EP&M Online Brief Review

Dr. Salemi’s New Journal:  Trinacria

a quick look by

Arthur Mortensen

With the rapid transition of paper literary journals to online Web sites, and the disappearance of hundreds of other quarterlies and newspapers, a crash that has publishers begging Washington for a bailout (which would compromise any claim to being a free press), it’s a delight to find a new, paper quarterly in the mailbox.  

Handsomely designed, both covers are illustrated with a gold and orange shield, a 3-legged Trinacria at its center (adopted as a flag by an autonomy movement in Sicily).  The Trinacria has its roots in a complex Greek pictorial symbol.  The image, the head of Medusa mounted on three legs turned to form a triangle, represents not only Sicily’s roughly triangle shape, with its capes, Peloro, Passero, and Lilibeo, forming the three points, but Sicily’s mythical association with the Gorgon.  This vivid illustration is suggestive, in the most literal way regarding triangular content (poems, new and translated; essays; reviews.).  It also reflects Dr. Salemi’s Sicilian background (his grandfather was the Sicilian poet, Rosario Previti).  Strongest, though, with the figure inside its circle, set inside a square, is the evocation of strong independence.  The latter quality, at first glance of the cover, sets Trinacria apart from most journals.

Trinacria is substantial, 117 pages set in a slightly oversized format.  Illustrations are pasted in, a method long used to permit high quality color and shading in prints.  High quality paper can be used, which prevents bleedthrough and allows heavier inking.  Text is set with a clean, properly sized Roman typeface. You won’t have to get out a magnifying glassThese details of production matter, as do the uncluttered covers with their strong visual message, giving the journal a fine press look, heft and feel.

After the editor and publisher’s introduction, substantially more than half of the journal comprises poetry, both new and translated.  Quality is unusually high, leading off with two from Baudelaire brought into English by Helen Palma, one of today’s best translators from French.  Poems include last work submitted by Richard Moore and Margaret Menamin before their deaths, and many more by some of the best working today with classical prosody, including Sally Cook, Jennifer Reeser, J.B. Sisson, Gail White, Jared Carter and T.S. Kerrigan.  Following are an engaging and sometimes amusing interview with Alfred Dorn (a brilliant poet who’s borne the torch of classical prosody for fifty years); illustrations; a translation of a short prose piece by Maurras (L’Ame des Olivers); a contributors list; a review of Lee Sloninsky’s recent Pythagoras in Love; and a statement of core principles.  The latter’s a risky business of course. 

Film buffs will recall Charles Foster Kane’s Statement of Principles in Citizen Kane; political types President Obama’s campaign promises.   But, fair to say, Trinacria is a labor of love, not a rich heir’s plaything nor a politician’s porous platform.  Further, Dr. Salemi’s list of principles does not promise salvation of society nor the advancement of a revolutionary esthetic.  Instead, he presents criteria of craft to be observed in order for work to appear in this journal.  As the journal’s contents are by invitation only, this statement may seem pointless.  However, it serves a real purpose, instructing those who aren’t invited why no envelope arrived in the mail. 

The manner of review for Lee Sloninsky’s Pythagoras in Love should be a model (and used to be) for critics.  Its procedure isn’t praise-for-publication, a racket played by many poetry “critics.”  Instead, the reviewer (Dr. Salemi) suggests the author’s intent, sums the subject’s history and ideas (Pythagoras himself), then proceeds by example from Sloninsky’s book to examine how successfully (or not) the author succeeds in the exercise of craft, from prosody to complex, coherent grammar, from evocative metaphor to subtly reinforcing reference.  Note that the terms of the review are drawn primarily from the work and its fit into classical composition.  Even when Salemi contrasts Pythagoras... with contemporary work, the effort’s not to show how Sloninsky’s poetry  fits some politics or esthetics, but how its author’s approach and rendering succeed by comparison.  Staying off the political picket lines and concentrating on what an author actually writes is what critics should be doing all the time.   Nowadays as rare as a politician willing to cut spending, Dr. Salemi is not afraid to point out where the author goes off key and theme.  For those weepers in the wilderness who can’t bear the notice of a single fault in their prize-winning book, an informed critic’s remarks on good and bad results can be enormously helpful to a writer’s future.  It was a theater critic whose commentary pushed Robert Browning to translate his career from that of a failed playwright to one of England’s great narrative poets.

While this writer enjoyed Trinacria’s poetry immensely, it would be silly to review individual contributor poems.   Get a copy of the journal and enjoy them yourself.  A journal is an editor’s anthology of what he perceives as the best available work.   Your turn.  It’s likely that  you’ll be pleased with Dr. Joseph S. Salemi’s new publication, Trinacria.  It’s the most engaging literary magazine this writer has read since the all-too-short run of the late William Carlson’s Iambs & Trochees.  That shouldn’t be surprising.   Salemi was Carlson’s principal editor.  On his own merits, and those of his contributors, Trinacria’s debut issue suggests the results will get even better.


                                                                        Arthur Mortensen


To obtain a copy of Trinacria, inquire at the following address:


Editor & Publisher


220 Ninth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215-3902. 


Price is $10 plus S&H.








                                                                                    Arthur Mortensen