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
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.