Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The 50 States Project: TX, MD, MA, PA

6. Texas: Texas has been going through a kind of renaissance of arts and literature in recent years. I could list a dozen excellent writers out of Texas and just about that many excellent literary journals. One of the first Texas journals I had work appear in was Concho River Review. CRR is over 25 years old and associated with Angelo State University. I sent them some a handful of narrative, rural farming themed poems, one of which they published. I think of CRR as being similar to Flint Hills, out of Kansas, or Westview, out of Oklahoma: a solid journal that feels a little old-fashioned and tends not to publish a lot of “name” writers, but one that will never disappoint. Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review is based in Austin and associated with the city, funding-wise, but not UT Austin as far as I can tell. It took a couple tries before Borderlands took something of mine. Again, I sent them rural, farming-themed poems, basically using this as a backdrop to play out the drama within the poem, which was family-related. I would say Borderlands is a somewhat selective journal. These are amongst the strongest poems I’ve ever written and appeared in collection Riceland. Texas Poetry Journal took a formal poem of mine about farming. Front Porch is the online journal of Texas State University’s MFA program. It’s fairly new. I placed a rural, farming-themed story with them, a humorous story though it borders on being about child abuse. FP also nominated me for a Pushcart, so I’m partial to them. They have a soft spot for Southern, especially Texas-related work. FP reminds me of a young Story South. Pebble Lake Review was another excellent journal which has recently joined the Big Library in the Sky. Among the many other fine Texas journals I haven’t attempted yet are American Short Fiction, American Letters and Commentary, Gulf Coast, and Bat City Review.

7. Maryland: As I’ve discussed elsewhere, when I moved to Maryland, I began sending work to local journals to try to get involved in the local community. One of the first that I attempted was Potomac Review. PR is based at Montgomery College. I placed with them a couple very strong narrative poems dealing with the effects of a serious medical situation on my relationship with my ex-wife, and also communication issues, but with humor. So there was definitely a lot at stake. Artichoke Haircut was an awesome independent journal run by a group of active literary Baltimoreans. This was the journal I had the most success with, in terms of reading opportunities. They announced a reading for an issue release. I asked if I could join, and I’ve been back several times since. AH publishes funny, experimental, short work, similar to a working-man’s Jubilat or a Good Foot but with much more of a sense of humor, as one could imagine from the name of the thing. Really sad to see them go. Of course, one of my favorite MD journals is JMWW. JMWW is an independent journal based in Baltimore which publishes some of the best writing out there. The way I got into JMWW was a little unusual. I did a reading with the editor. She had a book that needed a reviewer, so I volunteered. After they ran my review, I took that relationship to the next level and placed a handful of poems with them. These were fairly straightforward confessional poems about my past as a musician, so they appealed to a youngish artistic audience.

8. Massachusetts: Up front, I’ll say there are several very well-known journals in MA which haven’t published me. A few have, though. One of my favorite MA journals is the independent journal Naugatuck River Review. NRR publishes narrative poetry. I sent them a handful and they took a page-long poem with a pretty rough-and-tumble storyline (with bodily fluids, drug use, etc.), the kind of poem most journals would ban me for. Ballard Street Poetry Journal is a shortish independent journal. They took a narrative poem about taking my daughter to visit a farm immediately after a cow committed suicide, unbeknownst to us, and the effect that had on two girls that worked there. They also took an homage to Woody Guthrie. Both of these poems have fairly rural themes but could also be interpreted as fairly political. Again, I’d compare BSPJ to Borderlands or a Flint Hills. On the flipside, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, is an interesting little Western Massachusetts journal, much more like Artichoke Haircut. They took a fairly odd prose poem of mine. Boston Literary Magazine is an online, independent literary journal. They took a love poem of mine. Probably my favorite journal out of Massachusetts is Fried Chicken and Coffee an online, independent journal run by the former editor of Night Train, which was one of my bucket-list journals. When it closed, I thought I’d missed that opportunity, until FCC opened. What I like about FCC is that it publishes down and dirty stories and poems about Appalachian life, sort of a rural-themed Thieves Jargon. I sent them a series of stories about a couple of poor-as-dirt, neglected kids who survived by their wits in a hostile world of drug dealers and hard people. Diner is a journal with a food connection that published a poem from my first poetry collection.

9. Pennsylvania: One of the first journals that published me, half a decade ago (in one of their first issues) was the independent Pittsburg journal Caketrain. Caketrain took a surreal prose poem. Caketrain is an innovative journal and press that puts out some cutting edge writing, so it’s quite different from most of the journals I’ve discussed so far. It’s probably closest, again, to Jubilat. Schuylkill Valley Review is an excellent journal with a regional affiliation. I was actually solicited to write an essay for them on Edgar Allen Poe (along with a poem from my first collection). Coal Hill Review is the online wing of Autumn House Press. I’ve had a somewhat unorthodox relationship with them. Often, I’ll target journals that are part of a press as a way to build a relationship with that press. I sent Coal Hill a couple book reviews, and they liked them enough to ask me to do a review column. I have gotten some great books to read out of it. Gettysburg is a very good PA journal that I haven’t breached.

-CL Bledsoe

Found Poem from Doritt Carroll's collection Glttl Stp

This is an erasure from Doritt Carroll's collection, Glttl Stp, from Brickhouse Books.

If there were two birds singing in two trees,
it would be the moment when they both paused--
not to take in air--but because it was the right
place in both their songs to pause.

And you, glass that you were, looked no different empty
than you had, full, as the sun looks down
with its one eye, lizard and blinkless. Everybody dies
the same, boning up like skeletons, stinking
like toilets. Morning comes fast. We're planted

like bulbs. You can't uneat the apple. But there are days
my heart is truly riven with the urge to take a stick
and get it given. I don't understand. I want to know.
We don't need the real thing sometimes. We just need
to think we've seen it.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The 50 States Project: OR, WI

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.

-CL Bledsoe