As the lead content editor for LitBridge, I spend a good bit of time trying to promote small presses, up-and-coming journals, residencies that might not have the visibility of MacDowell or the Vermont Studio Center. I strongly believe in that: helping the little guys get their feet in some doors. However, when Emilia Phillips asked me to write about an entity in the world of poetry that deserves my praise, I thought I might buck the trend a little bit. I want to praise a journal that already garners plenty of accolades because, in the case of this magazine, I think that praise is merited.
Gulf Coast. Let’s talk about Gulf Coast.
When I graduated from college, I was living in a cabin in rural Ohio in voluntary poverty. It’s a longer story, but I worked for Brethren Volunteer Service helping rebuild church communities. I had few books, but I did have magazine subscriptions. There were five magazines I read, and I poured over them. Among them was Gulf Coast.
What I loved then and what I still love about Gulf Coast is that through the years they’ve managed to cultivate an aesthetic that doesn’t definitively put them in one camp or another. The poems they publish are not easy narratives or avant garde experiments. Irony finds a comfortable stride in the work they publish, no doubt, but that irony is always tinged with some element of sincerity. Certainly there are some flares for verbal acrobatics, but the poems seem cohesive. While their swath is broad, they’re one of the few journals that puts together what feels like a magazine with a clear vision that isn’t easily aesthetically pigeonholed. What I find is that Gulf Coast continually publishes poems that are unapologetically beautiful or pleasantly surprising or both.
Aesthetically, the magazine itself always knocks me out too. Girl screaming at what looks like a single-celled organism? You had me at single-celled organism, Summer 2010. Colorful impressionist trees? Sure, Winter 2012! From the highly-functional website, to the dynamite logo, to the magazine printed on pages which actually seem to give off a bit of shimmer, everything about Gulf Coast seems to give off an air of professionalism, of a magazine that takes every space it occupies seriously.
I will cease my gushing here, but be assured that I could say more. In those years since I lived in that cabin in Ohio, I’ve since acquired more books. In fact, I’ve got a pile from AWP starting with Jason Bredle’s Carnival staring me down in the best way possible right now. But I still finding myself returning to the pages of Gulf Coast when I don’t feel like taking any chances, when I just want to sit down with some poems that are beautiful and well-wrought. That’s what Gulf Coast exists to do in the world. To find what I should read, what I didn’t even know I needed to read, and put it all in one magazine. And I’m mighty glad they’re out there doing it!
*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.
Kyle McCord is the author of three books of poetry including Sympathy from the Devil from Gold Wake Press. He has work featured in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Verse and elsewhere. He’s the co-founder of LitBridge and co-edits iO: A Journal of New American Poetry. He teaches at the University of North Texas.