Open Borders: Literary Journals in Texas Today

Twenty-nine years ago, in the final paragraph of the essay “Small Presses in Texas” (Texas Observer 1977), Dave Oliphant, usually a reserved and cool critic, becomes prophetic. “The ingenuity, persistence, and dedication of Texas’ small press publishers have contributed to a growing movement that is clearly here to stay.” By “small press,” Oliphant is referring to a person or group of people who publish a periodical or short run chapbook or book. “There are various types of small presses established in the state; the smallest—and most numerous—are those devoted to the publication of poetry.” In his essay, Oliphant, the publisher of a small press himself, attempts to prove that an important shift had occurred in literature as it is practiced in Texas, that there had been “the return to Texas of native publishers.” Oliphant loves such Western-tinged phrases. This one reminds me of The Return of the Magnificent Seven—the poor exploited farmers combating, with a little help, the corrupt capitalists from afar.

It is a small thing to quibble with, but “the return to Texas of native publishers” is a misleading turn of phrase: “the return”—had the publishers left and suddenly come back?; and “native publishers”—was Texas rife before with carpet bagging publishers?   In a literal sense, neither half of Oliphant’s declaration is quite true.* The writers of the generation preceding Oliphant’s who had left Texas were not returning. Except for brief speaking tours, writers like Goyen, Humphrey, and Owens were gone and stayed gone, and neither were their generation’s editors and publishers returning in great numbers.

Nor did there exist widespread opportunities to publish, no matter where the publisher came from originally. There were a few academic literary journals, the Southwest Review at Southern Methodist University, descant at Texas Christian University, and Texas Quarterly at the University of Texas. But there was little else. What Oliphant is really heralding in his essay is an almost spontaneous generation, like frogs in post-rain pools, of a publishing infrastructure focused on promoting local writers.

Regardless of the accuracy of this one phrase “the return of native publishers,” what lay behind it is even more important. Oliphant’s article grows from a simple view that there is an “us,” we Texans, and there are “the others.” What is more, those “others” have something that “we” are not given credit for having—literature, literary journals, and literary presses. This view is essentially the view of a provincial toward the dominant, imperialistic power. Certainly, Oliphant, as writer and critic in the nineteen seventies, had inherited a long tradition of shame concerning the state’s provincialism. And in his essay, he is putting his finger on a very important part of Texas’ literary provincialism and its relation to the American publishing establishment. Some of the important economic, and thus cultural, features of a province are that 1) goods essential for civilized life are not produced locally, 2) local goods are valued less than distant goods, 3) local raw materials are sent away to be refashioned in some way and then sold back at higher prices, and 4) raw material from the cultural capital is seldom sent to the province to be refashioned and sold back to the capital.

Therefore, in 1977, Oliphant perceived a very important shift in the way the Texas produced literature, and his prophesy has proven true: the small press movement had arrived in Texas and it has stayed.   The literary trend that Oliphant identified and promoted was part of a larger national movement that had its roots in modernist literary expression that brought about the creation of Poetry and other literary journals in the early decades of the twentieth century. In the fifties and sixties, the movement saw its flowering with the founding of Black Mountain Review, Origins, The Fifties, and other small journals, run by beatniks and other outsiders.

