Monday, March 30, 2009

Postmark it

It's almost here, the deadline for our 2009 Poetry Prize, with final judge Natasha Trethewey. But as long as you've got it postmarked March 31, your entry will be considered. Last week, you got more of the details about the prize, and so you know by now that you can get the full lowdown on our website.

And while we have you on the line, so to speak, we would like you to know that fiction submissions will close April 13. We've developed a little bit of a back log. Even though we keep almost catching up, we want to catch up for real. So go on and send your fiction manuscripts along to us. We do not currently have any plan to close poetry or nonfiction submissions, but, as always, you can refer to our guidelines online for the most current info.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"And the answer is...make the poster into a T-shirt." (Poetry Contest Deadline Approaching)

Just a reminder to all you Under the Blue Light readers, the deadline for our 2009 Poetry Prize is fast approaching! Here's a quick refresher of the details: March 31 postmark deadline, $15 entry fee, Natasha Trethewey as a judge, $1000 and publication as a prize. Check out the complete guidelines at (And remember to read them carefully!)

So, you get the chance to win $1000, all entries are considered for publication, and you get a subscription to IR for less than the normal rate? As they say on The Office, Win-win-win.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Hello folks! You may have noticed that we've been M.I.A. recently, and that's because we've been on Spring Break. But, after some much needed R & R, we are back and better than ever. F.Y.I: the deadline for our 2009 Poetry Prize (judged by Natasha Trethewey) is March 31, so you've got a little over a week to get your hottest poems to us--see our website for details.

So, speaking of "M.I.A." and "R&R" and "FYI," I've been thinking about everyone's favorite and overlooked abbreviation, O.K. (Ok, OK, ok, okay). According to, on this day in 1839, the abbreviation "OK" officially entered American vocabulary when a Boston newspaper used it in a joke. Apparently, the cool kids of the era purposefully mispelled "all correct" ("oll correct") and then abbreviated it to use as slang. The newspaper picked it up, followed by politicians, and the rest is, well, history. Check out the whole story at

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Liar, liar pants on fire?

Our post last week about cover letter myths prompted some discussion in our office. We were wondering: do people lie in their cover letters? (Have you really been published in the New Yorker? Are you sure that you were shortlisted for the Booker Prize?) Now don't get me wrong, I believe you, but as mentioned earlier, it won't change how we read your submission.

So readers, help satisfy our curiosity and answer our poll on the sidebar to the right. Don't worry--it's completely anonymous.

Monday, March 9, 2009

It was a dark and stormy afternoon.

The weather got pretty scary again yesterday afternoon, tornados and storms sweeping through the Midwest and, in southern Indiana, even putting an empty school bus on top of a house! It wasn't too bad for us here in Bloomington--mostly a little flooding here and there, some loud and unsettling wind. But when it all passed, we had some mild, sunshiney weather.

This morning it's even brighter. And we can tell you this much: it doesn't hurt that over the weekend NewPages posted a lovely review of our latest issue, winter 2008!
Image: Anna Maria Whetstine, "Marcha de los Pinguinos," cover art for winter 2008 (30.2).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cover letters: Three Myths

Cover letters are an important part of the submission process, but we'd like to set the story straight about the usefulness of cover letters to IR.

A detailed bio is a crucial part of the cover letter. Myth! Of course you want to brag when you have a boatload of publications, and rightly so--you earned them. But a bio isn't required at all in your cover letter, and the contents of any biographical information have absolutely no bearing on how your work is read. We don't care if you've published ten books or never had anything published at all--we give every submission a full, fair shot.

A cover letter isn't really necessary, since your work is what's important. Myth! (Sort of.) While it's true that your work is what's most important, having easy access to your contact information and the title of the work (or works) you've submitted makes things much easier on us. And if we have good news for you, you want us to be able to get in touch with you, right?

I need to pitch my work in my cover letter. Myth! A cover letter for Indiana Review doesn't need a pitch--we're going to read your work. So let it speak for itself. It's hard to sum up a story in just a few sentences (and even harder to talk about poems), so just let your work doing the talking. We're looking at the quality of your work itself, not how engaging you can make the summary.

We hope these few tips help you, and keep sending us your work!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy

Benjamin Percy. Refresh, Refresh. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2007. $15.00 paper (ISBN 978-1-55597-485-5), 249 pages.

Reviewed by Nina Mamikunian

The characters in Benjamin Percy’s newest collection of stories, Refresh, Refresh, are looking for ways to start over and ways to keep going. Set in small, Oregon towns, these ten stories explore relationships that revolve around loss, abandonment, violence and death. Boys have lost fathers to war, fathers have lost daughters to abusive relationships, husbands and wives have lost children before they were born. Car crashes, nuclear meltdowns, and bear attacks are not uncommon in the worlds that Percy creates. His characters are inextricably tied not only to one another but also to this menacing world around them. Yet, they refuse to surrender, and so fight—almost savagely—against themselves and against nature for the small bits of happiness and peace in their lives. The narrator of “When the Bear Came” seems to describe the lives of all the books’ characters when he realizes “It was as if a rhythm had been beating all along, the rhythm of the land, and finally I had found it, here in the peace of the dark woods, with only one slug and twenty feet of rope between me and absolution.”

The tensions that run beneath the surface of these stories are palpable and often take on corporeal forms, such as the amputated foot in “The Killing,” or the bruises young boys inflict on one another in the title story “Refresh, Refresh.” Often, they take on more overwhelming proportions, such as the ominous, dark spaces that run beneath the houses in “The Caves in Oregon” or the torrential floods of water spouting from the fire hydrants in “Somebody Is Going to Have to Pay for This.” Percy manages to create physical senses of absence so well that those absences almost feel like characters themselves. It is these absences that form the backbones of the stories and of their characters’ lives. Explicit or not, each of these stories carries with it a sense of unease and a sense of a world where, in an instant, either everything or nothing will turn out all right. The boys in “Refresh, Refresh” know that “It [doesn’t] take much imagination to realize how something can drop out of the sky and change everything.” But rather than let this fear overwhelm them, the characters accept it and integrate it into their everyday lives, constantly struggling to accept the unknown and the unchangeable.

Violence and death are also key features, with blood pumping through these pages as it pumps through the human body. Many of the stories center on hunting, and in doing so treat life, death, and survival in a very matter of fact way. Despite the perceived divide between man and beast, the hunter and the hunted, there is an undeniable connection between the men and animals here, and the men in these stories are connecting to their most primal emotional instincts as they venture into dark forests, often connecting themselves to their prey in the most literal ways: smearing blood on their faces or keeping their amputated body parts in their taxidermy sheds. Men are constantly reminded of their own mortality in these settings and of the near impossibility of true safety. But it is precisely this heightened sense of alarm combined with Percy’s expert control that makes these stories such a thrill to read. These forests—both the literal tracts of land and the psychological spaces the stories occupy—are, indeed, dark and deep, but Percy is a knowing guide.