Nothing invites company more than a gently swaying porch swing on a beautiful day, which makes SWING an aptly named biannual print publication of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and comics, welcoming readers and writers alike. Also aptly named, shares Editor Leigh Anne Couch, as SWING is published by “an incredible literary nonprofit in Nashville called The Porch. Not only do we share a budget and staff, but a spirit of openness and curiosity. The word swing points, prismatically, toward objects and actions and relationships, toward music and influence and ambivalence. It won’t be pinned down, and yet it’s securely attached to The Porch.”
For readers and writers, this connection bodes well in our tumultuous times of publication defunding and rocky start-ups, to which Couch is no newcomer. Formerly at Duke University Press, the Greensboro Review, and the Sewanee Review, she is now a freelance editor, who edits the poetry series Sewanee Poetry at LSU, and has published several poetry collections of her own. “SWING grew out of the ethos of The Porch,” Couch says, “and the longing of its editor to experience the thrill of treasure hunting and mysterious resonances again after a five-year break from working in literary magazines. Its ethos is about connection: the unintended and therefore mysterious dialogue between the poems, stories, and essays within.”
Even more challenging is starting with a publication in print, but as Couch explains, “SWING is devoted to excellent work in print, so we are committed to a design that speaks to the contents within. The look and feel of our issues will always reflect the natural world and human hands that made them.”
Joining Couch to create this new venture is Assistant Editor Susannah Felts, co-founder and co-director of The Porch. Her essays and fiction have appeared in numerous publications, and she edited The Porch’s 2021 anthology Reckoning: Tennessee Writers on 2020. With Couch and Felts at the helm, contributors can be assured of a professional and thorough process. Couch admits, “I started SWING with The Porch because I love to edit. I love the one-to-one connection with a promising writer and the opportunity it gives me to engage with art. Additionally, SWING‘s editors and staff are nearly all writers themselves.
“We open our doors each reading period to Porch writers first, providing publication as a goal in the ecosystem of the writing life that The Porch provides. Every batch of poems, every story, essay, and comic strip gets three or four readers, who come from all walks of the writing life (recent creative writing undergrads, current MFA students, published writers, teachers, freelance editors). Every piece is also read by one of the two SWING editors.
“Occasionally, if we are having trouble deciding about a piece we will get an ‘outside’ opinion from one of our advisory editors. Even with rejections, our readers are asked to express why they made the decision they made. I am trying to carve out a space for me in the literary periodical world as the ‘rejection artist.’ I strive to give the most constructive rejections possible with the help of very astute and sensitive readers who give great feedback, which I pass on to writers.
“After acceptance, SWING provides substantive editing if need be, and most certainly line and copy editing. The author gets to review proof, and the entire issue is read by a proofreader outside of the office with fresh eyes.”
Selection is just the first step, as Couch details, “There are the regional roots and national sway of the poetry, fiction, essays, and comic art inside. The editors at SWING approach their work of selection as one of mapping the cultural zeitgeist, which begins in the American South, a place of contradiction and complication, difference and dialogue. We might begin in Nashville, but who knows where our writers will take us. The first issue reached into Canada, Texas, Alaska, England, and the other world of speculative fiction.”
Contained within the luxurious print publication, Couch promises that readers will enjoy “stories, essays, and poems with concision, compression, a crackling energy, and a curious sprawl that never goes slack. The language, the ideas, the stories, the imagery in our pages will challenge: they will reach out and pull you in, then push you back into your daily life with a newfound empathy, newfound energy as you return to the unwritten world.”
Recent contributors include Lee Conell, Bruce Bond, David Biespiel, Maria Hummel, Erica Dawson, Julie Funderburk, Juliana Gray, Kari Gunter-Seymour, David Keplinger, William Henry Lewis, William Logan, Tony Morris, Cecily Parks, Andy Plattner, Courtney Miller Santo, Sarah Rossiter, Anna B. Sutton, Frederick Turner, Meghan Meredith Williams, Terri Witek, Marianne Worthington, John Philip Drury, L.M. Davenport, John Blair, and Shuly Xochitl Cawood.
Reflecting on the start-up process, Couch comments, “I don’t need to feel so pessimistic about the future of reading. For each issue, we have a queue of wonderful writers interested in reading for SWING. And they don’t just tick boxes (yes, no, maybe), they really read, engage, discuss, and respond. It’s from this inner circle of community that SWING will grow, pulling in more and more readers and writers. When we launched in October with readings and music in a glittery performance space in Nashville, at least 80 people came and the feeling in that room was so generous and excited, and well, communal. I had a Sally Field moment, but it was more like, ‘They like SWING, they really really do!’ Then we sold out of the first print run, and I knew we were here to stay.”
Looking to the future, Couch is equally upbeat, “Our two primary goals are grant funding to be able to pay writers more than the usual contributor copies; and accessing the community of comic artists that I know are out there, to get them to submit. And perhaps the second goal is intrinsically related to the first.”
As a final commentary, Couch responded to one of their most oft-asked questions: “Is SWING a Southern literary magazine?”
“No,” says Couch. “And yes, but . . . The second you think about being Southern, you become a cliché then a caricature. SWING, with its regional roots and national sway, hopes to be part of that dialogue. The editors engage with the magazine as they engage with language, as a living thing, adapting to its circumstances, while hauling its past behind—a sometimes useful, and always essential burden that must be acknowledged, especially in the South. From its advisory board to its calls for submissions, SWING strives for inclusivity, with content that represents diverse backgrounds and communities, both challenging to and reflective of our understanding of the South’s shifting cultural landscape.”
In short: “Regional roots, national sway.”