If you’ve been reading this blog series, you may remember that I set out to have work published in literary journals in every state. Scroll down to the previous installment to read my caveat about how I select journals to attempt.
4. This time, I attempted a nice mix of states, starting with Oregon. This might seem a little left-field, but the primary printed journal I targeted in Oregon was Clackamas Literary Review. CLR was one of the first journals I fell in love with when I was beginning to send work out. This is totally random; for some reason, a bookstore near my undergrad. alma mater carried it, so I started reading it and was really impressed. It was the fiction, really. CLR publishes solid fiction that might play around with structural experimentation or unusual narrators, but mostly just tells engaging stories. The poetry ranges from narrative to confessional with few examples of the pop-culture referencing that most lit journals seem to focus on nowadays. The stories and poems in CLR tend to have something at stake. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a story/poem in CLR involving a 20-something hanging out at a bar, complaining about how tough he’s got it. If you were to ask a non-writer What is your idea of good fiction/poetry? Any given issue of CLR would probably have several examples.
Something that surprised me was that CLR is published out of a community college in Oregon City.
This is one of the oldest pubs of mine I’ll reference in this column, but it was a real score for me. Early on, I sent a few not-very-good stories (which were the best I had at the time, as an undergrad.) and the way I finally broke into CLR was with some narrative poetry about a period of my life when I dealt with some severe health issues. What made these poems work is that I tended to focus on other people as much as myself (it wasn’t of the ‘poor me’ variety, but rather ‘me’ as a situation which afforded me the opportunity to focus on someone else.)
For those crying foul, I’ll admit I’ve never even attempted The Portland Review. This isn’t because I’m intimidated by their pedigree and austerity (though, of course, I am) but because they honestly never came onto my radar.
Another Oregon journal, this one online, is Oregon Literary Review. The way I got into this journal was fairly unorthodox. OLR publishes drama as well as poetry and fiction, so I placed a couple ten-minute plays with them. (Backstory: I spent an aborted year studying playwriting at the U of AR MFA Playwrights program. So I had a handful of short plays gathering dust and have written a few since.) These were somewhat surreal, humorous plays.
One thing that became really apparent to me with OLR is that many of these journals, especially older ones and university-related ones are run more or less by one person, exceptions would be university journals run by students. These aforementioned folks tend to have pretty specific, hard-won ideas of what good writing is they’ve developed over years of teaching and editing. They’ve burned through all the posturing and cliques and gotten to the heart of why they do this; they just love writing. If you’re sending them polished work with something at stake, they tend to respond well.
5. Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Review claims to be the oldest journal in Wisconsin. Like most older journals (“older” meaning around fifty years) they tend to publish strong narrative fiction, strong confessional poetry with the occasional narrative poem: work that doesn’t take too many risks structurally or subject-wise. (I’m not implying that risk is bad; risk is good. But the old-fashioned viewpoint is that risk needs to be earned to succeed. I think these older journals tend to feel this way, also.)
I broke in TWR almost by accident; I sent them some narrative poems, again, dealing with a difficult time in my life when I was dealing with medical issues, my childhood and relationship with my father, and basically mortality. Heavy stuff. These poems I’ve referenced are in my new collection Riceland.
Another journal in Wisconsin I really like is Verse Wisconsin. VW is the new incarnation of Free Verse, a well-known journal which first published me several years ago. I was solicited for a special issue. VW also tends to have special themed issues, which is how I’ve managed to place work with them a couple more times. Themed issues are a great way to “back into” a journal, especially a very competitive one. The drawback is one tends not to have work that fits the theme lying around. I’ve been lucky a couple times and have had work at hand. Writing a piece specifically for a themed issue can be tricky because there might not be time, but if it works, do it.