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Issue 56 - Short and to the point

Whisky Magazine Issue 56
June 2006


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Short and to the point

American literary journals have kept alive some of the best traditions of independent writing. Jefferson Chase reports

This time round I'd like to pay tribute – and draw attention – to an underappreciated American institution: literary journals.

Subsisting on small budgets, often in affiliation with universities, the quarterlies and reviews of this world have a huge influence in keeping alive non-lucrative genres such as poetry and short fiction.

Academic-sounding titles notwithstanding, the vast majority of journals are dedicated to promoting clear writing and vivid storytelling. Consider, for example, the following: Floyd Beefus was picking a tick off one of the springers when the gas man slipped on a cracked dinner plate on the cellar stairs and went bump, bump, bump right to the bottom. “Yow!” went the gas man. The springer jumped but Floyd kept gripping him tight between his knees until he had cracked the tick between his forefinger and thumb, then he limped slowly to the door.

So begins Stephen Dobyns' short story So I Guess You Know What I Told Him, originally published in the non-profit journal Ploughshares.

The gas man, when Floyd gets round to checking on him, turns out to have broken his leg and needs medical attention.

This is a problem since country-bumpkin Floyd has neither a phone nor, thanks to a driving while intoxicated conviction, a driver's licence.

Moreover, Floyd, whose wife is slowly dying of cancer in an upstairs bedroom, seems to enjoy prodding his captive new acquaintance for salacious stories and anecdotes about lonely housewives.

Rather than trying s...

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