Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stingy, Like a Critic

Karl Marx once said something about equality that you probable read elsewhere and if you haven't: shame on you.  

That thing he said, which you should know, extends to literary journals. Writers of short stories, submitters of novel chapters scour the shelves for suitable pages on which to push their projects, to gain a little notoriety, flash and pomp. Or to be dinged down by contrast: the sweaty new fiction sharing a spine with lauded masters.  This isn't to say that the lauded masters are necessarily better, but they are generally received better.  This is due to the lauded masters other works which you should all be familiar with and shame on you if you are not.  

Even if you are not familiar with their works, you are likely familiar with their names, always feeling guilty when someone asks, "Have you read so and so," and knowing deep in your heart that you haven't and may never get around to it you offer an ambiguous, "mm-hmmm," and nod your head vigorously at each of the ensuing comments.

So some writers arrive with cachet, a long running history with the reader that they invoke simply by publishing.  You know their work and love it, or hate it, or are ambivalent about it, but pick up the journal hoping to be won over or to say that finally and forever this bastard is dead to me.  But the journal is itself a grab-bag.  There are currently several trillion literary journals operating in the borough of Brooklyn alone (and that's not counting blogs, zines or blogazines), each full with the brow sweat and courage of the tromping literati. Yes the journals are manifold and as someone who has never been published in one I should mind my p's and q's.  But in the purblind infinity of America's slackening publishing industry where does one go for the true goods, for the levitation that accompanies reading something just plain fantastic?

Well I'm starting a project.  Over the next few weeks (months if I really get into it) I will be buying journals in bulk and scouring through them to look for 1) amazing new writers 2) amazing old writers I've never heard of ( has actually turned me on to at least one of my new favorites) 3) amazing journals.  My criteria for numbers 1 and 2 are the levitation effect I spoke of before (levitation can also just be an infiltration of my daily thought process).  For number 3 I'm looking for journals that will allow writers' voices to show through, that don't overpopulate the page (I long ago gave up on McSweeney's for this reason), that give new writers a fair shake and who don't let known writers sit on their laurels (I actually really liked what was going on in Jonathan Lethem's last New Yorker piece, Eva's Apartment, but felt a little swindled afterwards from the holes in the logic and Lethem's on-going relationship with cool-- no doubt if I had a readership they would have long ago left me for my own sciatic groaning and malformed logic). At the end I would like to present a good, serviceable list of journals and writers that I discover in the process and who I will then track and watch for development.  


  1. Have you tried AGNI online yet? I have found some good poetry there. I can't recall a good story I've read there.

    Also, Blackbird (online VCU journal) sometimes has really good poetry, and I think I've found some good prose there too.

    I know you're interested in physical journals - I'm biased for online bc I do much of my journal browsing from work. Also, I generally feel like it's a swindle to throw out $12 for a physical volume, when most of it is so-so ("masters" often included...). So there - I mostly don't support the accepted vehicle for "new voices."

    Maybe writers should take a cue from bands - just try to break even on publications and make your money on T-shirts. Yes, I just said that.

  2. I think you also just wrote our first t-shirt: "Yes, I just said that." Top-seller, guaranteed.

    I'll be including web-stuff on here, though, like Edward Curtis, I want to look through print journals before they vanish. Web v. print might be a good dimension to the project.