Emily Wall: A Look at Alaska's Regional Literary Journals

At one of my readings recently someone asked me if I minded being called a “local writer.” I’ve always loved being identified as a local poet. Although regionalism can imply a lack of interest or viewpoint toward the larger whole, it doesn’t have to.

What I really love about the idea of local is the intimacy of the conversation between writer and reader. That’s not to say I haven’t at moments felt intimate with Sharon Olds, but for a place-based writer, the local is paramount. My best moments as a writer have been at readings when someone wants to talk about a tree they recognize in one of my poems.
We are focusing so much on the idea of local right now in ecology, food, and other environmental issues—why not in poetry too? Should poems be broad enough to reach a national audience? Of course many do, and do so beautifully. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for those poems that may be lovely to a large group, but are incredibly important to a very small group.

One of the things I feel most strongly about is reading and publishing in regional journals. There’s nothing like a literary journal from a particular town or village, or even a state, to help reflect who we are, how we are living, and draw us together as a community. I find this particularly powerful in Alaska, where our regions can differ so dramatically from each other.

I’m thinking about this issue in particular this week, as the Southeast Alaska literary and art journal Tidal Echoes is holding a release party this Friday for the newest edition. This journal was started eleven years ago by some students at the university here in Juneau and was originally just a student-based journal. That kind of journal has its own lovely locality. The first few issues are a rich tapestry of what life at UAS is like for the students. When I was hired I took over the oversight of the journal and we morphed it into a journal that publishes work from Southeast Alaskans. A significant portion of the journal is still student work, but now we see work from many communities in the region. The journal is edited by undergraduate students and they shape the journal each year. Of course this makes me very proud, but I also love how it shapes their own consciousness of this place they’ve spent getting their degree. And for those who publish in it, and read it, each year it gives us a strong sense of who we are in this archipelago. You can check out Tidal Echoes here.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize and possibly introduce you to some of the other local journals in the state. (A special thanks to Juneau writer and student Richard Radford who helped me compile this list, and apologies to any regional journals we might have missed.)

Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Contact: cirquejournal@yahoo.com

I think most of you probably know this journal. In recent years it’s become a beautiful and diverse publication for Alaskans. Cirque is based in Anchorage and is published biannually in digital and paper form. One thing Cirque does that I love is reviews of first books and translations. Cirque limits its contributors to those from the “North Pacific Rim,” which is defined as: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii in the U.S.; Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia in Canada and Chukokta in Russia. Anchorage poet Mike Burwell founded the journal in 2009, and poet Sandra Kleven is now at the helm. Although there are no set criteria for subject matter, much of the work is distinctly Alaskan.

Contact: aglaun@ilisagvik.edu

This beautiful journal has the distinction of being Alaska’s “farthest north literary journal.” It is published in Barrow by Iḷisaġvik College, the state’s first tribal college. Aglaun was founded by Caitlin Walls. The submission guidelines state that work on any theme is accepted, although “works on the Alaska experience are always welcome.” The pieces in the first issue are very tied to the north, from Denise Merat’s poems “Zero Below” to Jerica Aamodt, Joe Okakok, and Doria Lambrecht’s essay “The Effects of Global Warming on Permafrost in our Lives.”

Contact: info@islandinstitutealaska.org

Connotations is a literary journal published Sitka, and founded by the Island Institute. It started in 1993. The journal contains stories, poems and essays with a relation to the Institute’s mission to explore “social, environmental, and cultural questions of local and global concern” and issues raised at the Sitka Symposiums.

Alaska Women Speak
Contact: alaskawomenspeak@yahoo.com

This journal has been in print for more than 20 years. It’s published quarterly and focuses on women’s sociopolitical issues. It’s based on Anchorage and along with the usual creative genres it also accepts journalistic articles and visual art. It has themed issues and the upcoming one is “She Did It Anyway.” Alaska Women Speak is distributed all over the state, from Bethel to Haines.

Contact: theitman01@kibsd.org

This Kodiak-based journal is published by the Kodiak High School journalism class. It started in the mid-1970’s and its main focus is publishing interviews and stories by community elders and/or leaders. It also includes poetry, song lyrics, and family recipes. It usually comes out once a year. This journal can be found in the bookstores of the local museums (Alutiiq Museum, Baranov Museum).

And of course we have the nationally-recognized Alaska Quarterly Review published by UAA and Permafrost (recently reviewed at New Pages) published by UAF. Those are not regional journals, but the editors are Alaskan students and professors who help shape the vision of these esteemed journals.
So take a look, browse, read one of these journals, and consider submitting. If you live in a community you feel is ready for a regional journal, think about starting one. And if you’re in Juneau, come on out to UAS this Friday at 7:00 pm to pick up the newest volume of life in Southeast Alaska.
Emily Wall is a poet and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. She has been published in a wide variety of literary journals and has won several poetry prizes. Her second book of poems, Liveaboard was published in February of 2012. Her first book, Freshly Rooted came out in 2007. Both books are published by the Irish Press Salmon Poetry. Emily lives and writes in Juneau, Alaska. You can find her online at: www.emily-wall.com

3 thoughts on “Emily Wall: A Look at Alaska's Regional Literary Journals”

  1. I "like." Thanks, Emily. Just beginning our active reading with Cirque. The new issue will be out on June 21 (summer solstice). Love your thoughts about our emerging literature. In one sense- "of place" but without any required wedding with geography — or even viewpoint. Now, that (as an editor) I read so much from writers of the region I begin to wonder if I'll see a common aesthetic – beyond the obvious – a reverence for the land – some vibe, conviction, approach that's different from elsewhere. Fresh, bold, earthy? Confident. This is just a start.

  2. Ela Harrison Gordon

    Thanks, Emily–beautiful, salient thoughts. I love the image of an audience member coming up to you to talk about a particular tree. I also think if we look back on the history of poetry, especially before mass media and rapid transfer of news, the most universally transferable/understandable/empathizable poetry was generally very much local.

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