Monthly Archives: February 2016

Editors’ Choice: Editors Share Their Picks for the Best Lit Mags Pt. 1: Michael Meyerhofer

 

I recently asked a few editors what they consider to be  “top” literary journals and why they chose them. First up is Michael Meyerhofer (http://atticusreview.org/) in his own words below.

 

When it comes to poetry journals (or lit journals that also publish poetry) that I like, there are definitely way too many to mention, but here are some of my favorites, not counting Atticus Review where I serve as Poetry Editor, of course.

 

1) Rattle (energetic, accessible, and pretention-free)

2) Hayden’s Ferry (another smart, fun journal)

3) Mid-American Review (consistently awesome)

4) Crab Orchard Review (was promoting quality diverse voices long before it was kewl)

5) Rumpus (great, enthusiastic, multi-pronged approach to lit)

6) Diagram (good place to see a wide range of styles)

7) River Styx (probably the first print journal I started routinely reading cover-to-cover)

8) Cream City Review (another favorite)

9) Southern Indiana Review (still quietly chugging along as one of the best)

10) Redactions (another one well worth checking out)

 

The first time I discovered River Styx, I was busy trying to familiarize myself with contemporary lit journals… which mostly involved me getting frustrated and tossing many of them aside, after what they published struck me as overly erudite, self-aggrandizing bullshit. Then I came across a couple issues of River Styx, and I was blown away by how the poems honored language’s wild capacity for lyricism and metaphor without sacrificing accessibility. Put another way, that was probably the first magazine I enjoyed reading. A lot.

From there, I sought out other magazines that seemed to have a similar aesthetic. Hayden’s Ferry, Cream City Review, Southern Indiana Review, and Redactions fit the bill. They could be a bit more experimental at times, sometimes a bit less narrative, but I never got the sense that they were pushing the boundaries of form, lyricism, etc., just to be hip. Rather, they’re hip precisely because they do all those things for the right reason—that is, because the art seems to require it, because the sincerity of the piece allows it, and because it’s just plain fun.

As for Crab Orchard Review, that shares all the before-mentioned characteristics, I think, and was one of the main factors that drew me to pursuing an MFA at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I was also drawn to the way the editors publish and promote diverse voices—something which is all the rage now—but do so in such a way that it’s clear their first commitment is to quality. I’m sure a fair amount of this is subjective, but what the hay.

 

Michael Meyerhofer’s most recent book of poetry is What To Do If You’re Buried Alive. For more information, please visit troublewithhammers.com.

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Why hasn’t my chapbook manuscript been selected for publication yet?

If you’ve been submitting your chapbook manuscript and watching your bank account shrink because of reading fees, this question may be on your mind. Here are some thoughts on the subject from my own experience and observation.

 

Over the past 10 years, the world of publishing has been inundated with MFA graduates, most with at least a chapbook-sized creative thesis presumed to be ready for publication. That was me in 2007. When my final mentor at Bennington told me, when asked, that about 50% of my creative thesis would make for a good manuscript, my first thought was “Oh, chapbook.” That was not meant in the most positive way at that time.

 

Like so many others of the pre-millenial generation, I was skeptical of the merit of chapbooks. Several friends had chapbooks published by very, very small presses and had tales of woe about doing their own marketing, chasing down reading venues, etc. However, over the past 15 years the chapbook has become a highly respectable means of publication, with more presses including chapbook titles in their catalogs. This trend encourages more poets to complete chapbook manuscripts rather than full-length collections, as did I after five years of struggling with the issue.

 

Then there is the cost of producing a printed chapbook. Most contest fees cover the cost, but for publishers that do not run contests, have no major outside funding, or require no reading fees, the number of chapbooks they can produce is smaller. Even those publishers that operate under the contest model are less likely to opt to publish additional manuscripts from the list of non-winning finalists than in times past. Thankfully for me, the judge of Bright Hill’s 2013 chapbook contest selected my chapbook and another as co-winners and Bright Hill was gracious enough to publish both.

 

Another element is the increasing popularity of publishing ebooks rather than print. It may be difficult for some poets (again, of certain generations) to consider ebooks equivalent to the printed page, despite the fact that an online presence has the potential to reach far more readers than a 200 book print run.

 

There is also a growing market for multi-media publishing to which some publishers are migrating, mostly in the digital realm, as more technologically savvy editors assume their roles as those decision-makers.

 

Another factor is timing. Poets & Writers runs an annual feature introducing new poets with first books. While these are not chapbooks, there is one similarity to be observed. Few of those chosen for this special section had their manuscripts picked up immediately. For many it was several years. I was thrilled that I had only submitted my chapbook to 15 publishers/contests over the course of seven months prior to it winning at Bright Hill.

 

Finally, it all comes down to the ultimate decision-maker, be that an editor or a judge. There is no way to predict how many wonderful manuscripts are read and dismissed or passed along for the decision-maker to select just one.

 

When I began submitting my chapbook, I knew I was competing against some of my friends with strong manuscripts in very different writing styles and I even shared being a finalist with one of them. I told myself to give it a year and then to consider other options. I would advise that you do the same, submitting to as many places as possible, both financially and aesthetically, for at least a full year.

 

I hope these thoughts help to ease your frustration.

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