Blue Lake Review

The Blue Lake Review doesn’t dazzle, but it has solid and original pieces of prose and poetry. This online review has a new issue each month, so there are plenty of opportunities for publication. There is no unifying theme among its content; in fact, what seems to be its identifying feature is the diversity of its offerings.

In the latest issue, December 2013, there was one story that took place in the Jim Crow South and one about an isolated, lovesick modern day grad student. The short stories each contain unique premises, which some of them take in stride, while, in others, the narrative falls flat. “Dancing Girls” by Verless Doran was one of the latter. It has nothing to do with dancing girls, and instead discusses an old man selling stories. But the actual frame narrative did not do a good job of conveying the supposedly spellbinding quality of these tales, rendering the piece rather anticlimactic. On the other hand, I really enjoyed “The Diary Farm” by Robert Earle which, told in a diary format, describes how a man starts a “diary farm. At first the business begins as a joke, but it quickly transforms into a budding enterprise. I like how this piece explores all of the ways people record their experiences and what they gain from doing so. At one point, the man’s son devises a computer program that writes a diary for two busy clients, a couple who do not have the time or inclination to share with one another:

April 14, 2013: Al called Margot from San Diego–airplane ticket $650, hotel $490, contract on bid: $500,750–Margot took Excedrin all day–too much cabernet sauvignon last night, lonely–heating bill came: $128, average per month this year: $152–Al walked 5 miles on La Jolla beach–missed Margot–next trip in October–Al must be positive, all the time positive–no more cabernet sauvignon for Margot this week–I.R.A. stocks up .07 percent, bonds down .08 percent–long term fine but when kids? –couldn’t accompany business trips with a baby–maybe wait on babies? Action items: pill through October, early double flight reservations to San Diego, meet with State Farm Agent, buy food once a week without wine, do not even go into wine aisle, wine only in restaurants or with friends, five miles on beach again tomorrow, think positive thoughts…

– Robert Earle, “The Diary Farm”

The program takes their computer activity, processes it, and spits it out into bizarre sentences, just a reminder of how much of our lives can already be reconstructed from our constant use of technology. But there’s something so oddly inhuman about the sentences, which are not much more than disconnected bits of information, that it’s clear you can’t really write a diary with a computer.

I found the poetry in the journal to be plain in language, simple to read and easy to understand, but emotionally moving. The poems mostly seemed lyrical, tending towards more conventional poetry rather than experimental. I like the poem “Since She Took Her Life” by Mike Finley, which has a speaker who cannot help but see death everywhere, presumably after a lover or a friend has committed suicide.

On the submission guidelines page of the review, they editors state they are “not looking for something that shows you how clever you are, how large your vocabulary is, or writing that is overly sentimental.” Instead they want writing that is “pure, absent of false notes.” You can submit short stories of up to 10,000 words, and up to five poems at a time.

For More Information

Blue Lake Review

Website: bluelakereview.weebly.com

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The Summerset Review

I do not often review journals that I am not ecstatic about. I tend to choose the journals I review by looking at the ones that I think are the most exciting and fun to read. Although I am not jumping up and down about The Summerset Review, I think it still deserves a review because there is much potential in the journal that can be improved upon (with the help of your submissions, in fact).

(On a side note, let it be said that my opinions are not always the right ones. Feel free to disagree with me if you find this journal particularly inspiring. You can leave a comment at the end of this review, or even send an alternate review of the journal to LitBloom itself).

The Summerset Review, based in Smithtown, New York, is an online journal that publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry four times a year. While it does not have specific theme, I noticed that many of the pieces in the Fall 2013 issue, prose and verse, tend to explore the beauty of the natural world, with narrators and speakers who seek solace there.

I would characterize the poetry as lyrical and conventional. I thought some of it was rather trite, too heavy with metaphor and symbolism without enough attention paid to language. For example, I didn’t like the poem “Replacing the Irreplaceable” by John Grey which compares a man’s terminal  illness to the job that sucks the life from him. A poem from this issue which I did like was “Grilled Cheese” by Kathryn Gahl. I enjoyed its playfulness; it is clearly a poem meant to be read aloud.

As for the review’s fiction and creative nonfiction, I have to say the pieces from both genres fell flat in the latest issue, in my opinion. I was not captivated by most of the stories, which often told more than they showed and used uninteresting language. I did, however, enjoy two pieces: the short story “The Songbird Clinic” by Jean Ryan and nonfiction piece “Bare” by Caroline Hurwitz. I really liked how “The Songbird Clinic” wove in observations about nature and the animals the narrator interacts with as she embarks on a new stage in her life. The author was really able to capture the narrator’s solitude that is at the same time lonely but also peaceful just by showing how much she desires to care for these animals and the connection that she wants to make with the other bird caregiver, Leslie. “Bare” captured an interesting moment in the author’s life, “baring” herself for the reader to show exactly what motivated her to take intimate pictures for her husband serving overseas. I thought it was a beautiful piece.

