Reviews Reviewed

by Tim Scannell

Spin 39
(Auckland, New Zealand)

(Georgetown, KY)

The Sun
(Chapel Hill, NC)

Poetry Wales
(Bridgend, Wales)

Spin 39

edited by Jack Ross
(6a Hastings Road, Mairangi Bay, Auckland, 1310, New Zealand
68pp.; $20/3; March, 2001)

There are fifty-four poems and a dozen short reviews in this (largely) journeyman poetry journal. The bulk of the poems are narratives of recalled memory (slow-motion crescendos of incident and character trait), yet the idiosyncratic stanzaic patterns are refreshing, interesting to read. The real power, however, blooms (bright petals all) from intense and short lyrics, as in "What about" by Alice Hooton.

the stillborn child
the groundsman
cleaning his spade

the doctor
driving home to
an empty house

the woman
in a padded cell
crying down evening.

This poem, by p n w donnelly [sic], about youths breaking beer bottles on a rocky beach, its jagged line-length effectively forces the reader's mind to agree: Stupid assholes.

with pity as we
pick the shards

angry as each
four five

youngsters on the grass
with sixpacks

chucking stones at
the last
bottle on the beach.

I do advise American poets to subscribe to a few offshore publications, recommending ZineZone (England) and Riposte (Ireland); and here give a qualified nod to this poetry journal from the antipodes. (Seven bucks a copy is high, but one knows it is mostly postage.)



edited by Troy Teegarden
(Sweet Lady Moon Press, POB 1076, Georgetown, KY 40324
Vol 7, #1; 32 pp.; $10/4; Spring, 2001)

The editor subtitles his zine, "a journal of little literary value," yet most of its eighteen poems and two short stories are three to four notches above journeyman. Bill Widener pens a wonderful rhyming poem about love gone rotten, "Red is the Color of Roses and Rage," and Kristen Roach writes really effective free verse about being without love (based on a controlling metaphor of--believe it or no--a plate of spaghetti!)

David Chandler has a tersely descriptive 3-page narrative, "Dry," which happens to be the best poem I've read about old lovers trying to reconnect, trying to re-ignite a really dead fire (". . . she is dry, but he / continues to thrust"); the poem's ending achieving a perfect despair: ". . . her eyes are open / in the dark, staring at him, / and he begins to weep."

A 6-page short story, "The Box," by Michael Fowler, adroitly characterizes a 4x4-foot cardboard cube a hapless loner inhabits, through more than thirty distinct uses/actions over the period of a week. Its descriptive sentences and dialogue are finely honed, its humor acidly anomic. Troy Teegarden might be right about "literary value," but I highly value alternate literature for its…raw emotion, stretch and experiment, accidental nuance, and its (perhaps unconscious) courage to use our ordinary American idiom to explore mundane works and days. May Troy continue his fine editing and selection of material. It is certainly worth $2.50 each quarter.


The Sun

edited by Sy Safransky
(107 N. Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
48pp.; $34/12; April, 2001)

About the size of Audubon, but with a score of only b&w photos--doves, horses, owls, folks on the beach, and surreal juxtapositions (illustrating articles). Of three journeyman poems, the best is "Lemons" by Gail Martin. A short essay about the various owners of a single table is very clever--like Joseph Addison's immortal model, Adventures of a Shilling. A wordy and amorphous interview with a fellow whose expertise is shamans is very New Age, tedious, empty, and numbingly boring, filled with Guatemalan and Pueblo India, stones, earth, sky, dreams, etc.

Pat MacNulty contribute a very fine, tough, short story about women in prison which pulls no punches describing, for example, a woman in the dorm whose mutually gratifying habit is to vaginally tongue women after their showers. A long essay on "interspecies communication," while very bucolic, fascinating for two-thirds of its length (coyotes, dogs, wolves) is simply ruined by a closing dozen-paragraph, off-topic harangue about wolf-killing (chronological, since 1631!).

The best section of the magazine is called "Readers Write," little true-life experiences on specific topics (April: eavesdropping; upcoming months call for submissions on: debt; living alone; mercy; gratitude [for March, 2002]). The twenty participants, in this issue, created 500-1,000-word gems.

Must be honest though: all the New Age bafflegab (in the main articles) is gagging and odious.

Poetry Wales
edited by Robert Minhinnick

(38-40 Nolton Street, Bridgend CF31 3BN, Wales
Vol 37/#1, Jul/01, 72pp; 4/$27.00)

Serious American writers should subscribe to offshore publications: from England, for example, the all-poetry Iota (4/$15.00) or this journal from Wales (nonfiction, feature, book review, short story--and in this 72-page issue, 69 poems). Yes, comparatively expensive, yet we know it's the postage makes it so. Its five book reviews are endearingly formal (Ah, university days!), complete with footnotes and bibliography, but textured too, each thesis energetically argued: "Ted Hughes and the Classics," "Paul Celan's Prose and Poetry," recent British poetry anthologies, and more.

