Top 10 Lit Mags to Send Your Very Best Poetry (and get happily rejected)
The following list represents the varsity squad of the indie-competitive, not affiliated with a university, hipster poetry scene. This top ten balances competitive and COOL, really cool, on its forefinger and makes it spin. If you can get into these, you’ve got your cool poet shades on, “hangin’ round the water fountain, playin’ the fool,” as sung by Randy Newman-esque Vince Guaraldi. Can you hear it? Can you dig it? < that is the sound of finger snapping >
Sixth Finch (0.66 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 29 avg. days per acceptance) “We take pride in bringing your poems to a wide audience, and your work will become a part of our permanent archives, so please be sure to send us your best.” The poetry is a crisp autumn apple, a late-night walk through misting rain, a swift combat boot to the face. The gamut marches towards you in the opening lines of Kat Finch’s “Nightmare Boys” from the latest issue:
There’s also “Rough Shape I Left After Lying on the Grass” by Jeremiah Gould. Here it is in its entirety–an existential experiment in haiku:
THRUSH Poetry Journal (2.19 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 1.9 avg. days per acceptance) Editor-in-Chief Helen Vitoria has this to say to prospective poets: “Our taste is eclectic. We want poems that move us, a strong sense of imagery, emotion, with interesting and surprising use of language, words that resonate. We want voice. Established and new poets are encouraged to submit. Experimental poetry is fine, randomness is fine also. However, we do not want experimental and random just for the sake of calling it such. No long poems. We prefer a poem that will fit on one page.” Kristin George Bagdanov’s poem “We Dissolve Separately” embraces the solemnity of a truth, however grim, that remains beautiful for being told as truth:
We come together at night to pretend
that loneliness is an animal we can cull. But
I watch you sleep, hair splayed across your pillow,
slack mouth breathing for your singular life.
My other favorite in the latest issue is “After Films” by James Grinwis, which is one long burst of paratactic images, accumulating to put you awkwardly there, after the film and under the thumb of a beautifully oppressive brain ranting, info dumping, poeticizing on high and without safety gear:
and the sun is warm over the mountains,
and the mountains have become little modules
of loss, and loss has suddenly contained itself
like the skull of a dog or the skull of a bird
or a skull with a candle inside it, or a candle
with the face of a skull,
Weave (2.86 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 51.8 avg. days per acceptance) Editor Laura E. Davis informs us that the ideal submission “could be any or all of the following: thoughtful, surprising, earthy, pro-women, experimental, smart, use language in a new way, make the reader taste/smell/feel/become the story or poem.” The opening of the lead poem in Issue 9 by Ann Robinson, “Northwest Wolves,” will use language to put you perceptually at the scene of a wilderness tragedy:
Another favorite moment comes in the final image of Quinn White’s delicately haunting poem, “The Laced Note,” in which the speaker of the poem has taken up a dead little sister’s magnifying glass to find clarity in precious things:
PANK (2.56 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 20.6 avg. days per acceptance) “An ultima Thule, PANK – no soft pink hands here. We bear old scar and fresh scab, callous, blood and dirt. PANK is serene melancholy, spiritual longing, quirk and anomaly. PANK inhabits its contradictions – so, too, should your work.” PANK is the leader of the pack on a motorcycle of poetry. It will move you or else kick your ass. In some poems, you take your pick. The roughtitude that swaggers from this mean zine shimmers in Bob Hicok’s kick off poem to the November issue, “Mew zee um“:
The way she stood looking at the picture. This stranger.
Suggested she wanted to be inside the picture.
The way I stood looking at the stranger. Suggested
I wanted to be inside her.
If you don’t yet hear the rhythms of the song being sung in every note PANK belts out, then take a listen at the finale of Matt Petronzio’s “Studies of a Dead Bird“–you’ll learn something about finality:
No song can reverse dying,
lifetimes wasted writing
fruitless voodoos. But it’s human
to believe I can raise the dead.
Even now, I’m prying back some bird
by its oily wing-edge, bones as thin
as thread, as breath, searching
for a song that will work.
ILK (2.79 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 31.9 avg. days per acceptance) Editor Caroline Crew’s image of an ideal submission “comes with a brief, polite cover letter that includes a short bio. The poems will be in a single document. The poems will have linguistic dexterity that gives a language thrill upon first read. We will discover many more things on each re-reading. It won’t be polite or affected. It will ask us to read it with clean and hungry eyes.” I’m partial to Kristin Gilchrist’s “Zoning“–which opens in a way that is neither polite nor affected:
The sky, pimped up with lights, is zoned
for serendipitous crossings with moon.
Please—zone it in a little closer.
Please stranger—I’m pretending not to like you.
Another favorite from Issue 12 is Trey Jordan Harris’s “Old No-Eyes.” It’s dangerously conversational, like a schizophrenic at a bus stop:
A ghost is leaving me
voicemails: Come rest
with me and Hand to god
I’ll lay waste to your
happiness. There’s no
concept here, no reward
for the diligent. There’s
bloodlust and hate.
