Before you read the next post in this series, I need to clarify that these “picks” and the posts from Michael Meyerhofer, Donna Marbach, and today’s editor Tom Holmes, are entirely in their words and not mine. I may agree with some, all or most of the opinions expressed here but I have not officially weighed in on the subject yet. On to Tom Holmes:
There are so many great journals out there, so some of my answers will look instead at the design and layout of each journal, because I want my work to be in a good looking journal. Of course, each of the below journals (in no order) publishes very fine work.
- Passages North. An oversized 10″x7″ journal with terrific covers that seduce me. Their poetry fits somewhere between accessible and heady. It challenges me, but doesn’t exhaust me.
- Istanbul Review. Terrific layout. Each author gets a page for a bio that precedes their work. They have color artwork. And there are black tabs indicating genre and author’s name. They aren’t afraid to publish other languages with their own alphabets, like Bengali, or afraid to print pieces that swirl on the page. It’s a delight to thumb through or read cover to cover.
- Sheepshead Review. The issue I’m looking at is Volume 37, Number 2. The 6.5″x8.5″ pages have black borders. It frames the poetry and prose like they are artwork. And the titles are in red. It’s so nice to see color in a journal, which is an expensive endeavor. Plus, there are full black pages with color artwork. Moving through the pages, the eye is stimulated.
- Rock & Sling. If you want a good course in layout and design, check out this journal out of Whitworth University. They have a good proportion of margin space, exacting leading in the text, and they like to explore their typefaces. It’s a journal of witness, so the poems have a religious-leaning, but they aren’t afraid to publish work from atheists. They truly explore faith from all angles.
- Atticus Review. This is one of my favorite online journals. I’m biased towards print journals, but what I like about Atticus Review is not only the wide variety of work, but how they have a featured poet every month or so, which includes a handful of poems from the poet plus an interview. I love when poets talk about their poetry, so I especially appreciate this.
- The Cincinnati Review. Editor Don Bogen knows how to find great writing, as The Cincinnati Review’s work often appears in Pushcart. If you want a journal that consistently publishes a wide range of styles and fine work, check out this journal.
- Rattle. The poems here are grounded and challenging. Plus, they and editor Timothy Green are fully engaged in bringing poetry to the masses. Check out their website, too.
- Miramar. I’m looking at Number 3 from 2015. Man, it’s like an anthology with 188 pages and 86 authors. How do they fit so many well-known poets beside so many up-and-coming poets, I don’t know, but it’s something you can enjoy for a long reading session.
- Iowa Review. If you want to be on the edge of what poetry is doing, you kind of have to read this journal. It’s essential.
- Sugar House Review. This is my favorite journal. They’ve been around for about eight years, and they started with a bang, with poems in Pushcart their first two years.
When I’m looking for poetry journals, I’m usually looking for what newness does the journal bring to poetry. So I’m looking for more than just terrific poetry. I’m looking for inventive poetry. Sometimes the invention comes in the form of images (like Miramar), style (like Cincinnati Review), pushing language (like Iowa Review), or having fun (like Sugar House Review and Rattle). I want surprise, even if the poem overall isn’t fully successful. I crave a consistent movement to the unexpected. I want the Gomer Pyle aesthetic: Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
Tom Holmes is the editor of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics and is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently The Cave, which won The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013. His writings about wine, poetry book reviews, and poetry can be found at his blog, The Line Break: http://thelinebreak.wordpress.
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.
I attended several panels on publication, a panel on the sonnet (in case you don’t know, my graduate lecture was about the modern sonnet), a panel on revision, another on translation and a very interesting panel on balancing work for an arts organization with the creative life.
Panels on publication were among the best-attended, as if there were a secret system for getting one’s work accepted. There isn’t. These panels reinforced common sense: Treat your work and the editors with respect and complete professionalism. Know the publications to which you send your work, which means read or subscribe to those publications. Send only your best, completed work. If you are still revising, you’re sending it out too soon. Do not send anything that is cliché or slick. Do not make the assumption “big-named” journals are the best. Do send work with a strong voice that begs the reader to keep reading and re-reading. Learn how to submit online. Online submissions are far more the norm than postal submissions.
Several editors reported receiving submissions anywhere from four to five figures, which can lead to a hefty backlog. Many of these publications report acceptances at a rate less than .50 of 1%. Keep these figures in mind when you send your work to the most “popular” publications.
I’ll discuss some of the other panels and the book fair in upcoming posts.
Here is an interesting note from Michael Nye, Managing Editor of the Missouri Review: http://www.missourireview.com/tmr-blog/2014/09/ethics-publishing-literary-journals/
If you have worked on staff at a literary magazine, what is your opinion?
As the fall 2013 reading period opens, I want to address the issue of online literary journals and the merits of having work published by them.
The most obvious benefit is the size of the potential audience. While print publications are, for the most part, quite limited in their press runs, online publications have the possibility of readership limited only by the scope of the Web. This potentiality is heavily augmented by the reach of social media: Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, blogs, RSS feeds, etc., where the Word of the Web spreads more quickly than the word of mouth ever could.
Another important consideration is the development of relationships with other poets, publishers, and editors outside of your immediate environs that can lead to further publication opportunities, invitations to read, and invitations to attend and/or lead workshops.
Then there is the Google factor. When a reader comes upon your work online, that reader is able to search the Internet for more of your work, an expanded bio, and your general reputation within the larger community of poetry.
Will your work be perceived as lesser in status by appearing online versus in print? The answer to that question differs with each reader. We all have that one friend or family member who refuses to enter the digital age but is that one person your target audience? Who is in your target audience? Could those individuals who might appreciate your work the most be the same people who spend their days connected to their technology simply because of its portability?
A friend says to you, “Hey, I just read the most awesome conceptual poem.” You ask, “So, can you lend me the mag?” She says, “No. But I can show it to you on my smart phone.” That poem is available for the reading anywhere there’s wireless, immediately.
An often-heard argument against online lit mags is their quality compared to print. I find this argument to be less valid as time progresses and as the quality of successful lit mags increases with each publication cycle. What matters and is key, is the reputation of the publication, whether in print or online.
Arguably, print publication is still far more desired for the purposes of academia, but even there the gap is closing.
Granted, online publication is never going to be the same as holding that perfect-bound journal in your hands. It is, however, the path of our words, at least until an electro-magnetic pulse shuts down everyone’s electricity.
I would be interested to read your feedback.
Last week, I did something I hoped I would never do. I paid a reading fee to a literary journal for the submission of my work.
I have made my feelings about reading fees clear in the past and they have not changed. Why would I break with my own protocol? I had prepared the submission file and begun the process with the journal’s online submission software and got to the point where payment appeared. I’ll admit to being torn. My initial reaction was to close the window and move on. But, I had questions. Would the non-contest reading fee this journal charges in any way make a difference in how my submission fared? Could I expect a more timely response?
I wanted answers that would only satisfy me from personal experience. So, I paid the $3.00, knowing it probably would not make a difference in how my submission would be handled and I took comfort that I was at least monetarily supporting the journal.
Just to reiterate my feelings about non-contest reading fees, I compare the trend to airline baggage fees. Once one airline started charging, others soon followed until just about every airline in existence now charges baggage fees. It is taking a bit longer to catch on in the publishing industry, but charging reading fees for non-contest submissions is undeniably a growing trend.
In theory, these reading fees should not be objectionable. Publishing poetry and other literary creative writing is not a money maker. Most journals exist from the desire of people who love quality literature and want to share that literature with the world. Noble. Admirable. We should be grateful for these people and the publications they produce, whether online or in print. I am grateful. Truly.
However, as a poet, I can tell you from personal experience that, for the most part, poetry does not pay monetarily. There is a bit of the sting of the pay-for-publication stigma, whether or not that sentiment is justified. Many wonderful poets can’t afford reading fees; they have a difficult time just paying their bills. What are the implications of excluding these poets? Will there be a difference in the quality of the poetry published due to a smaller submission pool?
As fall reading begins and new guidelines are being rolled out, I am monitoring the trend.
If you are an editor of a literary journal, please share your thoughts on this subject.
Although this was written by the poetry editor of the Indiana Review, I have no doubt that others would agree. In fact, I agree and have had to turn away clients because of some of the reasons listed in the linked post. Please take a moment to read this good advice. http://indianareview.org/2012/09/26/five-marks-of-oft-rejected-poems/
The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker by Cindy Hunter Morgan of East Lansing, Michigan, is the winner of The Ledge 2011 Poetry Chapbook Award. Here’s a link to “The Clockmaker” from the chapbook http://www.theledgemagazine.com/Featured%20chhttp://www.theledgemagazine.com/Featured%20chapbook%20poem.htmlapbook%20poem.html.
In addition to its contests, The Ledge is an annual literary magazine publishing in print since 1988.
Update on contests, presses, and journals reading now: Nearly 20 chapbook publishers are reading via contests. Some of these are looking for manuscripts from specific demographics such as Midwestern poets only, poet-residents of NY and New England only, or LGBT poets only. More than 35 full-length book contests and presses are actively reading. While most college sponsored literary journals either have or are about to close to submissions, there are others that read exclusively from spring to fall. Plenty of journals read year-round though they may take a little more time to respond between now and autumn. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to help your manuscript find a home.
Here’s an online journal of high quality: Valparaiso Poetry Review, http://www.valpo.edu/vpr/. The current issue features work by Brian Turner, Sean Thomas Dougherty, and Michael Blumenthal.
Denver did a great job hosting AWP.
Best readings: Mary Biddinger, G.C. Waldrep, Oliver de la Paz, and Major Jackson. Kudos to Diode Poetry and FishHouse.
Hot topic: Delivery system of the literary magazine. Print, online, Kindle, or IPad? Would you like an app with that?
Controversial trend: Submission fees for lit mags.
Grayest area: Copyrights. Think multimedia. Electronic rights. Then there’s Kindle and IPad again. What about YouTube? Read your contract before you sign.
More Q’s than A’s.
It was a pleasure to meet and chat with Margo Stever (Frozen Spring) and Diane Wakoski (The Diamond Dog).
Best meal: Dinner at Laguna’s with Jules.