Top Ten Literary Magazines to Send Your Poetry and Maybe Get Accepted
Finally, at long last, those of you who write poetry may find a few helpful hints. There is no desert of lyricism that you must cross with your empty water bottles and broken divining rods. Indeed, there are many fountains of poetry online and in-print for the word thirsty and the prose wary. And yet, it is not often easy to know which of these oases accommodate the emergent poet. Most of the well-known watering holes and definitely the oldest, in fact, are frequently discerning to a fault, making it almost impossible for the novice poet to drop her bucket in their hallowed wells. The following springs, however, are eager to irrigate streams of every kind. So whether you’re experimental or experienced, lyrical or long-suffering, give these waters a taste. They’re reputable and (relatively) accepting.
1. Rufous City Review (7.48 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 26.8 avg. days per acceptance) Founding editor Jessica Bixel asks would-be contributors to “twist expectations” but to also send her anything and everything. A beautiful journal with reliably memorable cover art, The Rufous City Review routinely publishes some of the very best veteran poets around right alongside the fresh-faced and the bushy-tailed. In their latest issue, Issue 10, there is no dearth of amazing poetry to spotlight. Two of my favorites come from Carol Berg and Caroline Klocksiem, but it was especially difficult to pick just two! Berg’s poems take short-cuts through the language in my brain, twisting my head in a way that leaves me open to unexpected shocks and sparks:
This me. / I am eating the whiskey atmosphere of radiators.
I am drinking the slow leaks from empty boxes.
That’s from a poem by Carol Berg whose title is another poem all to itself, “Just Beneath Our House I Hide My Other Body.” Also, from the same issue, Caroline Klocksiem’s “Olympic Orange” ends on lines that I couldn’t stop thinking about:
the thing you are waiting for comes
you start waiting all over
for something else. Tongues and mouths end-
lessly each other.
I don’t have to wait any longer for profundity elegantly enwrapped. There it is.
2. Off the Coast (5.31 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 60.8 avg. days per acceptance) Published out of Maine for nearly 25 years, Off the Coast is a quarterly journal by Resolute Bear Press that exclusively offers poetry. Succulent lines published here waste no time rushing to your eye the minute you take a gander at the most recent issue, Fall 2013. Megan Duffy’s “Necessary Medecine” paints a touching picture of a mother beside the cradle of an infirm infant, whose coughing sets in motion a guilty routine of maternal care:
What can I do? I hold the mask, careful not to break the seal
as the miniature mechanic of the sky sails down on razor feathers,
slicing clouds as they form, its clever ascent guided by necessity.
He leans into me, slow. His belly, all that living estuary,
fits in my cupped palm. These lungs I failed to build I flood with mist.
Quite remarkable alongside confessional poems and sumptuous descriptions in lyric form, are cheekier works like Stewart Finnegan’s “Death With His Robe Off,” which describes a funny, wrongly sexual encounter between one J.J. Leavins (or is it only his gravestone) and death, which is hard to picture…
if you hadn’t pictured Death, at night,
oddly sexy and dancing to the beat
of Don’t Fear the Reaper (Tacky, but no one
ever accused J.J. of taste), so it hurts
that this night of consummation
for a romance long forbidden is
That one goes on to balance the raunchy and the wretched quite artfully, and in view of the other works collected here it goes a long way to show the diversity of taste that informs Off the Coast.
3. Orange Room Review (6.08 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 2.2 avg. days per acceptance) They publish poetry exclusively and “prefer short poems written in free verse” and do not publish genre poetry. The latest issue 41 kicks off with a poem that is fairly representative of the pared-down style on offer here–the common voice speaking with uncommon emotional frankness and imagistic precision. “Off Harbor View Drive” by Martha Christina is about a wounded gull and one person’s plight to get wildlife experts to help the animal:
He half-opens his wings,
uses them as crutches, drags
himself into the north lane,
waits for whatever comes next.
