September Recommendations

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Image: Ian Sane

It’s back-to-school season for teachers and students alike, and I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to find time to read lit journals for fun when you have so many other responsibilities. But I’m making a commitment this school year to squeeze in time for good writing here and there, and I hope you do too.

I have two picks this month, Wigleaf and South 85. I’ve chosen these two journals because they are almost complete opposites in terms of the length of their pieces. As someone who gravitates towards writing really long stories or flash fiction, I appreciate that there are journals catering to these niches.

Wigleaf is a journal that publishes “(very) short fiction” of 1000 words or less. Their contributors also write letters to the journal published alongside their stories which are as imaginative as the stories in the first place. These letters are quirky, puzzling, and poetic. For example, in one letter, contributor Brianne Kohl laments how she’s not sure if she belongs in the wild west. I’m not sure how writers get the inspiration for these little notes, but they are certainly entertaining and unique.

In Wigleaf’s latest issue, I was amazed by just how much ground their stories covered in less than 1000 words. The short story, “Preservation” by Tessa Yang, takes us into a future in which people sign up to sleep away years of their life in a coma for science. I also liked the story, “The Magician” by Kara Oakleaf, which features a delightfully whimsical child who plays magic tricks on his parents from infancy. This issue culminates in a featured story by published author Amber Sparks, who imagines what Zeus would be like as a football-watching American dad. Most of their submissions delve into the fantastic and surreal, weaving impressively developed narratives for such short pieces. Wigleaf takes submissions during the last week of each academic month, so that’s coming up this week! Check out their submissions page for more information.

I discovered South 85 from my writer friend Mary Jane White who has an excerpt from  her memoir about raising a son with autism published in their latest issue. South 85 is a university-affiliated journal, run by the low-residency MFA program at Converse College in South Carolina, publishing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. It is one of the few online journals I’ve encountered that does not shy away from publishing longer pieces.

In their latest issue, poet John Nizalowski  presents the tragic contrast of the mundane, despairing reality of a gas station near the Hopi Reservation and the nearby ruins of ancient civilization in “High Noon at the Hopi Gas Station.”  I particularly like the final turn of phrase, “the smell of colonial commerce.” In the nonfiction piece, “Behind the Walls in the Land of the Pure” the Pakistani-Canadian author, Mariam S. Pal describes her experiences hanging out at luxurious private parties in Pakistan, Lahore in the 1980’s, showing how her perceptions of Pakistan are overturned while she also debunks Pakistanis’ misconceptions of the West. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story, “The Buffalo of Sentinel Meadows” by Lawrence Cady, in which a music critic accompanies his biologist research wife on a fieldwork trip to Yellowstone, where they draw DNA samples of ancient bacteria from hot springs. While taking the samples, the narrator lets his mind wander through the memories of his relationship with his wife. I loved the slow build-up of emotion in this story, which is so rare to find in much of the fast-paced fiction published in the age of the Internet.

South 85 is open for submissions until November 1. For more information on submitting to South 85, check out their submission guidelines.

 

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August Recommendations

 

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Image: Tony Hisgett

This summer has been the summer of many tabs. I always have at least 10 tabs open, and about half of them are literary journals. Part of what inspired me to come back to this blog was the renewed excitement I felt for exploring the pages of the internet following a writing workshop I took last spring. My professor, the poet Greg Glazner, asked us each to present on a particular writer whose “poetic prose” we were really fascinated by (the them of the class was “Poet’s Prose” but we read a range of texts from prose poems to flash fiction to creative nonfiction). He requested that instead of uploading pdfs of excerpts of the writer’s work, we post links. At first I was a bit skeptical of his insistence on links, since it was sometimes less convenient to find links to a person’s writing on the web than to just make a copy of pages of a book from the library. But Professor Glazner has this theory about links, that they allow us to discover more things about the writer and his or her context and also lead us on these interesting quests through the internet to find things we never knew existed.

I was presenting The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, a Japanese writer who lived in the Emperor’s court in the 10th century, so initially I was skeptical that I would be able to find her work published online, and I wasn’t sure if giving a link would add anything to the conversation. However, when I searched for Sei Shonagon, I stumbled upon a really insightful and informative essay by Meredith McKinney on translating The Pillow Book in the Kyoto Journal.

