I *Heart* Literary Journals

One of my favorite things about being a writer is the sense of tradition I feel whenever I fire up a new Word Document or take pen to paper, jotting in my illegible scrawl some thought, some image, I will one day try to craft into a piece. The act of writing is the act of joining a community that spans time and space, and cannot be limited by age, race, or era. When you write, you join a conversation. A “California Supermarket” that shows up in one of your poems cannot be seperated from Ginsberg’s. We write from, or in response to, the views of those who came before us. For me, I write from Cormac McCarthy’s driving prose, from Yusef Komunyakaa’s lyrical visions, and from Wallace Steven’s technical precision. And, if you write in English, you cannot escape the Great Bard’s impossible shadow. Nor, for that matter, can you escape Emily Dickinson or Uncle Walt, or T.S. Eliot or whomever. The point is is that those tried-and-true English-speaking writers (not to mention the many great non-English writers) have left some vast footprints, and it’s important to know where we come from. That’s what our anthologies and favorite college texts help us with. And I love revisiting certain authors whose work continues to mean so much to me.

Equally as important, though, is to know where our contemporaries are. This point is why I think it is so important that we nourish what literary journals we can. I don’t only mean with our submissions but mean as well with our monetary support through subscriptions. Too many dedicated editors and their quality publications fold for lack of funds. Often times, these journals rely solely on subscription fees to keep afloat. There are only so many grants to go around, and many editors find themselves unable to keep their journals afloat for lack of subscribers. Yet, there never seems to be any shortage of submissions.

But, it’s not charity that drives me to subscribe to journals when I can; it’s greed. I love reading what my contemporaries are doing, love finding some gem of a poem that sends me spilling beyond my boundaries. I love when, a year later, I see a first book published by someone whose poem moved me when I read it in a journal. I am not advocating any particular journal, mind you. But I do advocate buying a back issue of a journal or magazine you might submit to. For me, it’s a good way to get an idea if my work would fit, but I am also exposed to more work, more writers I might not have read if it weren’t for their appearance in said journal. And, if I like the mag overall and have the funds, I’ll drop the 15 or so dollars for a year subscription.

The other side of writing well is reading well. Many of my books and magazines are annotated to the point of sin. There are cross-reference marks, question marks, lines I love underlined softly in pencil. That way, I’m actively involved . I’m a participant in making meaning of what I read. Not only is this fun, it helps me as a writer. If I am careless as I read, I will be careless when I write. That does no one any kindness.

For my part, I read as I’d like to be read. Sure it’s a remake of childhood’s golden rule, but I tell you what, whatever you read has cost someone a lot of time, effort, and energy. Plus, it might be damn good and, if you’re rushing, you’ll miss the greatness. And there’s a lot of greatness in journals and magazines and other small presses.

If you like, I’d be happy to comment on a few of my favorites, but I am not advocating any particular press or magazine. Rather, I believe writers should read nearly as much as they write. And just about every University has a magazine filled with worthwhile prose and poetry.

Anyway! I’m off to watch the rest of the NBA game. And then off to read and to bed and in the morning…Friday, which is Billiards day for me. Nine ball run, come on! Whoot!


5 Responses to I *Heart* Literary Journals

  1. thedesktop says:

    I’m pretty much the same way if I’m writing something. The trouble is that I suck at writing. Not sentence structure, word choice, or metaphors, but writing for an uninterrupted period. I’m not ADD or anything, but I do see a pattern. The further I get into a written-out good concept, the more bathroom breaks I take. If I were ever to do a piece of, say, 100 pages, I would literally die for dehydration, which is why short stories are the way I swing. Even then, I spend more time reading about authors than I do writing my halfway-decent short stories.
    Sorry to turn this comment into “me” time, btw.

    Hi, DT. Don’t worry about “me” time. It’s about all of us, right? I can relate completely with the pattern. Shoot, my biggest problem is that I have little patience. I’ve had this novel idea jostling around in my head for two years, and all I have to show for it is four pages of junk, mean-spirited notes to self, and, as you perfectly noted, the ability to find other things to distract myself and interrupt the flow. I think Flannery O’Connor said something about forcing herself to sit from 9-noon every day so that, should an idea come, she’d be ready for it. But that kind of commitment is so hard to harness day in, day out. Thanks for swinging by, and I’m off to desktop in a few.

  2. Meg says:

    Oh, if only more people felt the way you do about lit mags! And speaking of writing down through the ages, you should read this wonderful <a href=”http://kenyonreview.org/blog/?p=452″ rel=”nofollow”>post</a>…I’m trying to envision what we’ll be reading in 15 years. Or will we go back to the tradition of story-telling, updated with an iPod, hands-free, minus the circle of kin?
    Nice blog you have. Puddlehead.

    Thanks for swinging through. I’m new to the blogosphere, and I am finding the whole thing to be a good experience. As yet, no one has challenged me (but I’m sure a dickhead, maybe even the same one) will eventually call me out for something. Fifteen years from now I think we’ll see print come back. In particular, all the great books we’re not reading now because of the easier forms of entertainment will be “rediscovered.” That’s my hope! Anyway, there’s more to come, I’m sure, and I’ll swing by pigspittle’s site soon. Take care, Meg.

  3. writerchick says:

    Hey Puddlehead,
    You really are a scholar of types aren’t you? I admit, I’ve never been one for literary mags myself. I often find them too fancy or obtuse. I’m more of an e.e. cummings, rod mckuen, kind of gal. Although, yes, a special place for the Bard to be sure. But I will revisit the issue and take your advice. I’ll look for one that speaks to me and subscribe. God knows, I love to read.
    I also wanted to say I loved this: ‘whatever you read has cost someone a lot time, effort and energy.’ Amen to that.
    <strong>Hi, WC. Yes, I completely agree with you about literary mags getting a little too ivory tower, a little too proud of the obscure, self-congratulatory poetry they publish. That is one of the reasons, I think, that so many people find writers to be such a pompous bunch. They take for their evidence the few who really are that way and typecast the rest. The problem too is that the most widely known journals sometimes alienate really intelligent readers who aren’t avid poetry fans. Which can lead to this weird incestuous poetic experience. Poets writing for other poets and essentially turning their backs on wider readership. That said, though, there are a lot that are publishing really solid work issue after issue. I will do a little digging around here and put together a brief list complete with contact information, back issue cost, etc. Also, if you have a major bookstore in your area, they should carry the heavy weights: Poetry, Tin House, Barrow Street (maybe), and a few others. Anyway! I too think ee cummings is great. I think my favorite is “anyone lived in a pretty howtown,” though the “balloon man” one is up there as well. Take care!
    Puddlehead </strong>

  4. dontcallitpoetry says:

    Good to hear that someone out there reads literary journals 🙂 Whenever I publish in them I fear that only the poets in that issue and their mothers buy copies, and then only read their own submission! Unfortunately, though, I think you are in the minority on this one, and the dwindling audiences for these journals proves it. The ones I find most interesting are the ones that take on a theme, as does “Alimentum,” which is a literary journal about food … and “Bark,” a literary journal for dog lovers … and put some serious time and effort into the design.

  5. I have started writing online the past few months full time and I find some days are really tough to get through. I don’t mind most days but some topics can be a real pain to create content for and it’s rough I find.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: