Saturday, May 02, 2015

The 50 States Project: CA, MO, IL, VA, CO

This is the continuing saga of my attempt to place my writing in at least one journal in every state, in no particular order.

13. California. California is a big state with a ton of journals. I always thought I’d have a hard time getting published in California for the same reasons I thought I’d have a hard time getting published in New York: because California seemed like a different world to a small-town boy from Arkansas. My first publication in California was in an anthology called Roque Dalton Redux, by Cedar Hill Press, which was an anthology on the poet Roque Dalton. This gave me the confidence to treat California journals just like anywhere else. Next, I placed a poem in The Scrambler a cool journal out of Sacramento with a press attached. They took a very playful, post-experimental poem. Big Bridge was a nice coup. I contributed to their War Papers series with a pretty dark confessional poem.
14. Missouri. One of the first publications I ever had, and we’re talking a decade ago, at least, was in 2River View which is an online and print journal. They took a couple playful, funny poems that ended up in my first book, Anthem. 2River is published in chapbook form, which was my first experience with that kind of format. I continued sending them work, by the way, and they never took anything else by me. Natural Bridge is a print journal out of the University of Missouri, St. Louis. They took an early short story of mine called “The Cow Graveyard,” which was about a couple boys stealing a rifle and going off to shoot it, and then discovering a cow in distress. Very rural, very Southern. A now defunct journal, Margie, provided me an early ego boost. I had a couple poems published alongside some of the biggest names out there. The editor had a habit of calling poets to tell them they’d been accepted. I was still in grad. school, at the time, and really felt over the moon about all this. Probably the best known journal in the state is The Missouri Review, which hasn’t published me, nor has Boulevard, New Letter, River Styx, nor Pleiades, all very well-established journals. To be honest, I assumed they were all out of my reach when I was younger. Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi is another fine Missouri journal, out of Southeast Missouri State University, which took an essay on my family’s fish farming business, and how it was affected by my father and uncles aging. Gingko Tree Review, out of Drury University, is another fine journal which took a post-experimental quirky little poem of mine. Missouri really has a plethora of great journals.
15. Illinois. My first Illinois pub. was in Euphony out of the University of Chicago. They took a poem later to appear in my first collection, a fairly surreal piece. Arsenic Lobster was, for me, a real coup because I tried for years to get in to this hip, independent journal. They took a funny, surreal little poem and then collected it in their annual print issue. Sou’wester is an Illinois journal I haven’t been able to crack, though I spent a while really trying a few years ago.
16. Virginia. The first journal I cracked in Virginia was The Blue Collar Review a print journal of progressive, working class literature. I actually won their Working People’s Poetry Contest with the title poem to my first poetry collection. As you can imagine, Blue Collar likes poems about work with progressive themes. They tend to favor narrative with no frills or tricks. Sow’s Ear Poetry Review is a solid print journal that took a couple tries to break into. They took a narrative, rural-themed poem. The William and Mary Review from William and Mary College, was a recent pub. I cracked with a fairly straightforward confessional love poem. Gargoyle was a different story; I was intimidated by this long-running, independent journal until I did a reading with the editor, along with a couple other editors. I sent some post-experimental poems and had a few accepted. The Hollins Critic was a tough one. I actually worked on staff for two years, and placed several reviews there, along with other material, but no poetry. It took a couple years of rejections to place a poem with them—a nature themed poem about stinkbugs, which I’m sure stood out because of its unusual subject matter.
17. Colorado. I’ll go ahead and say I haven’t cracked Colorado Review, but having a poem published in Copper Nickel, out of the University of Colorado, Denver, was one of my proudest accomplishments. At the time, it was edited by the late, great poet Jake Adam York. He was the second editor to call me about my submission, and his warm personality and friendliness meant a lot to me. He accepted an old punk-rock themed poem from me that later appeared in Anthem. He had also edited Story South and gave me one of the first poetry acceptances I ever had. Even though I only knew him as an editor, his kindness touched me and meant so much, especially when I was just starting out.