Oliphant, himself, was one of the straightest members of a group of wooly literary outcasts in Texas that Paul Christensen writes about in West of the American Dream (2001), his memoir of late twentieth-century literary life inside and outside of mainstream Texas academe. As Christensen describes them at a typical poetry reading, “You knew who was a writer in Austin by the look of a hollow, pained face, a shabby appearance at a hall where poetry or fiction readings were in progress. Someone gaunt and stoop-shouldered would be in the back of the hall talking quietly to old friends, with a dog-eared manuscript under one arm, peeping out of an old shoulder bag.” Among them—as listed in Oliphant’s essay and discussed in Christensen’s book—were Jim Cody (Place of the Herons), Charles Behlen (Chawed Rawzin), David Yates (Cedar Rock), Stephen Harrigan (Lucille), Ryan Petty (Cold Mountain), Dwight Fulligim (Texas Portfolio), Robert Bonazzi (Latitudes), Paul Foreman (Thorp Springs), Richard Sale (Trilobite), Susan Bright (Plain View), Joanie Whitebird (Wings), Michael Anderson (Calliope), Ed Buffaloe (Aileron), and Christensen and Oliphant themselves (Cedar House Press and Prickly Pear Press) . And this list is not complete. While, as far as I know, none of the small journals published by this motley group is still current, a good number of the presses are still at it, producing a few books a year. Thorp Springs has published Christensen’s latest volume of poetry; Wings, now run by Bryce Milligan and Bonazzi, publishes several excellent volumes a year; Trilobite recently published a fine chapbook by Alan Berecka; and Plain View has introduced many poets to the public in its workshop anthologies, while also publishing such poets as Alan Birkelbach, a Texas Poet Laureate. In the seventies and eighties, these writers, editors, and publishers—and those who joined them along the way—laid the ground work for what can only be called a varied and vibrant publishing scene in twenty-first century Texas.

One measure of literary vitality in a particular time and place must be the number and kinds of periodicals being published. By this measure, literature in Texas, today, is healthier than it has ever been. By my count there are over at least fifty-six periodicals, print and on-line journals, based in Texas whose primary purpose is publishing poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.** These fifty-six journals fall into a few distinct categories: the nationally focused academic journals; the locally ambitious, more regional, academic journals; the mid-range independent, national journals; the small, small press journals. Once we begin to examine these journals, something else becomes clear. Perhaps it is something we all sense, but Texas, literarily, is no longer a province. I don’t remember it being announced and celebrated, but today, the borders between Texas and the world are open.

The National Academic Journals

Perhaps the greatest change in literary publishing in Texas in the last thirty years has been the growth of the academic journal addressing a national audience. In this category fall American Literary Review (University of North Texas), Bat City Review (University of Texas at Austin), Callaloo (Texas A&M University), Gulf Coast (The University of Houston), and The Southwest Review (Southern Methodist University). In these journals one is likely to find works by the most highly regarded writers in the United States, and works by their younger protégées. Here, as through out this essay, I will be unable to discuss each journal thoroughly, so I will look at them generally and then examine one or two more closely.

Since the mid-eighties, when Willard Spiegelman took over as editor, the Southwest Review has sought, and achieved, its place among the greatest journals in the nation by publishing the world’s most highly acclaimed writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Drabble, Iris Murdock, James Merrill, John Ashberry, Robert Pinksy, and Rita Dove. The Southwest Review is, of course, the grandparent of all the literary periodicals in Texas. Founded as the Texas Review in 1915 at the University of Texas, the Southwest Review, located at Southern Methodist University since 1924, was for decades the crossroads where high culture and things Southwest would meet. It may have been Spiegelman’s shift in editorial policies that first indicated the end of Texas literary provincialism. After Texas’ best literary journal shifted it emphasis away from the region, the doors opened for other nationally focused publications.

In the last twenty years, the four other journals established themselves in the state, Gulf Coast (1985), American Literary Review (1990), Callaloo (2001), and Bat City Review (2005). More than the others, Gulf Coast seems to promote writers known within the MFA in Creative Writing crowd, young writers with a few awards and publications in the “right journals.” For instance, in the last few of issues, Gulf Coast has published G. C. Waldrop, A. Van Johnson, Tracy K. Smith, K Bradford, Jennifer Grotz, Sarah Manguso, and other young, up-and-coming writers of whom I became aware one summer at a Breadloaf Writers’ Conference.   And though these writers are individual in their ways, in reading Gulf Coast, I sense a very strong influence of writers like John Ashberry, so that association games, word play, and a kind of intentional disruption of the rational take over the poems. For instance, in the winter/spring 2006 number, Eric Burger writes, “I offer the following: 1 ostrich egg, 1 downloaded paper / that argues for a 5th season: “Mud-ummer,” and the phrase / You want some fusion cuisine, how ‘bout a knuckle sandwich?”

