River Styx Review
River Styx is a tri-annual literary magazine that is currently in publication. A wide variety of different themes are included and illuminated inside of each printing, that all point to similar ideologies and understandings of the world. River Styx has survived much longer than several similar literary magazines, sitting on its 35th year of publication.
The concept of the journal started in the early 1970's, when musicians and poets from around the St. Louis area gathered together to play their instruments, and read their verse. The first issue was created on Lithographic press in 1975, completely embodying the independent, do-it-yourself vibe that it still holds onto to this day. To this day, they still hold live readings in the same tradition as they initially did, hosting them in St. Louis's Duff bar, where it often gathers a packed crowd of people. River Styx is a non-profit publication, and brings in only enough income to keep itself afloat. On their website, www.riverstyx.org, they make the statement, "we earn just enough to keep publishing not trendy or politically connected work, but what we love most-thoughtful yet accessible, unpredictable yet moving literature and art." Meaning that with the amount of money they make, they can afford to print whatever they want, and are not tied by obligations.
Later on the website, they state "We will always adhere to the lean and mean production ethic and keep the youthful energy that's made us a beacon of light on which deserving voices dance." This means that the editors at River Styx are hard at work at production for their magazine, and are dedicated to pick important voices that adhere to a specific view and style that reflects the flow of current literature.
The current editor of River Styx, Richard Newman, boasts a lengthy stay as editor, serving fifteen years. Aside from being the editor, he is a teacher of poetry and literature at a St. Louis community college. Newman also has two-full length poetry collections published, as well as several different poetry chapbooks.
Since its creation, River Styx has taken slight twists and turns as far as style of the works published. In an interview with St. Louis's River Front Times, Quincy Troupe, a former editor for River Styx, stated his opinion on current editor, Newman. "We saw River Styx as a journal that embraced everyone in the world, The magazine started to go another way when Richard came. Richard had his own ideas. This isn't a criticism, but his ideas weren't as multicultural as mine. He's got the St. Louis mindset, which is - more white. People in St. Louis are very conservative. I understand the conservative vision, but I don't have to live with it." Troupe's disgruntled opinion seems to hold no candle to any form of truth however, liberal themes are quite often exchanged in the publication and the discussion of multiculturalism seems to be quite fruitful throughout the pages.
In the same interview, Newman goes on to express his view on the former and current shape of the River Styx publication. He discusses the poetry, due to its dominance within the journal, however one can infer the same viewpoint is directed towards the essays of River Styx as well. "Our literary agenda is to promote accessible poetry. In the early '90s, poetry had been taken over by academics. It was obscure, unmoving poetry, and it was the only kind most people would come across. We want to promote poetry that an intelligent, educated reader would enjoy." Afterwards, he goes on to say that it's a plus when something specific makes him laugh.
The name of River Styx, (which comes from the mythic river that leads to the underworld) exemplifies what the publication set out to achieve. The name shines on the fact of the underground poetry status that the magazine has. River Styx works with only a $60,000 annual budget, and only circulates 2,000 copies of the publication. Though the number of copies isn't huge for a publication company, it is still respectable, and many famed writers have chosen River Styx to publish their works, giving the magazine much more credibility. "Six of the most recent US Poets Laureate and two Nobel Prize winners have been River Styx contributors. Other contributors have gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, O. Henry Awards, and American Book Awards." Also, the magazine has eased its way into several anthology publications "River Styx has been included in many editions of The Best American Poetry, Best New Poets, New Stories from the South, and Pushcart Prize anthologies " (riverstyx.org)
The majority of pieces published within River Styx are poetry, usually around twenty or so different poems are accepted for each issue. Fiction and essays are very sparse, with only around one or two of each genre being published. This makes it seem much more difficult for an essay to be accepted by the publication, which only has a 1% acceptance rate for all submissions. Still, no guidelines are given for the essays, and the number of pages that essays fill are completely sporadic, sometimes taking up three pages (Sweet Cups of Death, Robert Finch, Issue 74) and sometimes taking up closer to twenty pages (One Last Chinese Zinger, G.S. Phillian, Issue 72). Due to the lack of a specified, or preferred word count, pretty much any essay sent in that seems somewhat modest in length, compared to the 100 â 120 pages that the editors try to implement, should be acceptable.
