A brand new Mithila Review is out and the editorial is a call for submissions. Get on it, any writer peoples out there! Because the publication continues to be a great mix of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, with perhaps the most SFF poetry I've seen per issue outside of, you know, solely poetry publications. This month features two flash fiction stories (both reprints but new to me and I wanted to cover them) and eight poems from five different poets! And the idea of between-ness is still at the front of each of the pieces. Between genres or between histories or between worlds. Between apocalypses and between the natural and the manufactured. And there's a nice mix of humor and tragedy, art and longing. And I should just get to those reviews!
|Art by Abdulrahiman Appabhai Almelkar
"Presidential Cryptotrivia" by Oliver Buckram (1389 words)
Well this is…a bit odd. It's like someone took a book of classic sci fi and force-mated it with one of those "crazy facts" book that history teachers thought would get first graders to care about the U.S. presidents. The result is a series of jokes and gags lampooning the presidential history of America, but with a decidedly SFF mentality. And for fans of SFF (much more than fans of American presidents), the result is mostly rather charming. The mileage on some of jokes does vary greatly, but by and large the snippets are fun and fast, appear and then take a bow, though the picture it paints of the mantel of president as a whole is a rather grim one. Still, there were definitely a few chuckles to be had reading through these, and I'm guessing that is pretty much exactly the point. There's not really a narrative structure, nor really too much to take away at the end of the experience except a smile and a laugh and a slow shake of one's head. It's a lovely way to break in the issue, though, with a light and humorous touch. Indeed!
"Her Mother's Ghosts" by Theodora Goss (1270 words)
This piece of flash fiction draws things much deeper than the last, painting a picture of culture and loneliness, ghosts and leavings. The text is layered, is told by a narrator who speaks directly to the reader, to reveals and contradicts and goes through this story of Ilona and the story of themself. To me the story is of generations and moving and memory. The ghosts that plague the narrator seem to be things hardly remembered, images that are vivid but a past that is muddy and unclear and so all that is left are these moments that break in, these ghosts. That Ilona mirrors the narrator is deliberately done and specifically revealed, and yet there's a lot going on with that, with how Ilona relates to the rest of her family, to that idea of distance. Between Ilona and the others, with her ability that keeps her different. Between the narrator and their family, where again there is difference, where it is implied at least that the narrator's memories keep them apart, unable really to reconcile because there is a sense that the narrator's mother is leaving that part of her life behind and the narrator doesn't want to or can't. I quite like the feeling of the story, the jumbled nature of it, those images of the ghosts coming forward, clear, and the terror and uncertainty they conjure for Ilona. It's a fascinating tale about family and about heritage and about hauntings, and very much worth checking out!
"The Woman and the Serpent" & "Tomorrow Never Comes" by A.J. Odasso
The first of the two poems here, "The Woman and the Serpent," takes an interesting look at Eve's mind at the time of temptation. It lingers on the sensation of eating the fruit rather than the outcome, the feel of it over the knowledge, and the realization that from the moment of eating the fruit, of enjoying it, relishing it, there is no place for Eve in Paradise. Because the rules of the garden are such that if she does not get Adam to disobey as well she will be destroyed. At least, as I read it Eve knows full well that because she has done this thing, because she knows, she knows that alone she will bear all the blame, will be cast out and unmade. There is a loneliness, a sadness about the poem, about the Woman, but to me it seems directed at the way that she is trapped. Trapped regardless of what she does and so she chooses to live. To live and to doom because that's the choice she has, which really isn't much of a choice. The second poem, "Tomorrow Never Comes," is a strange and moving poem about departures and longing. And, to me, about something that has fallen apart. A relationship that is ended and the devastation that follows. The uncertainty that comes from having thought a life would go a certain way and then finding out that it's not going to. The sections are short and vague, but to me convey a sense of searching for meaning, for something familiar, for something meaningful. Sweeping without cleaning. Collecting without really enjoying. And then something of a resolution. Something of a drive to recover, to move on. To mend the wings that seem tattered. It's a strong poem and both together show a sort of grim resolution, a recognition of hurt and harm and a numbness to it. Definitely two poems worth spending some time with!