As important and as influential as Gulf Coast and the other journals are, none can compare to Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, now published by its founder and director, Charles H. Rowell, at Texas A&M University.   In 2001, Rowell and his journal moved from the University of Virginia, but Texas A&M is just the latest stop in Callaloo’s thirty-year history. In its way, Callaloo is the product of the small press movement of the 1970’s with the mission to publish literary works by emerging African-American writers in the South. Like editors nationwide in the sixties and seventies, Rowell noticed that many of the writers he knew could not find journals in which to publish their work. For Rowell, it was the severe lack of periodicals for Southern African-Americans, as for Oliphant and other Texans, it was the lack of periodicals for young non-academic writers in Texas. Over the years, Callaloo has become, not just a journal for southern writers and not just a journal for American writers, but a journal for all writers of African descent.

At the Associated Writers Programs Conference in March in Austin, poet Honoree Fanonne Jeffers spoke of the importance of Callaloo in the development of young African American writers saying that Callaloo becomes the goal that they aspire to. As a student and young writer, Jeffers, now the author of The Gospel of Barbecue and Outlandish Blues, studied back issues of Callaloo, and when her work was finally accepted, she knew she had been invited into an elite club. Over the years, Callaloo has published just about every important African American writer: Lucille Clifton, Jamaica Kincaid, Ernest J. Gaines, John Edgar Wideman, Ai, on and on. Recent special issues have focused on the work of Percival Everett, of Yusef Komunyakaa, and of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. More than a literary journal, Callaloo is the repository of African American literary history, much in the same way that Southwest Review was for many decades the repository of Southwestern literary history.

The Regional Academic Journals

If the Southwest Review, by turning its focus to the national literary scene, has ceased to be the central literary journal for writers of Texas and the Southwest—that is, the journal one turns to to see who is writing in Texas and how, several journals have attempted to take its place. These are academic literary journals that publish a greater percentage of writers from Texas and writings about the South and West than do the journals previously discussed. Foremost among these are The Texas Review (Sam Houston State University) and Iron Horse Literary Review (Texas Tech University)

Texas Review and Iron Horse Literary Review have planted themselves at two borders of the state, identifying two of the state’s most important cultural forces: the South and the West. It is for this reason, primarily, that I distinguish them from the other major academic journals. In some regards, they are identical to American Literary Review and Southwest Review. For instance, writers such as Bruce Bond, Scott Carnes, and Elizabeth McLagan have been associated with both ALR and Iron Horse. However, both journals seem determined to stake out an individual identity through a regional focus that ALR and Southwest Review dismiss.

The Texas Review, located at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, edited by Paul Ruffin, can trace its roots back to the seventies. Ruffin, who is from Mississippi, seems to have infused a Southern atmosphere into his journal. A recent special is devoted to the fiction of James Dickey. Iron Horse Literary Review, on the other hand, has determinedly reserved a place for writers from the Midwest and the West. Located at Texas Tech University and edited by Jill Patterson, is a relatively new journal, having been founded in 1999. In the journal’s mission statement, Patterson writes, “one of our main goals is to raise critical opinion about ‘regional’ writers,” and she plans to do so by placing lesser known writers from Texas alongside work from more famous non-Texans. Past issues have included the fiction of Ric DeMarinis and Gordon Weaver, and the poetry of Syndey Lea and Pattiann Rogers beside that of San Angelo State University’s Terence Dalyrimple and Chris Ellery, Lamar University’s Jim Sanderson and Jerry Bradley, Sam Houston State’s Melissa Morphew, Texas A&M’s Mick White, and San Antonio College’s Carol Coffee Repossa.

