Assaying the Litmags

The Gihon River Review
– Spring 2010/Volume 14


I used to find literary magazines in my mailbox regularly,
and I don’t anymore. That’s a shame. For the world's struggling writers,
litmags are bread and butter. Or, more properly put, they’re our likeliest outlet.
While they don’t often pay, they offer most of us the only shot we have at
publication, outside of self-publishing ventures.


However, litmags also afford us the opportunity to be read
(mostly by other aspiring writers), and some in the pub industry regularly read
these publications, too. In fact, an agent contacted a writer friend of mine,
offered her a chance to submit a novel, because he’d liked what he’d seen of
her writing in litmags. Admittedly, that’s a rare occurrence, but it does


A couple of weeks ago, the Gihon River Review landed in my box. I was knee deep in preparing
for a writer’s conference presentation, and with a stack of books to read
already growing, I found myself reluctant to dig into Gihon.


But I’m glad I did. Gihon
publishes the usual fare – a few short stories, even more pieces of poetry, and
one non-fiction piece. It’s part of the writer’s game to try to figure out what
litmags prefer in the way of tone, point of view, and subject matter. Gihon is harder to pigeonhole than most:
other than an obvious preference for first person point of view pieces, the
work they usually take is varied in tone, subject matter, and voice.


I haven’t reviewed a litmag in a while; when I have in the
past, I gave my wildly personal opinion (with no apologies) on which piece in
each writing category stands out. So I’ll do that again here. But keep in mind, such
preferences are more nearly what causes your own juices to flow, i.e., what
you’d probably write on your own, and how you’d write about it.


Non-fiction usually gets something of a pass in the critique
department; the story’s already there, probably the tone as well, leaving it to
the writer to add voice and a few structural flourishes. So it shouldn’t
surprise that Lucille Lang Day’s piece, “The White Swan Motel,” stands out.
Something of a surreal mystery, akin to gothic Southern writing, it doesn’t show its mystery until the end, and in an effective but offhand


I enjoyed the three fiction pieces in this issue – that’s a tribute to the editors, I think. So it was harder to pick a favorite.
After a few hands of rock-paper-scissors, Richard Jespers’ “Ghost Riders” won
out.  The piece’s presentation was
flawed a bit by some odd typos, surely from software translation. Jespers
handled with tact and literary grace the story of an idealistic preacher who confronts his congregation  – and his family – over the presence of
a child molester in their midst.


One poem, with the sort of overlong title I can do without,
“A Poem From The Vandalized Blackboard Age of Western Civilization,” by Ken
DiMaggio was far and away more mature in voice and subject that the rest.


All three of these writers are seasoned, with significant
credits on their resume. Talent is most often, as I suspect it is with these
writers, a matter of perspiration over inspiration, mileage over brilliance. Gihon’s editors should be applauded for
sniffing these out.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


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