Visual Hauntings: That Cactus Smile


That Cactus Smile CStoddard

I made “That Cactus Smile” using mostly tissue paper and acrylic, but it also contains tiles and found objects. I was inspired to make the piece after visiting my sister in Arizona. Hence the cactus. But why the lips? We still live in a world where women so often don’t have a voice. Exploring feminine power and energy is integral to all that I create. And when I visited Arizona, I felt that power in the desert, just as I do everywhere in nature. The feminine is natural and good and we must honor it. We must let it speak. We must give it equal importance in every conversation.

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, So to Speak, Tulane Review, Jimson Weed, the New York City Poetry Festival, and beyond. Christine is the author of Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia and the co-author of Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries. In 2014, Folio Magazine named her one of the media industry’s top 20 visionaries in their 20s.


[REVIEW] The Uncanny Reader, edited by Marjorie Sandor


St Martin’s Griffin
576 pages, $21.99


Review by Dan Bradley



The hardest readers to shock and surprise are, perversely, voracious consumers and lovers of horror; we’ve read it all before. So with this new collection of 31 uncanny tales, refreshingly attentive to international and contemporary voices, can editor Marjorie Sandor revamp the strangeness and power of the uncanny for a new generation of readers?

The collection is inspired by the ‘haunted word’ itself. Sandor introduces the collection by tracking the etymology and semantic shadows cast by ‘uncanny’ and how its broad insinuations snake through languages and cultures, touching upon so many parts of our lives, enabling it to inspire such a wide ranging collection of tales ‘from the darkly obsessive to the subversively political, from the ghostly to the satirical.’ In Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay ‘Das Unheimlich’, commonly translated as ‘The Uncanny’, his catalogue of experiences capable of creating an uncanny sensation, which ‘speak to the uninvited exposure of something so long repressed… that we hardly recognize it as ours,’ could easily read as a template for the greatest horror art, fiction and cinema of the past century:

When something that should have remained hidden has come out in the open.
When we feel uncertainty as to whether we have encountered a human or an automaton.
When the inanimate appears animate. Or when something animate appears inanimate.
When we see someone who looks like us—that is, our double.
The fear of being buried alive.
When we feel as if there is a foreign body inside our own. When we become foreign to ourselves.

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[REVIEW] This Must Be The Place, by Sean H. Doyle


Civil Coping Mechanisms

102 pages, $13.95


Review by Nicholas Rys


Sean H. Doyle is a seeker. His gasoline-soaked debut, This Must Be the Place, begins with a quote by legendary American Mystic, Edgar Cayce, “…at any time, in any world, a soul will give off through vibrations the story of itself and the condition in which it now exists.” Throughout the book, both parts at the end of that quote prove to be important, as Doyle summons up not only the vibrations of the story itself, but also the condition in which it now exists.

The book presented itself to me unusually. I was half drunk on a Thursday night and for some reason, eager to start something new. The explosive and deceptively playful cotton-candy-meets-Jackson-Pollock cover art was too loud to ignore, even strewn across my living room floor next to a handful of other 2015 books I had recently ordered. Despite my better efforts to call it quits after the first vignette. This is heavy stuff, I thought. I should wait until tomorrow. I read the first half in one feverish sitting. Continue reading

[REVIEW] The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last cover

Nan A. Talese

326 pages, $26.95


Review by Mary Akers


As a thirty-year fan of Margaret Atwood, I eagerly purchased the first few episodes of The Heart Goes Last back in 2012 at Byliner, a reader’s website, when the working title was “Positron” and Atwood was still figuring out what form the story would take. When it grew into a novel and the opportunity arose to review it, I jumped at the chance.

As the novel opens, Stan and Charmaine are down-on-their-luck newlyweds. They have lost their home, their jobs, and are living out of their “third-hand Honda,” doing their best to avoid gangs of marauding rust-belt thugs after a financial crisis leaves middle class citizens marooned in a sea of debt and desperation. Continue reading

[REVIEW] [insert] boy, by Danez Smith


YesYes Books

116 pages, $16


Review by Peter LaBerge


“Being black, holy, drunk, my mother’s son”


            Thank God for good poetry. Thank God for good poetry collections that leave necessary emotion in their wake, and thank God for poets like Danez Smith, who—through his debut Lambda Literary Award-winning poetry collection [insert] boy—demonstrates that what is political should be openly approached in personal terms, and vice versa. In [insert] boy, Smith ignites a discussion about life as a queer person of color in today’s racially charged, orientation conscious society. Through the arteries of movement, music, and religious (or non-religious) experience, Smith allows us to imagine life from his perspective in a way that only the most powerfully evocative poetry can.

The collection begins simply enough. In the opening poem “Black Boy Be,” Smith compiles a list of similes that complete the sentence “Black boy be _________.” We meet a character who ranges in manifestation from “a village ablaze” to “an ocean hid behind a grain of sand” to “blood all over everything.” Within the first few lines, we effectively meet a character who represents the world. Ultimately, we come to find this sense of motion informs many of the poems in the collection. In the first “Poem in which One Black Man Holds Another,” “the black boy falls into himself / & you mourn everyone ever.” In the third poem of the sequence, the narrator “make[s] fire in the absence of storm.” In “The Black Boy & The Bullet,” “one’s whole life is a flash.” By emphasizing the fast-paced, always static nature of his narrator, Smith enhances the experience of [insert] boy’s reader by reinforcing both the urgency of his message as well as the entrancingly violent quality of the events that transpire. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die by Amy Fusselman


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

144 pages, $21.00


Review by Lacey Rowland


When I was a child, I used to play with my friend in a pasture near our developing neighborhood. We lived in a part of town outside the city limits in rural, southern Idaho. The areas we played in were often under construction, but frequently abandoned due to funding. These places, the half-finished houses, the construction areas that harbored nails and other potentially dangerous items, were our summertime playgrounds. They were the places where we learned what trespassing was, and how to maneuver around it. In the pastures, we would bring along stepladders and try to summit horses that were not bred for riding, or had not yet been broken. Whether our parents were aware of our adventures, I’ve never been brave enough to ask, but there is something in my childhood, this space I once lived in that doesn’t exist in the same way for children today.

