Patricia Smith. Smith herself also has a poem in here, a powerful piece titled "Jumper." There are lots of excellent poems here, including Phil Gruis' scary "Mother Rubber." Christine Hamm's "Neighbors" is also a highlight, as is Naomi Lore's "Sunday After New Year's."
One of the cool things about reading this journal is the chance to explore the range of pieces that qualify as narrative poetry. Of course, some poems in here are more conventionally story-telling than others, but it's nice that the urge to tell a story doesn't have to overrule the urge to play with language and syntax, to evoke and mystify and undercut.
M's "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes" is a dark and masterful mystery story about the things -- specifically, severed right feet, still clad in socks and running shoes -- that float up on beaches, and why "their buoyancy / is infinitely more fascinating / than the small matter / of why there are so many of them ..." A pretty nifty metaphor that works on many levels, of course, including being a statement on poems themselves. Yes, there are a lot of poems in the world these days. But the complaints that the proliferation of places to publish somehow works against the quality of the work. No, not every poem out there is buoyant, unsinkable, transcendent. But those that are will make their way to shore.