Lit. mag. la-la land

by Rebecca Lehmann on May 21, 2011

All of these people have literary journals they want you to read. Are you reading them all ?

Have you noticed how many literary magazines there are out there now ? I have about a year’s worth of four or five great lit. magazines stacked up on my desk that I keep meaning to get to. But what about all the mediocre magazines, and all the really crappy magazines? Who’s reading them all?

Lots of people gripe about the proliferation of MFA programs. I think we can all agree that the same thing has happened with literary magazines. Poets need to get poems published so they can get books published and then get tenure-track jobs at universities. I suppose fiction writers do the same thing. Meanwhile, young wanna-be editors need to start tiny journals so that they can get jobs editing bigger journals, or maybe even small presses. The result is an unholy number of new magazines and journals popping up each year, as anybody who’s braved the AWP book fair can attest.

Some of these tiny start-up magazines turn out to be totally awesome and/or radical and/or cutting edge and are doing really fun, exciting, hip things and publishing really innovative and moving writing. Some of them are total duds that never go anywhere. Who is reading thos e? What are we doing with literary magazines that we don’t read? What do we do with all those paper bound journals after we’ve finished reading them?

I once had some poems published in a newsprint style journal and they sent me fifty motherflipping copies. They arrived on my porch in a big cardboard box with no warning, and a note inside asking me to distribute them in coffee shops and bookstores. They sat on my bookshelf for a year before I took them the grad. student lounge at my overly-proliferating creative writing program and left them on a coffee table where, I’m sure, somebody eventually picked them up and recycled them. More detritus of the creative writing machine, I suppose.

Look, poets and fiction writers, what paper magazines are you still reading ? What journals do you think are new and hot and full of joie de vivre? And what is the proper etiquette for getting rid of them after you’ve finished reading? Is there some designated recycling depository like the one for old batteries?

Tasha May 25, 2011 at 9:08 am

Hey Rebecca,

I love this post. As for print journals I’m still reading, I’ve always been a fan of the journal Poetry and I DID have a subscription to Cave Wall (but I think it just expired). I do an awful lot of lit journal reading on the internet these days and I sometimes trade lit journals with friends and fellow writers. Some of my favorites print journals are Tin House, Crazyhorse, and The Southern Review. I have lots of back issues of those. I ALWAYS try to read the journals I hope to see my work in someday. Which journals do you tend to gravitate toward?

Rebecca Lehmann May 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Thanks Tasha! Like you, I think I’ve migrated to the internet, and read a lot of journals in part online (being a broke grad student for the last five years has also limited my ability to buy subscriptions, and online snippets are all I can afford to glimpse of some magazines). I have print subscriptions to Tin House and The Gettysburg Review, which I keep up on my own. Full disclosure, I had poems published in both journals, but aside from that fact I like what they do, and, particularly in the case of Tin House, I really like how the journals look. I’m very fond of Conduit as well bc their journals look artsy. I think if I’m reading something in print these days I like it to seem like a creatively made object.

Cynthia Newberry Martin May 25, 2011 at 3:31 pm

How true it is! You should see my stackS. I’ve been taking the ones I’m done with to the local high school, and they seem appreciative. A friend of mine suggested leaving some in doctors and dentists offices and hospitals to compete with the usual drivel.

As far as subscriptions, I try to subscribe to 2 or 3 different journals each year. But one I’ve subscribed to for years and years, and my favorite journal, is One Story.

Tasha May 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Cynthia,
I like what you’re saying about donating old journals. I hadn’t thought about giving them to doctors or dentists offices, but that’s a great idea. I have donated some to a high school in the past–and they seemed happy to have them. I’m guessing libraries would also be a good place to donate to. At any rate, getting good quality poetry and prose out into the world is a very good idea.

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