I have to recommend two lit mags that I just finished reading recently.
Gulf Coast is a thick and dense journal packed with fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. This is one of the best literary magazines I have read. The stories are consistently good, well-written, interesting, and engaging. The poetry is also strong and overall less homogeneous than I have noticed in many other magazines. But what really stood out, to me, is the creative nonfiction. Since I rarely write nonfiction pieces, I generally skim them while reading. Not so with the ones in Gulf Coast. These grabbed me, right from their opening sentences and held me spellbound as well as (or in some cases better than) any short story I have read in recent memory.
In "Timeline: A Memoir," Oona Patrick tells the story of Provincetown (Cape Cod) by tracing the history of the place and her own family in a timeline that is both lyrical and heartbreaking.
Sonja Livingston recounts the experience of being an outsider as a 'paleface' brought to live on an Indian reservation with her half-sister's family in "Ghostbread". She begins: "When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through."
The Kenyon Review, though slimmer, is by no means less rich. I was astonished at the quality of writing in this magazine. The fiction and poetry was so stunning, some of the pieces literally took my breath away. I'd have to say this journal has now leapt to the very top of my list, both as a place to read outstanding work and as a market to aspire toward.
Alice Hoffman's The Witch of Truro is a gorgeous example of the fine work to be found here. This is writing with an extraordinary level of craftsmanship.
I adore Beth Ann Fennelly's poem "Telling the Gospel Truth." The images and language she creates have stayed with me vividly for weeks now and expanded the possibilities of poetry in my mind.
Here is a tiny excerpt:
Let us start with the stable.
Let it be a real stable, and let Mary be angry
at the filth of it, at dust sifting from the rafters.
Let her grow resigned as cracks of light are grouted by night,
let her grow out of mind
as the invisible fist grabs guts
then twists harder,
let her grow scared. Let her try to remember
wading in the sea with her girlfriends, the coarse hem of her skirt in her hands,
the algae fingering her ankles.
Current and past issues of both Gulf Coast and The Kenyon Review are available at their respective websites. If you're looking for some great reading, these are two magazines well worth your time.