Every year, I end up purchasing approximately twenty literary magazines. Some of these are favorites I read cover to cover. Others I browse. And I always try to branch out with a few new magazines each year based on friends’ recommendations.
A couple of weeks ago, my long-time writing group pal – fiction writer Jen Bergmark – suggested that I take a look at The Cincinnati Review, and I was hooked from the first page of the winter 2012 issue (8.2) – the poem Shimmer by Philip White. In this poem, the line “the hurt that’s building here will turn into something…” foreshadows the entire issue.
The poetry throughout is first rate, driven by an intensity that the editors cull by including poets who utilize direct address, and topics of pain and hurt. In Tara Bray’s Doubts of a Striving Contortionist, she blends the physical and metaphysical with lines such as: “Yes, only my heart’s contorted, and each day the body outlives its trauma; my prayer, the dignity of shaping what is dying into something dying.”
Aside from enjoying the writers’ use of language, I am drawn to the gritty subject matter. In Nance Van Winckel’s To the El, she turns a scene of a woman trying to get through a turnstile with her metal walker into something more universal – a nation that is itself stuck in many ways.
Some of our best poets bring fresh work to the pages, including poems that I ended up reading multiple times by Todd Hearon, Julie Sophia Paegle, Kevin Prufer, Laura Read, Lloyd Schwartz, David Wagoner and G.C. Waldrep.
The fiction, if anything, keeps the intensity burning brighter with eight satisfying stories by six writers. In Kate Finlinson’s The Jesus Party, we are titillated and horrified by a narrator dressed up as the Lord and Savior to make some money at a kid’s party. The narrator is literally oozing with unrequited love that seeps out in lines such as “It destroys me a little bit to watch women make sandwiches” and his inability to keep himself from hitting on the mother of the birthday girl.
Three pieces of flash fiction by Thomas Israel Hopkins manage to be absurdist, political and fraught with physical peril all at the same time. In Our Libretto Conundrum, we discover the true story behind lines such as: “I think about the great man’s biography sometimes; times like right now, as I sit in a traffic jam that I am confident has resulted from yet another librettist motor cycle crash.”
And I dare anyone to be unmoved by Steve De Jarnatt’s Mulligan, a multilayered wonderful mess of a story from the multiple perspectives of those trying to deal with a Nebraskan law that encourages people to drive to its borders to drop off unwanted children.
The reviews and artwork by Antonio Carreno add to the ambience, and we are graced with nonfiction by Martha Collins that introduce us to the dreamscape of poet Ngo Tu Lap, along with five of his poems that move masterfully from village life to global concerns.
At the end of this issue is a nonfiction piece by Joshua Harmon that juxtaposes the nostalgia of a little known rock band Section 25 with the nuclear proliferation of the United States and the Soviet Union. This piece I resonated with personally because of my decision to leave military intelligence after an offer to be part of a peacekeeping force to dismantle Soviet nukes in order to go to the University of Michigan to spend far too much time enjoying similarly obscure punk-influenced bands such as The Minutemen.
This issue of the Cincinnati Review is concerned with the truth of our world and the human condition, and the danger of this approach is melodrama in the hands of lesser writers and editors. I encourage potential readers to go ahead and take this risk.