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The Fallout Shelter (review)


Reviewed by By Carolyn Kenney, Penn State

From the Fallout Shelter, Penn State Harrisburg’s literary journal, publishes the poetry, stories, essays, photos, and artwork of undergraduate and graduate students on its campus. The photo featured on the cover of their 2018-2019 edition, titled “New Beginnings” by Molly Dempsey, features bright sunlight streaming through trees onto on a field of Black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace. The writing in this edition of the journal covers a variety of engaging topics, from uplifting life experiences to heavy emotional stories that would stick with any reader. 

The journal captivates its readers by intertwining poetry, prose, and photography. The layout of the journal is unique and accessible. Although the various genres are interspersed throughout the journal, the table of contents clearly separates the essays, fiction, poetry, and artwork so that it’s easily navigable. The award-winning pieces are displayed at the very beginning. 

One story in particular, called “Relapse” by Kaitlyn Dillon, resonated heavily with me. The quote “I didn’t have a life outside of these four walls. Those things all ended the day I found out I had cancer again” reminds me of my mother’s own experience battling cancer. This story captures the essence of what it is to have your life put on hold and overtaken by something entirely out of your control. 

A poem that I found especially impactful was “My Child” by Alex Hedley. The background of this poem is not spelled out and the underlying circumstance is left open to be deciphered. The lines “My Child / You are dear to me / But… / I do not have the ability to hold you / The way you are meant to be held…” speaks powerfully to what it might mean if someone was faced with the decision to go through with a childbirth, but decided not to. This is a real and raw topic, which many women find themselves facing and which the poem addresses beautifully.

“Achromatopsia,” by Rachel Lenich, is a uniquely formatted poem in which she uses the right and left margin so the poem doesn’t only read traditionally across, but also offers meaning if read vertically. The use of the spaces and gaps within the lines creates an experience reading the poem that is unlike anything I’ve read before. 

Photographs and artwork are consistently placed on pages next to writing throughout the journal. There are two back-to-back pages of photos at the end, and I find that to be a moving and powerful way to end the journal. The photos placed next to the writing, roughly every 3-5 pages, complement the text beautifully. There is a wide array of photography styles. For example, many photos are straightforwardly scenic, but “Busy Society” by Yen-Chih Lin, is a graphic design photo that depicts a city in an abstract way, which differs from the rest of the photos greatly.

I personally related to the poem “Awareness” by Elizabeth Lynch the most. She writes: “They dismiss it / You’re left alone to fight / Your own thoughts.” The poem seems to be about mental health and how it’s hard to find people who will understand and listen.

You can view the full version of the 2018-19 edition in an online flipbook. 

From the Fallout Shelter is a wonderfully constructed literary journal with a wide array of beautifully written pieces and artwork that I hope many people will find time to appreciate. 


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