Day One by Amazon

Fresh Voices and New Perspectives from a Familiar Name

reviewed by David Fairbanks

To say that Amazon has had an antagonistic relationship with the publishing world in recent years would be an understatement, but in all of the talk about the ways in which Amazon is (or will be) the death of books and reading as we know it, there does not appear to be much conversation about what Amazon is giving back to the literary world, such as their weekly literary journal, Day One. Getting poetry published and being paid for it isn't the easiest thing in the world, but just a few months after publishing their first issue, Day One was paying emerging writers well and paying them promptly.

Available on Kindle devices and mobile Kindle apps, Day One is a magazine that publishes a single poem and a single short story every week, with a subscription price of $1.59/month (the first month is free). Its primary focus is on new or emerging poets and writers, and from the bios of recent issues, many of them are current MFA students or recent graduates of an MFA program. A morally questionable (at best) company like Amazon producing a literary magazine that works to project the writing of up-and-coming young writers to some of the most common electronic devices on the planet; it's hard not to be curious about it, isn't it?

One of the strongest arguments for Day One and the reason I can come off as somewhat evangelical about the magazine is that it's affordable and allows the casual reader to pick it up for a month and then drop it if it doesn't work for them. It's a gamble of $1.59 on four poems and four short stories, which feels like a much more convincing proposition than encouraging a reader who perhaps hasn't read poetry since high school or college to shell out $20 for a journal or anthology. In the grand scheme of things, the price of Day One is negligible for the majority of tablet, e-reader, or smartphone owners. Pricing is just one of the stumbling blocks Amazon has overcome in getting their journal out into the world; the matter of circulation and how difficult it can be to even find a literary magazine selection in a bookstore is overcome by the ubiquity of the devices Day One can be read on.

The format of Day One overcomes yet another hurdle that might keep readers away from more traditional styles of poetry magazines: it is served up weekly, in digestible chunks. It is rare that I sit down and read a book of poetry cover to cover and even rarer for anthologies or journals. Yet there is a minimal time investment required to read the latest poem delivered to my Kindle, and if it falls flat for me, it's $0.40 cents lost as I thumb across the screen on the train. But when it doesn't, I've just discovered a new poet to dive into without having to search too far. Carmen Johnson, the senior editor for the magazine and for Amazon's Little A publishing imprint, explained with the launch of the first issue that this is one of the primary goals of Day One:

"With so many things competing for your attention in this increasingly digital world, it can be tough to figure out what to read next—especially if you are looking for fresh voices and new perspectives."

By pairing each poem with a work of fiction, Day One also hopefully achieves some cross-genre reading from subscribers who are there for the short stories.

If each issue of Day One were simply a poem and a short story, I think it would still be worth talking about, but the editor of the issue includes a letter to the reader discussing the works within as well as bits and pieces about the contributors. In issue 3.4 in particular, both writers provided a photo of their workspace and a short paragraph or two about their writing processes in addition to their bio. The result is a magazine that provides a slightly more comprehensive look at the works as well as a glimpse inside the mind of the editor. The former has given me reason to explore poets whose poems I wasn't overly impressed by while the latter caused me to keep subscribing to the magazine after my trial period was up.

A final note on formatting: Day One tends to prefer shorter lines, and I'm glad. While Kindles and tablets come in all shapes and sizes, the most common Kindle has a screen that is not quite as wide as a typical book of poetry, and Day One seems to have been actively trying to avoid unintentional line wrapping on their poetry. Perhaps this is simply a pet peeve of mine, but these additional, unintended line breaks have caused me to swear off buying digital books of poetry. It's an odd form of curation, and I do think it could result in some stellar poems being left out of the book, but I think it represents an awareness of their medium/distribution method that is worthy of acknowledgement.

-2/5/16