From what I have read, I think the Summerset Review is a good place to submit as an emerging writer, since they need more fresh voices like the ones who wrote the pieces that I praised above. If you are interested in learning more about what they like to publish, they also have a recommended reading list of stories and poetry on their website to guide you.

Submission Period

Year-Round

For More Information

The Summerset Review

Website: www.summersetreview.org

[PANK]

[PANK] magazine is an online and print magazine that publishes “emerging and experimental poetry and prose,” according to their website. Initially, I found the word “experimental” daunting, assuming that the contents of the magazine would be incomprehensible to a novice poetry reader like me. I was surprised to find that the poetry in the magazine is very accessible. Its experimental qualities come more from playing with language and form than from a tendency towards obscurity. Much of the prose also resembles the poetry; it’s often short fiction that qualifies more as flash fiction or prose poetry than short stories.

The poetry in this magazine tends to be highly lyrical and rhythmic. I really like how the poems feel uninhibited and wild. My favorite poems from the latest issue, which I think are very representative of the magazine as a whole are “Mew Zee Um” by Bob Hicok and “Partial Midwestern Love” by Bindu Bansinath (and if you need any proof that this magazine publishes emerging writers, check out Bansinath’s bio at the bottom of the page— she’s seventeen year’s old!).

The prose in [PANK] also has very interesting use of imagery and language. However, in one of the pieces, “Jerry” by John Thornton Williams, I found the plot to be so confusing that it distracted me from the actual prose. I could not follow the chronology of the story, and that took away from my enjoyment of reading it. On the other hand, I did like the three short stories by Kaj Tanaka which talked about reservation life, especially the last one, entitled “Wake.” I didn’t think there was anything particularly “experimental” about them, apart from their brevity, but they were well-written and compelling to read.

[PANK]’s online magazine publishes new works every month.

Submission Period

Year-Round

For More Information

[PANK] Magazine

Website: pankmagazine.com

Brevity Mag

Brevity Mag is on the forefront of the new creative nonfiction movement, publishing exclusively short works of creative nonfiction. Their motto reads, “We are a small magazine with large ambitions,” and from what I have read from their magazine, they are doing a great job of filling a unique and exciting niche in the contemporary literary world. They publish creative nonfiction of 750 words or less, as well as book reviews and craft essays. If you are at all interested in creative nonfiction, you should definitely explore their website to find inspiration and advice.

The creative nonfiction pieces are tied together not just by their short length, but also by an intense focus on language. Since it is such a short form, some of the pieces almost seem like prose poetry that just happen to be about things that took place in real life. An example of this is the piece “Stranded” by Jill Talbot from their Fall 2013 issue, which paints a mysterious night in the author’s life in broad strokes of imagery that highlights the comet in the night sky and the setting of an abandoned highway road, but obfuscates the actual events that took place.

Most of the pieces hone in on a particular moment or event that stands out in the author’s memory, but reveal that singular moment as intertwined with greater currents in the author’s life.  One of the pieces from their latest issue that I think uses this particular technique well is “The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House” by Amy Wright, which describes the author’s relationship to a beekeeper who lived in a shabby shed:

As we started to close the windows against November nights, to leave a fleece within reach of the door, I knew I had to end the relationship. Summer rain or sleet in February, that one-room cabin wasn’t getting any bigger. It wasn’t the inconvenience I minded so much as how the arrangement allowed him to keep sealed the other chambers of his heart. I might hum around all I liked, industrious as any worker bee, dancing clover nectar off my feet, but I would never be taken to the queen.”

-Amy Wright, “The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House”

I really like how Wright bridges the figurative and the literal when she talks about the physical place where her boyfriend lived and his hobby of beekeeping, connecting it to her emotional relationship to him. You wouldn’t expect nonfiction to be literary in the sense of it being symbolic, because we tend to think of literary motifs as something planned by the author in fiction. However, part of what I really like about the genre about creative nonfiction is that it allows writers to explore the unrecognized literary themes that emerge in our lives naturally. Perhaps we are making connections between things that aren’t really relevant to each other, seeing an overarching narrative in our lives where there is none, but that doesn’t make it any less true or artistic.

