The Kenyon Review Summer 2023 is a collection of poetry, short stories, and essays focusing on Women’s Health and ecopoetics. I was particularly drawn to the essay, ‘Shelter in Place’, by Sydney Tammarine, the essay, ‘How to Tell a True Love Story’, by Leslie Jill Patterson, the story, ‘Robber’s Lake’, by Emma Binder, the story, ‘Burnings’, by Kabi Hartman, and the poem, ‘Comfort Food’, by Terrance Hayes. In ‘Robber’s Lake’, a boy fashions himself a diving rig to go to the bottom of a lake and bring back his mother’s painting which he thinks will bring her out of her depression. He enlists the help of an older gay man and as the boy searches, his contraption fills with water and the man has to jump in to save him. This collection was strong in its discussion of the environment and how women are vital for a healthy world.
Final Rating: 4/5
The Greensboro Review Fall 2023 is a collection of poetry and fiction with a few notable stories. The first is ‘Expedition’ by Mike Nees, which is about a man who is determined to go on an expedition to the poles to prove that the earth is hollow. The narrative slowly shows how unhinged the man, Justin, is in his adoption of other fanciful conspiracy theories. Another story I enjoyed was ‘Goblin’ by Robert Stone with its eeriness and reference to an imaginary goblin between a father and son. It had some striking images with the decomposed food behind the oven being one of them. The final story I enjoyed was ‘Men with Guns’ by Ania Mroczek for how oddly the speaker has a fixation on guns and the men who own them. Later on, it’s revealed she has a fascination because of her parent dying in a car crash with guns in the glove compartment. Overall, I enjoyed the way the stories flowed and thought it was an interesting issue.
Final Rating: 4/5
In this issue, the month I was born, there were a few poems I enjoyed reading. Namely, ‘One Possible Meaning’, by Charlie Smith with the final lines, “The park is dusty, dark, yet the children, / ignored all day, play on, convinced their dedication / releases a magic that changes everything.” Another poem I enjoyed was, ‘Veterans’, by Mark Wisniewski. Though, I was a little taken aback at John Brehm’s, ‘At the Poetry Reading’, which accounts a night where the speaker goes to a reading, but isn’t interested in the poems, but rather the wife of the poet. It is hauntingly misogynistic, which makes the speaker somewhat of a distasteful voice. If this was what Brehm was trying to go for, he hit the mark with the lines, “I’m imagining / myself slide up his wife’s fluid”. The poem itself seems self-indulgent with the final lines referring to the speaker as a better poet than the subject of the poem, “once she leaves him, / leaves him for another poet, perhaps, / the observant, uninnocent one, who knows / a poem when it sits down in a room with him.” All in all, there were some hits and misses in this issue.
Final Rating: 3/5
In the 1970 March issue of Poetry, there were a few poems I enjoyed. ‘The White Hotel’ by Richard Shelton has the lines, “that memory is the only / kind of loss we ever know”, which I thought was a strong way to end the poem. The only other poem that I found held me was ‘On Earth’ by Michael Benedikt which has an interesting indentation. However, on the whole I found it a little lackluster. Some of the commentary was interesting, but didn’t bring the pizzaz I associate with late 60’s / early 70’s type poetry.
Final Rating: 3/5
The Best American Short Stories 1993 is a collection of 20 stories selected by guest editor Louise Erdrich. This selection has big names such as John Updike, Mary Gaitskill, Alice Monro, and Mary Gordon. Many of these stories I enjoyed such as ‘Playing with Dynamite’ by John Updike which describes the marriage and infidelity of an old man, ‘The Girl on the Plane’ by Mary Gaitskill about a man who recalls being part of a gang rape after seeing a stranger on a plane, ‘The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore’ by Harlan Ellison about a man who is part of surreal moments in history and it takes up an interesting structure, ‘Poltergeists’ by Jane Shapiro about a mother trying to care for her teenagers who are always partying, ‘Red Moccasins’ by Susan Powers about a Native American family who lose a young child, ‘Pray Without Ceasing’ by Wendell Berry about a grandfather who is shot by his friend, and ‘Gold’ by Kim Edwards about a nugget of gold found in Malaysia.
This collection had some amazing pieces, and pieces that I’m not sure why they work. For example, the final story of the collection ‘The Important Houses’ by Mary Gordon begins and stays almost too long in describing the features and events that happened in the narrator’s grandmother’s house. There is a lot of backstory and discussions of relationships that seem fairly sprawled out, and it’s only in the last two pages where I felt there was reason to tell the story: the father died when the narrator was younger. It is unexpected but makes sense and many of the relationships/descriptions come back in the last moments to make the narrative work, though I’m still perplexed. The story, I think, also has one of the best lines in the collection, in which it preempts the reader with the father’s death. It goes, “There is a sound of disaster, and a quiet after it, when the universe becomes still with shock; the wind stops, the light is colorless, and humans have no words, because no words fit the enormity.” It’s a sprawling, intricate sentence that really made me realize how effortless it seems for Gordon to transition from the grandmother’s house and its happenings to something deeply entangled in the narrator.
Though there were other stories, such as ‘Terrific Mother’ by Lorrie Moore which had a twinge of Orientalism in moments such as this, “’Dishonored?’ So Japanese. Adrienne like the sound of it.”. Or “She sighed. ‘Then I shall sing to you. Mood music.’ She made up a romantic, Asian sounding tune and danced around the room with her cigarette, in a floating, wing-limbed way. ‘This is my Hopi dance,’ she said. ‘So full of hope.’” These are moments that made me question Moore’s intent. Because why would you take a very stereotypical aspect of Japanese culture and use it as a prop? Or still, the second quote feels even more icky in that not only does it otherize Asian cultures (let alone sticking them together and mentioning “Asian sounding”, what the heck does that even mean—there’s no monolithic “Asian sounding” music), but it displays it in a grotesque and characterized way. Why name it a “Hopi dance”? Why make something seem ‘exotic’? And while yes, the narrator is intentionally grating, these moments feel off.
