Multi-Genre Platform for Creative Expression
With a name like Niche, a reader might assume a clear point of focus in the pages of this six-year old digital magazine. Instead, Issue 6 is as broad as the magazine’s mission, which is to offer a place for writers yet to carve their place in the literary world. The result is an issue that offers a star example of how multi-genres of creative expression can co-exist. However, there are a few goofs and gaps that would need to be corrected for the quality of the content to truly shine.
One of most promising features of this issue will hit you before you even open the cover: the art. In a time when even the biggest hitters of the literary magazine market maintain simple, grid-like covers, Niche does well with its graphically inclined cover art. What appears on first glance to be an impressionistic-abstract montage becomes, on second view, the watery surroundings of a tiny, peopled boat. Then, running vertically along the right side is a list of the magazine’s features: art, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, micros.
And you’ll see all of this following the magazine’s front matter (cover page, table of contents, mission statement). But wait—where is the letter from the editor? Of course editorial letters are not a strict rule; there are plenty of well-standing magazines that do not provide them. But when Niche’s website says it was “designed to be limitless,” a little guidance or prelude to each issue might come in handy. How would a new reader know if Issue 6 is exactly the type of material Niche has always published, or if this issue takes an entirely new, risky direction?
But then you turn past the front matter to the first piece of art, a painting by W. Jack Savage, and you think, “Ohh, okay. Let the art stand for itself. No prelude needed.” The title of the work, minimally but respectfully presented in the center of the preceding page, is “The Greater Western Beef Growers Association.” And sure enough, the splatter of white, gold, and black paint resembles, remarkably, two cattle heads. But even here there is a gap, one that continues to frustrate throughout the magazine. Which medium or media did Savage use to create this remarkable resemblance? Yes this is a literary magazine, not an art magazine, but this is a literary magazine that features art. Listing artists’ mediums go hand-in-hand with the artists’ names.
And even the artists’ names, surprising as this may be, are not explicit on some pages. There are stunning photographs that backdrop the title pages of a poem (a black-and-white portrait of a woman’s shadowed face), a micro-fiction (a smoky, tree-topped hillside), and a fiction (a beat-up brick wall empty except for a decal of a pianist and a weathered-looking man up against it). These photographs could be stand-alones in this or plenty of other magazines, which is why it’s surprising that there are no artist credits given. Were they taken by the editorial staff? The writers? Someone else?
What’s startling, then, and very unique to Niche, is the inclusion of a brief artist statement preceding each group of artworks or with each lone piece. Take “Punctured Mindscapes,” a collection of three paper-punctured collages by Richard Vyse. Though it’s unclear which media were used in the making of these collages, what is clear is Vyse’s thoughts on them: he hopes viewers will “escape into [his] art with imagination.”
Speaking of imagination, a reader would be hard-pressed to read the fiction of Joe Hiland and not be taken for a mental ride. Though this is the longest piece in the issue (about 15 pages), the writing in “A Mango for the Viceroy” is perhaps some of the clearest and strongest prose in the issue. What starts out as a parody—the story is set in a home for recovering political leaders—turns into a moral and ethical conundrum. For example, one of the characters asked, “What would a compassionate prison look like?”
To balance out the heft and tone of Hiland’s story, one poem worthy of a close read is “Lebanon on a Map” by Stephanie Papa. Though, Papa also begs a serious question in her poem: the speaker was once told, “Everything is mysterious,” and for the next several lines the speaker tries to think of anything that is not. In this scant piece, Papa proves why poems should be read more than once—for clarity, yes, but most of all, for pleasure.
Another poem you’ll want to read twice is “Long Weekend” by Brue McRae. Poems as musical as this should be read aloud, and although this particular poem is not available in audio on Niche’s website, several others from this issue are. And along with audio content for two poems and two micro pieces are in-depth interviews with the writers of these featured pieces.
Of the places in Issue 6 that could use a little more clarity, the “contributor bios” section is not one of them. Besides the select interviews, the contributor bio section at the back of the issue is organized and unique. Bios are separated according to genre of the contributor, including a page of staff bios. Although one issue does not stand in for the entirety of who Niche publishes, the layout of bios makes it very easy for potential submitters to consider stats of in this particular issue: on the whole, there is equal representation of male and female writers, though females are represented more in poetry and males more in fiction. As for the artists, of the three who are cited in this issue, two are male and one is female.
If you’re interested in submitting, the website offers a plethora of guidelines, including a multi-tiered pricing for quicker response time and personal responses.
What’s nice about Niche is that you can give a thorough read of the latest issue before you submit. Then you can decide for yourself if Niche is the right niche for you.