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New Lit on the Block :: ISSUED: stories of service

When Phoenix, Arizona Poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski was asked by the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement (OVMAE) at Arizona State University to produce a military-themed issue of another literary journal that she was running, she was ready for a new challenge. “I asked if I could create a new journal instead,” Dombrowski explains, “one that exclusively featured the stories of veterans – either written by veterans or their family members.”

This formed into the annual publication of ISSUED: stories of service which features poetry, flash prose (under 1500 words), and profiles (interviews), both online and in print.

“I’m also the granddaughter, daughter, and half-sister of veterans,” Dombrowski shares, “and I’ve had close relationships with several veterans over the course of my life, but I’ve never inquired about their service or done much research on it, so this felt like a project that would encourage other family members to reflect, research, and resurrect that familial history.

“We also know that veterans are oftentimes medically and socially marginalized (and historically and culturally conditioned to not speak about their service-related trauma), so I wanted to make a creative, encouraging, inclusive platform for them.”

For Vets & Civilians

It is important that civilians also engage by reading ISSUED and being a part of the publication’s community. “Part of our mission,” Dombrowski says, “is to foster more meaningful dialogue between the civilian and military communities, and we think the literary arts are a fantastic way to do that. Everyone who’s gone to college for lit or creative writing has read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and most school-aged kids read Macbeth, The Red Badge of Courage, and All Quiet on the Western Front, so the dialogue already exists, but we need to reinvigorate it for the current/next generation of readers.

“Additionally, think of how many iconic works of American literature are military-inspired – and that’s either because we’re drawn to the action of the battlefield or the resilience of the human spirit or both – and our authors are producing poetry and fiction within that tradition and upholding those standards of craft, so all readers should want to experience that.”

An Impactful Framework

Since the name is that invitation into any publication, Dombrowski explains how ISSUED was carefully chosen. “The founding editors wanted to avoid anything that made us sound like a journal of combat stories – because not all veterans have seen combat, and because veterans and their families have more diverse stories to tell – our veteran-editors landed on the word ‘issued’ one day, largely because they were bonding over how everything you own in the military is issued to you by the military, aka standard-issue shit. Its familiarity is universal across every branch of service, and it’s inclusive of everyone who has served. We also liked the play on words—we produce (or issue) issues of ISSUED.”

Developing the framework for this kind of impressive and impactful publication also took some consideration, as Dombrowski says, “We’re similar to other lit mags sponsored by creative writing programs and English departments, but we also pride ourselves on our community ethos and mission. To that end, we publish acclaimed poets and award-winning fiction writers, but we also feature interviews (we call them ‘profiles’) with veterans who are doing extraordinary work within the veteran community, whether that be through arts-programming, VA benefits and housing assistance, higher education, etc. In other words, we’re a journal with a broad military-affiliated audience, not just a strictly literary one.

“We also believe in the healing power of narrative medicine, so we want ISSUED to be a resource for veteran writing circles, discussion groups, etc. We know from studies that when veterans read writing about service, or when they write about their own service, they have better mental health outcomes.”

Veteran, Seasoned, and Intern Staff

In addition to being the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix, Dombrowski is the founding editor of rinky dink press, the faculty editor of Grey Matter, the medical poetry journal of the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, and the founding director of Revisionary Arts, a narrative medicine nonprofit. She earned a PhD in American Literature with an emphasis in poetry and is a Teaching Professor at ASU.

Joining her on the masthead is Virgil Connor, Co-founding Managing Editor who was co-fiction editor of the Rio Review (Fall 2020) and received their degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction from ASU (Spring 2024). Virgil is a veteran of the USAF. Beth Liechti Johnson, Community Editor, is an editor, writer, and coach for As You Were: The Military Review, an editor for Since You Asked, and she is a veteran of the U.S. Army. Lexi Hladik, Editor, is a freelance writer and editor who received a BA in English from ASU (Spring 2024). Fabian Sandez, Editor, is a writer currently pursuing his BA in Creative Writing at ASU. And Alexia Hill, Graphic Designer, is a graphic designer and fashion designer who received a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications with an emphasis on Public Relations from the Cronkite School at ASU (Spring 2024).

Submissions Process

For contributors looking to home their works, Dombrowski shares the process: “Our managing editor manages our inbox by interfacing with submitters, downloading and categorizing submissions in our drive, and so on. Then our editorial team reads, evaluates, and discusses all of the submissions in the poetry and flash prose categories.

“We do suggest edits, but we can’t commit to working through revisions with our submitters given our time constraints. Our team is comprised of student interns who are enrolled in a course that’s only offered in the Spring, so our editorial team is really only together from January to May. That’s the timetable you’re on when your publication is attached to a course and sponsored by a university.”

Triumph of Human Spirit

For readers, Dombrowski says ISSUED offers “compelling, affecting, and well-crafted stories of service. Some highlight the ethical dilemmas of war, some are combat narratives. Some are written from the perspective of mothers and spouses, daughters and sons. Some are history lessons, some are moral lessons. They capture the ephemeral nature of the moment like nothing else—perhaps because the next moment isn’t guaranteed, especially in combat.

“Maybe most importantly, every story and poem, whether directly or indirectly, is a microcosm of endurance and survival, and regardless of whether the chaos (or conflict) is physical, psychological, or existential, it’s the triumph of the human spirit that makes the pieces in this journal extraordinary.”

Some contributors include poets Randy ‘Sherpa’ Brown, Catherine Clark-Sayles, Sarah Colby, Morrow Dowdle, Ciel Downing, Hugh Martin, Suzanne Simons, Tonya Suther, Jay Villanueva, and Nestor Walters; fiction writers Daniella Mestyanek Young, Brian Mockenhaupt, and Brian O’Hare. Brian Turner was the featured profile for their inaugural issue.

Lessons Learned & Looking Forward

In reflecting on their start-up experience, Dombrowski shares a lesson learned. “When you do the amount of outreach that we do in the offseason, you’ve gotta be prepared to scale up pretty quickly, and I’m not sure that we were. We received 3-4 times the submissions in 2023-24 than we did the previous year, thus we’ll be closing submissions for our 2025 issue on December 31 so that we can start reading submissions as soon as the Spring 25 semester begins. We’ll also be working our butts off this summer and fall, our offseason. to promote the journal and, most importantly, to prepare for an uptick in submissions.”

Looking to the future, Dombrowski has plans for ISSUED. “We want an AWP panel, and we feel that we’ve earned it, and so have our writers. We’d also like to see ISSUED used as a literary resource (reading and discussion material) in narrative medicine/writing programs for veterans, trauma workshops, and even programs like Treks for Vets. Promoting and growing a publication can be exhausting, but we’re committed to reaching as many veteran-writers and readers as possible, so thanks for taking an interest in us!”

Stop by ISSUED today to enjoy a unique combination of poetry, flash prose, and interviews of activists and advocates, and help build a broad, supportive community for our shared military experiences.

[Cover art: photograph of “All In,” a mural by Jeremie ‘Bacpac’ Franko, commissioned by the American Legion Post 1 (Phoenix, AZ) and completed on Veterans Day 2017.]

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