The Kenyon Review May/June 2022 is a collection of prose and poetry that looks at life after the pandemic and in relation to nature. This issue had some intricate stories, namely, ‘The Arm of the Lord’, by David Crouse, and ‘Burning’, by Uche Okonkwo. Some of the poetry that captured me was, ‘Escape & Energy’, by Brenda Hillman, and ‘Mercy Me’, by Corrie Williamson.
Though the story that I felt was the strongest was ‘Happy Is a Doing Word’, by Arinze Ifeakandu which follows two boys who are learning about themselves and their queerness in relation to the rest of their community. I loved the way the voice of the story bleeds through the pages, and how the anger, frustration, sadness, and joy play out as the boys are outed to their parents and friends. It is a captivating story that worked to give dimension to queer experience.
Final Rating: 4/5
The October 2005 issue of Poetry contains mostly mediocre poems with a few shining lights. This issue felt like it relied too heavily on poems that fit within rigid rhyming schemes (which isn’t in itself bad, but it more or less felt stale). Though, I thoroughly enjoyed the poems by J.D. Whitney and Amit Majmudar. I was particularly fond of the poem ‘The Miscarriage’ by Amit Majmudar which ended on the lines, “our bodies folded shut our bodies closed/around hope like a book preserving petals/a book we did not open till the morning when/we found hope dry and brittle but intact”.
Final Rating: 3/5
The Iowa Review Spring 2021 is a collection of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction published by the University of Iowa. This issue heavily focused on the voices of veterans within its fiction portion. There were some bright spots in the issue, namely ‘Coelacanth’ by Ellis Scott, ‘The Lantern’ by Greg Wrenn, and ‘Routes’ by David Lombardi. These stories, at least, felt authentic with unique voices and twinges of queerness that I felt like I could relate to.
However, I was deeply disappointed with the rest of the pieces featured. Many of the stories written by and about veterans carried with them a staleness like in ‘Where’s Charlie?’ by Erik Cederblom. The story relied too deeply on the narrative of the prideful and just America, that all nuance was lost. No new ground felt like it was trod since many of the stories featured white male protagonists and didn’t critically view America’s actions as it related to war. The enemy was generally vilified and the only story to critically think about the military, ‘He Said, She Said’ by Jerri Bell, eventually fell in line with that narrative at the end. I was also not impressed at the poem ‘Dire Offense’ by Mark Levine as it seemed to become incoherent with a nonsensical stanza listing random nouns. It dragged on far too long and also relied too heavily on an unconventional rhyming scheme. Overall, I expected a more critical issue.
Final Rating: 2.5/5
American Short Fiction Issue 74 is a collection of short stories that deals in the strange and sometimes overlooked parts of the world. The characters in ‘After Hours at the Acacia Pool’ by Kirstin Valdez Quade, ‘Transit’ by Morgan Thomas, and ‘Sissies’ by hurmat kazmi are all seen as weird and different in the worlds around them. I am particularly fascinated with both ‘Transit’ and ‘Sissies’ whose language and moments feel right in the bizarre contexts they are within. I don’t often read a collection of short stories and find quality in each piece.
Final Rating: 4/5
The Paris Review Issue 238 is a collection of poetry, prose, and art that widely looks at the world through a fractured lens—at least it tries to. To start off, I found the shining star of this issue to be in ‘This Then Is a Song, We Are Singing’ by Sterling HolyWhiteMountain. It is a piece that is written as if it were posted on a social media website and documents the tumultuous relationship between Wayne and Lulu. The language feels raw, which gives its final ending in which Wayne, the writer, kills Lulu and another guy genuine and powerful. However, the piece continues with the voices of others commenting and wondering if everything is okay. I found Wayne’s justifications and desires to be deep and, at times, dark. The other piece I was fascinated with was ‘Infinite Life’ by Annie Baker. However, I thought these pieces were outliers when it came to the freshness of pieces.
The biggest contention I had with this issue was that it was deeply apparent what types of voices weren’t heard. The piece ‘Walks’ by Caleb Crain falls into this hole as it documents the walks of a guy and his dog as the Covid pandemic begins. Often, when people write about the pandemic, usually it feels all the same, and this exists within that pocket. First, it focuses on an upper middle-class man who finds Covid to be a nuisance rather than something serious (often there are comments about other people wearing masks when he doesn’t find it necessary). Covid seems to have affected the speaker very little, and this is the case in the piece. It comes off as insensitive to the workers and people who actually were working so closely with Covid. I don’t want to hear about a well-off white man complain about Covid, I want to hear about the struggles of the workers/nurses/dying. Second, its use of birds as a metaphor feels, not only drawn out, but a little reductive. It seems, to me, too easy of a comparison of birds to cages to people stuck in their rooms. And because of that, its intended impact misses.
The other story I had problems with was ‘Exhaling’ by Emmanuel Carrère which documents the meditation trip he took and what it means to him when he has to get pulled out because of a terrorist attack in Paris. Frankly, the piece is boring. It drags on about breathing and describing the minutia of meditating to an irksome degree. It is annoying (and this is more of a personal preference) that all the foreign words were italicized and then were described. It became apparent to me that the speaker’s audience was not me, but in fact older white men. The sex scene goes on for way too long and feels like it was written by someone who just discovered erotica. And its final scene where the speaker is taken from the retreat early because of the terrorist attack on Carlie Hebdo makes no sense to me. Why would he need to go back to France when, at that point, he was probably safer at the retreat? If it was due to travel restrictions, it was not written clearly enough. The only redeeming quality of the piece is the scene where the wolf watches as the speaker and another person perform tai chi.
