I’ve only read the Fall 2016, Issue thirty-eight, of Red Rock Review, and I only discovered it while perusing the periodical racks of a Phoenix area Barnes & Noble while visiting family for Thanksgiving, but from what I can tell, RRR is a perfectly fine literary journal. Sponsored by the College of Southern Nevada, it carries zero commercial responsibility, which is a good thing, mostly… it means more honesty and attention devoted to the work, except I also think it allows for a little bit of a lazy standard.
RRR is perfectly not surprising, but it is also not upsetting; it is what it is. This doesn’t sound like a compliment, and I guess it isn’t… but at the same time, it’s not anywhere near the harshest criticism. On any given day, I’d love to be called perfectly fine.
My favorite work from the issue is the opening essay, “Eight Lousy Points,” by Scott Dickensheets. It’s the only writing about football I’ve ever been able to read from start to finish, and it will probably be the only essay about football I will ever discuss at any sort of length. The essay has a strong opening; “The air in part of Benito Juarez International Airport smells like Montezuma’s Revenge: viscous, germy—fecal.” What follows is equal parts travel essay, recollections of childhood memories, observations from life, and parallels drawn to Bob Dylan lyrics. The biggest flaw in the work, however, is its vantage point, which is tainted with a little bit of white privilege, and a little/lot bit of overreaching, inaccurate hyperbole:
The throb of my tailbone—thanks to five hours wedged into an Aero Mexico seat clearly not designed for el gringo largo—underscores the fragility I feel: I’m in a country I don’t know, subject to laws I don’t comprehend, any misunderstandings to be sorted out in a language I don’t speak… I fear that the smallest incident might spiral into a stretch in Mexican jail. (2)
But, Dickensheets’ overreaching statements are permissible (mostly), because he masterfully weaves together an unpredictable essay from seemingly unrelated topics to form a poetic conclusion.
Jocelyn Kelly’s “Kingdoms for a Day,” is likewise disjointed, and likewise masterfully woven together. It’s what I call a landscape story; one where the narrator makes a general observation about the landscape (in this case, a public beach), and then dips briefly into some of the separate (but connected) elements that compose it; children building a sandcastle out of old bundt cake pans, a mother still sad from losing her child, a sixty-year-old woman reading a romance novel, and a couple caught in the freshness of new love. While the movements between the short fragments of the whole are somewhat predictable, there is poetry there somehow, there is something transcending that insists that “every moment [is] meaningful,” and that even small, seemingly unnoticeable connections can be just enough to “catch you even when you’re drowning,” (33).
On the contrary, a lot of the poetry in RRR is less successful. Bibhu Padhi’s works remains too abstract/non-specific for my taste, with lines like:
…What carried the tremble in your songs
Up to those rare, blissful
Layers of love and sunlit air.
Tonight your voice
Floats back, through
A forgetting time of disownment… (“Again Your Voice Returns,” 21)
And the works in RRR that contain more concrete detail, like Robert Karaski’s “The Definition of Joy,” verge on the purely prosaic:
The season wheels into summer.
Amy bakes lasagna in Aberdeen,
I cool off with lemonade… (29).
Criticism aside, Red Rock Review was a pleasant read (and a relatively inexpensive one, at only $6.50 for the volume). It also seems like a perfectly decent journal for aspiring writers like myself to submit to with little intimidation or fear, because if/when rejection or acceptance happens, it will be what it will be.
 If Dickensheets is, in fact, his real last name, and not a penname, I’d be down to marry him, cuz, well, I mean…
 Bibhu Padhi is a more successful poet that I will probably ever be. He has published ten books of poetry and has been featured in countless big-name publications… so take my criticism with just a few grains of salt.