Jan/Feb 2007  •   Reviews & Interviews

Five Quick and Dirty Lit Site Reviews

Review by Scott Malby

The following are the author's opinions and not necessarily those of Eclectica Magazine or its editors.


The Modern World

The Modern World appears to have been created in 1995 by its current editorial director, Allen B. Ruch. It is a meaty, enlightening, almost indigestible paean to both modern and postmodern literature. View it from the perspective of an epic train ride or wreck through the mysterious landscape of contemporary literature. The countryside to be explored extends from Kafka to Pynchon, with innumerable points between. Alternative tracks take you to people like Borges, book reviews, essays, interviews, columns, and other relevant sideshows. The Modern World continues to grow under the overall supervision of a board of directors active in the fields of literature, academia, and publishing. While it sometimes suffers from a tendency toward descriptive categorical cuteness, the site is fun, exciting, approachable, inclusive, beguiling, bewildering, and excellent. It will take you a number of visits to come to terms with its depth and complexity. Sagely, it provides a needed newsletter regarding updates.


Cipher Journal

Cipher Journal is not only beautifully appealing but also content rich. Its focus is literary translation in the broadest sense. It is one of the most surprising and intelligent sites on the web regarding its area of expertise. Started in 2003 by Editor Lucas Klein, it is smart, trendy, and knowledgeable. New material is posted as it arrives and is accepted. I have a feeling the editor is content to wait some time before he gets something he both admires and respects enough to showcase on the journal. If so, it's worth the wait. Cipher Journal exemplifies the web at its best by providing a platform for a unique vision that allows both readers and writers to coalesce in a meaningful way. I found the "Precedents" section on the site to be a fascinating read, setting the tone for the site as a whole. Next, read the "Contents" section. If you don't like something, keep at it; the process is guaranteed to provide for a mind-expanding experience. The best journals ask us to think beyond comfortable frames of reference and Cipher Journal certainly asked that of me. This small journal is not only thought provoking but also enlightening. My only disappointment is that it (as of yet) did not provide an example of Kent Johnson's "Yasusada" translations.


Ugly Cousin

If you're in a contrary, wounded minnow, rather freaky frame of mind, this imaginative site could be for you. It is a little wicked, as its premise is showcasing work that has previously been rejected by other journals. Not only that, it takes great pains to highlight the journals that originally did the rejecting. Some of its material borders on the scatological in a Bukowski sort of way. It is quirky, often surprisingly good, and altogether highly entertaining. This journal has guts and a devil-may-care attitude. My congratulations to both Angie Palask and Scott Topping for their conceptual inventiveness and surprising choices regarding material.


The Big Toe Review

Joshua Michael Stewart is responsible for The Big Toe Review. When visited on December 13, 2007, the home page was distracting, and I had some difficulty determining how things were arranged. These difficulties were soon overcome. This is a site for selected poems, essays, excerpts of chapbooks, and fiction of the "flash" variety. Flash fiction and poetry may be defined as whatever you think it is as long as it is characterized by brevity. What makes this site interesting is its selection of prose poems. I found them to be quite good. Big Toe Review is a serious, restless place, sparkling with uniformly accomplished work. Of special note is the editor's effort to focus on essays that provide a glimpse into the act and technique of composition itself. This was evidenced by Barry Ballard's essay on "The Free-Verse Sonnet." It was excellently communicated, worth while, well intentioned, and problematic all at the same time. If Ballard's piece is any indication of the essays to come, I plan on checking the site regularly.



Conte online provides good, stable, and sometimes remarkable fare. The term itself is French referring to a short narrative adventure. This journal is not so much unique as representative of journals created by individuals who love writing simply for the sake of the writing itself. It is well designed, easily navigable and pleasing to the eye. It is divided into both prose and poetry sections. Of special note was a poem I discovered by Stacie Leatherman, "Making the Bed." I would encourage her to keep up with her work. Sadly, Conte has decided to publish semi-annually rather than quarterly. This is a mistake. Any journal would have to be more than good to be able to keep and attract contributors as well as readers on such a tardy schedule. Better to list material on a revolving basis when something qualitatively good comes up. Writing for the internet tends to pay nothing. Having to wait six months for publication is only a little less noxious than submitting to a journal that neglects to send out rejection notices.