07 September 2010

Something I Like: Mid-American Review's 30th Anniversary Issue

I'd planned to write this mini-review of Mid-American Review Volume XXX, Numbers 1 & 2, last week, but it took me longer than I thought it would to finish reading it. Most of the time, I finish a journal in a day or two, but this one hung around for over a week. First, it's really long: including the contributors' notes, the 30th Anniversary Issue comes in at 432 pages. Second, I found myself reading almost every piece from beginning to end. Unlike with many issues of many magazines--even the really good ones, even the really prestigious ones--I found myself pulled in by just about every poem and story the editors chose to include. Yes, there was a story or two I skimmed, even one I skipped after reading its first few lines. But, for the most part, this issue is filled with compelling poems and stories (not to mention W. Scott Olsen's entertaining personal essay about flying and world records and North Dakota and ego and humility). While there is nothing experimental here, nothing that really pushes against literary boundaries, almost every one of the seventy-something writers represented here takes some risks. On the whole, the volume amply rewards a week of reading. I started at the beginning and just kept going when I had the time; whether or not the editors intended it to be, the issue feels arranged to accommodate just such an experience: read a couple of poems and a story, go to the post office, come back to a story and a few poems, cook some dinner, read a section of translations, take a nap. With the heft (physical and literary) of a novel, the journal fits easily into the chunks of time you find on the subway, in the bathroom, at the dentist's office, in bed. Compelling (and sometimes disquieting) work by good writers: not a bad way to fill the little moments of a week. Plus, many of the pieces published here sent me searching for more work by their authors. In my book, that's always a good thing.

Five things I especially like (alphabetically by author):
  • "No, Thank You," a poem by Becca Barniskis
  • "Having a Diet Coke With You," a poem by Denise Duhamel
  • "Cowboy Up, Sugar," a story by Rebecca Rasmussen
  • "What We Own," a poem by Philip Terman
  • "I'm Going to Bust This Case Wide Open," the featured poetry chapbook by Tony Trigilio

Music at the moment: Mississippi John Hurt, Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings

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