It seems to me that we do not yet have a journal of the caliber of Iron Horse or Texas Review that represents the state’s third important cultural and geographic border, Mexico. RiverSedge published at the University of Texas Pan American and the Rio Grande Review at the University of Texas at El Paso are good journals, but have not yet established themselves as national publications with a regional outlook. The Rio Grande Review, which in the fall published its twenty-sixth volume is a bilingual journal of poetry, graphic arts, short shorts, and excerpts from plays and scripts. The issue I have seen is composed predominantly of writing by students in the bilingual creative writing MFA program at UTEP. Approximately half is written in English and half in Spanish, with no translations. I particularly enjoyed the poetry of Anis Shivani, who is not from the border. He mixes his reading in literary theory, popular fiction, and pop culture, with a street sensibility. His poem “How I Became a Fascist” ends “If I am to be I, I must anesthetize the sacred cows.”

For my taste, several journals from the smaller universities in Texas do much to anesthetize the sacred cows of contemporary academic literary writing. Too many to discuss individually, they create a sort of informal consortium in support of mainstream Texas and American literary values. For the most part, these journals have resisted the pressures of post-modern narrative fragmentation and abstract Language poetries. Examine their back issues—from descant’s fifty-year history to The Langdon Review’s two annual volumes—and one will find the names of Texans Walt McDonald, Larry Thomas, Clay Reynolds, Jan Epton Seale, Carol Coffee Reposa, Jerry Bradley, Betsy Colquitt, James Hoggard, Lynne Hoggard, Chris Elery, Guida Jackson, H. Palmer Hall, Wendy Barker, Cleatus Rattan, Donna Walker Nixon, Jerry Craven, William Virgil Davis, and many others repeated. And in the cases of Aries, Concho River Review, descant, and Re: Arts and Letters, one will also find, certainly, hundreds of similar writers from across the United States. The number of writers that these journals have supported illustrates just how dramatically the literary establishment in Texas has shifted in the last thirty years. In any given year, the interested reader in Texas can find hundreds of pages of fiction and poetry by writers living in Texas; and the serious writer from anywhere in the United States knows that there are editors and fellow writers in Texas eager to print and read their work. Perhaps another way to phrase this is that Texas has finally developed a literary infrastructure that can bring to readers a variety of literary tastes—that of the best MFA programs in the nation, that of the best mature writers in the region and nation, and, as will be seen in the smaller literary journals, that of young developing writers outside of academia.

 The Mid-Sized Independent Journals

About half of the journals published in Texas—those mid-sized and small independent print journals and most of the electronic journals—have no direct, current association with a university. They are the true representatives and beneficiaries of the small press movement that in 1977 Oliphant predicted had taken hold in the state. But to say that all of them have no associations with universities is, I believe, inaccurate. Often, it appears, that students from a university graduate program look for ways to participate in the state and nation’s literary life. They have few connections except for fellow students and enthusiasts, and maybe a supportive professor or two, so they create a journal and sometimes, with luck, persistence, and talent, they succeed beyond a few issues. And with time, some of them actually rival the standards of the academic journals. Publications of this kind are American Short Fiction, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, Lyric Poetry Review, Pebble Lake Review, and Sulphur River Literary Review.

Lyric Poetry Review and Pebble Lake Review have evolved from the writing program at the University of Houston. Lyric Poetry Review, whose recent eighth number is dedicated to Polish poetry, is edited by Myra Rosenthal, once a graduate student at the University of Houston. In many ways Lyric Poetry Review resembles Gulf Coast.   In its short history, it has published many important American poets, such as Fanny Howe, Marie Howe, Gregory Orr, Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Carl Phillips, Li-Young Lee, and David Lehman. Folded between these poets are a large number of MFA graduates. Recently, Rothenthal moved to the University of Indiana, and took the journal with her, but the associate editors, graduate students at the University of Houston, have remained on staff. Pebble Lake Review, now in its third year, is edited by Amanda Auchter, a current graduate student. As it grows, it appears to be attracting more of the young stars that Gulf Coast also attracts. Auchter herself recently published in both Gulf Coast and Bat City Review.

In Austin, Borderlands and American Short Fiction have evolved from the writing programs at the University of Texas. Since its first issue in 1992, Borderlands has been home to almost every significant poet in Texas. Publishing in Borderlands might even be said to be a rite of passage for the aspiring Texas poet. From its inception, the journal has remained true to its purpose of publishing outwardly focused poetry, and eschewing the personal and confessional. The most recent issue, its twenty-fifth number, reprints the best of the contributions by Texas writers. American Short Fiction is currently published in Austin by Badgerdog Literary Publishing.    From 1991 to 1998, the University published this award winning journal, focused exclusively on short fiction.   During that time, under the direction of Laura Furman, the quarterly developed into a showcase for the best writers in the United States. This year, American Short Fiction, has been revived by Badgerdog, and is edited by Rebecca Bengal.

Another Austin journal, Sulphur River Literary Review, edited for the last twenty years by James Michael Robbins, was actually founded at Texas A&M Commerce (when it was East Texas State University). Robbins began working on the journal when he was a graduate student there, but when the University ceased supporting the journal, Robbins raised the funds to keep it going and has continued to do so with dogged determination. Published in March and October, the journal comes in at about 150 pages, with poetry, fiction, and art printed in black and white. The journal opens with a selection of translated poetry, with the original language and English on facing pages. Robbins has published a number of writers from Texas, such as Walt McDonald, Larry Thomas, Mel Kenne, Ken Fontenot, Frances Neidhardt, Sam Taylor, Sheryl Luna, Albert Huffstickler, Joe Ahern, and others. And he has published individual volumes of poetry by Huffstickler, Ahern, and Neidhardt. Still his intent has never been to create a Texas journal or publishing house. While the fiction tends toward the Kafkan and Borgian school, the poetry is an eclectic mix. A bit of autobiographical musing, a bit of intellectual meditation, and a bit of sharp observation of the objective world; maybe a way to describe Robbin’s taste—and Sulphur River is completely his vision—is hot emotion in cool language.

The Small, Small Press Journals

While mid-sized independent journals tend to be perfect bound and can come in at 80 to 150 pages, most of the what I am calling small, small press publications are 20 to 80 pages and staple bound. Since they pose little economic risk for the publishers—except for postage, which can cost more than the journal itself—the small journal can appeal to the young literary entrepreneur wanting to offer the public a quick introduction to writers who are not yet placing their work in other more established journals. Interestingly, the geographic reach of these little journals is as far as the academic journals and the mid-sized independents.

These publications vary in purpose more widely than the academic and larger independent journals. Superflux, for instance, is a curated journal of creative works and manifestos concerning women and writing. Edgar (as in Edgar Allan Poe), from San Leon, appears to be an interesting journal devoted to short fiction. Its editor, Sue Mayfield-Geiger, has kept the quarterly journal going for three years now against the usual odds and frustrations. Illya’s Honey is a popular journal published by the Dallas Poets Community, which is comprised of several poets who also publish work in various academic journals.  Wisteria is a new journal, edited by Tony Thompson in Lufkin. The journal, which is devoted to the haiku, senryu, and tanka, is Thompson’s new enterprise after having closed down Gin Bender.   Haggard and Halloo, edited by Travis Catsull in Austin, has recently published its twenty-fifth issue. Reading the poems in this issue makes me think either of times when I’ve drunk too much cheap whiskey in a filthy bar, which I have done, or of times when I have tried to go grocery shopping on acid, which I haven’t done but maybe can imagine. Flashes of Burroughs and Bukowski.

The Canary, in Kemah, Nerve Cowboy and Effing Magazine, in Austin, are the kind of small journals that give me hope about the future of writing in Texas, in the same way, I assume, Chawed Rawzin and Cedar Rock gave Oliphant hope. Each of them is edited and published by relatively young men who simply believe the literary act is important for them and for the culture at large.   Joshua Edwards of The Canary says, “One of the reasons I started it was because I honestly didn’t see a magazine that I wanted to read. Another reason I started it was to educate myself. . . . And another was to enter into a community I felt isolated from.” Nerve Cowboy, which recently published its twentieth number, supports a community of writers from across the nation, very few of them from Texas. With over fifty writers in each issue, many of the same folks appear again and again. There is definite autobiographical, personal journal tone to much of the writing, and probably none of it would ever find a place in American Literary Review. On the other hand, nothing from ALR would ever appear in Nerve Cowboy, either. The poetry in Nerve Cowboy rides the emotional bunking broncos of the psyche with . . .well, nerve.