-CL Bledsoe

The 50 States Project: DE, KS, NY

10. For the next installment of my 50 States Project, I’ll begin with Delaware. A little background: I started this project a decade ago and then faltered and started again. Back then, I had an acceptance from a little Delaware journal called Mobius, which has since been sold and moved to New York. Mobius was one of my first publications. They took a poem called “Shoes” which later appeared in my first collection, Anthem. The poem was a meditation on fatherhood (written before I was actually a father). I remember that the editor included comments essentially trashing the rest of my submission, which was probably warranted since the other poems were entirely forgettable and juvenile. I can’t really speak to their editorial process now, but I was really pleased that they took the time to sift through my crappy submission and find the one pearl. Recently, I placed some poems in Delaware’s Broadkill Review. Broadkill is a pdf-only journal. They’re connected to a press that publishes some really good stuff, including a collection of Richard Peabody’s work (Peabody is the editor for Gargoyle, among other things). I sent Broadkill some fairly straightforward poems, mostly confessional, dealing with everything from Edgar Allen Poe to spousal abuse. Broadkill is a solid journal focused on publishing good writing, regardless of “name” or affiliation.
11. Kansas: I’ll just go ahead and say I haven’t been in New Letters, which is probably the most well-known journal in Kansas. I have been in Flint Hills Review, though, which is out of Emporia State University. You’ll probably see me refer to Flint Hills several times throughout this series in order to establish a basis of comparison for no-nonsense journals, and that’s because Flint Hills is one of those rarely recognized journals that steadily publishes great writing without a lot of bells and whistles: the little journal that could. It’s an annual, and accepts only print subs, which is something I’ve grown to like less and less. They accepted a poem of mine from my collection Riceland, which are narrative poems about my childhood growing up on a rice farm in Eastern Arkansas. They tend to publish narrative and even the odd formal poems with often rural themes, nature themes, and generally poems in which things happen. They publish similarly themed stories and nonfiction. The criterion is good, affecting work. They like risks, but they really like writing that’s going to stay with the reader after s/he puts it down. I was very proud to have appeared in Flint Hills because of the quality of work in the issue, which, coming early in my publishing career, gave me quite a boost.
At the other end of the spectrum--in terms of style--is Johnny America, out of Lawrence, Kansas. If I were to describe Johnny America in one word, it would be whimsical. The journal claims to be named after a rabbit that lives on the moon, which is totally logical. They publish a bunch of really funny stuff, and they do it with style. They took several of my weirder stories, stuff I might send to Defenestration or Barrelhouse. The journal updates online and puts out about two print issues a year. One I appeared in was published as a series of handmade chapbooks that looked pretty cool. In a similar sense, these sorts of journals are what indie publishing is all about. They’re a little out there, they don’t take themselves too seriously (though they do maintain standards of good work), and they make publishing fun. And that’s important. Journals like Artichoke Haircut and Shattered Wig, in Baltimore, the great Defenestration online or Barrelhouse, and, of course, Johnny America, add the spice of humor and weirdness to the stew of publishing, and keep us from imploding from our self-important pretentiousness. Humor gets a bad rap.
12. New York. For a long time, I was wary of New York. It sounds silly, but I assumed a country boy from Arkansas could never get published in the Big City. I assumed that New York Writers were writing things I could never ken, all dressed in black, smoking cigarettes at little tables outside of trendy bistros with crappy food you weren’t supposed to actually eat. My first publication from a New York journal was, oddly enough, a formal poem I wrote in high school in a journal called The Comstock Review. Color me surprised. It was in Syracuse, though, so that didn’t really count, right? It was a nice little journal that really helped me to understand that there are a ton of journals out there with all sorts of different styles. My next foray into New York came with an acceptance from Barrow Street. This one, frankly, surprised me; this was exactly the kind of journal I thought I could never get into because I didn’t know the secret handshake, and yet they took a funny, weird little poem of mine, sort of a James Tate meets John Ashbury piece that one would think they’d like, but one never knows. Barrow Street is a hip journal that publishes more experimental work, and lots of names. Go figure. After that, I had a couple poems accepted by New York Quarterly. I was, similarly, surprised that I got into this one. They took a couple fairly formally experimental poems (one caveat: they have since sat on the poems for more than a year without publishing them). I went on to write several book reviews for them as well.
I’d like to touch on a New York journal that I really liked which is on hiatus: Caper, from Patasola Press. The thing that impressed me most about Caper, and the press in general, was its eclectic tastes. It’s a solid journal with no real pretentions, which can be hard to accomplish. It publishes good writing from across the spectrum of styles, schools, and approaches. Just really good stuff. I hope it’s able to come back, though if it doesn’t, at least it had a good run.
-CL Bledsoe