Essays are definitely not the focal point of River Styx, however they are always included in each publication. Because the essay is geared towards poetry, most essays contain several deep poetic elements within them. One of 2007's issues of River Styx contains the essay, Sweet Cups of Death, by Robert Finch. The essay discusses the carnivorous pitcher plant, which became the provincial plant of Newfoundland. Finch goes into very descriptive language while discussing the look of the plant, allowing you to see it with your inner eye. Twisting metaphor slides its way into the piece, giving several comparisons to the carnivorous pitcher plant. One is the possibility of the plant being symbolic as a warning to Canada, which Newfoundland had recently joined at the time. This is a political commentary that the writer imposed on the piece, giving his viewpoint to how Newfoundland may see Canada. This is an example of something the editors at River Styx may be looking for, different forms of political commentary. Due to the publication of River Styx being in St. Louis, and Sweet Cups of Death being set in Canada, this shines light on the very multiculturalism that the publication contains, that Quincy Troupe had previously tried to dispute. This shows that the publication is diverse in subject matter, and publishes writers from across the world.
Within the piece, Finch compares different plants, including the pitcher plant, to the female genitalia. He does so in great detail, vividly comparing, with no censorship. This shows that the publication will accept somewhat risquÃ© material and is not afraid to push small boundaries that other literary magazines may refuse to push. (Finch 1)
In another issue of River Styx that released in 2007, Robert Finch has a different essay published. In 2007, only two issues of River Styx were printed instead of three, due to 2008's first issue being a double, themed issue. Robert Finch is the author of two out of the three essays the literary magazine decided to publish for the entire year. This displays how selective River Styx is with choosing essays, and how they build relationships with specific writers and choose to print several of their works within different issues.
The essay is titled Oldest Man In Newfoundland and is about when Robert Finch met Robert Chayter, the oldest person who was alive in Newfoundland at the time the piece was constructed. It discusses how being the oldest person in Newfoundland is not that big of a deal, and how there are several older people in the world. It also covers a slight history of Newfoundland, once again displaying multiculturalism. What's striking about this specific piece is how the author discredits the achievement of Chayter's life. This is almost taboo, and definitely ironic with a dash of humor, devaluating the elderly, which adds the spark of uniqueness to the essay. This is a factor in the River Styx editor's process, looking for pieces that somewhat push boundaries and display originality and true wit. (Finch 2)
Once every year, River Styx produces themed publications that all follow a specific pattern on subject matter. Different theme issues in the past include "History & The Perfect Past", "Sweet Dreams and Bad Sex", and a monster issue. In 2008, they released an issue entitled "A Readable Feast" in 2008, which featured twenty seven poems, nine short stories, and two essays (once again, reinforcing that the essay is the least published form of writing that River Styx prints) that involved food in some way or another. At the end of the Themed issue, several authors have their own recipes included as well.
One story in the Readable feast, Frozen Food, displays diversity in American culture during post-war America. The writer, Mary Louis Penaz, discusses the way her mother went about making dinner, compared to the way her best friend's family ate. She discusses how her mother would slave away in order to prepare dinner, whereas her friend's family would eat TV dinners and eat out at Burger King. This highlights social division within the United States, and also shows signs of multicultural diversity. Mary Louis Penaz came from a Czech family that was used to lavish meals that her mother would prepare and her friend came from an Americanized family that acted on convenience as opposed to quality. It discusses the excitement that the author had when she visited Burger King with her friend, thus emphasizing that her family hadn't adopted a set of post-war American cultural adaptation and still held on to previous familial tradition. This shows how the editors might be looking for some form of cultural diversity in their essays, which seems to be a prominent factor in what they produce.
Penaz's essay also discusses her best friend's mother's Schizophrenia. This is an element added to the story that raises intrigue in the readers mind, allowing the story to have multiple layers instead of just being about one specific subject. Religion is also touched upon, when Penaz holds a candle vigil in her friends basement and ends up catching the house on fire (Penaz). With different elements and layers added to the story, it shows that the editors at River Styx are looking for the flavor of a "Home Cooked Feast" as opposed to the blandness of the "TV dinner", as far as works of literature are concerned. Multiple layers can only be a plus.