There’s no sad ending to this one, nor to many of the frank confrontations with life’s paradoxes and ambiguities that you’ll find here. Ambivalence is the name of the game sometimes, and it comes beautifully rendered. More frequently, however, is the beautiful mixed image–like the intense eagerness of the young girl learning ballet for the first time in Tina Hacker’s “First Lesson” and the oddly fitting convergence of her willingness to have her hair pulled as tightly as possible for the occasion:
Only night saw me
raise my arms into the air,
sweep them back and forth
to imitate curtains following
a routine of breezes.
I gathered my hair in both fists
and pulled upward till my eyebrows
stood en pointe.
There’s an emotional resonance waiting for you in the Orange Room Review, unfailingly vibrant, tart and puckered.
4. The Bakery (6.08 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 2.2 avg. days per acceptance) Although one of the newer markets, The Bakery publishes so often that it would be difficult to call them fledgling. They bake up a poem every day, and have worked with both emerging and established writers. The editors get a little cheesy with metaphor when discussing their interests in poems that are like cakes and cookies–“make us want to make poem sandwiches, poem brownies, and donuts that we would like to see filled with your poems”–but I will not hold this against them. And neither will you when you savor the sweet dainties they put in their morning display cases for your delight (sorry–couldn’t resist). Some of the recent goods coming out of this oven have been truly inspired, like Samuel Ace’s email-based poem “They Come in Pairs,” which sets off its word experiment in a weird email that makes much of the puzzling power of word pairs, and then erupts into a list to example precisely that:
They come a belt of carrots
back in and brothers
ports they come
There’s a sense of searching urgency in the list, as if the poet wants his readers to help him find that missing link of connection adrift in the middling spaces that both separate and want the phrase pairings. A similar search for poignancy in words affixed to emotions gusts the sails of “Singing the Blues” by Gail Hosking. The difference, though, is that Hosking’s poem seems intent on binding ambiguities of feeling to its words, finding that union in its words and word images:
Some say the blues is a quiet telephoneor a seed buried near the dog’s ashes.But I say it’s the house empty ofits furniture, the key you no longer own,and a woman waiting for a man.
5. Dressing Room Poetry Journal (7.59 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 20.1 avg. days per acceptance) Edited by Meg Johnson, DRPJ prefers original poems and sometimes publishes interviews with poets. In their latest issue six, there is a marked appreciation for poems that play with form and page layout, as in Susan Grimm’s “Prickly Flowers”
with our beauty. sometimes I pretend you’re dead now. premature
elegiac. I make a joke of our sex which was grand. screwing
ourselves pink and wet. puddled. breathy. when I woke
That poem goes on to tantalize by re-phrasing intimacy in terms that provoke and surprise. In that regard, Grimm’s poem is similar to Amanda Chiado’s “Honey in Fur,” which also builds itself towards a crescendo of word images that take artfully unexpected snapshots of sexual desire:
I think of you, trapped
like honey in fur. You are most mine,
when I lick the secrets on my lips.
Most shoes sleep like rocks.
Tossed in a corner, they doze
where they drop, almost
on contact. But some,troubled by the past,
carry a sorrow
they never speak of.
Thirty-eight is clearing out some space
in the basement, making room
for something besides nostalgia’s musty archives.
Not a child, not a second bathroom,
not a printing press, but something
whose namelessness she can live with for a while,
though sixteen will find the song for that, too.
