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"The Decades Have Wings." Esteemed Lit Mag Celebrates 50 Years in Print

Review of Tampa Review, Winter 2016 by E. Ce Miller


By its fiftieth issue, you expect a literary magazine to know what it’s doing—and Tampa Review does. As Florida’s oldest literary journal, founded in 1964 and housed at The University of Tampa, Tampa Review celebrated their fiftieth anniversary this winter with a slender, slick and glossy hardcover collection of visual art, fiction, nonfiction and poetry informed by the spirit of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. (Think pre-Etsy and Instagram DIY-ers.)

This special issue honored a collaboration between the Tampa Review and the Two Red Roses Foundation, a non-profit educational institution dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting the decorations and artwork of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, whose expansive collection of furniture, interior decoration, pottery, metalwork, photography, painting, tiling and woodblock printing is featured, via colored photography, in the first pages of the Review.

Issue 50 of Tampa Review celebrates writing that examines life’s great divergences and affinities: the past and the future, poverty and wealth, family relationships, hope and despair—exploring these subjects not as separate entities, but as integral, simultaneously existing parts of a whole. In introducing this issue, Tampa Review writes: “Like the Arts and Crafts Movement that blurred and blended lines between decoration and utility, the literary texts in this issue explore a series of contrasts and connections … while refusing to treat them as binaries.” By honoring both decoration and utility, Tampa Review essentially honors what good writing is—both decorative, and useful.

Each of the contributors to this anniversary issue boast impressive artistic resumes. The most noteworthy writers include Danahy Fiction Prize winner Isabella David, whose prize-winning short story, "If the Meek Inherit the Earth, They’ll Have Sons-of-Bitches for Lawyers," is featured in this issue, as well as Florida Poet Laureate Peter Meinke, and the late prize-winning poet Steve Kowit. The collection’s remaining contributors list extensive publishing credits, advanced degrees, writing awards and other honors. While no writers who would be considered new or emerging appeared in this issue, according to Tampa Review’s website they do welcome submissions from any writer or visual artist who fits their particular aesthetic.

As a rule, the writing featured in Tampa Review, Issue 50 does not feel particularly young. Each of the voices featured, across all genres, feels weathered, experienced, wise, perhaps even a little weary, and contemplative. Many of the writers seemed to be writing from the vantage point of middle or old age, which is appropriate for a literary magazine celebrating their fiftieth anniversary—a time for reflecting on the past and exploring how that past might inform the future. Most of the writing in this journal also exhibits a strong sense of place, and particularly of global cities—from Paris, France to Kabul, Afghanistan to New York, Chicago, L.A., D.C. and Philadelphia, readers of this collection will enjoy being transported far beyond the borders of Tampa Bay. The visual art, largely photographs and reproduced paintings in black and white, is often deliberately paired with a specific text.

One example of this is William Morris’s poem "Two Red Roses Across the Moon," which opens the collection, and is paired with an in-color photographic reproduction of the leaded glasswork "Two Red Roses Window." The rhymed poem reads like a fable and stands out as the most whimsical piece in the entire collection, while the visual art—with its dainty blue flowers, jeweled hairpieces, and moonlit backdrop—adds a wholly fairytale-like quality to the pairing.

Some pieces, like Lillo Way’s "The Tilemakers" and Peter Meinke’s "Greenhouse Statists"—which was originally published in the second issue of Tampa Review—connect precisely to Tampa Review’s interest in the values of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Even D.J. Sheskin’s "Hansel and Gretel," an experimental poem written out across a completed Scrabble match, offers a nod to the tradition of DIY-ers, although it’s one-of-a-kind formatting makes it something of an anomaly among the other pieces in this issue.

Other writing focuses on the overarching theme of contrast and connection—often through an exploration of various father/son relationships. Fiction, like Ian Walters’ "For Mr. Potenza," Elahzar Rao’s "Return of a Widower’s Son," and Dan Howell’s "Honor" depict fathers and sons who are simultaneously similar and different from one another, and who somehow always seem to exist in a fraught space between desperate love and profound disappointment. Greg Marshall mirrors these fictional relationships in his essay "Suck Ray Blue," which recalls a boyhood school trip to France which his own unselfconscious father chaperoned, and had a far better time than any of the young boys in attendance—including his own, embarrassed, son. Yet another nonfiction feature that takes traditional father/son relationships international is J. Malcolm Garcia’s "The Feral Children of Kabul"—an essay that examines the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan through the perspective of Kabul’s (mostly fatherless) street children.

The relationships illuminated in this collection aren’t limited to those between fathers and sons, however. Shanley Jacobs’ personal essay, "The Oriel Window," describes the complex dynamics between the herself and her sister, who spent her entire teenage years as a ward of state hospitals and received eight different psychological diagnoses during her time there. No line better describes the relationship between the two sisters than when Jacobs writes this: “The pattern underneath my distance must have been this: ‘She is shadow; I am light. She is ill; I am well. She is mad; I am sane.’ Her sickness, however misread, misdiagnosed, was a benefit to me; I could define myself against her.” A sentiment that speaks to most of the relationships analyzed in this issue.

Still more pieces explore the theme of contrast and connection in other ways. Three poems, for example—Brain Patrick Heston’s "Field Guide to Philadelphia," Eamonn Wall’s "For the Gathering," and Cynthia Atkins’ "Train Is Just Another Word for Longing" explore places where technology and the natural world meet, where both the present and the past overlap, where the environment exhibits elements of both fragility and strength. These poems have a sense of paused motion to them—offering views from a flying helicopter, a moving bus, the window of a train, someone taking a walk.

But perhaps no inclusion so concisely summarizes the themes of this issue than Bill Christophersen’s "Semblance," a nine-line poem constructed of just three complete sentences, that explores the ideas of what exists and what doesn’t, what could have been but isn’t, and what is simultaneously broken and whole, all through the image of a veering truck casting a shadow across the path of a pedestrian.

Then, of course, are the concluding three poems by Steve Kowit. The first, "Three Gents," accompanies three older men as they roam a beach littered with twenty-somethings, discussing all things unknowable about youth and age, life and death. The second, "I Stand in the Doorway," chronicles a series of last goodbyes—and of course, how humans almost never recognize a last goodbye upon the moment of encountering it. The final poem, "Cherish," describes a longing to reclaim one’s past, from the vantage point of old age—the forgotten places and people, the passed evenings and street corners and cafes, all the remembered losses—closing with the line: “Though the days drag their feet, & the weeks creep ever so slowly along, the decades have wings.” A beautiful sentiment to end a fiftieth anniversary issue on, if you ask me.