Good Writing. Many Approaches.
I’m rarely speechless, but this review has had my keyboard stuttering for weeks. I’ve tooled around with it to the point where it has stopped making sense to me. And here is where I make clear that the reason for my blundering confusion is twofold: 1) Pleiades is LONG and 2) Pleiades is FABULOUS. How do I address everything that needs to be addressed? How do I express my admiration in the right words? It’s impossible, so here’s a synopsis (in which I’ve begrudgingly deleted most of my original review in favor of its skeleton):
Pleiades rocks, etc. The contributors – poets, essayists, fiction-writers, and reviewers – are daring and playful, qualities that can be attributed to well-established writers who are willing to take risks.
Free verse, narrative, form (i.e. villanelle), etc. Both image and thought-driven
1. John Gallaher’s “In a Landscape: XLI,” begins “If only you could burn memories in a little pile / and bring whiskey and marshmallows. It would be / nice....”
The speaker moves oddly from story to story (a bonfire in the woods, a dog fight, an uncle’s tragic death) in an effort to tell us how “We tell stories constantly, usually for no reason / other than to say we’ve all lived and we’re / still here, which is why I have such a difficult time / with them...”
This is one of those rare poems that expertly balances its images with a certain amount of telling, yet isn’t in-your-face over-the-top. It’s the sign of a good poet, and a good poem, which Pleiades is good at picking, that Gallaher has the audacity to tell us what the poem is about, and it’s still poignant, still immediate in its message.
2. “It Came from the Primordial Ooze,” by Craig Morgan Teicher, is another poem that is immersed in thought but also rich with evocative images. He says:
The mind is so big, it’s easy to get lost in thought,
big as a grapefruit, or like an astonishing
house bigger on the inside than its frame
could possibly contain...
...A man has a heart
as small as a ball that pumps blood for miles
and feels what the mind can’t understand,
while the mind mixes its metaphors to
outdistance the reach of the hand.
The poem is actually much more serious that its hilarious title implies, and I like that playfulness. I also like the distinction between thought and feeling, that we feel emotion but are limited by language in the way we can process emotion.
Poems like Gallaher's and Teicher's both compliment and counteract one another, showing us the complexity of language and how we choose to express ourselves. Other poems in the magazine are just as engrossing and often interested with the mind and its relation to the physical world.
All three of the stories’ emotional truths rest with a secondary or even non-present character, but this one is my favorite:
1. “Eunuch” by Jan English Leary. A high school English teacher at a prep school. She is alone, alienated, and disconnected from the students and other teachers. She spends all her energy trying to keep a Chinese boy, Xiao (who mistakes the word “eunuch” for “unique,” he he), from failing out. But Xiao doesn’t want to get better. He doesn’t want to succeed – he wants to be sent home. This is a mirror of the narrator’s struggles and feelings, of course, and she ends up mentally cheering on Xiao as he basically goes nuts in front of the entire school, ensuring his release, no doubt.
Though three different stories with different characters and relationship dynamics (the other two deal with a single mom wanting to give up her son and a married couple both having separate affairs with the same woman), each one demonstrates the sad fact that we are all alone. You can only get so close to another person. It’s depressing but liberating. You are in charge of your own fate!
Two essays. Both academic-minded with elements of personal and public. Both very good, but this one was the BEST EVER.
1. “A Sense of All Sorrows,” by Brian Jay Stanley. This guy knows me completely. When he says “Finding almost every opinion defensible, I can rarely decide whose side I’m on” my heart pings in the direction of his heart. Stanley has the grace and honesty to admit his compassionate nature. In a world where we’re supposed to take sides and cheer on our team, our troops, our agenda, this is not boasting. If anything, he will be perceived as an idealist, which, for whatever reason, a lot of people see as a fault. I do not. This essay is moving and relevant. If we were all more compassionate, we would begin to move toward compromise, something essential to our world’s future.
150 pages! Daunting. Exciting. These people really love books. And so do you, right? The reviewers are diverse, but they are all engaged and engaging. I only have time to talk about one. Remember the skeleton?
1. Featured review: “Loaded Rift with Orr: On David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless, Harper Collins, 2011.” Review by Mark Halliday.
I did not want to read this review. It is 20 pages long, and from the beginning it is very clear that the reviewer passionately loathes the book. It turned out to be one of the most interesting and helpful reviews I’ve ever read. Halliday is kind and just enough to tell us about Orr’s otherwise stellar writing career and mention the places in the book where Orr succeeds, but he’s also brutally honest about Orr’s numerous apparent failings. Halliday brings up a lot of great, and intellectually stimulating, points. The title is weak. The book lacks a specific audience and insults established poetry lovers as well as poetry novices. In short, if Halliday is to be believed, Beautiful and Pointless is condescending, insulting, and lacking in thoughtful and insightful praise and criticism. Orr deliberately chooses bad poems and hints at their badness but doesn’t choose poems to counteract them, showing readers how a good poem can be accomplished. Furthermore, he seems to have very stereotypical view of poets and understand why poets care about poetry. Um, so why are you writing this book? I don’t really know, and I don’t think Halliday knows either. Halliday almost doesn’t want to answer the question, because the answer is so obvious, but he says “Is that really such a mystery? The most admirable lawyers care passionately about the law, don’t they?” and earlier “For poets, for lovers of poetry, poetry is where you try to say what you need to say on earth before you die. I’m always ready to read a book about that.” If anyone could write this type of book successfully, it would be Halliday (Sorry, Mr. Orr. You’re a great guy, I’m sure!). His engagement with the poems from Orr’s book is well-developed and provocative, unlike the seemingly vague author. His only weakness is a possible bias, since one of his own poems appears in the book. Orr is kind to Halliday, but I kind of wish Halliday hadn’t mentioned his own work.
2. Other reviews range from 2 to 11 pages and are generally more agreeable. But it’s nice to know that you can honestly and constructively engage with a book and be welcomed into the pages of Pleiades.
Pleiades publishes all kinds of poems, as long as you’re a semi-established, brilliant poet. The fiction is very thoughtful. All you need is great description and dialogue and a yearning to examine the human mind. The nonfiction is limited to intellectually-minded essays that mingle the personal with the public, but hey, that still gives you a lot to work with. As for review-writers, well duh. Obviously, your goal should be to publish in Pleiades. And lastly, for anyone who loves to read anything that makes you think, feel, and lose your ability to form cohesive sentences for a short time, Pleiades is your new crush lit mag.