• The Iris Review

Review of Glass Buffalo

Glass Buffalo is a literary magazine that is put together by students of the University of Alberta and takes pride in publishing up and coming writers from the university’s undergraduate and graduate programs. The magazine publishes three editions a year—winter, summer, and fall— and contains works from different genres including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and interview. The issue that I received is the Fall 2018 issue, which was the most recent at the time of my order.


When I received the magazine, I was initially surprised at the format. All other literary magazines I have encountered were in book format and had more substantial covers. Glass Buffalo has the format of a typical paper magazine with a slightly thicker, paper cover. Although the format was not what I expected, the design and layout were appealing. The entire magazine was in black and white, as were the previous issues. Each cover of the different issues of the magazine also portrays a buffalo. The buffalo image along with black and white color scheme leads to continuity across the various issues. The cover of the Fall 2018 issue is an illustration of a forest fire with a few scattered buffalos.


I was also surprised by the various full-page and partial-page advertisements scattered throughout the pages of Glass Buffalo. Although I realize the ads probably aid in funding the magazine, I found them to be distracting. The ads might have been less distracting if they were all located at the end of the magazine instead of being spread throughout. I also did not care for the random pieces of poetry that were in the middle and at the end of a short story. I would have preferred the two poems to be on a page of their own.


Other than the advertisements and misplaced poems, I found the rest of the magazine to be aesthetically pleasing. I think the decision to format the prose into columns was wise, especially because of the large page size. I also enjoyed the illustrations that went along with some of the short stories. The fonts and page layouts were easy to read and looked professional. Another small touch that I liked was the small buffalo that was used to indicate the end of a multi-page piece. The magazine was a good length to sit down and read all at once and included twenty-two pieces that were well balanced among genres. For me, the strength of Glass Buffalo was the professional design and layout.


I had a hard time connecting with some of pieces in the magazine, and some felt like they were primarily concerned with exploring ideas instead of telling a story. One of the pieces I was able to connect to was the poem “Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)” by Jordan Mounteer. This poem seems like it could have been the inspiration for the cover art work. The first triptych starts


with a striking image and says “Cerebral sway of root mass and trident fascicles / anchored by a hundred-meter nerve / to the earth’s temporal lobe—” (p. 12). I loved the comparison of the roots to nerves that anchored into the brain of the earth. This comparison also alludes to the ideas of nature being all-knowing. The second triptych tells of trees being moved and used in atomic bomb testing. This section also says that trees can be interpreted as collective memory, which connects back to the previously mentioned brain image. The last triptych brings in some of the narrator’s personal memories and ends by highlighting the resilience of trees. A great final image of the trees is “a solitary grove of soldiers in the wind, / bark-sleeved, ancient bushfires welted / on their wrists…” (p. 12). The vivid imagery in this poem is what resonated with me and made this poem memorable.


Another piece I enjoyed was the essay “The Art We Wear on Our Skin” by Holly Riehl. This nonfiction piece explores the story behind the author’s tattoos and the tattoos of close family members. The piece does double duty and also relays the history of tattoos and the significance of tattoos to different cultures. The essay did a great job of balancing and connecting the personal storytelling to the informative, historical background. For me, the memorable part of the essay was the backwards mermaid tattoo (fish on top, legs on bottom). I also really appreciated the illustration of a backwards mermaid within the piece. The strange tattoo is explained as “‘something that’s beautiful in the opposite way of what the norm is. A little magic, a little romance. It’s a fun reminder to stay beautiful in my own way’” (p. 21). I loved the way that the weird image of the backwards mermaid speaks to and inspires its wearer. This piece is well written and was my favorite prose piece in the magazine.


Although there were a few things that I would have done differently, this was a well-designed magazine with some unique pieces that I was able to enjoy.


-Kayla Jo Pace, editor

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