Literary MagNet

Kevin Larimer
From the January/February 2009 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Inspiration can be found in the most ordinary of places. Even if one has never lived on a farm or set foot in a farmhouse, editor Mike Dell'Aquila's description of the location where he sought refuge during college will no doubt strike a chord. A cofounder of Farmhouse Magazine, Dell'Aquila would escape the crowds at Penn State University, where he earned an English degree a few years ago, by joining friends around a small Formica table in the wood-paneled living room of a pal's old brick farmhouse. It obviously wasn't the decor that was so influential, but rather the atmosphere. According to a note on the journal's Web site, for Dell'Aquila and his friends "the farmhouse offered freedom from the labels and expectations of the day-to-day world," where "they were free to express their individual personalities and unique points of view. Marathon conversations that ranged from serious to outrageous topics were the norm, along with the belief that [the group was] capable of making a lasting contribution to their world." That contribution took the form of Farmhouse Magazine, an online journal that Dell'Aquila and his wife and fellow Penn State alum, Sarah, launched in the summer of 2005 to try to recapture that inspirational time and place. In November the journal published its first print volume, The Best of Farmhouse Magazine 2005-2008, featuring nearly two hundred pages of work by poets Rosemary Ann Davis and Faith Gabel, fiction writers Joseph Riippi and Chelsea Sutton, essayist Katie Schwartz, and many others. Would-be submitters who want to join others in the Farmhouse can find submission guidelines online.

Plenty of literary magazines publish topical issues featuring work that focuses on a current event or a popular social or political debate. Some recent examples that come to mind include the "China Issue" of the Atlanta Review, which was published last spring to correspond with the Beijing Olympics; "The Political Future" issue of Tin House, which hit bookstores last fall, for obvious reasons; and "The War at Home" issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, also published last fall. But there may be no literary magazine whose very existence is more directly tied to current events than Poems Against War. The first issue of the annual journal, edited by Gregg Mosson in Baltimore, was released in May 2003, just two months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The initial print run of a hundred copies quickly sold out. While Poems Against War is not affiliated with Poets Against War, a growing online anthology of poems that sprang from former Copper Canyon Press editor Sam Hamill's response to Operation Iraqi Freedom, as it would come to be known, Mosson's journal is nevertheless inspired by Hamill's rallying cry. (In February 2003, Laura Bush invited a number of writers, including Hamill, to a White House symposium about the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes; Hamill declined the invitation and called upon others to submit poems opposing the case for war that was then being built by Bush and Cheney. Fifteen hundred poets responded in four days, and the Poets Against War Web site was launched to handle the flood of submissions; it currently features more than twenty thousand poems.) Whereas Hamill's is a pretty slick operation, Mosson's journal is more of a low-to-the-ground, do-it-yourself enterprise. In fact, the journal is published by Wasteland Press, a self-publishing company in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and is always open to submissions. The seventh issue, carrying a theme of "Ars Poetica," was published last August and features the work of Antler, Alan Barysh, Tony Hoagland, Patric Pepper, and others. Perhaps the event that fueled the launch of Mosson's journal—and Hamill's anthology—will soon end, but even the most hopeful editors realize change doesn't happen that quickly, and so the poems keep coming.

Kevin Larimer is the deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.