Finding Space for Poetry
I read The Main Street Rag over a week’s worth of train rides to and from work and it was a mostly enjoyable way to travel. The journal is published in Charlotte, North Carolina and they consider poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, reviews, interviews, essays, artwork, and photography. They do not consider simultaneous submissions and they only accept email submission. The journal has diversified since 2000 when it was an all-poetry journal. Editor M. Scott Douglass shares that the decision to incorporate other genres and mediums was made in hopes of increasing readership and helping people find more to connect with in the journal.
In spite of this recent inclusion of more genres, poetry still dominates the issue. The Main Street Rag also features several editorial sections in addition to their literary submissions. After the table of contents, there is a section titled “Feedback.” These two pages compile notes from readers who express appreciation for the journal. Of the poetry included in The Main Street Rag one person wrote “...how refreshing to read poetry without requiring a SWAT team of cryptologists to decipher it.” I was curious about this line, but soon realized, as I read the extensive selection of poetry included, that it was quite telling of the form the journal publishes.
Indeed, the poems are narrative and confessional, so this is probably not the right fit for experimental poets. For example, Cheryl Boyer’s poem "Miscarriage", brings the reader to a family around a Thanksgiving table, but the "I" in the poem finds difficulty expressing thanks. She imagines the other children at the table opening gifts at Christmas time and ends her poem with the lines “my child/ the only absent one.” Mary Soon Lee’s poem "Autumn Fire" was one of my favorites. She centers in on a “we” watching a bonfire. The poem focuses on what is not said between these people as they stand “side by side,/breathing smoke.”
The journal also includes three short stories, a colored photograph, as well as black and white prints. The fiction, and art work didn’t seem to follow any specific themes. The subject matter ranged from prints of men surfing to a photograph of “Phil tracking Venus” to Victoria Kelly’s short story "The View From Bonnell Lane", which captures a compelling adolescent coming of age story where one middle school girl finds out her teacher is a person instead of a mysterious figure–a person she has something in common with. His wife left, her father left, and she likes to imagine that they could all go back in time and change the circumstances that caused the leaving. Contributors in this issue are from all over the USA and abroad.
Perhaps one of the most important things to note about The Main Street Rag is that it is more than a periodic journal. Main Street Rag Publishing house included a list of recent poetry, fiction, and chapbooks titles. To showcase a new release, the journal included an interview with author Kenneth Womack and an excerpt from his new novel The Restaurant at the End of the World that the interviewer describes as “...a riveting and brilliantly written fictionalized account of the last few hours in the lives of the employees of the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.”
The journal also contains many additional sections: the Feedback section, The Front Seat which contains a letter from the editor and updates regarding the journal, The Backseat which reprimanded submitter Arthur Levine of Rockville, MD because he didn’t appreciate the journal’s preemptive email and responded to it in a crude fashion. The editor explains the purpose of this email. “We recently and reluctantly changed our submission policy to EMAIL ONLY. As a result, we’re finding a higher percentage of people who are NOT following our two most important guidelines. In response to that, I set up a preemptive email that asks authors to confirm that their work is eligible for consideration before we invest time and resources.”
The Backseat also contains the editor’s discussion of Obamacare and his perspectives on other current political issues. The journal moves towards its conclusion with The Blue Pages which contains reviews of Main Street Rag publishing company’s publications.
Rather than enhancing the literature and art included, some of these additional sections felt quite extraneous and self-serving while diluting the poetry, fiction, and visual art. Aside from the marketing efforts published within the journal, the harsh example made of one submitter, and the insights into the editor’s political preferences, my other critique has to do with the layout of this issue which feels quite cramped and unfocused. The appearance here is visually crowded with poems colliding with one another on the page. The layout would have benefitted mightily from more white space, as space to pause is one of the most important things a reader can have when taking in a large quantity of poetry at once.
To his credit, the editor does have a strong presence in the journal and the publishing company at large. For this reason, these additional sections could be seen to play a role in building and presenting the community surrounding the journal and publishing company. But writers ought to submit with care. Take a look at the journal’s layout, design, and content before deciding whether it’s the right fit for you. And, if you do submit, be sure to respond courteously to the preemptive email so you don’t end up in this journal’s Backseat.