Brevity Mag’s craft essays are also worth a look. They mostly deal with the topic of how to write creative nonfiction. One essay that I particularly  enjoyed was “What Can Sonnets Teach Us? The Benefit of Strict Form”  by Chelsea Biondolillo, which discusses how you can take different forms of prose that are not typically creative forms, such as food reviews, or even multiple choice tests, and make them into art.

Submission Period

Year Round

Submission Details

Submissions should be creative nonfiction of 750 words or less

For More Information

Brevity Mag

brevitymag.com

The Cortland Review

Based in Cortland, New York, The Cortland Review is an online magazine of fiction and poetry, focusing mostly on poetry and emphasizing poetry as a performance art. All of its poems are accompanied by an audio file of the voice of the poet reading the poetry aloud.

The review publishes an issue four times a year, as well as putting out features twice a year— including translations of non-English poetry. Their website also has a unique widget,  called The Poetry Streamer, which may be of interest to those of you who want to listen to poetry, not just read it. The Poetry Streamer plays randomized audio selections of poetry from past issues of the magazine.

The poetry in the journal tends towards traditional, free verse poetry, often lyrical in tone. It is not a journal for experimental poetry, so if that is what you write, this is probably not the journal for you. As a reader, I found the poetry to be interesting and accessible, although a little stale at times. One poem that I really did like from the summer 2013 issue of the journal, Issue 60, was “What Happens Before Anything” by Dara Barnat. It is a simple poem, but I thought the way the author uses an image of snowflakes piling up as a comparison to how a mental or emotional burden can amass is very powerful.

The fiction published by the journal is mostly short fiction, “flash fiction,” that is almost short enough to be called poetry. Yet it retains a distinctly prose-like feel where a narrative emerges in just a short span of words. Both pieces in Issue 60 of the journal follow a similar format of fragmented snippets that add up to a whole. I didn’t really like either of them. I think it is incredibly difficult to make a piece of fiction that short that can convey a story in its entirety. “Tennis in a Dozen Easy Lessons” by Charles Israel, Jr. which compares different moves in tennis to the narrator’s life felt a little too obvious for me.

On the other hand, I really like the short story “San Francisco, Summer 1990”  by Michael Bourne from Issue 59. I wouldn’t call it flash fiction, since it is too long to fall into that category, but it is certainly a shorter short story. The story captures a pivotal moment in the narrator’s life as he encounters his dying father, to whom he has not spoken in many years, and the author seems to hint that he will make the same mistakes as his father. I think it is a subtle and intriguing piece.

Submission Period

Year-Round

Submission Details

Submit 3-5 Poems, or short fiction up to 3,500 words

A cover letter with biographical information should be included

For More Information

The Cortland Review

www.cortlandreview.com

Tin House

Tin House is one of the best literary magazines out there, publishing some of the most compelling and exciting literary works in the contemporary literary scene. They are a print magazine publication based in Portland, Oregon, and they mostly publish well-established writers. It’s not impossible for emerging writers to be published in Tin House, but it would be quite an accomplishment. Don’t let that be a deterrent from reading and submitting to the magazine; at the very least, you can learn a lot about writing from reading the pieces and absorbing their style.

The magazine, which is printed quarterly, contains fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews. Its works are tied together not by an overarching style or theme, but by a commitment to exploring new territories of writing. For example, in Tin House’s latest issue of Spring 2014, one of its fiction stories, “Arcadia” is told in the format of a magazine advertisement for a retreat and rehabilitation facility. The story plays out in the interesting dialogue between the marketing descriptions that paint a rosy, idealistic picture, and the testimonials, which hint at the troubled minds of the people visiting the facility. Not all of Tin House’s works are experimental, but all of them push the boundaries of their genre in some way or another.

In Tin House’s spring and fall issues, there is, however, a theme, and works are chosen based on how they align with that theme in different ways. The Fall 2013 issue was on the theme “Wild,” and it is really interesting to see how widely interpreted that simple concept can be, ranging from depictions of a tourist encountering locals in El Salvador to the brothels of Las Vegas.

Tin House tends to publish longer works of fiction and creative nonfiction of up to 10,000 words. These longer pieces delve deep, allowing, in fiction, for much development of character and setting, and in creative nonfiction, for a much more nuanced treatment of the subject matter.