Effing Magazine has evolved in its four issues from a somber, and maybe sober, version of Haggard and Halloo, to a kind of second stage Black Mountain Review. Much of this change has occurred as publisher Scott Pierce has become more influenced by Austin writers Dale Smith and Hoa Nguyen, who published Skanky Possum for several years. Recently Pierce has handed off editing duties to a series of guest editors, including Farid Matuk, from the University of Texas, who co-edited Borderlands for a time, and who also works for Badgerdog. The poems are edging their way toward the self-conscious, ironic fragmentation of much MFA poetry, but because the poems retain their hold on the image objectively observed, a la Creeely, or later of Tom Clark, they still enchant and surprise with revelation. Almost as important as the quality of writing in Effing Magazine is the quality of its printing. Scott Pierce is dedicating himself to producing fine chapbooks and magazines, printed on quality paper, trimmed beautifully, and secured with hand-sewn bindings. Rather than viewing his magazine and chapbooks as quick vehicles for the poetry and fiction inside, he treats them as separate works of art—not a temporary house for the writings on their way to final book form, but as books themselves.

The Christian Journals

Most of the academic journals and most of the independent journals promote literature primarily of a general humanistic kind; however, two journals focus on literature written from a Christian perspective. Angel Face is a lovely hand-stitched journal of about 48 pages. Published by Mary Agnes Dalrymple in Huffman, Angel Face is organized by the pattern of the Rosary Prayer, progressing from “The Joyful Mysteries” and “The Mysteries of Light” to “The Mysteries” and “The Glorious Mysteries.” Dalrymple, who edited the journal Blue Violin for many years, publishes a wide variety of poets from across the nation. In fact, of the fifty-eight poets who appear in the two annual issues published so far, only three are from Texas: Larry Thomas, Albert Haley, and myself

We three also appear in the latest double issue of Windhover, published at The University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton. Since 1996, Windhover has published as solid a list of writers from Texas as you will find in any journal. There you will find Walt McDonald, Alan Berecka, J. Paul Holcomb, SuzAnne C. Cole, Roger Jones, Robert Flynn, Guida Jackson, Sybil Pittman Estes, Cleatus Rattan, James Hoggard, Carol Coffee Reposa, and many, many more. Interestingly, as one scans the contributors’ biographies, one will find very few clergy. I count three among the near one hundred contributors of the past two issues. Windhover is an excellent journal of literature, more reverential than doctrinaire, more inclusive than not.

The E-zines                              

Almost every literary journal in Texas sponsors a site on the internet. Sulphur River Literary Review and Windhover are the two largest journals without a web presence. In addition, I have found nine journals that publish exclusively on the web. Like print journals, as a group they represent a wide variety of tastes and values. Poet’s Castle strikes me a home for beginning poets and those interested in fantasy. Big Tex[t] aspires to become a kind of academic journal. Extramares and Big Stupid Review and related journals look internationally for their writers. Three others—Amarillo Bay, The Banyan Review, and The Red River Review—are solid independent journals, as interesting as their print counterparts.

Amarillo Bay appears to be the most ambitious of the three. Its editors, under the direction of Jerry Craven, are among the most serious writers in the state’s mid-sized colleges. The May 2006 includes poetry from Steven Schroeder, whose work has appeared in many Texas and national journals recently, and nonfiction from Jan Epton Seale, greatly respected for her poetry and fiction. Each issue of Amarillo Bay is relatively small—three or four stories, four or five poems—so its standards are high. Additionally, the editors keep each back issue available, so readers can easily see the continued high quality of the work published there.

