Squawk Back, online literary journal
Reviewed by JM Francheteau
Squawk Back is a kind of halflitjournalhalfblog from New York City. It describes itself as [click for word-salad]. Shorter version might be to say it looks for work steeped in alienation, be it from actual outsiders or outsider-y insiders. If you wanted to know whether it was worth your time to read Squawk Back, you might read a review. Conveniently, this is a review of Squawk Back.
Squawk Back: A review. Reading a single issue should take around 30 minutes, unless you are the sort of person who takes pride in reading very quickly, in which case it might take between 5 and 15 minutes, or you have been asked to write a review, in which case it will likely take between 31 and 47 minutes depending upon your level of conscientiousness.
Editor Zak Block has expressed the opinion that editors should not perform “the function of cogs in a meritocratic machine”; in other words, let the wild blind submission rumpus begin. This isn’t quite the same thing as downloading the role of evaluating open submissions to the reader, as Squawk Back does have a certain aesthetic cohesion. The editors seem to view their role as simply weeding out the insufficiently weird, allowing the reader suss out her own favourites from what remains. The result is that the average issue is of patchy quality, with the poetry in particular being often dire. You’re as likely in a single issue to stumble upon a piece like Andrew Harrell’s elegant and eerie “The Hole” as Matthew Harris’s homeless-man’s-bpNichol “numero” suite (both 10/20/2013).
If the tone of this review makes it sound like I dislike Squawk Back, that’s not the case. It’s simply that the total effect of its preferred aesthetic leaves me feeling oddly detached from the ingenuity of its better pieces and the verve of its editorial outlook. What I do think Squawk Back does that is interesting is map lines between contributors who are ostensibly “normal” and those whose experiences have been marginalized; there are contusions which are common across societal divisions, and in these stories and poems it’s possible to make out their purpled outlines. Very little of what they publish could be characterized as truly avant-garde, but if Squawk Back is not precisely ahead of the pack they are at least admirably indifferent to being in it.
In conclusion, the sentence of this review sufficient for blurbing is: Reading Squawk Back is better than not reading Squawk Back. Beyond this, your mileage may vary.
JM Francheteau is a rural transplant based in Ottawa, ON. His poetry and critical writing has or will appear in print and online in CV2, Arc and ottawater. He’s not being paid for this review, but all of the current In/Words editors have at least bought him books or ice cream in the past.