In Praise of the Themed Submission

If you’re a writer who is finding it hard to focus on your writing or submitting to literary journals at this time, you are far from alone. With so much happening in the world, it might seem almost superfluous to keep submitting to journals. However, I found that when I can carve out the time to read literary journals and hone my own writing for submissions, I am able to relax in a peaceful corner of the internet. Of course, literary world is not isolated from the rest of the world and needs to address its issues with racism, but there are a lot of great journals who are publishing writing that is necessary and important, as well as writing that is distracting and fun. I need a combination of both to inject some hope into my life these days. One type of journal I’ve enjoyed reading and submitting to are themed journals, whether the journal is just having a themed issue or they are devoted to publishing work about a particular topic. The more niche a journal is, the more I find myself drawn to it these days. Perhaps it’s because I am craving order and structure in a chaotic world, or perhaps it’s because submitting to these journals doesn’t feel like trying to read a black box.

I have nothing against journals that don’t have themes. They often have a variety of interesting short stories, poetry, and essays that I enjoy. However, these journals are daunting to submit to. Every submission page at a literary magazine will direct you to read past issues to get a sense of their aesthetic style. But even if you read previous issues it’s hard to get a sense of what they are looking for unless you have a very honed perception of writing styles. Even then, editors rotate, and the aesthetic preferences of journals change. I liked themed submissions because at least I can check off one box that the journals are looking for: it’s about the right topic. Plus it’s often a fun challenge to write about a topic that you haven’t considered before or to try to shape your works in progress to fit the theme. It’s similar to using writing prompts as inspiration.

Here are some journals with thematic content, or at least themed submissions, that I have enjoyed recently. After you check them out, let me know what you think in the comments. Do you prefer themed submissions, or would you rather submit to journals that don’t have as narrow criteria for their acceptances?

Perhappened Mag

Perhappened Mag is a relatively new journal that has themed issues. Each one is really unique, and they also seem open to interesting experimentation. Their issue from last month, Mix Tape, has poetry and creative nonfiction accompanied by a playlist of songs. Each submission was inspired by a song that evokes nostalgia in the writer. Their latest issue, Lights Out, just came out today, and they are accepting submissions for their next issue, Fairy Tale, until Nov 10. They accept both poetry and prose submissions.

One poem I enjoyed from their Mix Tape issue was “Beyond Turnt” by Caroline Dinh. It’s a poem about the price of assimilation, and it had some incredible lines in it like, “If you peeled the Earth like a clementine/ and spread its skin across his Spotify playlists there would still/ be room to spare.”

I also enjoyed, “Joni sings of freedom” by Ikjot Kaur, a prose poem that evokes the boundless feeling of traveling with someone by your side.

Porcupine Literary

Porcupine Lit is a journal by teachers about teaching, but it’s not for sharing pedagogy. It publishes creative pieces about the experience of teaching. This journal is near and dear to my heart because I’m a teacher. When I found it, I was so excited that such a journal existed that I immediately submitted to it. I will probably keep submitting to it with the hope that one day my ramblings about teaching get published. Porcupine Lit publishes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. They are open for submissions until Nov 1.

Some pieces I enjoyed from their most recent issue include, “Secondary Certification” by Michelle Campagne, which I thought did a great job of capturing the small indignities of the profession.

I connected with the creative nonfiction piece, “Accept No Substitute” by Christina Fishburne about the experience of a teacher who has an MFA. While I don’t teach kindergarten, I enjoyed the writerly attention she bestows onto the small details of teaching kindergarten. I find that as a teacher, my writer’s eye comes in handy quite often.

Longridge Review

Longridge Review is a creative nonfiction journal that publishes essays about childhood experiences. I love their theme because of just how rich and broad it is. Anybody could think of something interest to write about on this topic.

Some pieces I enjoyed from their most recent issue include, “Baby Steps” by Miriam Glassman, which discusses the pitfalls of trying to fill a void in your life with a creepy, walking doll, and “Breathing Lessons” by Brenna Sowder, which weaves together the author’s breathing lessons as an asthmatic child with her anxieties and fears during the current pandemic.

Burning Jade Magazine

Again, this is a relatively new journal, but their first issue really wowed me. Its theme was #Americaisoverparty, and it included some biting political poetry and prose. They just closed the submissions for their next issue on Spirituality, but they will probably have submissions open for their next issue on October 23. Full disclosure: I had a piece accepted in the next issue which I will share on this blog once it’s online, so I might be a little biased, but I was already excited about this magazine before they accepted my work.

Here are some pieces I enjoyed from their first issue:

The poem, “Portrait of a Pandemic” by Anisha Narain really struck me because it voiced so many things I’ve been feeling since March but have not been able to say as eloquently.

“#WhiteButWoke Work Week Social Media Challenge” by Jennifer Dines made me laugh and cringe at the same time (is there a word for that?).

“For Ahmaud Arbery” by Leela Raj-Sankar left me feeling broken and angry, reminding of the reason poetry and writing are necessary in this moment.