Thursday, July 8, 2010

Here's to Literary Magazines!

Note: No, it's not Saturday today--I switched days with Jessica (I was in no-internet Amish country Ohio this weekend, a place where "to blog" would be taken to mean something like "to break logs").

Okay, back to our un-regularly scheduled programming. A couple weeks ago I went to the Magathon at the New York Public Library, part of a lit mag marathon weekend sponsored by one of my favorite organizations, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP). The readings took place in the stately Room 108, whose decor is defined by heavily carved, long dark wood tables and paintings of various New York landmarks including Herald Square, the Puck Building, and the Flatiron. The CLMP host opened the afternoon by stating that the real literary work in America is being done in the pages of literary magazines, a point that could be debated but seems reasonably true.

And what a range those pages expressed! 19 editors, almost all of whom were women, read selections of prose and poetry. First up was Ezra Glinter from Zeek, a Jewish journal now hosted by the Forward, who read from Agua Schiff's "Blessed are the Merciful, For They Shall Obtain Mercy". Next came...spiritual possession in a tomb, from the Yankee Oracle Gazette, read by publisher Eugenia Macer-Story, a fairly fierce-seeming woman who informed us that this was "an actual experience, not Lovecraft." Good to know. The rest of the readings veered from the hilariously irreverent "In the Airport (34 lines)" by Elizabeth Swados, a kind of homage to Philip Glass from The New York Quarterly; to Parselelo Kantai's story "You Wreck Her", short-listed for the Caine prize and published in the St. Petersburg Review; to "The Red Ribbon," fiction by Aimee Bender chosen by Electric Literature.

Many of the magazines were familiar to me--AGNI, A Public Space, Bellevue Literary Review--while some were new--Storyscape Journal, Tuesday: an art project, Slice, MAKE and many others. The great joy of the afternoon lay in the many voices and the earnest enthusiasms of each journal's readers. It reminded me of a question that Diana Abu-Jaber asked on Facebook recently, and that I re-ask here: what literary magazines do you subscribe to? And, I'd add, why those particular ones?

My own desk is stacked with issues of my subscription choices, taunting me with their desire to be consumed. But every time I do sit down with a volume of Poetry, The Sun, the Alaska or Virginia Quarterly Review, or one of the many more that burst my mailbox and burden my bags, I am reminded of the often overwhelming but correspondingly incredible width and breadth of the world. There is so much in our lives that cries out to be expressed in words, and an afternoon with the CLMP reminded me of the value of taking time with those growing physical and virtual stacks of lines just waiting to be read.

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