However, overall, I found the collection to be a decent read.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
The Kenyon Review Spring 2023 is a collection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translations which heavily focused on translations edited by Jennifer Croft, Jeremy Tiang, and Anton Hur. Overall, I thought it was a decent issue, and there were some wacky stories, such as ‘Tumbleweed’ by Ao Omae and translated by Emily Balistrieri which follows the life of a movie star tumbleweed who had once been a person. Another strange story was ‘The Aspiration for Cha-Ka-Ta-Pa’ by Bae Myung-Hoon and translated by Sung Ryu which is about a futuristic time where people go to a library to be immersed in life of the 2020’s and the language/spelling is not like I’ve seen before. There were two stories that I enjoyed which were ‘A Field Guide to the Bear-Men of Leningrad’ by Sam J. Miller and ‘Two-Headed Dog’ by J. T. Sutlive. The first story features a town in which people fear bear-men who come in at night and eat the villagers, but it turns out that the speaker realizes they’re one of the bear-men. And the second story is about two men, one American who teaches English, the other a Japanese man who works construction/clean-up after a tsunami. The two men are gay and grow close and have an on/off relationship. And I enjoyed the subtlety of the emotions between the two when one of them grieves the loss of his brother in the tsunami. Overall, I enjoyed the short stories, albeit they were a little weird, but didn’t connect too much with the poetry.
Final Rating: 3/5
Dryland Issue 11 is a collection of poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, and interviews focusing on the people and experiences of South Central LA. There were a few poems that I enjoyed, particularly, ‘We’re Still Too Close to Mexico, Still so Far from God’ by Antonia Silva, ‘Watching the Sunrise from the Second Story’ by Angel Cerritos, ‘A Car Crash is not a Poem’ by Lupita Limón Corrales, ‘Amá Teaches Me How to Whistle’ by Moncho Alvarado, and ‘Newlywed in a Pandemic’ by Samantha Rivas. I also enjoyed the nonfiction piece, ‘My Dad Who Bakes Bread’ by Cecilia Caballero because of how it ties their family history to food and how that changes and alters how they see the world. I enjoyed the issue overall, though found the short fiction to—at times—be a little too simplistic. (Note: Dryland was renamed to sin cesar after this issue.)
Final Rating: 3/5
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 is a collection of lists, poems, stories, essays, and comics edited by Dave Eggers, with an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro. It’s a thick and somewhat intimidating collection, but regardless, I enjoyed many of the stories within its pages. These stories/essays included ‘We Show What We Have Learned’ by Clare Beams (about a teacher whose body falls apart in front of her students), ‘The Deep’ by Anthony Doerr (about a man whose mother kept him from the world because of his heart condition), ‘Weber’s Head’ by J. Robert Lennon (about a roommate feud between a sculptor and a web editor), ‘The Suicide Catcher’ by Michael Paterniti (about the real-life Mr. Chen who catches people from jumping off the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge), and ‘Pleiades’ by Anjali Sachdeva (about in vitro septuplets dying due to health complications). These stories were tender, loving, and ached with life. Specifically, I thought ‘The Deep’ was powerful in how it treated the mother’s overprotection and the son’s desire to live even if it meant he was bound to die.
The story by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘A Hole in the Head’, had an interesting premise and was written well enough for me to be held by its narrator. Though the story felt like it fell squarely within the territory of genre fiction and read like another story of hers in Best American Short Stories 2011 about a daughter who can’t identify her mother’s body. Another story in the collection that I didn’t feel too enthused about was ‘Art of the Steal’ by Joshuah Bearman mainly due to the same pitfalls of Oats’ story, in that it didn’t do anything fresh with the genre. Overall, however, I enjoyed the variety, and many of the stories.
Final Rating: 4/5
The Kenyon Review Winter 2023 features short stories, essays, poetry, and visual art, with a folio focusing on bridges and how people/connections/moments can be bridges for other things. This issue has a few fascinating stories, one of which is called ‘Block Party’, by Danny Lang-Perez, which features a magical man who can cook/make anything from his mobile kitchen and his son, Charles, who people adore. When Charles doesn’t appear one night because his mother asked him not to help, the neighborhood goes crazy, throwing things at the man and running him out of their cul-de-sac. It’s an interesting way to look at how the entitled treat workers, and what happens when things don’t go their way. I also enjoyed the language in ‘Eight Poems’ by Abbas Kiarostami and ‘The Orphanage’ by Emeline Atwood. Though, everything else felt a little lackluster.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
The Best American Poetry 2022 is a selection of poetry guest edited by Matthew Zapruder with poems from Ada Límon, Ocean Vuong, Louise Glück, and Diane Seuss, among others. Most, if not all the poems, featured meditations on the affect of the pandemic, the loneliness/isolation it brought, and how daily life was interpreted. There were poems, such as ‘Goblin’ by Matthew Dickman, which showed how thin the line between care and abuse is and what that power meant to the speaker. And in this way, Dickman, upon saying, “There are so many ways/to eat the young.” recognizes and fears how his actions can change his child’s view of him. Or take Robin Myers’s poem, ‘Diego de Montemayor’, which finds Myers at a weird crossroads, knowing their ancestor oversaw a massacre, and still recognizing that ancestor as a part of their family. And, of course, how can I not forget Ocean Vuong’s, ‘Reason for Staying’, with the immaculate line, “Because my uncle never killed himself—but simply died, on purpose.” There were certainly high points, but after reading the bios, the writers did seem homogonous in their backgrounds, from which I would’ve liked to see more diversity.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.