Birdfeast (2.33 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 29.2 avg. days per acceptance) Editor-in-Chief: Jessica Poli declares: “We want your loudest pieces, or your quietest ones. Your strangest and your most gentle. More than anything, we want whatever you’d like us to read.” The Birdfeasters like strange and gentle, poems that know their aesthetic ancestry, that both flip their grandfathers the bird and their hats to them all at once. Such a poem can be found thematically represented in Michael Burkard’s “No, No Neruda,” but for lyricism, I prefer Burkard’s “Box Dream (Part of Nothing)“
The dream might as well have said
Put your dreams in a box,
odd space a woman brought with a
drawing and a simple book
as if, was as if she had an answer
she would call it
oh what was it but some dreary
My favorite from the latest issue is “A Coyote Named Jeff” by Taylor Collier. It’s an oracular series of eruptions about –among other things–anxious airport shufflings:
but in life there are few warnings no
shrieks in the night and most often I find
myself in the big metaphorical quicksand
of uncertainty because that sunk feeling
in my chest is the most identifiable form
of truth and suddenly the terminal floods
with people from the flight I’m set to board
and I realize none of us are thorough-
breds in a place where everyone must be
Muzzle Magazine (2.77 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 77.7 avg. days per acceptance) Editor Stevie Edwards is proud of her magazine’s diversity: “MUZZLE aims to bring together the voices of poets from a diverse array of backgrounds, paying special homage to those from communities that are historically underrepresented in literary magazines. Many (but not all) of the poems we’ve published have revolved around themes of sexuality, gender, race, class, and difference. Notably, our past issues have included many tender and gorgeous poems from Cave Canem Fellows and Slam Poets.” I love the surprising agencies invested in inanimate things as well as the jaunty cadences of Arian Katsimbras’s “Elegy for the West” (you can even hear him read this one on the website!):
These hills still sink and redden,
flush as clay in places under the granite fist of boulder
where the bracken of hands refuse to dig. In late winter
lamplight, winds from the haunted north hum
the darkness will nick your fingers into cheatgrass,
my darling, and I knew it to be just true enough
to keep my knuckles tucked.
Megan Falley’s poem, “Adam, the Big Shot. Tall and Kicked His Girlfriend,” cannot belie its lyricism behind the gritty and the chatty:
This morning, I heard you broke two bones
in your girlfriend’s face.
I heard it while I was following a recipe for poached eggs. Stirring
my wooden spoon to brew a whirlpool in the boiling water, adding vinegar
Phantom Limb (3.49 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 87 avg. days per acceptance) The name of the game here is cool, singing, and singeing words, words that play and that take their play serious as razors. A representative of the aesthetic may be found in the ending of Caroline Crew’s “Plastic Sonnet Four“
the mammal tongue is an adaptable
instrument but not as a weapon
it is okay to fall
it is okay
outside the city
is already totally drunk on your skin
I feel that by the time I arrive here I have been convinced of something important and numinous, but my brain eschews all ambiguity when loving the wordplay of that skin-tipsy metropolis or the tongue gun. Similarly, I feel that I have never read a more beautiful poem about public sex than Nick Narbutas’s cheerfully-titled poem, “As Boston Stares Dumbstruck at My Thrusting Ass“:
As Boston stares dumbstruck at my thrusting
ass and hips you are a cracked bowl of pink
sand you are a storm of orphaned kites. We
beat it to the siege we beat our paper chests
in the squinting light. They have gold egrets
in their eyes and see us a quake of lumber
Spry Literary Journal (3.17 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 71.5 avg. days per acceptance) “Spry is a literary journal that features undiscovered and established writers’ concise, experimental, hybrid, modern, vintage or just plain vulnerable writing. This is a place for people who excel at taking risks, who thrive under pressure—for people whose words and rhythms are spry.” For a clinic on risk-taking under pressure, check out “The End of Daylight Savings” by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, a lovelorn poem to an absent lover, missed or finally evaded, whose wilderness wanderings get mapped onto the speaker’s psyche through the poem’s emotional orienteering:
You’re undressing now –
in my mind or wherever you have wandered, down
to a self that isn’t yours, submerging in ignited water,
trying to name this wilderness alone. Call it the lost hour:
the unlearned home: a slow rising god you can hold
outside the body.
A prose poem you’ll want to read is “Breaking Fast” by Karen Locascio:
I have a taste for the tart, for blue and rasp. Most berries are not true. Get on your
hands and crush them. Sticky fingers and print my skin and thumb my lip. Peel
clementines and slide their math between my teeth.
Now this would be the place for me offer a few words about why this poem resonates, but other admirers have beaten me to the punch. At Spry, you’ll notice that readers and fellow poets actually do make use of the comment section, and this poem by Locascio gets a generous write up from Allie Marini Batts who finds in “Breaking Fast” “everything I want a prose-poem to be (and more)–it’s sensual and tactile, sumptuous and indulgent, mellow and tart–all at once in a joyful table set for the reader to feast.
Stone Highway Review (4.11 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 14.7 avg. days per acceptance) Editor Mary Stone Dockery is clear about her expectations: “We are looking for poetry that moves us through precise language and original and evocative imagery. We are looking for innovative and provocative work. Read past issues of the journal online to see the kind of poetry we publish.” “Following” by Abra Bertman in the Spetember 2013 issue exemplifies that part of Stone Highway Review’s ranging sensibility that appreciates the precise and the evocative:
It is the kind of poem in which even the white spaces do lyrical work. “Happenstance, Moirai” by Nancy Cheng Long makes the layout and spacing possibilities of its form do a different type of work. One of its dated entries, includes a poem about Andre Breton and a former boyfriend, an untraveled white male who writes a poem about a Sumatran woman. It fittingly ends with this play on the entry form:
If you’re ambitious, brave, poetic, and really, really cool, you might want to set your sights on this crowd. The Jets and Sharks of the competitive poetry set. I hear there’s a ritual jumping-in. And once you’re in, it’s for life. I also heard the tattoos are insanely intricate, but I’m still waiting for proof.