Ever since, I’ve been considering just how cool it is that this whole vast repository of writing is available to us for free online, and I’m continually inspired whenever I find more online journals publishing great work. Here are some of the journals that have recently caught my eye:

The Southeast Review

The Southeast Review’s journal is technically not online, but they do post fiction, nonfiction, interviews, and poetry to their “online sister,” SER TWO (which stands for This Week Online). There I found some really great writing during the past month including the short story “Ruth’s Red Ale” by Ann Stuart McBee and the nonfiction piece “Two Boyfriends” by Lareign Ward. McBee’s story ferments language in exciting ways (pun intended), and I was dazzled by the sensory details in her piece about an impoverished couple home-brewing beer while life falls apart around them. Ward’s piece depicts the strange untethered grief of a narrator who has recently lost a lover but doesn’t quite know what her future with that person would have been or if they even were heading for a future together.

The Southeast Review is affiliated with Florida State University and is currently accepting submissions in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews. You can find out more information about their submission guidelines here.

 

The Yemassee Journal

This journal, which is run by the University of South Carolina, recently published its first online issue, which I perused. Some of the highlights from that issue include the poem “I Tried to Be a Good Mexican Son,” by José Olivarez, a prose piece called “The Saving Apocalypse” by Matthew Hummer, and “Three Poems” by Shaina Monet. Olivarez’s poem depicts the speaker’s failure to live up to his mother’s expectations and also serves as a sweet tribute to the speaker’s mother, who clearly loves her son despite his shortcomings. It’s humorous, straightforward, and filled with delightful lines. Hummer’s piece, which I think is nonfiction (although it’s not labeled) is a lament of the demise of the print newspaper and also discusses the paranoia the narrator experiences while trying to not be tracked by technology, a paranoia that feels familiar to anyone with a smartphone or a social media account. The essay slips into its subject indirectly, slyly, almost like it is is trying to hide something. Ironically, it’s online for everyone to read. Finally, Monet’s poems have a really interesting concept behind them: they are in the form of a “beau présent” which is when you take the letters of someone’s name and combine them into different words to create a poem. The form limits the writer to only using the letters available in the original word or words. Monet describes her reasons for doing this: each poem honors an ancestor of hers, persons of color who society didn’t deem worthy of recording. Her poems try to correct that injustice. The poems’ form leads to an interesting sense of circularity as you read the same letters come to life in different ways.

Yemassee is currently open to submissions of fiction and poetry. Here are there submission guidelines.

Split Lip Magazine

I like that Split Lip Magazine releases just one piece from each genre every issue. It makes reading an entire journal feel less daunting, and it will definitely keep me coming back to see more cool writing. In this latest issue, I particularly enjoyed the short story “Bound” by Belinda Hermawan and the nonfiction essay “Cary” by Lorelei Glaser. Hermawan’s story about fate and adoption drew me in from the start. The main character, a Chinese-American who was adopted, feels drawn to one of her cousins, and and that attraction is so well written that it didn’t come across as gross or weird. It was definitely original in its language and emotional intensity. On the other hand, Glaser’s story about coping with her son’s mental illness was a familiar narrative, but the details were fresh and cut to the quick.

Here’s information on how to submit to Split Lip.

I hope you enjoy these recommendations. Check in about a week from now because I have a flash fiction forthcoming in an online journal (not any of the ones I’ve featured), and I’ll be excited to announce that once it is published. I’m going to do my best to keep updating this blog at least once a month, but now that the school year is starting I will sadly have less time to peruse online journals and my tabs will be tucked away into folders, bookmarked for later. Until next time, happy reading and writing.

Rainy Day Magazine

Rainy Day Magazine is published by undergraduates at Cornell University, but accepts submissions from undergraduates across the country. Founded in 1969, it is one the oldest university-based literary magazines around. The magazine, which is published twice a year, includes poetry, fiction, and other in-between genres, such as prose poems. They seem pretty flexible with their submissions, since they have no specified word count limitations.

Since the journal publishes undergraduate work, many of the poems and stories have themes about college life. Just as many do not, testifying to the inventiveness of young writers. Even if you are a 20-year-old college student, you, by no means, are obligated to write about college parties (in fact, most people would probably prefer to read about something else). The stories and poems in the latest issue available online have a wide range of interesting characters including a psychiatrist-turned-stalker, juvenile delinquents, and a hermaphroditic squid. A sense of originality and freshness ran through the works.

