Review: The Diagram


A pioneer in online publishing, Diagram, founded in 2001 at the turn of the century, is still pushing the limits of literary ingenuity. In terms of experimental website design, it is hard to believe other journals have not adapted such a cavalier approach. In fact, such literary resistance to the experimental is what caused Ander Monson to launch Diagram in the first place. In an interview with Winning Writers, Ander Monson says, “After all, what is art but a way of diagramming the world?” This vision and aesthetic has not only continued from the start, but continues to evolve and incorporate new forms. Diagram represents a refreshed view of the literary landscape.

The front page currently displays a rifle totting, bare-chested man with a dotted line diagrammed along the shoulder, in what is assumed the appropriate firing position. The humorous aesthetic relies heavily on this sort of juxtaposition, an out of context representation of previously published diagrams, to fuel its creative sensibility. This sort of humor carries over into their submissions page, particularly the Please Do Not Submit section, which derails into a hysterical tangent about algebra, adolescent confusion, anger, and great balls of ire. But we suggest checking that out for yourself!

Diagram publishes text, images, and new media; as long as it’s interesting, and they are certainly open to all sorts of new work and experimental text. In the newest issue of Diagram, 14.1, there is a longer prose piece by Emily Franklin entitled “Δx Δp > H/2π”. It begins:

So what if Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle has her in bed with her legs splayed like parentheses? Wasn’t it true that no thing, atom, person, disease, cupcake, caterpillar, jockstrap, prime minister, diagnosis, has a definite position, trajectory, or momentum? You can’t try and pin a thing down because trying to force it to be stable in any one place makes its momentum less graspable.

This idea of the “less graspable” or the breaking down and atomization of an object is the very sort of work that Diagram tends to value. They take it a step further and give the authors a chance to speak to their poems at the bottom of the page. The act of speaking to the poem is open to the interpretation of the artist and in the instance of Emily Franklin, she cites her history of being raised in a family of doctors; how her work is writing about the cycle of thinking. However, Bradley Harrison, in his poem “THE BIRD BEING SPIT WILL GET WET”, simply utilizes the bottom of the page to incorporate another poem.

Each issue also contains a reviews and schematics section. Both are equally enthralling, however, the schematics section is the heart of Diagram’s beginning. In the latest issue, there is a schematic on the appropriate placement of “CLAYMORES EMPLOYED IN AMBUSH”, a “BAYESIAN CONCEPTUALIZATION OF AN OFFICE”, and a schematic on “REACHING ACTIVITY IN A V6A NEURON”. All of these are real schematics or diagrams that represent a displaced hilarity, by being detached from the original volume. The schematics represent the distilment of an object—the sudden art that may arise from perhaps sudden and abrupt solitude. Not to say that solitude is the mission, but the tangents and presentation of an alternative view point of the world, suddenly becomes incredibly important.

If you would like your work to appear in a literary journal that has published such names as, Wendy Xu, Zachary Schomburg, Mary Ruefle, and most recently James Franco, then you should check out the submissions page here. For a comprehensive list of writers published by Diagram, you may check out their Comprehensive Index of Authors.

– by Justin Grogan