Richard Mathews, Editor
The University of Tampa
Vol. 22, Spring 2002; Vol. 21, Fall 200l
$9.95, $15 for one year/two issue subscription
The Southern Connection
To many, the sunshine state of Florida usually means the attractions of Orlando and the tourist locales of sand and surf. The amusement parks and beachside hotels can often cast a long shadow over Florida’s cultural institutions. Nevertheless, the Spanish forts of Jacksonville, the art deco radiance of Miami, the Hemingway haunts of Key West, and the Salvador Dali Museum of St. Petersburg, among others, all attest to the resilience of the state’s cultural heritage and its contemporary potential.
In part, this is what makes Tampa Review so refreshing.
With ties to the Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Orchestra, the Asolo Theatre and the previously mentioned Salvador Dali Museum, the Tampa Review meets its mission of placing “literary arts center stage in the cultural mix.” And in doing so, it accepts what many other literary magazines seem to reject, namely a connection to its setting.
With such a number of literary magazines resorting to online publication, only publishing authors or works with no tie to the magazine’s location has become something of an unwritten guideline. Although this may make sense in the sway toward a global culture, it makes for an enjoyably grounded read to find a magazine retaining a regional affinity.
Included within the slender, hard back and dust-jacketed Volume 22 (Spring 2002) are six stories, 13 poems, and an interview, along with assorted paintings and photographs, contributed by 24 different authors, poets, and artists. While only four of these contributors are professed Floridians, many of the others connect with the state, such as Mary Potter Engel and her story, “A Hundred Fingers,” or with its broader promise of the ocean, as in Robert Dana’s poem, “Bird of Paradise.”
What’s more, Tampa Review as a whole has a pleasant populace appeal. It does not take an alienating avant-garde high road, but instead lingers on good stories. It is not afraid of simple narrative poetry, such as Jeff Worley’s poem, “Riverboat Lounge, Cincinnati Airport,” which connects strangers in transit with the sacrifices they make for home.
Though it does border on the quaint, Tampa Review never falls completely into this territory, primarily due to its lack of pretension. It has appeal without pander. Proof of this comes with the interview of Tom Corcoran, a writer in the mystery genre. Interviewer James Plath never plays a high hand in his questions and therefore never allows the reader to dismiss Corcoran or his answers regarding genre fiction.
The sample of Corcoran’s work provided, the first chapter of his third novel centering on professional photographer and amateur sleuth Alex Rutledge and his Key West activities, sits somewhere between the works of Elmore Leonard and Kinky Friedman. It is an entertaining offering from a rising author in the field.
But, as with any literary magazine, Tampa Review does have its occasional poor selection. Brad Summerhill’s “Faulkner’s Family” alternates between reflections on the author’s family, centered around his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother, and the most basic analysis of William Faulkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom! While the endeavor has potential interest in attempting such a connection, more often it feels like the author only wants to fictionalize his own family and continue what he resentfully calls their “inclination to sever familial bonds.” He calls his family “Faulkner’s Family,” thereby distancing himself even further from his kin. He connects enough with them to mine their collective sorrow to make fodder for his prose but admits that he knows very little about them as people. In a sense, he is no better than the leech of a boyfriend his senile grandmother finds in her nursing home.
It is sad, not in the way it seemed intended, but sad that someone would have to make such cursory connections to literature for his own family to gain any regard within his work and possibly himself. In trying to sound out the depth of this family’s collective experiences, he only truly measures his own shallowness.
Thankfully, this piece is the rare exception to two otherwise agreeable volumes of work. It is more than made up for by such stories as Leslie Pietrzyk’s “Men Who Have Seen the Ocean,” a first person account of a young Iowa girl’s quest to lose her virginity. Pietrzyk’s tale amuses as it speaks on such larger ideas as the loss of a mother, the loss of virginity and the secrets from which everyone wishes they could escape. Though the story takes tangents here and there, they are neither unwelcome nor inappropriate. Pietrzyk skillfully balances the naturalistic telling with the short story’s need for concision and attention to detail. As with the previous volume’s “The Records for Lost Sleep” by Gary Fincke, a personal and scientific history of sleeplessness and its effects, “Men Who Have Seen the Ocean” resonates with the reader.
All in all, Tampa Review succeeds in balancing the contrasting views of its home state, finding room for both culture and pleasure. Like Alice Dalton Brown’s photo-realist paintings of gauzy curtains leading to ocean-view decks featured on Volume 22’s cover, it suggests thoughtful leisure.
Tampa Review also distinguishes itself by being, to the best of my knowledge, the only literary journal presently using a hardcover format—a subtle but powerful statement about the timelessness of good writing and a tribute to the writers who are dedicated to keeping the written word alive.