7. Waterhouse Review (8.89 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 40.8 avg. days per acceptance) Co-editors Gavin Broom and Helen R. Peterson have this to say to contributors: “We’ve all been in love before, we’ve all had a good dog, a lot of us have kids. If you’re going to write poetry about such things, please surprise us. As Emily Dickinson once said, “tell the tale/ but tell it slant.” We want to be off our feet, reading on our heads, by what we read, so send us that stuff. Please.” One of my favorite poems in their latest issue is “Leftovers” by Laura Grodin. It takes the cliche of the lover finding traces of the beloved everywhere to all new heights (and wonderful lows):
If it had just been the pattern of your necklace
in the curtains, or your jagged left tooth
on the countertop I wouldn’t have minded,
but it was also your eyelids in my tea, the way
you smell after a shower sewn to my favorite
I look at him, my jagged fingernails
shoved in my pockets, and I wonder if he is cold
without his feathers. The sign in front of his cage
promises that he doesn’t hurt himself anymore,
but the follicles were damaged. His plumes will never
8. Clarion (10 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 2 avg. days per acceptance) According to Zachary Bos, Advising Editor, “We greatly value writing that exploits the full potential of language; that is, writing in which the language used is not merely a means to some expressive end.” One of my favorite pieces in the latest issue is Andrew Chenevert’s wonderful “Haiku from Behind the Ice Cream Counter”–a series of haiku that blend the idea of the form to the emotional landscape of the ice cream counter:
no one comes in so
I can’t build to a rhythm
of caring for them
the register sticks
and I explain awkwardly
that change will take time
But I presume to know my guest too well:
anthropomorphism is impolite.
He’s not The Fly, or Gregor Samsa’s cousin.
He’s not himself (though who am I to say?).
He doesn’t want to do annoying things
I would expect of him, like swarmin’, buzzin’,
9. The Legendary (9.84 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 79.9 avg. days per acceptance) Poetry editor Katie Moore says in an interview: “In the realm of poetry we have a strong preference for the performers, slammers, spoken word geniuses out there. Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is our patron Goddess.” Here are a few lines from that patron Goddess, Aptowicz, in the current issue. The poem is titled “Crush”:
My brain knows things my heart does not:You are not the getaway car.
You are not the softest bed.You are not the answer sheet.
You are not the heavy jacket.
I looked beneath her knees and found a tube of red lipstick.
I tore open the lipstick and found a wire hanger.
I tore apart the wire hanger and found my brothers and sisters.
I tore open my siblings and found a magnifying glass.
I broke the magnifying glass and found her first taste of joy.
10. Sugared Water (7.84 % Duotrope-reported acceptances; 19.9 avg. days per acceptance) Editor-in-Chief Nicci Mechler and other poetry editors have clarified their interests for prospective submitters: “We’d be delighted to sample your finest poems, narrative or lyric, experimental or grounded. We look forward to leaping with you, discovering as you lead us along the page. We dig prose poems and little free verse poems, haiku or sonnet—even broken sonnets! Give us your decayed, sugar-crusted little black hearts.” They hail from Cincinnati Ohio and handsew each issue of their inaugural offering, which features the likes of Carol Guess, Kate LaDew, Jennifer Martelli, and Loretta Diane Walker, Sara Walters, Hilda Weaver, and Yim Tan Wong. If you’re looking for a place to send those poems, I would give Sugared Water a try.
! BONUS ! 11. Split Lip Magazine (7.8% Duotropte-reported acceptances; 47.6 avg. days per acceptance) This mag refers to itself using anarchic descriptors: “Split Lip is a punk rock publishing collective, and we are unfiltered, unrefined, extra virgin”–But be advised, Poetry editor Sara Biggs Chaney is herself a poet, and if her own poetry is any indication of the direction her “punk” aesthetic leans I would say it comes extra-edged with experimentation, whimsy, and intelligence, with quirkiness and good old fashioned unconventionality. Sure, some of the lines on offer could come from really smart Dead Kennedy’s lyrics, like maybe this vivid quatrain from Lauren Gordon’s “A Combination of Words Meaning Wrongful“
There was a four am in that house, one
that arrived with wild turkey and deer,
an attic mouse we had to stomp to death
after the poison left it low shrapnel.
But most of the poetry resembles the first line of Sally J. Johnson’s
I am told of the three divers who slicked themselves into a pool of radioactive water after the Chernobyl disaster while I am drinking liquor.
–and that is to say that all of the poetry here seems designed to pique and to disturb, unsettling us into unique language experiences. If those experiences are best named by the term “punk rock” then screw the Kings of England cause this stuff kicks arse!
Check out my analyses of graphic novels and comics in my book Reading Lessons in Seeing: Mirrors, Masks, and Mazes in the Autobiographical Graphic Novel (forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi).