Lit Mag Roundup — “Maybe he was sleepwalking or maybe it was the universe”
When I went to catch the bus, there was a house across the street that didn’t have a party in it. The night before, there had been a party. A movie, some experimental drone music, I think. Now there was just a house again. Across the street from the bus stop, there was a church window with the view changing because of ugly condos going up and up. At the end of August there were all these fallen plums.
J says “That’s how the days turn into weeks, months, decades.” There’s a pause. J lifts her leg and says, “Look, my bruise is showing!”
This summer I thought about offering to copyedit a green chile roasting brochure for $20 while the air went orange from eastern fires.
Even this room you’ll leave. Even this you have room for you’ll leave.
Now that summer’s almost over, why not start reading all the online magazines you might’ve missed. Or if you didn’t miss them, I did. Which is why I’m rounding a few up here. If I missed some, let me know! I haven’t done this in a while, so this will be longer, but they’ll be shorter as I get back into it. Or if you want to do your own round up, I can probably post it here and honk the waves.
In this roundup and others, I try to keen a light as much as possible toward names new to me, which doesn’t mean I don’t love my friends, and it’s true that love sometimes leaks through. But mostly I’m out to hype strangers. The stranger the better, you know?
One final procedural note: I avoid linking directly to individual pieces to encourage people to interact with these journals in the entireties of their curatorial forms and fluctuations (whether that’s issues or months or obscure coded tissue burning instructions or whatever).
At their front door they say “Muzzle seeks to promote writing of revolution and revelation” and “our collective goal is not to showcase one particular aesthetic, but rather to press our ears against the rustling beyond.” Some specific things that pressing aims to listen beyond: “institutionalized hate, discrimination, exploitation, rape, violence, tangible and intangible theft, and other abuses of power … older than this country.” (Which I’m guessing is the United States).
Rustling in this newest issue includes “valleys that do not crawl with navy lines of men beating the snow drifts with sticks” (C.F. Sibley). The rustling includes Jonah Mixon-Webster’s Somatic (De)zombification Ceremony (and resulting poem) against stereotypical tokens of the black body. Elsewhere in Muzzle bodies are “barefoot as a family” (Caleb Kaiser) or have “knees the color of a hive smashed open” (Yasmin Belkhyr).
Finally, a lot of the poems have audio, which is a sweet thing made no less sweet for how it’s becoming sweetly standard in the online lit world. Check out Luther Hughes’s “Chains” and do the reading/hearing effect of a power-line like “be balled up boys. be left boned and bone. and brown and brown and brown / and black boys.”
Another sleek magazine that knows its way around an audio play button is Powder Keg, which I’ve loved before, but they keep being lovable, so one more time before I shut up about them, I promise.
What they say for themselves is they “aim to illuminate the bravest and most exciting voices in contemporary poetry.” They’re “committed to publishing excellent poetry from around the world” since they’re run by two friends in NYC and Melbourne.
They just put out a great new issue—their fifth—with a photo of an open hand for a mascot. That hand looks a little fucked up—blistered, bruised, nicked—but stretching full, which is also what the poems do.
The Powder Keg #5 hand is doing so many things: it’s “plucking a frog from a full mouth and / folding it into a fork” (Kristin Chang), it’s exploring “lover to lover the greenness of small / suitcases & movings” (Ines Pujos). Oh and it’s talking too—as per the play button mentioned earlier, plenty of audio here. Take your ears to lines like Joey de Jesus’s “let no such slab hooligan me hostage” and Brynne Rebele-Henry’s “Sprite dipped chocolate dough.”
In the rest of the open hand, you can find the swings of Kamden Hilliard, with an elegy from which this post got its title: “Maybe he was sleepwalking or maybe it was the universe.” Full disclosure: the press I do (Magic Helicopter) is publishing Kam’s chapbook at some point later this year or early next—read Kam’s poems to see why.
Finally, lots of people in my neck of the Facebook <3ed on our bud Mark Cugini for a beautiful elegy to his friend Ryan O’Day, and I’m going to <3 it here too in one of those friend leaks. Mark’s mind is a U-Haul truck “with its tires on fire,” aching and passing out “honorary degree[s] / in elbow drops” and singing all the way into the fire.
Potluck Magazine is a little different than the first two magazines rounded up because they don’t do staggered online issues, opting instead for a steady roll of content and a big print blowout now and then.
They’re in on that crispy manifesto action: “Potluck is a space to present a diverse and resonant collection of creative media, narrowing gaps between different forms of art, ideas, and people … In seeking to create a community of artists, writers, and friends, Potluck shares individual pieces to bring larger ideas of identity and culture to the table.”
I don’t know what “hashtag fodder” is, but they want to publish “original content” instead of “hashtag fodder,” and they do run great stuff, so I guess I’m with them in being against hasthag doffer.
Their first print blowout is great, so you should fork over a few $s and check it out (PDF available for your cutest little screens), but don’t take my word for it: take a dig through their online content to get a feel. Check out their fivefold feature from the poets of the Trans Planet tour (Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, manuel arturo abreu, Sara June Woods, Jos Charles, and Die Dragonetti). And check out Scherezade Siobhan’s poems from August: “return to that house shaped like a chandelier earring.”
In prose, a highlight for me was Daryl Muranaka’s piece in and out of the room where the happiest bearded man in Fukui is hanging out, and in and out of samishii, which is more than loneliness and happens “walking home on a cold night when the wind sinks its claws through your coat, gnaws at your ears and your feet are wet.”
