Octopus is an online poetry magazine that is currently in its 12th year of publication. The magazines founders are Zachary Schomburg and Tony Tost. The editor of this particular issue is Joseph Mains. The listed editors work on a rotating basis. Designers of the site also rotate. This issue is designed by Travis Meyer. In an attempt to find out more about the designer you only need to click on his name, however, in this case I was re-directed to a giant “?”.
When reviewing an online or hard copy edition of a literary magazine I always start with the ABOUT section. This usually gives the reader, reviewer or possible future submitter, an idea of the theme, content, or idea behind the editor’s vision. Octopus has decided to keep it basic by stating, “Octopus is named after a sea creature that is intelligent, lives in dens, and uses ink as a defense mechanism.” So, it seems, they have decided to let the reader explore the contents and judge for themselves. To be honest, the magazine has already perplexed me as a reviewer. That being said I decide to dig right in and consider content since at this point, I find that navigating the site is quirky and complicated. The designer has “hidden” the menu for the page within a long black rectangle at the upper right of the page that I only stumbled upon by accident.
Octopus is a poetry magazine but it also has additional categories which include Reviews, Recovery and Notes. I click on Notes with excitement in thinking I will perhaps fall upon some history or idea behind the title, the contents, something! But nope, the Notes, category is not notes at all but the list of contributors to the mag with short bios. This list is extensive and the bios reveal that the majority of the writers showcased are well-educated, seasoned writers with vast publishing credits, not of which all are poetry. Noted, however, is a couple of new writers.
These new writers are Marshall Walker Lee and Nico Alavarado. Mr. Lee is from Austin, Texas and contributes his writing skills to this magazine with a well-written review of Knox Americana: The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway by Jennifer L.Knox. This piece reviews a poetry collection which I only discovered after reading it in its entirety. A quick summary of what was about to be reviewed would have, in my opinion, been a better opening to this write up. This point brings us to our next newcomer, Nico Alavarado, whose addition to this issue was a recovery piece entitled,The Enormous Chorus Pressed Wafer, by Frank Kuenstler. If you are not familiar with what a recovery is, here is a great explanation from the issue itself, under the tab SUBMIT:
Recovery projects are brief essays celebrating a single book that you feel people should be reading but are not reading. The recovery should be about 1000 words, about a book that is at least 20 years old & out of print, but all those are flexible. The only real requirement is that the recovery inspires a reader to want to track down that book and read it as soon as possible.
Bravo Mr. Alavarado, I did want to read this book after your recovery and rushed right to my library’s website to request it. Sadly, it was not in our system but I work for the library and I have my ways. But back on task, this recovery was very well-written, concise, persuasive and thorough. I hope to come across this writer’s other work soon. Alavarado’s opening summary of what he was attempting to “recover” was appropriate.
Despite the diverse and varied backgrounds, as well as publishing credits of the poetry contributors, I had a difficult time finding any of them to my personal taste, although some held merit for writing structure, formatting and quirkiness. Several of the poems, including one by Elaine Kahn, however, were just difficult to read. Her “Name like an Empty Bag” was jagged, disconnected and far too obscure for me to even try to extract any feeling from it. However, I found that several of her poems held promise if only for one or two particular lines from a stanza. For example in the poem, “Reality Steve,” the second stanza is brilliant. She writes:
I’m going to send you a drawing and a letter.
The drawing is going to have spit all over it
and the letter is going to say
I don’t want to be your friend.
I love this particular stanza and the rest of poem is good but it quickly lost momentum for me when the poem became repetitive:
The feeling of being with you,
in the sense that
being with you feels,
is being nowhere…
Another poet, Ashley Toliver is from Portland, Oregon and obtained her M.F.A from Brown University. Her contribution to the magazine is a set of four prose pieces, all entitled, Housekeeping. This poet’s work was relatable and stood out for me for quality content and well-written prose. The fact that all four works bared the same title made it all the more interesting to read and I will say it again, quirky. Perhaps there is a theme here after all.
In general, the poetry of Octopus is free-verse and diverse. I don’t sense any definitive theme with this particular edition or that the selection of poems is in any way relative to the visual design which has a basic black and white hand-drawn feel to it representing a cityscape in the background and loading dock in the front. The drawings show great talent and I would compliment the artist if the name was posted. It is possibly the designer, Travis Meyer, but that is just a guess on my part. It also has a sliding feature that I found to be obtrusive when you attempt to navigate the site. From researching past issues, I did take note that each issue has its own unique design and varied from very manageable to difficult for a visitor to the site.
Note to writers, both new and previously published, considering submission: Research some of the former issues on the site. Several of them had excellent content, varied contributors and were exceptional reads from start to finish. The submission guidelines are well laid out and straight forward.
This online poetry magazine gets a 2-star rating from me for many reasons. First, it feels like it was put together under a tight deadline. It is not edited appropriately for spelling, sentence structure or content in what should be the basics of each issue. My second problem was with the entire layout and design of the website. It was not user friendly at all. The moving opening page made navigation difficult and the mislabeled (rather hidden) menu bar made searching the site for content virtually impossible unless, unlike me, you found it rather quickly. Then there was the content itself. Some good poetry here but since the overall feeling of the magazine itself leaves you perplexed, the reader’s desire to continue on lessens with each entry. Consistent good poetry and content is what makes a reader delve in. If there is a struggle to find anything worthwhile the reader will move on.
As I stated before, I did take the time to look at other issues and I suggest that interested readers do the same as I found the majority of the past issues to be very good in content, visually pleasing and user friendly, as well as properly edited. Taking into consideration that this magazine is well established I can only hope that this particular issue is just a fluke. I intend to take an interest in further issues and perhaps will get the opportunity to review it again.