The Red River Review, edited by Bob McCranie in Dallas, has been on-line since 1999. Its February 2006 issue, the journal’s first themed issue, was guest edited by Dallas poet Kate Mauer, focusing on “the state of the nation.” That this should be the theme is entirely appropriate given the journal’s editorial philosophy:   “It is the duty of the writer to accurately chronicle our times and to reflect honestly on how these events affect us.” The poetry in The Red River Review has a direct intimacy and immediacy. The Banyan Review, edited by Shelley Renee-Ruiz in Smithville, Texas, attempts to place the work of younger writers beside that of more experienced writers. In the most recent issue, the journal includes work by a senior in college and that of academics with many publications. My favorite poem was by Aditi Gupta, the Boston University student; it’s a real find. Publishing a small number of works—the spring 2006 issue includes only ten writers—Renee-Ruiz leaves you wanting more, eager for the next issue. If the Banyan Review and Amarillo Bay were published in print, they would certainly be included in my journal budget.

The International Journals

If most literary journals in Texas are completely open to poets and writers from throughout the United States, showing that the bounds of regionalism are almost totally broken, then it should come as no surprise that Texas is also home to several periodicals committed to international writers. For instance, the eighth and most recent number of Lyric Poetry Review is devoted to a special issue on new Polish poetry.  Four periodicals should be noted for their international focus. Two are on-line journals: Extramares and Big Stupid Review and other e-zines under imprint of The Drill Press. The editor at The Drill Press says that “we are picky as hell, but we try to get stuff out monthly for at least one of our three monthly magazine.” Finding the quality of typical American writing to be lacking, they are often turn to works by foreign authors. They publish prose works only. Extramares is edited by Cecilia Bustamante, the award winning Peruvian poet who has lived in Austin for the past couple decades. Extramares was published in print form in the late eighties and early nineties and has now reappeared in an electronic version. The subtitle tells you all you need to know of Bustamante’s drive and purpose: Editorial Poetas Antiimperialistas de Americas.

Two print journals represent alternatives we’ve seen in other print journals—the small, small press journal, and the larger independent journal.. The first, Visions-International, has entered its 26th year of publication, but only its second in Texas. Bradley Strahan founded the journal and its press, Black Buzzard Press, while he lived in the Washington D. C. area. Over the years, Visions-International, inexpensively produced as a 40+ page stapled volume, has published such notable American writers as Ai, Andrei Condrescu, Marilyn Hacker, Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, Marge Piercy, Naomi Nye, and Charles Wright. But its greatest strength over the years has been its focus on international writers. In particular, Strahan has published a great deal of Eastern European poetry, with special issues devoted to “Balkan Visions” (Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, and Romania) and “Eastern Visions” (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakia). In addition, he has created special volumes devoted to contemporary poetry of French speaking countries (Algeria, Belgium, Cameroon, Haiti, etc), the Low Countries (Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, etc.), Australia and New Zealand, and Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. And one volume is devoted to poetry from languages less well known in the U.S: Armenian, Korean, Persian, Urdu, etc. But more important, each regular number of Visions-International mixes poetry from the United States with poetry from many countries from around the world. The most recent number, for example, includes the poetry of 30 writers, including poets from Romania, Lithuania, England, Pakistan, Hungary, Iceland, Poland, Greece, and Serbia. In addition, Strahan has published several chapbooks and trade paperbacks. Speaking in Tongues, a volume of poetry by the world’s great linguists, features the poetry of Deborah Tannen.

The second, and perhaps my nominee for the best journal in Texas, is The Dirty Goat, published in Austin by Holt Publications and edited by Elzbieta Szoka and Joe W. Bratcher III. Coming in at 200 pages and in a large 8”x10” format, the annual brings together poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, art, and drama from around the world including the United States and even Texas, with the poetry published both in the original language and in English on facing pages.   Volume 15, published this year, includes work from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Greece, India, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, and the United States. The journal seems to prefer works by writers in their mid to late careers, but the work varies greatly in tone. For instance, volume 15 opens with Alexis Lykiard’s poem, “Episode in the War Against Error,” a stark description of a gang style murder in London, but within a few pages has moved to the evocative and tender work of Czech Christian Bokuslav Reynek (“O, Mary, I know Jesus is a heavy burden, but keep him a while longer in your lap, he needs more than we can comprehend”). Then on page 57, we discover Mexican writer Carmen Simon’s brief violent and sexual poems, like the one titled “Triangular” (Those two, like dogs, / wagged their tails. / I held the chains.”). Over the years, Texans David Oliphant and Christopher Cook have appeared in The Dirty Goat. The most recent issue includes a moving work by Miquel Gonzalez-Gerth, of UT’s Humanities Research Center and formally of The Texas Quarterly, the previous Texas journal that The Dirty Goat most resembles.


