Magazine Review #11: AWP Lit Mag Round-Up

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The book fair was the highlight of AWP Chicago for me. Sure, there was the misguided, and somewhat enraging debate over John D’Agata’s The Lifespan of a Fact, or the fascinating discussion of the modern essay as it relates to Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries, or Ben Percy’s creepy/awesome reading of a story about a bear that kills a family in their house—also all highlights. But the book fair. Oh, the book fair. Rooms and rooms filled with small press books, literary magazines, handmade chapbooks, art, buttons, postcards, various freebies—all sorts of enticing tangible printed matter. If I was the kind of person capable of squealing with delight, that’s exactly what I would have done.

As I meandered around the book fair, I met a lot of publishers, editors, designers, and other dedicated folks who were all passionate about sharing their work, eager to show me beautiful letter-pressed covers and hand-stitched bindings. I scored a pile of goodies along the way, and have picked out five literary magazines that I’d like to share with you. These are all magazines that are new to me (even though some of them, like Orion, have been around for 30 years). There were dozens (if not hundreds) of literary magazines at the AWP book fair that are all worthy of mention. If only I had the time and space to include them all.

I don’t really have a lot to “say” about each of these magazines other than that I found them each to be engaging, smart, and beautifully designed. What seems more important to mention is that there are genuine people behind each of these magazines, human beings who have put a significant amount of themselves into creating a piece of art and putting it into the world. This is not a small thing. In fact, on my better days, I believe this is the most important thing there is: making and sharing.

Instead of my usual “review” I’d rather just let each issue speak for itself. I picked an excerpt from each magazine that was one of my favorites and also represents the issue as a whole. Consider this the digital version of walking around the book fair, picking up and flipping through a few issues…

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Map Literary, Issue 1

Child, by Mathias Svalina

Step one: Obtain a newly born human baby.

Step two: Every morning tell it it is magnificent. Every night tell it it is an abomination. Repeat this process every day until the child moves out of your house.

Step three: Proceed with the usual child-things: love, uniforms, etc.

Step four: The full sum of all things the child says to you in the last three days of your life is the poem.

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Make, Issue 11

from Bookmarks, by Spencer Hendrixson

I want to be a bookmark when I die. I want to be found in a torn-up copy of a Gary Paulson adventure novel, seventy-three pages in. There’ll be a sticker on the cover page that says THIS BOOK BELONGS TOO and underneath in wobbly letters Sarah Hall. I want someone to find me fifty years after I die and imagine my life.

About a week ago, I was thinking about dog-eared pages and how the fold of the page actually looks like a dog’s ear. I had never realized that. I will never dog-ear my pages. It’s not that I care about ruining them; it’s that I want to distract the reader. The other day I saw someone using a National Honor Society membership card as a bookmark. That is what I want to be: something with my signature, but something I don’t have to sign; something that will leave the reader daydreaming my story.

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Paper & Carriage, Issue 3

from Lincoln, Illinois, By Rolf Achilles

Lincoln, Illinois is celebrated for being the finest city in the United States to be named after Abraham Lincoln. Picking the name in 1853, seven years before it’s namesake would become President of the United States. Many years later, Lincoln became an important stop on the now fabled Route 66 and featured the famous restaurant, the Mill, as a highlight. Many thousands of tourists visit Lincoln each year to revel in these well-known facts.

Between these two mileposts stands another one, one that attracts very little attention yet is also if significance—Lincoln, Illinois is home to the Lincoln Development Center, better known to Drager enthusiasts and scholars as The Lincoln Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children.

The Asylum was incorporated as a permanent, charitable institution by the General Assembly of the State of Illinois in 1871. Appropriations for land were made in 1875 and the first buildings were constructed in 1878. Another appropriation in 1899 allowed for the construction of two cottages, one completed in 1901; the other in 1902. By 1905, the institution had a staff of some 500 careworkers for 1,439 inmates. Henry Darger was one of the inmates. He resided in the North wing of the main building. The girls were in another wing out of view from the boys.

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Paper Darts, Issue 3

from Sheba, by Maggie Ryan Sandford

When my wife and I separated, we decided to split the dog half-n-half. Lengthwise, so each of us could enjoy at least half his little face, and have only half as much shit to deal with.

My wife is a skilled surgeon—one of the reasons I was attracted to her in the first place. On our first date, she gave me superficial sutures, like kids do to their fingers in Home Ec, tacked my arms to my sides, sewed my legs together, like the Fiji mermaid, and pleasured herself on me for hours, while I sweated and tired to think tantric.

So after she bone-sawed him and we got him all cleaned up, grafted him with a sort of heavy-duty cellophane to keep his inner-parts in place, and pumped him full of antibiotics left over from his bladder infection last May, we had two nearly perfect dogs for the price of one. My wife and I made love for one last time, we were so pleased with ourselves—quickly, in the shower, while the two half-dogs rested on the bathroom tiles.

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Orion, Vol. 31, Issue 1

from Night Shift, by Luis Alberto Urrea

The campground was in a reclaimed muck bed where slough greeted the bay, a place of old clam flats and forgotten Indian settlements (we weren’t far from the remains of an Indian village obliterated by the confluence of I-5 and Highway 52). Like many camp-lands across the country, this one was basically a blacktop with screes of oleander, some beach, and elevated barbeque grates. An adjacent gold course lent a faux-nature vibe to the eastern perimeter.

All my life, I have found myself in these borderlands, these wasted landscapes on the edge of the world. I was a poverty child, caught between barrio and ghetto, and I learned about nature in dirt alleys, abandoned gravel lots with one dead truck in the corner, in the wars between red ants and black ants on the cracked concrete slabs between humanoid race wars in the apartment blocks. The ruins comfort me somehow. It’s the haunting, I think. The sense of secrets hiding in plain sight. Where weeds are visible signs of life prevailing. The wasteland is eternal.


Nancy Smith is a writer and graphic designer. Her work has been published in Paper, The Believer, Seattle Weekly, Resonance, and Communication Arts. She has an M.A. in Media Studies and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She is currently working on a Ph.D in Communication and Culture at Indiana University. She blogs about books, design, and technology here: somequietfuture.com More from this author →