Tin House’s creative nonfiction is outstanding, and often tends towards journalistic writing more so than other forms of nonfiction, such as essays or memoirs. In the latest fall issue, “The Last Days of the Baldock” by Inara Verzemnieks and “Company Town”  by Ginger Strand are two very fascinating pieces that examined little-known slices of American life— the former depicts people living in RVs at a rest stop in Oregon, plagued by poverty, addiction, crime, and homelessness, who nevertheless come together as a community, and the latter discusses the legalized sex trade in Las Vegas. What struck me was how these works brought to life the people in these strange situations, showing their humanity. Also, the writers did not sacrifice vivid language for the sake of being factual. In fact one of the images that stood out the most was in “Company Town”:

“Periodically, a boob would escape from her blue bikini top and she’d calmly tuck it back inside, the way a waitress at the pickup counter might absently stick a stray french fry back on a plate.” 
-Ginger Strand, “Company Town”
No one every said you can’t use apt and witty metaphors in nonfiction!
The poetry published in Tin House is lyrical, fluid, and witty. For the casual reader, it is fairly accessible, but some of the more experimental pieces were lost on me. One particularly humorous poem by Major Jackson, entitled “OK Cupid” after the eponymous dating website, was a long list of similes that strung together the most bizarre associations with the phrase “Dating a ____ is like dating a ____”.
 “…and dating history is like dating a white man/ and dating a white man is like dating insecurity/ and dating insecurity is like dating a Hummer/ and dating a Hummer is like dating the Pentagon…”
-Major Jackson, “OK Cupid”
And on and on it goes, utterly destroying with social media concept of “If you like this, you also will like this” through parody, taking this idea to its absolute extreme. I thought it was pretty funny. 
I highly recommend checking out Tin House. They do put a selection of their works on their website, but the full print publication is available by subscription only. If you can’t afford the subscription, see if your local library has it, or perhaps just flip through it at your local bookstore.

Submission Period

September 4 – May 31

For More Information

Tin House
Website: tinhouse.com/magazine
 

Apple Valley Review

Apple Valley Review is a refreshing drink of water in the myriad of online literary journals that I have thus encountered.

It’s an independent journal, headed by a single editor, Leah Browning, who has managed to build a reputable and enjoyable magazine to read. The journal’s online layout is simple and visually pleasing, and the content is short enough to read in one sitting. If had to characterize the works themselves in one word, I would say they were “light.” Not because the writing is frivolous or unrealistically optimistic, but because I found everything in the journal, prose and poetry alike easy to read. It rolled off the tongue, without pretensions, but in ways that made me think twice about what I had read and want to scan the page again. This journal is simply nice to read, something that can’t be said about all journals out there, especially those online.

The review publishes an issue of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction twice a year. On the submissions page, the editor specifies that they are “very picky” about their selections, preferring works that are “both accessible and finely written.” I found this assessment to be true with regards to the journal’s latest issue. Every single poem I read was actually comprehensible to me on the first read. I am not a poet or much of a poetry reader, but I truly enjoyed the poem in Apple Valley Review’s latest issue. The poems are simple in language and form, often lyrical or narrative, and filled with fascinating imagery and complex layers of meaning. For example, I especially enjoyed the poem “Walking South” by Danush V. Goska, in which the speaker contemplates the oncoming winter even as she walks on a street in Berkeley on a sunny day. Here is a passage from the poem that really struck me:

Winter is stalking this hot August street.
I’m ready to learn to obey winter’s dictates
turn to roots, eat amber fruits, baking and buttering
steaming on silver, studded with spice;
to view naked limbs claw like seasonal hunger
networks of twigs raking brief pewter light
as teachers of clarity, gratitude, and vigor.
– “Walking South” by Danush V. Goska

I loved the rhythm of the lines, and the way the poem evokes both the conventional smells and sights of autumn with the unexpected image of the “naked limbs claw[ing]” in reference to the trees that lose their leaves.

The journal only published two pieces of fiction in the past issue, of which I liked “Waiting on Celebrities” the best, which describes the life of an employee at a hardware store. I was drawn in by the strange narrator, who constantly is invoking the advice of his therapist, second-guessing himself, and hinting at mysterious difficulties he has faced in his past.

Another cool feature I liked about this journal was that it allowed the authors to comment on their works. I know that some purists prefer to not know the author’s own interpretation of their poetry or prose, preferring instead to find their own meaning in it. I, however, have no objection, and found some of the explanations attached to the works illuminating. They only deepened my experience of reading the works.

For all you writers out there, it is definitely worth submitting to this journal, which takes writing from emerging and established writers and which has recently published short stories that have been included in anthologies such as “Best American Essays 2013.”

Submission Information:

Submissions are accepted year-round, but the deadline for the next issue (Spring 2014), is March 15, 2014.

For More Information:

Apple Valley Review

Website: applevalleyreview.com