Inherent in such critiques as Oliphant’s 1977 essay, and indeed, in this article, too, is the geographical and cultural distinction of a “hereness” and of a “thereness,” which can also be expressed as “us” and “them.” Of course, we in Texas believe that we are “here,” while everyone else—all those other Americans, all those other North Americans, and all those other Others—is “there.” It is sometimes a parlor game and sometimes a serious academic concern to account for what is “here” and what is “there,” how they are alike, how different, and what difference it makes, if any.   Each generation of literary critic in Texas confronts these ideas—Dobie, Bedichek, and Webb and their generation; Graham, Pilkington, and Lee and theirs, certainly have. But one wonders if the critics and creative writers now on staff at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, Southern Methodist, Texas State University, and the University of North Texas even bother to ask the questions. As time has passed, the differences between Texas, especially urban Texas, and the rest of the industrialized world seem to lessen. With MFA programs “here” filling up with writers from “there,” and with writers from “here” taking jobs in universities out “there,” the line between “here” and “there” may have become less important.

But what has survived is the local need, and we may as well call it “native,” to provide for one‘s own culture and cultural legacy, wherever one is. The University of Houston believed that it needed its own publication, Gulf Coast. The University of Texas, with The Texas Quarterly in the sixties and seventies, with American Short Fiction in the nineties, and with Bat City Review in this decade, continues to flirt with the idea that a great university needs a great literary journal. Dallas poets decided they needed their publication, Illya’s Honey. Austin poets have created Ardent!, Nerve Cowboy, Effiing Magazine, Superflux, Texas Poetry Review, and Borderlands. And the mid-sized universities—Texas Christian University, Sam Houston State University, Angelo State University, Tarleton State University, West Texas A&M University, and so on—continue to believe that Texas writers who have yet to achieve national reputations produce literary art worthy of our attention.

So whatever our concerns are with the out “there,” writers in Texas seem to be increasingly open minded about their conception of “here.” More and more, they resist the idea that they need acceptance, if only the acceptance of their story or poem in a small journal, beyond the borders of the state. For them, the province and the empire have merged. In her editor’s note to the first issue of Bat City Review, Jessica Piazza speaks for all the journals. Of the journal, she states, “It’s our literary taste incarnate.” And then she adds, “We hope that by mixing it up a little we’ll be able to give writers an exciting new venue to bring their work to the public, and our readers the most comprehensive view we can of what’s going on out there behind the laptops and typewriters of the world.” As Dave Oliphant forecast almost thirty-years ago, small presses and their literary journals are here in Texas to stay. What he did not predict was that they would welcome the rest of the world into its borders and into the pages of its literary history.


*In the interest of accuracy, I should point out that Oliphant is correct in a way that he does not allude to in his essay. Often in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, general interest publications in Texas, such as newspapers or university alumni magazines like the University of Texas’ Alcalde, printed fiction, poetry, and literary criticism in their pages. Certainly, by the time the Oliphant was writing his article, this practice had ceased.

**Mention should be made of several journals that ceased publication recently: Touchstone from the Woodlands; Wild Plum and Moon Crossed in Austin; Suddenly! in Conroe; Curbstone in Houston; Simple Vows and Chili Verde Review in San Antonio; Brazos River Review in College Station; and Gin Bender in Lufkin.

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About lymangrant

Lyman Grant is a professor of creative writing and humanities at Austin Community College. He has work at ACC since 1978. He is the author or editor of two textbooks, two books relating to Texas literature, three volumes and a chapbook of poetry. Recently he traveled the United States for a year in a 34-foot RV 5th wheel trailer with his wife and two younger sons.