Sometimes, very good things can happen on a shoestring when capable people decide to jump in and fill a niche. That seems to be the case with burntdistrict, a new poetry journal from Omaha, Nebraska.
The print edition I received had a minimalist masthead, nothing more than the names of the two editors, Liz Kay and Jen Lambert. The back cover says the magazine is named for a six-block area of downtown Omaha that was once teeming with brothels, “corruption, abuse and disease,” but that is now a community on the upswing with condos, locally owned businesses, green space and sports venues. “Within the dark corners of the original Burnt District,” the statement says, “the city saw the potential for light.”
Inside the inaugural issue, I found one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time—page after page of fresh, taut, biting poetry in a variety of styles. Two examples:
“One must stay beautiful and lean / against that Devil’s Door / or Wheel of Death, so still / one barely breathes,” Joanna Person writes in “The Knife-Thrower’s Wife,” a perfectly realized exploration of the intersection of beauty, sex, and danger. Each line sticks and quivers like an expertly thrown blade. “He’s bowing to applause. I wave / slowly to the trembling child / struck by what might have been.”
In “Song of Subconsciation,” Amy Hassinger gets skillfully into the Whitman groove while gently undercutting it with excess:
Oh, to subconsciate.
Oh, to always dip like a dipper.
This is the energy behind the moon.
The blueness, the greenness, the entities of color.
I inhabit an eternal conflagration.
But it’s a hard, un-Walt-like thump that ends the poem:
But oh, the simulacra of smiles
the face, an apology for itself
the barren raspberries
the dead toads in the tank
Damn it, the dead toads.
I could go on. Poets whose work I particularly liked include Vikas Menon, Paul Hostovsky, Nate Pritts, William Trowbridge, Becca Barniskis, Alex Lemon, Sheila Black, Kelly Fordon, Benjamin Sutton, Gary Dop, Marge Saiser, John Stanizi, Allison Campbell, and Erika L. Sánchez.
The magazine’s only serious flaw is that it doesn’t tell you enough about itself in the print edition—no information about how to subscribe or submit. You can get this information, however, online.
There you can also learn that the two editors are both MFA graduates of the University of Nebraska, and both have published in a variety of journals. Jen Lambert is an English instructor at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. Liz Kay was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Wendy Fort Foundation Prize.
I like this magazine a lot, its contents, look and feel, and the care with which it’s edited. Give it a hand up if you can.