I’m the literary equivalent of a road hack. When I first started submitting work to literary journals, I found it nearly impossible to sift through the thousands that existed, so I devised a fairly arbitrary approach: I decided to attempt to get something published by a journal in each state. You can check out my thoughts on previous states I’ve covered: here, here, and here.
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, a pdf-only journal. They’re connected to a press that publishes some really good stuff, including Richard Peabody’s latest collection (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 forthcoming collection Riceland, which are mostly 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 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 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 also 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 journal, is 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 is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is available at here. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for story South‘s Million Writer’s Award. His story “The Scream” was selected as a Notable Story of 2011. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 5 times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.