Boston Lit Mag Celebrates Changes and New Focus on Emerging Writers
Editor Jennifer Barber begins the editor’s note of the Fall/Winter 2014-2015 issue of Suffolk University’s Salamander with one simple word: “Changes.” While the note briefly describes some administrative changes, including the physical movement of The Suffolk English Department and Salamander from one campus building to another, it also perhaps more importantly announces the beginning of a new poetry project that will engage the entire community. The Day One Poetry Endowment, as the new project is named, in addition to the annual fiction contest the magazine currently runs (and whose winners are highlighted in this issue) seem to be largely focused on supporting emerging writers and building a strong writing community. Changes like these ones—that genuinely work toward providing new and existing writers with a space to both create and potentially publish work—are always refreshing to see put into motion.
Although I was previously unfamiliar with Salamander, this issue seemed to already highlight this movement towards change. One of the most surprising aspects of this issue is that the winner of the annual fiction contest, Barrett Warner, is the author of two chapbooks and has been otherwise honored for his poetry, but has had no previous fiction publications. The story, “Dimension,” certainly blends the author’s poetry background with the narrative form, and while the story is perhaps more experimental than are my personal tastes, I was drawn in by the quirkiness of the language and strong palette of imagery woven into the narrative. Behind the playful language, the story of a young man’s infatuation with and eventual loss of a romance with an elusive older woman emerges. I very much admire the magazine’s willingness to include a story—much less choose it as a contest winner—that so elegantly and seamlessly blends genre lines.
The poetry included in this issue is perhaps less experimental in terms of imagery—bird motifs seem to be en vogue right now, and there is certainly no shortage of them in this issue of Salamander—but the issue does include an array of structure and form within its poetry. It may be my bias toward fiction that draws me to “The Dogs,” a beautiful prose poem by John Gibler, but this poem stands out as another example of the magazine’s acceptance of genre-blending and inclusion of various forms. The narrative through-line in this poem follows a man whose only vehicle for change is his notebook, and Gibler’s use of the dogs to portray this is smart and effective.
“In It Together,” a poem by Chris Siteman, is more experimental, both in structure and language. Although it doesn’t exactly rhyme, the poem takes on a sing-songy rhythm. This, coupled with its creative use of “white space” on the page, gives this poem a bit of an edgier feel.
The most memorable piece of the collection was, for me, a more traditional short story by Karen Tucker called “Humping the Bush.” It tells a complex mixture of stories, ranging from a lost romance, to dealing with post-wartime struggles, to a heartbreaking and beautiful relationship between a father and his sons. It, like most of the other fiction included in this issue, employs flashback to create this complex system of emotional logic. The flashbacks are controlled and used sparingly, though it is interesting to see that almost all of the fiction in this issue uses this method of storytelling. Most of the stories are also centered on relationships between family members and lost, or soon-to-be-lost loves, though each tells the story from intricate and intriguing points-of-view.
Speaking to the magazine’s movement toward sharpening its writing community and support of emerging writers, quite a few of the authors published in this issue were previously unpublished, including Karen Tucker. It does seem that more of the poets selected for publication have had previously published works than did some of the fiction writers, but the magazine is very obviously open to publishing new writers alongside established authors with impressive backgrounds. The contributing authors also range in location from Boston to Kazakhstan to Istanbul.
My only criticism of the journal is its lopsidedness in its ratio of poetry to fiction. Although some of the poems are quite short, 56 are included in this issue, compared to 5 pieces of fiction. I was left wondering why a few more runners-up for the annual fiction contest weren’t included in the issue, especially because that seemed to be one of the agendas of this particular publication. It very well may be that Suffolk leans more heavily toward poetry, but as a part of their “changes” motif, I would like to see a slightly higher inclusion of fiction within their pages.
Overall, it is quite clear that the folks over at Salamander take pride in their publication and certainly put a lot of time and effort into presenting their contributors’ works as polished and professionally as possible. This particular issue featured a lovely watercolor print by Ann Ropp on its cover, as well as included a handful of additional prints from the same artist in the centerfold.
After spending some time with this issue of Salamander, I will certainly consider submitting some of my own fiction, and would encourage others to do the same. The changes that Suffolk and Salamander are implementing are great news for emerging writers, and I look forward to following their progress and evolution.