Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Mark Danowsky : The Rise & Fall of Lit Mags




Journal editors are supposed to prepare for “Secession Planning” —– aka. what happens to their lit mag after they’re gone. Much like writing a will and medical directive, even poets, many of whom think about death incessantly, likely put off this unpleasant task.

I recently discovered that the website for Front Porch Review was down. I was saddened to discover this and immediately feared the worst. Sadly, my suspicions were confirmed—the editor had died. Glen Phillips’ journal, Front Porch Review, focused on writing that he believed would appeal to an older audience. I love this decision because it fulfilled a niche market for readers and because he was selective in his curation. From experience, I know this takes a great deal of time, attention, and effort. Glen was kind enough to accept a few of my poems over the years for publication in his journal, however, he rejected many more.  Glen was discerning and deserves credit for this since not all lit mags stay true to their mission.

Lit mags shutter for many reasons. The death of the editor is not the most common reason. Burnout is a major factor. Duotrope appropriately lists new journals as “fledgling”. It’s a reminder to prospective contributors that what is new may not last. I would hazard the average life expectancy of a new journal is three years. People get excited about a new project, and then they get excited about what’s next.

The literary community has lost many heritage journals in the past couple years because their longtime institutional partners decided the lit mags were not invaluable to their “mission”. The Gettysburg Review is a prominent example.  

Sadly, so many journals that fold do not leave a digital footprint. I’ve published in many of these journals over the years. (Note: a reminder to keep your own records and save copies of your work. The internet, it turns out, is impermanent after all.) Regarding the loss of lit mags, I’m less sad for myself than the literary community. It’s a reminder that we need to figure out, collectively, how we wish to handle this.

One issue concerns the matter of what is considered “previously published”. If a journal is defunct, and the work is no longer available to the public, should the work be considered newly available for publication? It’s not a blank slate though. If it’s not the first time the work has been published then, surely “First Rights” cannot be the correct way to categorize a reprint. But the rights don’t matter much to a journal no longer extant. What is the writer to do? How should lit mags handle this?

I was reminded that the rapid closure of Small Press Distribution (SPD) left a boatload of print lit mags and presses in a terrible situation. Some started GoFundMe and Kickstarter campaigns to help get their books back from the SPD warehouse and recoup losses. (A Google search will reveal that some of these campaigns remain active.)

There are journals that are rising to the occasion or have risen from the ashes. Journals need to remain pliable and prepared to restructure in this volatile ecosystem.

Journals and presses need our support.

What do you think lit mags should do so writers’ work doesn’t disappear along with a defunct journal?


A non-exhaustive list of lit mags that no longer exist:

The Gettysburg Review ; Front Porch Review ; Menacing Hedge ; Gertrude ; Field ; Tin House ; Glimmer Train ; First City Review ; Moonshot Magazine ; Green Mountains Review ; Rupture (formerly The Collagist) ; Upstreet ; Image ; Birdfeast ; Evening Street Review; Forklift Ohio ; Fifth Wednesday ; Jubilat ; Camera Obscura ; Subprimal ; Red River Review ; Illya’s Honey ; Indiana Voice Journal ; Poetry Breakfast ; Melancholy Hyperbole ; Earthen Lamp Journal ; Elohi Gadugi ; The Transnational ; Absinthe Poetry Review ; HEArt Journal Online ; Word Soup ;Whirlwind Magazine ; cellpoems ; Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal ; Carbon Culture Review ; Measure ; The Formalist ; Boston Literary Magazine ; NEON: a literary magazine ; Message in a Bottle ; Really System ; The Lost River Review ; decomP ; Paper Nautilus ; The Phoenix Review ; Otoliths ; Muddy River Poetry Review ; Burntdistrict ; Sledgehammer Review ; After The Pause ; Snow Monkey ; Broadsided ; Toho Journal ; Every Day Poets ; Short, Fast, and Deadly ; Vita Brevis ; Apeiron Review ; Blast Furnace ; Camroc Press Review ; Big River Poetry Review ; Elimae ; softblow ; Crack the Spine ; Four and Twenty ; Foliate Oak ; counterexample poetics ; quatrain.fish ; Inclement ; Volta ; Awl ; Sycamore Review ; By&By ; SYNAPSE  ; Donut Factory ; Lemon Quarterly ; District Lit ; Grievous Angel ; Dreams & Nightmares ; Touch: The Journal of Healing ; Crab Fat Magazine ; Atomic: a journal of short poetry ; The Hamilton Stone Review ; Goblin Fruit ; Heart ; Rove ; Yarn ; Egress ; qarrtsiluni ; Centrifugal Eye ; Sow’s Ear ; Dirty Napkin ; Hysterical Rag ; Paper Darts ; American Journal of Poetry ; Clover ; Midwestern Gothic ; Mythium ; Chattahoochee Review ; Black Clock ; Nerve Cowboy ; Construction ; Border Crossing ; Eclipse ; Storyscape ; Pudding House ; Wind Publications ; Crosswinds ; Glass ; Bloom ; Cossack Review ; Passengers ; Radio Silence ; Broad Street ; Public Pool ; Brain, Child ; Catapult ; High Desert Journal ; New Rivers Press ; Ruminate ; Yellow Chair Review ; The Blue Nib ; Entropy Magazine ; The Avatar Review ; Bridge ; Topical Poetry  ;

Fewer than 500


In the process of shuttering…

Valparaiso Poetry Review (in the processing of closing down operations) – Editor Edward Byrne has confirmed this, I’m told.


List of literary magazines (Wikipedia) (Note: It bothers me ONE ART has not been added to this list.) Anyhow, scroll down to “Magazines which are no longer published”

Category: Defunct literary magazines published in the United States (Wikipedia)

Category: Defunct literary magazines (Wikipedia)




Mark Danowsky is Editor-in-Chief of ONE ART: a journal of poetry. He is the author of four poetry books. His latest poetry collection is Meatless (Plan B Press). Take Care is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press in 2025.


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