• The Iris Review

Review of Homespun

Updated: May 3, 2018

Tennessee Technological University’s former literary magazine, Homespun, was co-founded by Dorothy Pennebaker, the Patron Saint of the TTU Backdoor Playhouse. The earliest archived edition of the magazine is from 1950 and has been intermittently published since. Editions from 1950-1999 can be found in the Volpe Library on Tennessee Tech’s campus.

When exploring the periodical section of the library (third floor), Homespun is a quaint burgundy/ pink collection on a lower shelf. The most notable thing about the magazines is that they are different widths and heights, something that is surprising since there is no pattern to the magazines. Opening the pink hardcover archives shows varied and eclectic covers throughout the publishing of Homespun.


The 1950 volume presents the name as “Home-Spun” rather than Homespun, as the magazine is referred to today. The title page also reads “Sponsored by The English Club of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute,” which I thought was interesting. All of the contents is typewritten, which sets this volume apart from the 2000’s issues of Homespun. The Spring 1951 edition features a smiling woman on the cover and a bubble that says “25 cents a copy.” The Fall 1951 edition is plain, with a small photo of Derryberry (maybe).


Another thing that stood out in Homespun were the ads for local businesses. This highlights not only the history of Homespun and the university, but also of Cookeville. In the 1969 volume is where Tennessee Technological University replaces Tennessee Polytechnic University, though the name change officially happened in 1965, as stated on Tech’s website. These archives record more than just literary archives, but also important steps in the university’s history and in technological advances. From typewriter to PDFs, literary magazines have come a long way and having Homespun as evidence shows a remarkable progression through just one school’s history.


One thing that varies from issue to issue is the organization and volume of works. Some of the issues are much longer than others, as seen in the larger pages and thicker spines, but others have a larger amount of art work. I don’t recall seeing any photographs in the later editions of Homespun, except on the covers; this could be due to a tight budget, artistic choice, or lack of accessibility to a reliable way to print photos. It is interesting, also, to contrast the amount of artwork in Homespun and in The Iris Review, because the inaugural issue of the latter contains almost exclusively photographs, while the former includes many more drawings and sketches.


Layout and design choices were fun to look at, examining the way in which the editorial staff for each separate year thought the page numbers, titles, author names, etc. would best fit together. Many of the magazines had the title at the top of each piece and the author name at the bottom, or just the initials at the bottom. One edition of Homespun jammed as many pieces onto one thin piece of paper as possible, trying to group similar topics with one another, as indicated by an almost indistinguishable header.


It was enjoyable to look through the poems in Homespun (the magazine was poem-heavy), and compare them to the submissions for The Iris Review. The poem “Catnap” is particularly relatable as sleep beckons to a stressed-out college student, like a friendly cat wanting attention. “The Ballad of the Cold Coffee Cup” personifies depression or a fallen friendship as the coffee cup once had a purpose—to hold coffee—but has now been left isolated. Not only is the coffee cup not alone, the narrator still sees and has thoughts about the cup, yet the narrator does nothing to help fulfill the cup because he, too, is empty. This correlates with “Catnap”; as college students, relationships, stress, sleep, and more vie for our attention, but we are left empty.


-Mallory England, editor and Head of Design

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