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

[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

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

 

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

Blackbird

Blackbird is a well-established online journal published twice a year by staff and students at Virginia Commonwealth University. The journal publishes both emerging and established writers, including acclaimed poet Tomas Tranströmer, who won the Nobel Prize of Literature in 2011. Needless to say, submitting to Blackbird may seem daunting due to the high caliber of the works they publish. But you might as well submit your best work and see what happens.

Blackbird accepts submissions of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction reviews. They also have a unique gallery section where they display videos of dramatic performances, along with the script. Blackbird has other innovative features that take advantage of its online format such as an introduction reading loop in every other issue, in which the editors introduce some of the upcoming writers featured in the issue. Blackbird has a strong electronic media focus, providing audio recordings of many poems so you can listen to them read aloud, and also giving the reader access to recordings of readings held by the journal, in which authors read their own work and discuss it. They also publish the winners of two different prizes each year— the Levis Reading Prize Winner and the Cabell First Novelist Award.

The poetry in this journal is not the most accessible for those new to contemporary poetry. It is often very formally innovative and filled with allusions to classical literature. If this is your niche, then Blackbird may be the right journal for you. Personally, I am not the most sophisticated reader of poetry, and I struggled through many of the poems published in the most recent issue. I did enjoy the poetry of Michael McGriff that was featured in the Fall 2013 issue, especially his prose poem “Figures in the Landscape” since the images that surfaced from the rural landscape where the poems took place seemed striking to me.

The fiction in Blackbird is very well written and often provides a window into slices of American life that I have not encountered before. My favorite piece from the latest issue was “Of Rivers and Caves” by Adrian Dorris. In the story, a father struggles to raise his autistic daughter while haunted by the guilt of his other daughter’s death, who drowned in a river. I thought the way the story painted the father-daughter relationship as he struggles to give his daughter the freedom she needs was very poignant and moving. The story did not always fit what my expectations were for it, which was a good thing because it avoided the predictable, just as real life tends to do.

Submission Period:

November 1 – April 15

For More Information

Blackbird

Website: blackbird.vcu.edu.

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