Review: Switchback

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When a reader reviews the poetry submission guidelines on Switchback’s website—the online literary journal for the University of San Francisco—they would come away with the understanding that Switchback’s identity is to search for a key missing component in putting together a vibrant issue of the journal that delivers a refreshingly new perspective on life, art, and the world as we know it.  At the risk of having sounded verbose, this all indicates that Switchback is looking for writers whose work feels relevant, or, in the journal’s own words

“We are looking for inventive poetic connections.  Send us poems that are fun, intelligent, and inspired by the world around you.  We are big fans of pop culture and contemporary events enacted in poetry.  Send us informed pieces that use form and structure as essential scaffolding of your poetry, whether that is in a form, prose, or using white space—we want well-crafted, thoughtful poems.  We love complexity balanced with simple poetic moments.  Switchback accepts pieces from well-read writers, attentive to the American poetry lineage.  Just ask yourself, “Is my verse alive?” If the answer is yes, send your poems our way.”

Switchback, as opposed to name recognized and branded publications that may consider their pages more selective to a smaller set of more recognized writers, makes it quite clear up front that it is not a brand that exists without the writers it publishes.  Every issue of the journal looks for poetry that comes from well read, well connected writers who have an ear to the ground in the cultural spheres of modern American life.  Switchback has an idea of its target demographic and appears to be taking every effort in order to continue appealing to them.

In the journal’s vision, I find Switchback to be honorable and genuine.  However, the mechanics and design of the journal’s website while simple and efficient leave an extremely great deal to be desired.  It should be stated at least once, Switchback is an online journal and when a reader encounters the journal (the website), they are met immediately with a jarring off centered photo that is cut over by one third to the right of the screen.  Practical reasons aside, the impression the website leaves on a reader, much less a random visitor, is a website that appears to be done quickly without much thought.  Problems of design only become worse when longer pieces of writing are posted onto the website, where a single color tone behind the writing will extend down the page in column with a further background being the only off-setting element of contrast.  The result is a thin sliver of words lost between two bland sets of color.

While design may not be the most innovative for Switchback, the work published across each issue spans fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art.  Interviews can also be found throughout the website simply by clicking the interviews tab at the top.  On average roughly 5-7 pieces of fiction, 7-12 pieces of poetry, 3-5 pieces of nonfiction and 3-5 art submissions are published per issue.  The journal publishes biannually, with the work being accessible on its website as well as in ebook format.  The managing editor is John Gibbs and the poetry editor is Cassie Duggan (strangely enough the staff and editors employed for the journal can only be found on the news page).  If a reader is interested in a journal that regularly publishes writers with an open mind and different perspective, they would do well to visit Switchback in the future.

-by Ethan Chambers