The title choices of new literary magazines—like Guernica or Drunken Boat—have this artful potential to hint at the publication’s editorial leanings. Newer journals typically depart from the tradition of slapping the word “Review” to a University or place (Paris Review, Harvard Review, etc.). In another place and time, I could write a civilized article maintaining why these prestigious titles are unfair to writers and impede the democratization of literature. But back in Maine, the newest magazine is not the Kennebunkport Review, it's The New Guard , a name that editor and publisher Shanna McNair says gave her “hope and courage and adrenaline” for a publishing world that needs more open-minded paradigms.
McNair aims to represent the spectrum of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction written today. Within each of these genres, her magazine welcomes so-called experimental, literary, and narrative categories under one roof and intends to spark conversation as to the meaning of "new." Maybe nodding to the death of an old guard, The New Guard kicks off with a series of 13 fan letters written by 13 living writers addressed to deceased literary superstars. What would you say to the ghost of Wallace Stevens? Or Agatha Christie? Each forthcoming issue will begin with a similar letter series that orbits many voices around one concept. In a sense, fan letters to dead writers reflect what McNair has in mind for the magazine’s ideal poetry and fiction submissions: “Find your own tradition, what you think is traditional, and then insert your own experiment… grounded but really new.”
The annual journal was born alongside two annual $1,000 prize contests. Payne Ratner won the Machigonne Fiction Contest for "Fish Story," judged this year by celebrated Maine fiction writer Debra Spark. With humor so dark you might mistake it for chocolate, Payne’s piece follows an office worker who one day finds a fish plopped into his lap, as if dropped from the drop tile ceiling, and then risks his own crumbling world in a struggle to save the creature’s life. William Derge won the $1,000 Knightville Poetry contest, judged this year by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall. Derge’s poem, “The Red Chair,” peers into the lives and thoughts of characters in de Hooch’s painting Interior. McNair, who is an M.F.A. candidate in fiction at University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast Program said sending those checks to the winners was “one of my happiest days ever.” “At the end of the day,” she continued, “we’re here for writers... It’s not about me or my concept. It’s about giving people what they deserve as writers.”
The New Guard joins a cadre of Maine lit mags that includes the nationally renowned Beloit Poetry Journal and famed Portland-based Café Review. The New Guard is currently open to submissions from writers everywhere for the 2011 Machigonne Fiction Contest and Knightville Poetry Contest. Deadline: September 1. If you'd like a cheeky submission solicitation for these contests, check out The New Guard's YouTube video.
Photo of McNair by Nathan Eldridge