Of course, we want to make sure to save a little space for the magnificent geezers of the online lit world, so I’d like to nudge you toward Juked. Dishing since 1999, Juked is a great example of a journal that has been consistently hoppy and surprising without spinning up a cult of personality.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cults of personality, but I think it’s good to notice how long and how deeply we’ve been enjoying something when that thing itself doesn’t spend a lot of its energy carving out a brand to beckon such noticing.
Some recent hits at Juked for me: Austin Hayden’s “Now How Best” (another friendship leak alert, better patch that boat, shit) and its inventive curls of cringey people and its honest I trying to be a peaceful breather and wanting to side with the caterer who wants to kill all the guests at the wedding with a crossbow.
Then there’s Julia Tranchina’s great asteroid family poem “Moreover the comets spill water—the vehicle of life—into space” that explains how “you can’t love suns you can / only love a sun.” Or Sally Houtman’s “Black Water Sundays and Another Kind of Gone” on holding the TV antenna outside in the rain, counting the stars and wishing for blueberry pancakes.
For the fun of it, I dove into the Juked archives and found this very weird story from January 2006 by Rayo Casablanca called “Connor Pope, Collector,” which I’ll break with decorum and link directly. It’s about a dude who collects “failures.” At one point someone vomits a “string of worm eggs,” but there’s also the idea of carrying all your friends’ photos in your wallet, which seems like good advice.
Swarm keeps things short and spotlit and inventively explained, so I’ll do all of those things except the last one as I usher you especially toward Talin Tahijian’s lovely poem “There is a kind of love” because I can’t explain it any better than how it ends: “there’s so much blood everywhere / for example / a family of four wakes up / when the electricity comes back on / that’s how blood works / I have blue tattoos / of every important thing that has ever happened to me…” and I’m going to make you go ahead and click through for the last line because I’m a real tearjerker of a jerk.
And lest you think I’ve forgotten about all the finely crafted About touts, here’s Swarm‘s: they only publish four pieces per issue; each editor picks one. These editors are “beekeepers, the bug-collectors” and they want to “locate and promote potent, memorable work worth sharing and revisiting.” Stuff that buzzes “above the swarm.”
There are a lot of cool bugs, it’s true, when you mouse over the links. I don’t know what happens when you twitch above the links with your finger or whatever on a phone because I don’t read things on my phone because I’m too busy taking my phone into the shower and watching Serena Williams win 1,970,000 matches in a row or watching NASCAR crashes from the 1970s.
In conclusion, thank God Swarm is in charge of things and not me.
Vetch is a new journal “devoted entirely to poems by trans people.” In the face of two problems—”a dearth of published work by trans poets dealing with trans themes” and “the prominence of poetry that hits the palliative buttons of liberal inclusivity-oriented ideology,” they want to make a space for “poetry and poetics that rejects the distinction between the aesthetic and the political.”
What’s a vetch? Well if it’s in plant form, it’s “the deceptively delicate purple-flowering vine that crops up in ditches and gardens wherever the ground has been disturbed.” If it’s in poetry journal form, it’s “the kind of resilient beauty of which we know trans poetry is capable.”
Distributed in a pleasingly samizdat Tumblr + PDF combo, Vetch does indeed showcase a range of experience, aesthetics, moves. These poems are “inverting selves to grab dragonflies” (Stephen (Stephanie) Burt) and “contorting the body into a parabola” (Zach Ozma). With these poems, we’re “falling through the wrong side of the mirror” (Melian) and brought out into the maze of “such a pretty glacier” (Shana Bulhan Haydock).
To close out this round-up, I wanted to highlight a voice reacting to the Best American Poetry 2015 blunder that’s going around. You probably heard about it: a white dude couldn’t take no for an answer to his relentless submission blitz of your usual boring poem-monolog about how bees are their own poem etc, so he decided he needed to appropriate a Chinese-American woman’s name (likely a real name, it turns out) to launch that sucker into print because this poem was, I guess, so much better than silence. Thinking of poetry/life as a “system” to “game” through appropriation of marginalized identities is so ugly and depressing, like encountering people and language and experience and seeing—instead of any of those things—buckets of oatmeal blood to slurp up.
By now the storm has shifted from the initial anger into the simmering of think-pieces, which is a good thing in that a shitty instigatory act has inverted into an interesting spray of feelings/thoughts/stances—check out Kazim Ali’s letter to Aimee Nezhukumatathil in The Rumpus or Soleil Ho’s mourning in Weird Sister or The Stranger highlighting poems in BAP 2015 by Jane Wong and Monica Youn —but initial anger can be pretty beautiful in its own right too.
“So there’s this white male writer who used an Asian nom de plume for a poem that had been rejected “a multitude of times” under his name, and I haven’t even figured out my feelings about it finally being accepted under “Yi-Fen Chou,” but let me say this at least. If you want the name, if you want the alleged benefits of it, if you want to take someone else’ identity, you can take it all, you can take me tensed up every single time I meet someone new because they’re going to ask me ‘where are you really from,’ you can take the “multitude of times” someone talks about my eyes or my dick or my strong work ethic (more times than you’ve been rejected, let me assure you), you can take the dog-eating jokes, you can take the romantic rejections in place of your literary ones, you can have limiting your geography to essentially three regions in the nation because sometimes it’s too hard to live outside of an Asian community. You can have it, Michael Hudson.You. Can. Fucking. Have. It.”
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