In her book, Savage Park: A Meditation On Play, Space, And Risk For Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, And Afraid To Die, Amy Fusselman explores the space and world of play. Fusselman invites us to embrace our inner-child, to overcome our fears of death and purpose, while also showing us that, despite living in a world that seems to have everything figured out, there is still so much left for us to uncover. With her whimsical prose, Fusselman takes us with her on the high-wire with famed artist Phillip Pettit, and into the parks of Tokyo, where children romp through “adventure parks,” areas where open fires and sharp tools are at their disposal. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Down, by Sarah Dowling


Coach House Books

86 pages, $17.95


By Klara du Plessis


Attempting to tidy the bedroom, down escapes from the pillow. Imagine this feather floating gracefully, not quite ascending, but taking its time to land. Sarah Dowling’s third collection of poems, Down, appears deceptively light at a first glance, then a sequence of “Bury It” poems emerge and proliferate. Constructing a dichotomy between light, light-hearted and popular, and dark, introspective and difficult, everything goes “well / well” in these pages, “but the only problem is / the burial m-hm.”

Dowling appropriates diverse sources from both popular culture and academic circles – lyrics from Aaliyah and The Temptations, a Frank O’Hara poem, articles and interviews on fine arts and rhetoric. She then manipulates this material, chopping, rearranging, repeating and rendering it unrecognizable, so that the resulting verse is neither a series of found poems nor erasures. As a poetic black box, Dowling inputs text that is readily available to the public and transforms it into a highly private vocabulary with which to express herself. Take the poem “Starlight tours,” for example:

, though a and him He who     The ‘midnight on

cold         in had was bitterly         , ride’ bitterly

winter was   fresh taken cold lonely cold

bloodied field

out night night nights (48)

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[REVIEW] Loose Strife, by Quan Barry


University of Pittsburgh Press

65 pages, $15.95


Review by Colleen Abel


Quan Barry is having a good year. Her debut novel She Weeps Each Time You’re Born came out to strong reviews in February, and her third book of poetry, Loose Strife, came out in January. Anyone who has read Loose Strife may not be surprised to hear that Barry is now also a successful novelist: she has a fascination with unearthing stories, and over the course of her three books, Barry has proven that the darker the tale, the more important it is to tell.

In the end notes to Loose Strife, Barry writes that many of the poems were inspired by a collaborative exhibition between her and the visual artist Michael Velliquette, and the book reads like a multimedia lecture or an artist’s talk, delivered with the pictures missing, the poems serving as the only evidence that they were there. Musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson has said of her early career teaching art history in New York that she would forget the details of what she was teaching during slide lectures and just stand in the dark making up stories about the images. Were it not for the poems’ impeccable craft, we might get the same sense from Loose Strife; it’s an unsettling and memorable effect. Continue reading

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu

Dear friends and family,

Please accept this brief note as PANK’s formal notification of resignation, effective as of the end of this calendar year, 2015. We’ll publish one last print issue and two final online issues of PANK Magazine; look for those in the months ahead. We are immeasurably proud of our publications and have boundless gratitude for all the staff, contributors, and each and every reader who has labored alongside us over the last decade. It’s been an immensely gratifying ride. PANK loves you.

Yours sincerely
M. Bartley Seigel, Roxane Gay, & Co.

[REVIEW] Einstein’s Beach House, by Jacob M. Appel



188 pages, $15.95


Review by Lynne Weiss


The theme of the highly readable and surprising stories that comprise Jacob M. Appel’s Einstein’s Beach House is aptly expressed in the first sentence of the first story, “Hue and Cry”—these stories describe things that are “funny” when they happen “to other people.” Things, the narrator goes on to explain, like “tarring and feathering, Peeping Toms, mad cow disease.” In a sense, all three of these things happen to characters in this first story, which describes the plans of a man dying of a brain-wasting disease to teach his daughters forgiveness by taking them to meet a paroled Level 1 sex offender who has recently moved into their neighborhood. The protagonist is 13-year-old Lizzie, one of the aforementioned daughters of the dying man. While everyone else in the neighborhood is protesting the presence of the parolee (metaphorically tarring and feathering him), Lizzie’s father is making plans to befriend him, and Lizzie and her friend Julia are the Peeping Toms who put a watch on the sex offender’s house and break into it to look for something unspecified. “We’ll know it when we find it,” Julia assures Lizzie, and Lizzie does find something in the course of the story, but it has nothing to do with the sex offender and much to do with her coming to terms with her father’s death and declining powers.

Appel is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in more than 200 literary journals. According to his website, Appel is has an M.D. from Columbia and has been admitted to the bar in New York State and Rhode Island. Einstein’s Beach House, which is published by Pressgang, a small press affiliated with the Butler University MFA program, is Appel’s second collection of short stories. He has also published novels and collections of essays. Continue reading