• The Iris Review

Review of Pioneer Pen

Pioneer Pen is a literary magazine published by Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee that is produced yearly in the spring. Its staff consists of students, all of whom are volunteers or participants in a class for an English elective, and faculty advisors. It takes submissions from within the school and accepts works that include poetry, fiction, art, photographs, plays, song lyrics, monologues and excerpts from longer works. The magazine’s mission statement states that the magazine is a platform to allow students to take risks and express themselves through creativity and originality in their artistic freedom.


Submissions to the magazine, as aforementioned, are limited to students attending the school. Submissions are taken until early March and should include information about the person submitting including a short biography and a summary of the piece that is being submitted (the title and the medium). Options for volunteering as an editor or receiving credit are available; information is provided about the class and whom to contact for more information.


The magazine was established in 1995 under the name Squatter’s Rites, a name it would have until late 2016. The change in name came from a contest held in 2016. The Spring 2017 issue is the first under the new name. The concept of the name comes in two parts: “pioneer” refers to both the school’s mascot and the idea that students themselves are pioneers in the sense that they are leaders in achieving a better life through a higher education; “pen” refers to the literal writing instrument and the verb meaning to write or compose. The winner of the contest, Beverly Bragg, mentions the idea that the magazine provides a platform for students, faculty, and staff to learn and benefit together as a community. The 2016 edition, the last to be published under Spatter’s Rites, received critical acclaim in receiving first place in the American Scholastic Press Association award for a community college publication and third place in the Community College Humanities Association’s award for a magazine from a small college.


The design of the magazine is small, only consisting of approximately seventy pages. They also count the cover and table of contents as part of the page count through the reason for that is unknown. The contents within consists of mostly poetry with a few picture and a small amount of short stories. All of the pictures are in colour and the entirety of the magazine is printed on glossy paper. The table of contents list the name of the contributor and the title of their work with the page numbers in between them. The magazine begins by featuring pieces (one written work and one piece of art) that were winners of literary and art and design awards, followed by the remainder of the magazine’s submission. The use of short stories, photographs and art helps with breaking up the poetry so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. The back cover lists all of the contributors to the magazine by naming the writers first, then the artists.


One of the pieces that stood out to me was entitled “Palabras” by Lucas Williams. It is written in both English and Spanish. Though I could only understand half of what was written (I don’t know Spanish very well), the use of two languages is something that I have not seen very often and its usage works well with the style of the poem. I believe it is trying to portray how words that are expressed in one language cannot be told the same way in another (again, my lack of knowledge in understanding Spanish makes me uncertain) and going back and forth between the two dialects puts an emphasis on the subject.

The other piece that stood out to me was “Faded Memories” by Donovan Kerkmaz. This one is a photograph that won the award for art and design (Fusion Art and Design Award). The first thing that caught my attention in this photograph was the use of lighting coming in through the window and how it reflects on the chair and boards behind it. I also liked that it keeps the viewer’s attention on the pieces next to the window and not on what is in the background that might be distracting.


Website: https://www.volstate.edu/humanities/english/publications


-Mikaylee Flood, editor

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