Another essay featured in the Readable Feast issue of River Styx (76/77) is the piece "Lucullan Feast" by Anthony Di Renzo. The story follows the author as he wins a free dinner hosted by the Wegemen's company, that promises to delivery actual Sicilian cuisine. The entire essay is a critique on the negatives of big business and capitalism, basically stating that they are hurting what was once tradition. The irony of the company was brought forth through several scenes within the text, disputing big business several times.
Another element that the author added was his families cultural heritage. He explains how they came from Sicily and within the essay, emphasizes how weird it was that he ended up winning the Sicilian meal, almost alluding Wegemen's to a Big Brother type organization. The irony of the piece was also emphasized when the company advertised creating traditional meals with ease, and he recalls his grandmother spending seven days in order to prepare a specific Sicilian food item.
Also incorporated within the essay is Roman and Sicilian history. The history weaves throughout the story of how he won the contest and attended the meal, creating jumps from past to present. Di Renzo contrasts and compares between a dinner between Caesar and Cicero, and the dinner that he had won. The jumps in history adds flavor to the piece, and offers a unique historical story that is very interesting to the reader. His Sicilian ethnicity is explored throughout the piece, once again adding multiculturalism to the piece. Also, his own personal beliefs are often questioned, as he wondered whether or not to attend the free feast in the first place, due to his views on big business, which he strongly disagreed with. (Di Renzo) This exemplifies a type of opposition to social norms that River Styx seems to emphasize, whether it be through going against big business, home cooked meals as opposed to forced American commercialism (as in Frozen Dinner (Penaz)) or downplaying the elderly (as in Oldest Man In Newfoundland (Finch)).
In 2007's River Styx 75, Patricia Foster's Essay Self Portrait appears. The essay covers the life of the author's bizarre photography teacher that she had at UCLA. In the beginning of the story, the teacher has vanished, and people are looking for her. A flashback occurs where the author recalls old memories of her in the photography class, touching on different techniques of photography and the way that the teacher helped her to add skill to the artwork. The story goes on to explain the eccentric and bizarre life of the teacher, following several different occupations that she worked at. Corseting, professional dart throwing, and the eventual "cat rescuer" are all covered, allowing the reader into the wild life of the author's former photography teacher. All of the different elements involved in the story reaffirm that the editors are looking for layered, diverse stories that include several different aspects instead of just one stand alone story with no meat in it.
In one scene within the story, the teacher explains how she had to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous support group because she couldn't stop drinking. She goes on to state how she can no longer take photographs or create art, because the alcohol helped her to do so. This seems to be a radical point that the story showed, even though it may be considered somewhat taboo to display a positive coming from a sort of substance abuse. This once again shows how River Styx is willing to push small boundaries and break social convention by displaying the teacher's view, which the writer seems not to dispute. (Foster)
Throughout the few number of essays that work their way into the pages of River Styx, one can piece together different similarities in theme, subject matter, and styles. Though they are not clearly defined, assumptions can be made based on the previous works that they had published. With a 1% acceptance of all works submitted, one must realize that having their work accepted by River Styx is a prestigious honor, and quite difficult to achieve. They claim to accept unpublished authors (yet published authors make up the vast majority of who gets printed) and they do accept simultaneous submission between Man and November (however only one essay is allowed to be sent at a time).
River Styx Works Cited
River Styx. 2010. St. Louis, Missouri. < http://www.riverstyx.org>
Finch, Robert. "Sweet Cups of Death" River Styx 74 (2007): 9-11.
Finch, Robert. "Oldest Man in Newfoundland." River Styx 75 (2007): 66-70.
Penaz, Mary Louis. "Frozen Food" River Styx 76/77 (2008): 38-45.
Di Renzo, Anthony. "Lucullan Feasts" River Styx 76/77 (2008): 52-66.
Foster, Patricia. "Self Portrait" River Styx 75 (2007):24-38.
Levitt, Amy. "River Styx Keeps On Rolling." Riverfront Times. 30 JAN 2008