Overall, I was disappointed with the issue. It focuses on older white privileged male voices, which implicitly removes and marginalizes the voices of others.
Final Rating: 2/5
The January 2022 issue of Poetry Magazine looks at issues of disabilities, the working class, and sexuality. I was drawn in by the poems ‘In the Beginning’ and ‘Retranslation’ by Josh Tvrdy, ‘New Queer Cinema’ by Ben Kline, and was blown away by Alison Thumel’s ‘Coping’. ‘Coping’ which works to tangle the death of her brother and grief afterward with the structure and use of architecture. It is woven with class notes, drawing, and definitions that act to create an unbreakable tie between subjects.
Also featured in this issue is the discussion and mulling over of accessibility for the disabled in the poetry community. The essays by Kay Ulanday Barrett and Petra Kuppers question the current difficulties their communities face, and challenge the power structures the gatekeeping exists within.
Final Rating: 4/5
The Mar/Apr 2022 issue of The Kenyon Review is a collection of poetry and prose focused on work and the world which surrounds the working individual. I found its cohesiveness, and sometimes deviation from work, to be fascinating in that work consumes large chunks of someone’s life. The pieces that stood out to me the most were ‘Ink’ by Angela Woodward, ‘Bebo’ by Jared Jackson, ‘Butchers’ by Dylan Reynolds, and ‘Automatic Reply’ by Mikey Swanberg. I found the visceral, and at times fearfulness, conveyed within ‘Butchers’ kept me on edge, while the tone in ‘Automatic Reply’ was both genuine and humorous.
Though, I found the story ‘Anaheim’ by Jennifer Croft to be slightly lacking in that its reference to George Floyd was inconsequential to the plot. Also, the setting of the pandemic didn’t seem to provide a fresh enough take to be compelling.
Overall, I enjoyed the issue and thought it had some great insights into how we interact and think about work.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
The Best American Short Stories 2021 is a collection of twenty stories edited by Jesmyn Ward and selected for their literary quality. The stories contemplated queerness, gender, race, and class all in intrinsically unique and bold ways. I was completely enamored with six of the stories, many of them focusing on what it means to be gay or queer. These stories were ‘Good Boy’ by Eloghosa Osunde, ‘Palaver’ by Bryan Washington, and ‘Biology’ by Kevin Wilson. I was also enthralled by the voices and storytelling of ‘Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ by Jamil Jan Kochai, ‘The Miracle Girl’ by Rita Chang-Eppig, and ‘The Rest of Us’ by Jenzo Duque. Overall, the collection was strong, poignant, contemplative, and tender.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
Freeman’s: Change is a collection of stories, non-fiction pieces, and poems that are loosely tied to the theme of change. It features writers such as Ocean Vuong, Lauren Groff, Rick Bass, and Yoko Ogawa. I found the particular pieces by Christy NaMee Eriksen (a writer who I knew from a local poetry slam club), Ocean Vuong, Lana Bastašić, and Siarhiej Prylucki to be stunning. Though, there were pieces that lacked the sparkle I was hoping for.
I’d like to especially highlight two pieces that struck a massive chord in me, and one of them was Ocean Vuong’s story called Künstlerroman. His story details the life of a man going backwards in time as he watches on. He is so delicate and powerful with his words, that I couldn’t stop rereading the sentence, “Then the cake on the table, air returning to the boy’s pursed lips as the seven candles, one by one, begin to light, and the wish returns to his head where it’s truer for never being touched by language.” The other piece that blew me away was Bread by Lana Bastašić. It was haunting, and painful, and deeply true in its rendition of what it means to be a girl becoming a woman.
Final Rating: 4/5
In the Paris Review Issue 237 writers grapple with the existential and the absurd, sometimes to great effect, and other times missing the mark. I was particularly drawn to the first story, ‘The Beyoğlu Municipality Waste Management Orchestra’ by Kenan Orhan, where a garbage collector begins to collect instruments after the city cracks down on people’s possessions. The absurdity builds until he not only collects all the instruments for an orchestra, but also all the players. At the end, the police find out what he was doing, and so locked him up with objects that the speaker believed had also been arrested. It was a story reminiscent of dystopian novels but had a twinge of humor.
Another highlight included Ada Limón’s poem ‘Power Lines’ in which a power line crew works to remove a tree in the way. And its final lines worked beyond the piece, “Now the tree is gone. The men are gone, just a ground-down stump / where what felt like wisdom once was.”
And the third piece I felt worked elegantly was Joy Katz’s creative non-fiction essay ‘Tennis is the Opposite of Death: A Proof’, which confronted a father’s death and Katz’s mortality. Its interplay with memory, tennis, and the father-daughter relationship held an emotional urgency.
However, while those pieces were my highlights, there were some moments that felt incongruous and sometimes didn’t work. I was particularly hesitant with the subject matter of ‘Rainbow Rainbow’ by Lydia Conklin in which a pair of teenagers fawn over an adult. It then broaches uncomfortable territory when one of the teenagers is fondled by the adult. And while I’m sure Conklin meant well in the conveyance of the adult realizing what she did was wrong, but it didn’t have a strong enough impact to excuse the actions beforehand (and maybe that was intended). Though, the damage of the adult didn’t seem to register or truly play out for the characters, and so it felt like a piece whose characters thought nothing but positively about the encounter.
I was also left underwhelmed by the story ‘The Lottery in Almeria’ by Camille Bordas, which had an initially interesting premise with the lottery and the inherited house of the father. Though, I felt that it fizzled out when the relationship with the sister was not really vibrant. I thought that the textbook writer writing the beginning of the story worked well, though it didn’t seem to follow through in the end.
There were some stunners, but also some stories that didn’t work too well for me.
Final Rating: 3/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.