Editors’ Choice: Editors Share Their Picks for the Best Lit Mags Pt. 2: Donna Marbach
I recently had a conversation with some poetry friends that centered around the question “Which literary magazines would you consider to be the top ten?” The lists people gave almost always had The New Yorker on top and then listed other high profile journals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, The New Republic, Granta, Boston Review, Literal Latte, Poetry, The Paris Review and the American Poetry Review.
As, for me I am not sure what exactly the criteria is for being a top-ten literary magazine. From the above list it would seem to be magazines with large circulations and large advertising budgets. Some also may be chosen because they are generous with Pushcart nominations.
I can think of only a handful of poets that I know that have ever been published in even one of these high profile magazines. From my perspective most of these magazines are inclined to cater to well-known poets who will reinforce the publication’s own visibility. I am also not impressed with Pushcart nominations, since I know that almost anyone can get a nomination, especially if they are friends with the publisher. Pushcart nominations are worth nothing. Only Pushcart prizes are of value. Heck anyone with $50 and a friendly publisher can even get a Pulitzer nomination.
Personally, I don’t think it is really possible to “rank” literary magazines any more than it is possible to rank poetry in general. How do you rank Milton’s Paradise Lost against Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Shakespeare’s sonnets or Eliot’s Wasteland? Poetry is an art, not an athletic event. There is no finish line to reach first. Instead personal taste and aesthetics must be considered for any “judgment” of poetry.
I prefer to offer up “favorites” according to my own criteria. First of all, more than anything else, I want to work with magazines that consider the poetry more than a “who’s who” of poets. I want my submissions to be considered for themselves and not because I have an MFA or studied under a former Poet Laureate. I am fond of journals that will place the work of an emerging poet alongside that of a well-known and respected poet. I also appreciate journals that are involved with poetry in multiple ways. In addition to publishing individual poems, do they have contests for chapbooks? And if they are a traditional print publisher, do they also have opportunities for online publications? Do they do things in the community? Are they in love with poetry and the arts as much as I am?
Since I am a visual artist as well as a writer, I have a special affinity towards journals that not only publish great poetry, but also include prose pieces, book reviews, and perhaps pictures as well. I love journals that pay attention to design and display work in the best possible way. I like journals that make a “good home” for my work and those of clients.
In addition to accepting diverse and quality poetry, my favorite journals tend to be poet-friendly. I like when journals accept paper copies as well as digital submissions and thereby give poets the option of how they want to submit. I also like publications that accept simultaneous submissions and/or previously published poems with acknowledgements. And I find it wonderful when an editor will contact me directly to suggest a small improvement or to clarify a format. Below are some of my favorite journals in no particular order. To my knowledge, none of them require a reading fee with the exception of add-on contests.
• Rattle Magazine accepts poems either by online submission, or by regular postal mail. They accept simultaneous submissions. In addition to their journal they also sponsor various contests for single poems and chapbooks, as well as offering online ekphrastic challenges or poems about current events.
• Red Wheelbarrow of DeAnza College welcomes submissions of all kinds, and seeks to publish a diverse range of styles and voices.
• Blueline is a literary magazine devoted to the spirit of the Adirondacks, a small regional magazine that accepts poetry, creative nonfiction, and artwork. It also accepts work from both new and established authors.
• The Aurorean has an interesting fall-back feature for poems which they feel are too dark, too long, or experimental, etc. Unless you request otherwise, these poems are also considered for their broadsheet, the Unrorean. They accept both mail and digital submissions and simultaneous submissions.
• The MacGuffin’s mission is to encourage, support, and enhance the literary arts in the Schoolcraft College community, the region, the state, and the nation. They accept both digital and mailed submissions, and have been publishing since 1948. They are interested in both prose and poetry.
• The Chaffey Review seeks out previously unpublished art, by both established and emerging artists, that is well crafted, has an intelligent sense of form and language, and assumes a degree of risk. They accept poetry, prose and art, and submissions can be made through the mail or online.
• Silk Road has an open-ended call for submissions and accepts simultaneous submissions. The publication is nicely done and if your work is published, they send you two copies of the book.
Obviously, my favorite journals tend to be independent small presses or publications connected with smaller colleges or universities. And while some of the above journals have been around for decades, I am sad to say that many other wonderful publications have disappeared or are foundering. Often these smaller, friendlier, more democratic journals fail for lack of money or staff. Rattle is a lucky exception in that it is backed by a large foundation. But most of these publications need to sell their books to stay in business or resort to reading fees or contests to cover costs.
But like I said in the beginning, attempting to identify the “best” or “favorite” literary journals is a very personal thing. It depends on how you see yourself and poetry and how you want to interact with others. For me, I prefer submitting to good solid journals where I have a reasonable chance of being accepted rather than to some elitist magazine which values circulation numbers more than the beauty of words.
An artist, writer, editor and local publisher of Palettes & Quills (http://palettesandquills.simplesite.com/), Donna Marbach is widely published in journals, anthologies, and periodicals.