Trigger warning: sexual assault
As poetry evolves, many new debates about the art form erupt. Just as ideas about the legitimacy of self-publishing and Instagram poetry have challenged long-held literary traditions, the differences between online poetry journals and print poetry journals have fueled similar discussions.
The Review Review, a website dedicated to tracking trends in publishing and recording response times, themes, and other facts about literary journals, tried to represent both sides in a recent article. The writer points out aspects that can make online journals appealing: potential for a larger audience and the ability to link pieces on social media or a personal website, for example. Though some literary agents won’t seek out talent on online platforms, this previous rationale explains why I and numerous other young poets gravitate toward online platforms.
Given that they are outside of the literary tradition, online journals can often be more diverse, ground-breaking, and accessible, attracting an audience who wants to read marginalized and emerging voices. Online journals, which often don’t charge submission fees, can also help lessen common financial barriers associated with publishing. Of course, print literary journals are still doing important work and publishing thousands of talented poets. But here are some unique journals you can check out with just a click—and no subscription fee.
From its millennial pink logo to its unabashedly weird name, Cotton Xenomorph is fun, different, and bold. The journal’s founders, three young writers whose geography ranges from Virginia to Iowa, have collaborated to “showcase new and ecstatic art while reducing the language of oppression in our community.” They proclaim “NO CREEPS” in all-caps on their homepage, as well as publish “food opinion” columns on pickles, pumpkin spice, and more alongside bravely vulnerable poetry and fiction.
Recent publication: “Hold Close My Handbag in a Kidney or File Folder” by E. Kristin Anderson
Inspired by the TV show The X-Files, this poem shows how literature can intersect with pop culture in powerful, interesting ways. Anderson uses a favorite show to grapple with personal identity, obsessions, and nightmares, asking: “Doctor Scully / if you could reach inside me / would you find a freakish marvel? / Would you remove it?”
The Grief Diaries started in an unexpected way: Founder Kristi DiLallo posted an anonymous Craigslist ad that asked, What does your grief look like? The poems, paintings, and photos that she received in response became the basis of the journal, which resists the idea that grief should be kept secret or silent. Edited by a staff of incredible women, the journal also pairs recent pop culture recommendations about grief with contributors’ writing and art, showing how we cope with grief in a modern landscape.
Recent publication: “Social” by Loralee Sepsey
In a world where Facebook now prompts us to give ownership of our accounts to friends or family after we die, “Social” considers the role of social media in grief. The poem begins with the haunting line “I found out you died on Snapchat,” and is a must-read from then to its end.
Perhaps as a response to the constant swirl of information and content that bombards us, The Shallow Ends takes a minimalist approach to poetry: “One poet. One poem. Every week.” This gives readers time to reflect on and ponder a single poem, as well as introduces them to a variety of writers. The Shallow Ends’ mission is “Sometimes you just want to dip your toes before diving in.”
Recent publication: “Church Girls Sing for the Congregation” by Rachel “Raych” Jackson
Written by the 2017 National Underground Poetry Individual Competition champion, this poem gives nuance and agency to “church girls,” beyond their angelic reputations. It’s an evocative feminist look at the myth of purity culture, reading, “Purity is / an opinion. We perform / the empty promise.”
Collective Unrest strives to respond to political turmoil with “a feeling of humanity, unity, unrest, social justice, and urgency.” Recently published poems have confronted everything from sexual assault and wealth inequality to the separation of migrant children at the border. Collective Unrest views poetry as a catalyst for resistance.
Recent publication: “The Polite Monster” by Courtney Bates-Hardy
This poem resists the pervasive stereotype that rapists and misogynists are always overtly dangerous. Instead of presenting this common narrative, Bates-Hardy confronts “polite” and “charming” perpetrators. She strikes back at the type of guy we’ve all encountered, writing, “The polite monster says ‘please’ / and ‘thank you’ as he buys you / a glass of wine / and mauls your friend with his eyes.”
Another aspect that makes following online journals amazing is how many new and notable ones are always popping up. To discover even more online journals, check out lists from New York Public Library and Bustle. You’ll never be without a new poem to read!