The Threepenny Review delivers an old-school broadside newspaper. Artistic, yet academic, with a slightly West Coast persona, The Threepenny Review runs the gamut of genres; fiction, poetry, non-fiction, book reviews, craft essays, and good old fashion letters to the editors.
Table Talk on page three is a section of three mid-length personal essays. The first is a personal story by L..A. Chavez, a previously unpublished author battling love and death in plain emotional prose. The second is an academic love letter to Penelope Fitzgerald from a Richard Locke, a Colombia professor, which reads easily but is tightly structured, a thesis as casual-wear. The third essay is a mid-career writer’s reminiscence of a childhood Steinway piano (by Julia Zarankin), the piano a symbol of immigration and integration, old world meets new.
“The Dancing Plague” a three part, seventeen stanza poem by Patrick Whitfill fills page five. Followed by six pages of long heady reviews. On the corner of page seven is a stunning black and white portrait of William Burroughs, half of page ten is taken by a hairy Allen Ginsburg and a dense poem by Robert Pinsky, “The Orhan Quadrille” covers the bottom corner box on the next page. You would need to have a few classic grad seminars under your belt to appreciate the references.
“A Long Ancestry” is an experimental fiction that is also full of references and self-consciously short on plot. Then back to some lengthy book reviews. A film review. A memoir. An art review. More boxed poems. A lovely coming-of-age story called “Mulumba” by Otosirieze Obi-Young about a young boy and Christian Brother which I assume is set in Nigeria, but could easily be a church community in Ireland or Argentina, if the names were changed. Then a very fine craft essay by Wendy Lesser, “I can hardly look at two dots without wanting to draw a line between them, and most of the artists I care about seem to feel the same way. I love fiction with a plot…” Then another boxed poem, a full page thank you to the donors, which if you counted the list, you could calculate the budget, then some letters, mostly one line pats on the back, and the back page is covered by Farrar, Straus and Giroux advertisement.
What I am trying to say is that The Threepenny Review is like The New York or London Review of books, except they have the financial freedom to print what they want and the artistic reputation to attract who they want to publish. They are old school, and damned good.
The centerfold is an excellent idea, where the editors chose a topic, in this issue, “A Symposium on the Miniature” and ask several different writers, (Kay Ryan, Mimi Chubb and Brenda Wineapple, Dean Young, Susan Bernofsky, Edmund da Waal) to attack the issue however they want. The result is like some very talented jazz musicians riffing in separate rooms to be recorded and pressed into a record. I wished more literary reviews would use this technique instead of simply putting out open calls.
In Javier Marias's “The Supernatural Master of The World,” an essay about the artistry of the actor Vincent Price, I came across two stellar phrases that could do double duty to describe The Threepenny Review:
1. True, he did go from being a supporting actor to playing leading roles, but he never won any awards to take himself too seriously and never starred in any bid-budget productions. In fact, he gained enormously from his promotion to stardom without ever losing any of the striking characteristics cultivated and honed in his days as a lowly bit-part player
2. He could play any registrar; it was just that his mastery of them was such that he ended up combining them all into one higher register…
The Threepenny Review is the Vincent Price of literary journals. May it maintain forever.