Red Mountain Review takes its name from the seam of iron ore that runs through the heart of central Alabama. The magazine is produced at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, with the support of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Southern Progress Corporation, and the creative writing faculty at Jefferson State Community College and the University of Montevallo. In partnership with the Red Mountain Reading Series--which has hosted such writers as Dana Johnson, Peter Meinke, Tom Franklin, Natasha Trethewey, and many more--RMR is poised to take its place in Alabama’s long tradition of helping America’s best writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction find an audience.

We have a simple goal—to produce a fine literary magazine that gets noticed, and to do so with Birmingham’s roots in mind. The Magic City has a long history of working hard and of grappling with hard truths. We will, therefore, always seek to recognize those in our field who do the hard work, who tell the hard truths, and who do so expecting little or no remuneration. Which is to say, the vast majority of writers of contemporary literature, literature that—for reasons of form, length, subject, or project—has traditionally had a difficult time finding the light of day in mainstream commercial venues. Luckily, our editorial tastes are broad: academics and “real people;” sonneteers and the so-called “Grrl-esque” poets; writers of very short nonfiction; those who write long, leisurely, expansive fiction. The list goes on.

In addition to publishing great individual poems, stories, and essays, we are the champions of the chapbook. Every issue will feature the winning collection from our chapbook contest, which is free to enter and is judged independently by a poet of national reputation. The contest winner recieves a $250 honorarium and publication in the magazine.

Thanks for your interest in RMR and in contemporary writing in general. Please peruse the rest of this site to see more about what we’re up to. And you might as well bookmark us, because we'll have a steady stream of contest announcements and updates, book reviews, links, and other fun tidbits.

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A review by Elizabeth Buckalew

If Muriel Rukeyser first wondered what would happen if a woman told the truth about her life, poet Beth Ann Fennelly has offered an answer. To read Tender Hooks, Fennelly's second book, is to encounter Fennelly herself, who throws open the doors of her life and invites readers inside. She introduces herself and others: her husband, fiction writer Tom Franklin; their young daughter, Claire; and poet-friend Ann Fisher-Wirth show up regularly, and the poems flow directly from Fennelly's life. As she explains on the jacket, Fennelly wrote Tender Hooks "to figure out what [she] was experiencing," and her poems proceed as explorations rather than proclamations. Fennelly demonstrates great versatility: she writes heroic couplets, sonnets, prose poems, and free verse. Some poems span eighteen pages; others, such as "First Day at Daycare," contain a mere fifteen syllables: "My daughter comes home smelling like another woman's perfume." Just as Fennelly's daughter carries the scent of another woman, these poems hold traces of other poets. However, they never allow their literary forbearers to overshadow their own poetics. Fennelly demonstrates an acute awareness of things literary, but she defines herself within this context rather than being subsumed by it.

Tender Hooks chronicles Fennelly's explorations, and its poems often juxtapose her life with people in it or with the outside world. "A Study of Writing Habits," for example, travels from Fennelly's composition classroom to her experience at Wrigley Field, from the papers of Ogden Nash to the poems of Moore and Bishop. Each stop raises questions; at Wrigley, Fennelly enjoys watching the umpires clean home plate, then wonders, half playfully and half self-consciously, "Does this make me a domestic poet?" Subsequent poems explore Fennelly's sensitivity to the impossibility of language, a theme introduced in her first book, Open House. She rigorously investigates miscommunications and misnomers, as in the prose poem "Waiting for the Heart to Moderate," which begins, "Adults had a drink, they said, to take the edge off, so that's how she came to understand growing up: erosion."

"Telling the Gospel Truth," a stunning, ten-section poem originally published in The Kenyon Review, links reflections on faith and writing to the realities of being a mother. Many of Tender Hooks' poems explore parenthood; Fennelly discusses childbirth, miscarriage, nursing, and child-rearing. Though these themes are common, Fennelly addresses them without melodrama and with fresh insight. Fennelly's role as a parent also allows her a fresh perspective on language and its acquisition, and the poems often discuss Claire, Fennelly's toddler, learning to speak. Readers see Claire master the word ball and then use it on every round object she encounters, but we also see language from Fennelly's perspective. Her descriptions are always exact, as in "Why We Shouldn't Write Love Poems, or, If We Must, Why We Shouldn't Publish Them," which reads, "We fall in love, we fumble for a pen, we send our poems out like Jehovah's Witnesses--in time they return home, and when they do, they find the locks changed." Fennelly makes writing appear effortless, "the way thin people seem naturally thin."

There is a risk inherent in such talent and ease, of course; models of the poet as untouchable sage abound, and they often repel readers. Fennelly, however, is wise enough not to be such a poet. She reveals her questions and uncertainties, and she does not assume a self-righteous posture. She crafts poems from rejection slips, weeps before her students, pokes fun at herself and her jealousy of Claire's "Daddy Phase," confessing, "I would like to pitch a fit when she ducks my kiss." Fennelly's poems are candid and welcoming. They are works likely to make readers long to invite her to dinner.

In Tender Hooks, Fennelly accomplishes what few poets ever master: she roots her poems in the specifics of everyday life, but she does so without banality and with great intelligence and wit. These poems are frank without relying on shock value; they are smart without being pompous. Although the title comes from a phrase Fennelly misunderstood as a child, it provides an apt glimpse at the volume's contents. Fennelly's poems offer a warm, generous protagonist who embraces challenging topics. Her poems explore the people and things that bear tender hooks, those entities that simultaneously compel and confound, bind and barb, those things that enthrall us.

Elizabeth Buckalew received her BA from Davidson College in North Carolina and is currently pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Alabama. The book is Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennelly. W.W. Norton, 2004.

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