The features are tight essay, rumination: Jon Mitchell describes English-language schools in Japan: ". . . 2,500 of them . . . everywhere . . . outside every urban subway station [and] no town centre is complete without a major burger shop, a slot-machine parlour and an eikaiwa." Foreign teachers survive about eighteen months, ". . . long enough to get together a deposit for a house back home, others get fired for knocking up students or preaching about women's rights, World War Two, how the West is best. Fear of earthquakes, train molesters, the heat all take their toll."

W.D. Ehrhart sets the record straight about an American poet, William Wantling. It turns out that Wantling lied about nearly everything: his Korean War experience, imprisonment, marriages, etc. Ehrhart presents a fascinating methodology used to ferret out the truth. It is a cautionary tale, of course: Don't fall for the con that a poet necessarily knows what his poetry means--and remain steadfastly leery of self-promoting, autobiographical mythology. [Highly regarded for his poetry on Vietnam, W.D. Ehrhart contributed to the June feature, 'Only the Dead.' See Archives. Ed.]

The poems in Poetry Wales span the gamut from journeyman to sublime craftsmanship. FromVictoria Edwards Tester of New Mexico come ten poems of New Age bafflegab (though the benighted will salivate over aura, karma, shape-changing): "At night I walk through the pioneer cemetery with a man . . . / He holds my hand, and suddenly I know he's a wolf." In another poem, "Winter," the narrator is without wood, ". . . and our Seventh Day Adventist neighbors / sent us kindling for our stove . . . / we threw Genesis and Ecclesiastes / and even the sweet Song of Solomon / into the fire." A university press will publish, The Miracles of Sainted Earth in 2002, and so . . . Gaea galore!

But there is excellence from a dozen of the seventeen poets represented. Lyndon Davies creates 'effigies' (ekphrasis, actually) of the famous, in clever vignettes. On Sylvia Plath:

. . . the moon sways out and the mountain
slashes at it with its keen edge.
Imagine the sweetness of those drops
the split moon drips.

On Robert Frost:

It is pleasant to converse:
a bit like manoeuvring an old cart
over the ruts and bosses of a well-worn track,
and pausing from time to time, and listening
to all the sounds of the wood. . . .

James Sutherland-Smith, in Balkan settings, and the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, in Turin, along the Po, offer powerful and seamless narrative poetry. In "Wearying Work," a life-stunned man walks the same few streets of a town daily, going nowhere.

You need to stop a woman,
talk to her, convince her you and she should live together . . .
This is why sometimes
at night a drunk works himself up into a speech
outlining all the plans he's ever made in his whole life.

(Transl. Duncan Bush)

That woman is never met. In another poem of isolation, "Twilight of the Sand Diggers," dredgers recall women they've seen in the river during the day swimming or ashore (making love). At sunset, however, these men are

sunk in water to the waist. . . .
cold's gripped their balls and numbed their kidneys . . .

All some can think of
is mooring their boats and falling on the bed
and eating in their sleep . . .
But some keep seeing them, those bodies in the sun. . . .

Only in their dreams!

Some poems fail, the reader strangled by a poet's too self-conscious manipulation of persona/tone/voice, yet there are single poems of unsurpassable power or beauty. In John Barnie's "Facts," men at the ironmonger

. . . walk past the felling axes straight
to the chain saw display, and pick one up with a hand
behind the guard, wielding it in a few quick strokes
testing for balance; the quiet samurai of facts. . . .

In sixteen short, precise stanzas, Hilary Llewellyn-Williams imagines all of human life, from embryo to old age.

They come from elsewhere.
They arrive exhausted:
so they cry, they sleep.

I held you tightly, making you aware,
I brought you to yourself;
Warm milk entered your belly

and straightaway you started to forget
your journey. . . .

Offshore subscriptions illustrate the universality of our writerly tools: telling trope and line-length (pitch/stress/juncture) in poetry, pithy phrase, the undulant unfolding of theme in essay or fiction. They also emphatically, even eerily, demonstrate the atavistic concerns of all human souls, which are simultaneous on all continents: love and loss/dream and remembrance, the cobbled repair of aching hearts.

In Poetry Wales (even at 4/$27), essay, review, feature, and poetry show our like-as-peas-in-a-pod, body-electric journey. Subscribe!

(A prolific, independent reviewer, Tim Scannell, writes regularly for the magazine. He lives in Washington State.)
[Robert Minhinnick does an annual series of readings in the U.S, ordinarily in the Fall. This year, he reads in New York in mid-October, then goes on to Los Angeles. Ed.]