Bright-Shining Journal Features a Solid Mix of Risk-Taking Writing
Beecher's is the literary journal out of the graduate program at University of Kansas. Aesthetically, the journal is clean. The cover has very little detail: the logo of the magazine, a 'b' with the up-line being a silhouette of a rifle, the number 4 (for the issue) and a sunrise reminiscent of the Japanese flag, all done in gold with a slight sparkle/shine. It stands out on the book shelf in a great way.
Issue four of the journal opens with the contest winners in poetry, non-fiction and fiction, judged by Frank X. Walker, Eula Biss, and Manuel Munoz, respectively. From there, the flow is usually a few poems, piece of non-fiction or fiction, few poems, piece of non-fiction or fiction and so on. Sprinkled throughout are art pieces, all black and white, and all done by a single featured artist.
Poetry: The style of poetry is varied throughout: there are experimental poems that play with form, straightforward poems, family poems, identity poems, nature poems, translations, excerpts from larger pieces: in short, a wide swath of poetry. However, all of the poetry is free verse: there are no forms or rhymed poetry.
My favorite poem is “Penelope” by Rachel Mennies. It discusses Penelope's plight of patience with the distance between her and Odysseus juxtaposed with the speaker visiting Athens, buying some olives but trying to wait until getting home to eat them. It seems simple enough, maybe too simple, but it's the simplicity that makes me love it. The poem acknowledges all the things that help Penelope wait, the small acts of love Odysseus has made, and the “sour and salt” of the olive, a metaphor for our vacations, our visits, those times in our lives we want forever like Penelope.
Fiction: Many of the stories focus on a single character and some sort of realization or epiphany they have. All of the stories are rather short, some less than five pages, and many feature female protagonists. Some of the stories play with time, skipping forward and back, but most are conventional in structure (although, given the variety of the issue, I wouldn't be surprised to see more experimental stories in the future).
My favorite short story is “Prodigal of Smiles” by Chelsea Werner-Jatzke. The story is a fairy-tale-esque chronicle of an unnamed son returning home to run for mayor. He initially gets everyone on his side because he remembers the old days when the town boomed and wants to restore them. His wife flies in from the big city and they try to win the election, but are beaten badly. However, they don't really care. They are smiling regardless because (moral) they have a dog and each other and their home town and happiness and hope. It is a quaint story doesn't feel too big or too small like some fairy-tales can. It does what it needs to do and then it walks away.
While we're on females: this issue is nearly fifty/fifty women to male writers in addition to featuring many female protagonists, which is AWESOME. Also, while some of the contributors have MFA's or Ph.D.s, some are currently in undergraduate or graduate programs while one, and very possibly others, have no higher degree. In addition to the mix of education and gender, there is also a great blend of age: there are several twenty-somethings and several middle-aged writers featured in issue four. One similarity among the contributors: all of them have published elsewhere, including several with books.
Non-Fiction: The non-fiction is varied from dealing with death, learning to sail on vacation to raising a child with Down Syndrome. And, personally, these stories hit me the hardest (and I don't read much non-fiction). These pieces also tend to be on the shorter end, like the fiction, with most residing under five pages.
The most memorable non-fiction piece was the award-winning “The Art of Not Turning Away” by Anne Penniston Grunsted which chronicles a trip to the doctor's office with her son who has Down Syndrome and with it and crippling fear of doctors. The piece not only focuses on the struggles of raising a child who can't fully communicate or understand that this particular doctor's visit is benign, but also discusses larger issues like what constitutes helping: offering a bag to the dry-heaving boy, or politely pretending nothing unordinary is happening; Grunsted brings up her own childhood trauma in analyzing how ignoring problems can make them far worse, how sometimes there is no “right” way to solve a problem because some problems simply can't be solved, only worked on and on and on. In the end, Grunsted leaves us with the thought, “I can be loyal to him by never turning away” meaning that the polite thing to do may not be to look away because then we are ignoring someone's pain; sometimes the thing to do is to stare right at it, acknowledge and continue to live with awareness.
Interviews: There is also a short interview with Junot Diaz that discusses his philosophy of teaching workshop, a novel he's working on, and Freedom University.
Beecher's also has a well-functioning website that has an on-line selection of work they've published, although this list isn't updated with authors from the most recent issue.
Contest submissions open February 15th with a $12 reading fee. The winner in each category receives $200 plus publication. Regular submissions appear to always be open. Poetry asks for 3-5 poems, 10 pages max. Fiction asks 4,000 words or less and welcomes flash fiction (as well as experimental stories). Non-fiction also asks for 4,000 words or less. And art has no general guidelines. Poetry and fiction encourage detail and seeks “the new—the unexpected.”
Overall, Beecher's is a noteable journal with a solid mix of every type of writing and writer. The contest winners, especially the non-fiction piece by Anne Penniston Grunsted, are strong, independent pieces that all take risks. That is one thing I enjoyed about the issue: there are many risks. Some of the risks are not huge, but some made me pause and think about the conception of the piece and how it works. Beecher's is certainly worth buying just to read and is well worth being a part of if you should be so lucky as to be selected for inclusion.