Reading poetry online

What could be better than spending a cozy evening on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book? For me, not much. But after perusing a number of online literary journals yesterday, I may have to revise that scenario. One day soon, I plan to cuddle up to my laptop and read some darn good poetry online.

Young Girl Reading (1908) by Mary Cassatt
Young Girl Reading by Mary Cassatt

Why would this be worth mentioning? Because despite the increasing amount of poetry being published in web-based journals, I still split my reading into two very distinct realms. Reading online is for information; reading in print is for pleasure. For me, online reading has meant blogs about books and publishing and literature and yoga. The printed page has been for  reading actual novels and poetry.

Then one of the lit bloggers that I follow offered up a list of her favorite online journals, and what I intended to be a quick glance at their poetry offerings turned into an evening of absorbing reading. I even bookmarked several publications with the intention of returning for more.

What’s going on here?

Unlike other realms of publishing, poetry seems slow to go online. And I don’t mean people like me with their personal blogs of poetry. I mean the literary journals from the universities and scrappy independent publishers. I mean the Reviews and Quarterlies to which hopeful writers have been addressing manuscripts for decades. “Going online” for these kinds of journals usually meant throwing up a table of contents and asking readers to subscribe to their print publication. 

And I did subscribe. And the stacks of New Letters and Poetry Magazine grew into miniature skyscrapers in my living room. My guilt grew even higher. Eventually it swept through my living room like a tornado, neatly deposited all the unread journals in a paper sack, and took them to the library.

But lo and behold, some lit journals are beginning to publish their complete text online, no subscription required. And I rejoice. I’m never going to subscribe to Guernica in print, but I will gladly visit their website once a month to read new poems and an essay or two. (If they advertise books of poetry and other relevant products, I may do some shopping as well. I realize that publishers have to make money to survive!)

So what will I be reading when I cozy up to the aforementioned laptop?


“What Your Life Did While You Were Away”
by Leslie Vryenhoek

Don’t bother wondering
where it went—it didn’t go far. Most days
your life just waited, kept up with others’ misfortunes
by watching Oprah out of the corner of its clear
wide eye while it tarnished the silver and hoped
you’d come home and take it out dancing….
Keep reading


by Umberto Saba
trans. George Hochfield and Leonard Nathan 

It’s as if for a man battered by the wind,
blinded by snow—all around him an arctic
inferno pummels the city—
a door opens along a wall….
Keep reading

Narrative Magazine

“#23 from Letters to Yesenin”
by Jim Harrison

I want to bother you with some recent nonsense; a classmate dropped
dead, his heart was attacked at thirty-three. At the crematory
they lowered his body by fire-resistant titanium cables reminding
one of the steak on a neglected barbecue grill, only more so. We’re
not supposed to believe that the vase of ashes is the real him.
You can imagine the mighty roar of the gas jets, a train coming
closer, the soul of thunder. But this is only old hat, or old death,
whichever. “Pause here, son of sorrow, remember death,” someone once
said. “We can’t have all things here to please us, our little Sue Ann
is gone to Jesus,” reads an Alabama gravestone. But maybe even Robert
Frost or Charles Olson don’t know they are dead….
Keep reading

There are many other online publications, of course, but just like individual poets, lit journals tend to have their own unique sensibilities to which a reader is drawn. Perhaps the Adirondack Review will be more your style. It’s an acclaimed publication, but not to my taste. I encourage you to browse around and find one that suits you.

Happy reading!

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