When an editor alludes to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” in the introduction to a literary magazine’s debut issue, readers are likely to develop certain expectations of the work to follow. A grab bag of mediocre writing will not suffice. In the first issue of the Grove Review (www.thegrovereview.org), a new quarterly published in Portland, Oregon, editor Matt Barry writes of Wordsworth’s notion that “reality is what we half perceive and half create.” What Barry has created is a literary magazine that establishes the tone set by his first editor’s note. The clean, understated design, the sharp black-and-white photographs, and the inaugural installments of two series of in-depth interviews—not to mention the poetry and fiction—display a seriousness and a sincerity that should fulfill most readers’ expectations.
Founded in 1980, the Sonora Review (www.coh.arizona.edu/sonora) is the oldest student-run literary journal in the country. Each issue is compiled solely by graduate students in the creative writing department at the University of Arizona. According to its Web site, the journal “maintains a congenial relationship with the department of English while safeguarding the editors’ complete aesthetic and managerial control.” Proof of this control can be seen in the intriguing—some might say bizarre and inconsistent—aesthetic principles on display in the past few issues. For example, no. 47 features a short story on the magazine’s quarter-inch spine. Although further description would be informative, it might be better to follow the advice printed below the image of what looks like a deranged clown on the current issue’s cover: “If I name it too soon you won’t think it’s serious.”
Like creative writers, literary magazines come in all shapes and sizes, as evidenced by the generously proportioned Volt (nearly 14 inches from top to bottom), the perfect little square of Quick Fiction (www.quickfiction.org), and the tall and thin measurements of Conduit (www.conduit.org), the Minneapolis-based biannual journal that looks like a Zagat restaurant guide—only slightly larger. Editors William Waltz and Brett Astor compile each issue of Conduit around a theme. The “Work Issue,” to be published in June, will include poems by Brenda Hillman and John Kinsella, among others.
Turn the page if you have never surrendered to the guilty pleasure of watching the latest reality TV show, or if your glance at the supermarket tabloid has never lingered for more than a couple of Hollywood seconds. For those honest readers who remain—and even for the few who are now reading the Q&A on page 19—there is a new biannual literary magazine that combines poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and the detritus of pop culture. Founded in Washington, D.C., by Dave Housley, Mike Ingram, Joe Killiany, and Aaron Pease, Barrelhouse (www.barrelhousemag.com) aims to bridge the gap between high- and lowbrow entertainment. Housley says he and the other editors “don’t necessarily believe that you can’t appreciate both Flannery O’Connor and The O.C.” The first issue, published in February, includes fiction by Stacey Richter, an essay by Steve Almond, and an interview with Emmylou Harris.
Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.