The poems in Rainy Day pay close attention to language, playing with words and shaping them in interesting ways. Some of the poetry struck me as too trite and clever, but others were full of rich imagery and interesting dialect. I recommend checking out “Low and Rustic Life” by Kevin Mosby in the Fall 2012 issue (and I should be transparent- Kevin is a good friend of mine, but I also think he’s a great poet, so his poems are worth taking a look at).  The poem looks at attending university from a different point of view, the view of the less educated family members who lament the younger generation’s eagerness to escape their humble roots. It rings with a poeticness that is unassuming and grounded.

My favorite work of fiction from the last issue was a short story called “Mountaineering” by Miklos Zoltan, which depicts a married man facing a mid-life crisis. The main character suffers from a malaise, a discontentedness with his mediocre life that he can’t quite put his finger on. I liked the way the author portrayed the inequality in the marriage through harping on their differences through the repeated use of unequal numbers to describe things about them, always using one-and-a-half for the wife, and three for the man. It gave me as a reader a concrete sense of how the couple can never match up anymore on their opinions or their experiences.

For More Information

Rainy Day

Website: rso.cornell.edu/rainyday

Barely South Review

The Barely South Review is an online journal published twice a year by students and faculty at the MFA program in Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. It was established fairly recently, in 2010. The review caught my eye with its elegant online display which allows you to flip through it like a print journal. These days, online presentation is becoming more and more important as print publication is increasingly less viable and less attractive for new journals. If the design of the website catches my eye, I’m more likely to continue reading to see if I also find the contents interesting.

Barely South publishes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction selections. They also publish the winners of the annual Norton Girault Literary Price and the American Academy of Poet’s University Prize. The review publishes both established and emerging writers and according to their website, they hope to “present many voices, especially those that defy easy regional, thematic, and stylistic categorization.” What I noticed from reading their latest issues is that they tend to publish fresh, youthful writing that reflects the spirit of American rural or suburban life. The selections in the review are not pretentious by any means, and they vary in tone from whimsical to painfully realistic. Some of the fiction, such as the story “The Oedipus Pact” by Brandon Bell in the Fall 2013 issue. Other writing is situated in a particular corner of American and reveals a glimpse into life in that area, such as the story “The Ecstatic Gringo” by Zachary Amendt in the spring 2013 issue, which depicts in gritty detail the impact of the economic collapse on one couple in Detroit.

I enjoyed the direct, crisp voice of the narrator in “The Oedipus Pact,” which I thought caught a concise snapshot of contemporary teenage-parent conflict. I also liked the story “Recipe for Everything” by Sarah Domet in the Spring 2013 issue, which tells the story of a pregnant woman who moves next door to a mysterious, exotic possible witch with a “recipe for everything.” The narrative combines neurotic voice of the anxious pregnant woman who has already lost four pregnancies to miscarriage with tangible sensory imagery evoked by the descriptions of the neighbor Yasamine’s spice recipes, creating a rich and fascinating tale.

The poetry in the review leans towards less experimental and more traditional poetry, mainly free verse, but the latest issues have featured some prose poems and other experimental forms. The themes on the poems vary widely, but most seems to connect to American life. The two poems by Maurice Emerson Decaul in the Spring 2013 issue struck me as fascinating. The author took slave narratives compiled from the Federal Works Project during the Great Depression and interpreted them in verse. I thought the poems displayed a unique way for a writer to preserving voices from the past while also placing his own creative mark on the narratives.

The nonfiction section contains mostly creative nonfiction essays. My favorite piece in the Fall 2013 issue was the essay “(Searching) Love, Lust, and I” by Garrett Dennert. The format, which is not quite an interview or a formula but something close, fits the piece well. The narrator, who is a young man trying to understand his past relationship’s failures and successes is searching for some kind of sense in his muddled love life, and his attempt to systematically address each issue, category by category, reflects his desperate grasping for meaning. In the end, the form does allow him to make some conclusions, but only ones that come too late. The story makes you wonder whether this type of introspective interrogation of the past does any good, since you only clearly see your mistakes in hindsight.

I offer one main critique to the editors the Barely South Review: if their goal is to really aim for a diverse group of voices, they should seek out a wider range of writers and poets from different backgrounds. The majority of the writing represented in the review reflected the contemporary economic and social realities of lower-to-middle-class whites. Overall, I thought the reviews’ selections displayed excellence and originality.

Submission Periods:

September 1 – November 30 for the Spring Issue

January 1 – March 31 for the Fall Issue

For More Information

The Barely South Review

Website: barelysouthreview.digitalodu.com