Literary magazines add to culture of Northern Michigan

"The soul of a culture can be found within its literature," say the founders of PANK, a literary journal based out of Houghton in the Keweenaw Peninsula. If this is true, several northern Michigan literary journals are contributing in a big way to the cultural transformation of the literary landscape.

From very humble beginnings in 2006 at a college better known for geeky tech types than turtlenecked writers, PANK has literally exploded on the literary scene in seven short years, according to founder Matt Bartley Seigel.

"When I arrived at Tech (Michigan Technological University) they said they had $500 set aside to start up a literary magazine," says Seigel.

Humble beginnings indeed. Today, the magazine receives more than 12,000 submissions from writers across the country and beyond. The magazine, which comes out twice yearly and is published monthly online, is a venue for aspiring and established writers. The list of writers on their masthead includes writers who have gone on to receive book advances from the likes of Random House and other major publishers.

The word PANK may sound like a lewd slur, and in fact in one online dictionary defined it this way: "... an offensive term for a young man regarded as worthless, lazy, or arrogant."

Folks around the Copper Country know the term really means, dictionary or not, as "panking down the snow to ski or snowshoe." Seigel, who is a man of letters at MTU, says its actual point of origin is from the Scandinavian miners who came to Copper Country around the turn of the century to mine the copper and ore mines in the U.P. In their vernacular, it meant to pack down minerals.  

Whether it is intended or not, the name PANK depicts the edgy writing style that has made this publication of  fiction, nonfiction and poetry so popular, to the point of a mention in the New York Times. Seigel is assisted by several editors and writers spread out across the country.

Pithead Chapel
Keith Rebec and his fellow editors at Pithead Chapel magazine are looking for "engaging stories told in honest voices," which should help describe for the reader what this magazine is all about. Readers should expect to read fine literature that will leave a "brilliant bruise."

Pithead Chapel, a monthly online-only magazine, has only been around about a year, according to Rebec, but has been receiving hundreds of submissions which the editors have to narrow down to the best and brightest for its devoted readers. Rebec juggles school at Northern Michigan University, a job and his own writing for this labor of love.

Dunes Review
The Dunes Review, celebrating its 17th year of continuous publication, is ingrained in the culture, particularly of the Traverse City area, but also throughout the Midwest. This widely distributed magazine publishes the poetry and works of prose--both fiction and non-fiction--from writers in all phases of their careers, according to its editors.

Jennifer Yeatts, from Champion in the Upper Peninsula, is the new senior editor of the Dunes Review and now lives in Traverse City. She replaced Holly Wren Spaulding.

Yeatts' approach to writing should speak volumes about what readers should expect from the magazine.

"When I read any genre, I'm most drawn in when it's clear to me that the writer is paying attention not just to image but also to things like syntax, diction, mood and tone. Each word contributes; each word should be essential," she says.

She said they've published a lot of poetry in the past but would like to see more prose submissions. Much of what they publish has a Midwestern feel to it, she says, though they are not limited to publishing works from any particular region. She contends that these are the writers who know about the Dunes Review. She is hoping to expand their base for writers and readers outside the region.

"We want to publish work we can't wait to read again as soon as we're finished reading it," says Yeatts.

The Dunes Review sometimes sponsors writing contests and poetry readings in the Traverse City area and is affiliated with the Michigan Writers, an organization for, well, Michigan writers. It provides helpful information to writers and sponsors a popular writing retreat in Interlochen.

Border Crossing
Founded in 2011, Lake Superior State University is seeking to revive a tradition for not only good literature, but more involvement in creative writing and the arts. Border Crossing is a publication that is also being used as a learning tool for students in creative writing programs at LSSU, according to its editors. They publish works of fiction and poetry and try to help students get published prior to graduation.

"We're especially interested in writing that crosses boundaries in genre or geography, and voices that aren't often heard in mainstream publications," state the editors of Border Crossing.

Their first two issues featured Canadian, American, and Mexican writers whose work has appeared in a number of other publications, such as Arts and Letters, The Atlantic, Antioch Review, Appalachian Journal, Blackbird, Blast Furnace, The Canadian Federation of Poetry, Cave Wall, Cimarron Review, Decanto Magazine in England, Ecotone, Fence, Gulf Coast and Hayden's Ferry Review, to name a few.

As one can imagine, people write, not for money, but for the love of the craft. Unless your name is Jim Harrison, the Michigan author of Legends of the Fall and other renowned works of literary fiction, you don't get paid much, if at all, for your writing.

Any revenue received by these magazines is used for the publication itself. As such, these magazines are always looking for donors or sponsors for their endeavors. If you feel so inclined, contact the editors of the above literary magazines.

As for aspiring writers, PANK's Seigel advises newbies to read lots of good literature to see what others are writing about and what people are reading.

"A lot of writers write, but don't do much reading," says Seigel.

Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter and owner of Haylake Business Communications.
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