"The Giftie" by John W. Sexton
This is a nicely dark and rather fun poem about gifts and riddles and choices. In it the narrator is continually presented with options. With clusters of gifts. Triads. The poem sells the sort of hum-drum attitude the narrator takes. The gifts are taken or discarded without question or comment, really, and yet the decisions they make have grave consequences. The whole poem then is a sort of riddle, a sort of enigma. What choice was damnation and what was salvation isn't exactly clear, because at times it seems like the answer would change. Like whatever happens the narrator would be doomed, would have doomed the world, because the most devious of riddles don't really have answers, only the illusion of an answer. There is the sense I got from the piece that whatever the narrator did, bad things would happen. Which does nothing to keep the narrator from picking or having to pick. But I do love the imagery of the piece, the magical way that it moves and that these choices shape the world, the days and the nights and everything in between. It's a poem that revels in its construction, that shows just how well things can come together only at the end, when the poem is taken in whole, and at no point before that, so that when it ends it does so with the force of a freight train, leaving me as a reader rather floored by that last stanza, that last twist of the knife. A fine poem!
"The Genius" by Sara Backer
This poem takes a nice look at the idea of genius and worth and value. About how intellect and inspiration work best, which is to say, without constraint. Or at least without the constraint of having to produce something to make money. Which is part of why the system we see in most places now (because yay capitalism) doesn't exactly encourage advancement for the betterment of humanity but in order to make something to sell. In order to drive commerce and not solve problems. And that even when someone doesn't want to make money, even if they are dedicated to thought and science and progress, they still must contend with people interrupting them, with people trying to disrupt them either out of desire for their assistance or because they don’t want to see progress if it doesn't mean capitalism and profits get maintained first and foremost. It's a powerful poem for being rather short, about the way thinking works, how patterns form when you allow yourself to be open, when you allow yourself to get distracted, to work with what works for you. And it's a soft ending that still hits rather hard, the image something simple and recognizable and hiding this great loss, this great pain. This waste of potential. It's a sonnet, too, unless I miss my guess, and makes good use of sensory detail and stream of consciousness and, of course, that ending couplet. Amazing!
"Green Thaumaturge" & "Stones" by Seth Jani
The first poem, "Green Thaumaturge," is a poem told in couplets and revolving around nature, around a nature that is magical and strange. Where something is testing itself against the beasts, creating glass hares and strange birds and watching to see what unfolds. I love the structure of the poem, the way that thoughts jump the gaps between couplets while sometimes thoughts end and begin right next to each other. To me it gives a sort of stop/go feel, where things are uncertain and unknown, where the expected structure (of the poem, of the universe) is off in some fundamental way, is being challenged and tested. And the language is strong, evocative, and strange. It's a theme that is brilliantly continued in the second poem, "Stones," which once more combines the natural and the mystical, gods and stones and tress all linked. Here there is a feeling of age as well, of something ancient being ignored and denied and the one person who believes, who sees, is shunned for it, driven from place to place. And only upon their death does the moment come that would have justified the faith, the reward only given when it's not a reward any longer. Which is an interesting way of looking at philosophy and mortality, the way that people sometimes only begin to listen once a person is gone, how one person can plant seeds that will sprout and shatter institutions that oppressed them only after they have died. Both poems do a great job of merging natural imagery with the weird, with magic and old gods, and they are a delight to read!
"Old Fabric" & "The Solid Lines of Disappearing Things" by Vinita Agrawal
The first poem, "Old Fabric," captures a great sense of time, of familiarity, the way that knowing a person for a very long time can dull the things that were once bright, the way the age can dull those things as well, passions slowly blunting. But not completely. And the poem does a great job of still holding to regard, to love, to companionship. It paints a moving picture of people who remain. Friends or lovers or both, the people in the poem age and change, yes. They fade, and their textures shift with time, but they are still made of the same stuff, and there is something that remains indelible, the memories and the joys that do not fade, that remain bright and lasting through it all. It's a beautiful piece. The second poem, "The Solid Lines of Disappearing Things," also seems to me to revolve around age and change. Around the idea of fading and drifting. About things not being able to return to the way they were. And in some ways I read it as that being completely natural, that worlds fall and people age and some things remain in cycle but the individuals cannot go back, have to play the hand they are dealt while thinking they have a chance of being dealt in again. It's a fine pair of poems and a great way to close out the issue!