Esteemed Lit Mag Charts Wide Experience of Human Nature

Review of Five Points, Winter 2015 - 2016 by Tripp Reade


Shall I begin with the Five Points 17.1 contributor’s list? Will you want to know that these pages are spangled with NEA, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller fellowships, Pushcart, Library of Congress, and AWP prizes, magazine editors, professors, and poets-in residence? That the list of their published chapbooks, collections, short stories, and novels would consume the rest of this review if I let it? Or will it be better to turn aside, into a consideration of the issue itself? The latter? By all means, then.

“The Man Who Knew Too Much and the Girl Who Knew Too Little” is poet Sharon Dolin’s blend of memoir and cultural criticism in which she combines her life as the daughter of a mentally ill mother, her brief career as a child model, and her interest in the Hitchcock film embedded in her essay’s title, plus additional forays into her relationship with her sister and a debacle of a summer camp. Any CNF writer would benefit from close study of this essay’s construction; Dolin works in discrete blocks of text of varying lengths, focusing exclusively on one thread at times, at others bringing two or three together to see what light is shed by their contrast.

Sometimes continuous in form, sometimes stanzaic, usually without meter and dependent on slant rhyme and figurative language for structure, the poetry here features speakers and occasions that chart a wide expanse of human experience. A number, though, do reflect on some childhood episode from the child’s perspective, as in Peter Everwine’s “A Small Story,” which puts the word “small” through its paces. The poem begins with a specific memory and moves to the lovely statement that “the story we make of our lives / is a mystery of luminous, but uncertain moments, / a shuffle of images we carry toward sleep--”

Elsewhere, two ekphrastic poems focus on two-dimensional art: “Goya’s Mirth,” by Emily Fragos and “Funeral in Vermont,” Andrea Hollander’s treatment of a James Fitzgerald watercolor. Fragos’s speaker imagines how Goya’s two dancing figures come to be high-stepping in his drawing, shifts into the viewpoint of one of the figures, the old woman, and ends back outside the artwork: “No one sees you, mémère, but you are safe here / in Francisco’s wild drawing.”

In similar fashion, Hollander’s speaker describes Fitzgerald’s painting-

...the dark gray pall bearers,

their hats and shoulders weighed down

by snow and sorrow, which is never truly

invisible but white and accumulating fast,..

--before moving outside the painting to where the speaker sits “alone now / a book of Fitzgerald’s work in my lap / having arranged and rearranged my half / of the furniture.” The presumably divorced speaker envies the mourners in the painting, kept by Fitzgerald from “ever / entering the sanctuary.”

Two poems by Sharon Olds exemplify her strength of observation. In “Eveready,” the speaker draws equally on memory and the language of science to grapple with her mother’s death, with the eponymous flashlight forming the hinge between the two. The “bright chrome Eveready” has a “head of milk-white plastic crafted in / pyramid steps like a honey bee’s hive--” and is her mother’s “stainless wand.” Visible light is compared with the living, non-visible with the dead, as the speaker concludes, with a brief touch of end rhyme,

Meanwhile, until I am dead,

she’s a form of “radiant energy

which does not act on the normal retina,”

her names like the names of gods--Ultraviolet,

Infrared.

“Dawn Song” works with a different set of materials--William Blake and Margaret Wise Brown, specifically--as Olds’s speaker reflects on caring for her (again, the speaker seems like a “she,” though nothing in the poem clearly indicates this) declining mother. After a cluster of images evoking the moon’s non-linear geometry--“arc,” “rim,” “curved sphere,” and “crescent”--the poem finishes with gentle, heartbreaking end rhymes:

I want to put her to sleep

Like an exhausted animal. Sleep, baby,

Sleep. Our cottage vale is deep.

The fearsome lamb is on the green,

With woolly fleece so soft and clean.

Sleep, baby, sleep.

Other poets in this issue have names even non-readers might recognize: Billy Collins and James Dickey, whose final poem, “Eden,” is here prefaced by an essay written by Longwood University Professor Gordon Van Ness, who describes his process of collating and editing various drafts of the poem into the version published in this issue of Five Points.

MFA candidate Kelly Beard interviews Andre Dubus III, winner of the 2015 Five Points Paul Bowles Prize for Fiction, and this interview is paired with a Dubus short story, “Silver,” which gives us a middle-aged man at his daughter’s bridal shower and layers three flashbacks into the narrative, adding resonance to the story-present and heft to a final moment of epiphany: “There’s the rising sense that he has led his daughter to a very old river, one that has a current of its own, and now it is time to let go, to turn and leave this house and walk out into that rain, that soft, spring rain.”

Representing the non-epiphanic, ambiguous ending is Karen Palmer’s “Over the Roof is Out,” which successfully takes the risk of opening with a dream by its protagonist, Jack, an elderly war veteran who can’t bring himself to tell his wife that a mutual friend has died, one with whom his wife, long ago, was involved. It is Thanksgiving and the couple’s two daughters are visiting and Palmer expertly works back and forth in time to give ordinary moments in the present of the story their due importance as Jack’s mind circles a less complicated era, before World War II: “What he wants is the chance to do it again. He wants the story unwritten, the game unplayed, the bomb still undropped.” Very few of us escape the backward pull of such thoughts, and Palmer gives that human tendency generous, clear-eyed treatment.

Five Points publishes three issues per volume, with two reading periods, September 1-December 1 and January 1-April 1. They accept flash fiction, with prose pieces capped at 7500 words. As always, read both the magazine’s guidelines and its content before venturing to send in your work: the poetry and prose here operates at the higher levels of art.