Contemporary Journals

Between Sandpaper Covers: Exploring the Influence of Forklift, Ohio

Report by Gabriel Meek

While nearly every lit mag has its quirks and strange tendencies, Forklift, Ohio has some of the most interesting habits and practices of the magazines currently operating in the United States. Forklift, Ohio is a magazine of Poetry, Cooking, and Light Industrial Safety, which describes its eclectic nature quite nicely. It contains recipes, and though it is not the first magazine to corner this interesting form of poetry, it presents it in a way that is unique. It also has diagrams of machinery pulled from old books (also not the first to do this, either) and holds it all together in a form that is unique to each issue and works to challenge the very definition of what a lit mag can be. Forklift, Ohio, while not being too loud about its eclectic nature, has worked to undermine the ruts of repetition into which established magazines can fall. It operates on the fringes, not looking for direct competition regarding the practices of literary magazines, but challenging them nonetheless by doing something different and showing it off as an alternative.

Forklift, Ohio has a current editing team of four with a meandering rotating staff of guest and assistant editors. Its four main members each have very specific roles that build to the greater artifact that is each issue of the magazine. Eric Appleby and Matt Hart are the founders of the magazine, their friendship stemming back to their days as philosophy majors at Ball State University and their work on the undergraduate magazine Nausea is the Square Root of Muncie, which mostly featured their own work and that of their peers. Upon graduation and a consecutive move to Cincinnati, they began work on the magazine that would eventually become Forklift, Ohio in 1994. They specifically did this in order to “recapture the great fun and spirit of collaboration/community” they had found while working together in college (Walker). It also helped that Appleby and Hart were in a band together at the time. In fact, according to the Forklift website, they are still in two bands together and were two of the panelists at an AWP 2019 panel called “Punk Rock Publishing.” It seems that the friendship of these two editors is a major part of what has kept this magazine going, with the desire to keep reading and publishing challenging and interesting content also playing a major role. Eric Appleby acts as the designer and publisher of the magazine while Matt Hart acts as editor.

The other two main staff members are Tricia Suit and Mike Cowgill. Tricia Suit occupies both the position of managing editor as well as test kitchen director. She tests every recipe that is sent to the magazine, ensuring that they are not only publishing interesting sounding recipes, but ones that will actually work, essentially making these portions of the magazine into a cookbook. One such recipe, which was made for this class on the day I presented on this magazine, is "Ezra Pound Cake" by Rebecca Loudon, found in Issue #22 of Forklift. Tricia Suit also has ties to Eric and Matt’s Ball State days. Mike Cowgill, on the other hand, occupies the position of chief engineer, which does not receive any other explanation than that anywhere.

This core group of editors not only fulfills the basic requirements of a literary magazine, but they also set it apart from many others. This is a group of friends first, united by the desire to publish great and interesting literature second. In this way, they are able to establish themselves as something separate from the normalities of the editing and publishing world. Their website features a list of things the magazine stands by, and a few of them help to point out their commitment to this idea: “Strive to maintain our record of over two decades as an accident-free workplace,” “Feature no work by celebrity chefs,” and “Be greater than the sum of our parts.” These not only highlight Forklift’s ability as an independent magazine to stress what they feel is important, but also highlight the staff’s decision to prize the “we” present in the magazine. This is not a royal “we” that some magazines might use to make the voice of their sole editor feel less embodied. This is a “we” that actually feels like a “we” with certain desires, likes, and tendencies that is defined by a plurality and not a singularity. Each piece of the magazine is constructed and placed in conjunction with the others by a different member of the editorial staff: Hart and the various assistant editors deciding what is included, Suit testing the recipes and managing the whole of the magazine, Cowgill doing something related to engineering (?), and Appleby putting together the magazine into the artifact that it will become.

Speaking of putting the magazine together, this aspect is arguably the most important part of the magazine. The physical object of Forklift, Ohio is the thing that not only makes the magazine desirable but also makes the magazine stand out from others. Can a magazine be a package of meat? How about a matchbox? To access poems, should a reader just have to flip through a book, or should they first have to uncork it? Take it out of an evidence bag? Find a wrench to undo the bolt screwed through the center of it? These are just a few of the questions the editors of Forklift, Ohio pose to their readers and the broader literary community simply through the design of the magazine.

This was not always the case: “The first ten issues were tabloid size on newsprint,” according to Matt Hart in an interview with Flying Object; however, they quickly decided they wanted to change the aesthetic of the magazine, deciding they “wanted each issue to be an object that people might enjoy looking at and holding as much they might enjoy reading it.” The physical object of the lit mag itself is arguably more important than the content when it comes to Forklift, Ohio. While this may be the case, it is blasphemous to say that care is not given to the content side of editing at this magazine. This is still an extremely important aspect of the magazine that actually makes it stand out from other magazines. Because Forklift is small and publishes when it can, rather than on a strict schedule, it has certain important submission guidelines that include a few distinctive properties. For instance, they ask submitters to first query the editors rather than just sending submissions blindly. This, Hart said, in a Coldfront Magazine interview is to “keep the submission bombers away” because they’d really rather spend time with a few pieces from people who took the time to query the editors rather than a whole load of unsolicited submissions they don’t have the time or the energy to truly consider (Walker). This sets Forklift apart in the literary world because its submission process is not necessarily harder, but it shows how deeply the editors care about the work being submitted. If the writers don’t care enough to follow their guidelines, then it’s not really worth their care anyway. They also don’t accept simultaneous submissions for the same reasons.

Anyways, let’s return to the design aspect of the magazine and on how that has affected the changing definition of what a literary magazine can be. Every magazine has a certain aesthetic it appeals to. Magazines such as SLAB, F(r)iction, Booth, and Tin House are known for their exciting and often vibrant design choices that not only make a magazine memorable and marketable but also contain the magazine’s content in a work that is grander than the pieces found inside. This idea is known as book-as-objet d’art, and is cited in the same list quoted already about the principles the editors of Forklift hold dear: “Deal obliquely with problems of language, communication, typography, commerce, and book-as-objet d'art.” In the same way that they challenge the status quo of lit mags by not attaching themselves to some larger body for funding (they are not funded by anyone or any organization except donors who exert no power whatsoever on the magazine), they also challenge the status quo of the idea of book-as-objet d’art. While the magazines above would not likely consider any design choices that make the magazine look unprofessional, Forklift has room to challenge the professionality of what it means to publish a lit mag, and that means it’s okay if the pages don’t have corners with exactly ninety degree angles and that the pages can be slightly larger than the cover if that’s what’s available.

Eric Appleby clarifies the production side of creating Forklift by explaining just how in-depth they go in creating the physical object of the magazine. He describes how they individually “cut, collate, staple, bind, tape and glue the thing together by hand so that our readers don’t have to recharge anything before enjoying the anachronistic sort of ‘multimedia’ experience” (Walker). This is something that has to be done for each copy of the 500-print run of each issue. In the case of their newest issue, they also had to seek out 500 different name-patches from Ebay and staple one to each cover, letting some of their customers pick out a name. This further challenges what it means to be a literary magazine by directly inviting the readers to be a part of the experience. My copy of the newest issue of Forklift is unique to every single other one because I got to pick out the name “Jarvis.” Essentially, I added something to the aesthetic of the magazine, and I’m not an editor or even a contributor—I’m a reader. Lit mags don’t normally allow their readers to make decisions like this.

There isn’t a much better a way to finish this report than to quote Poetry’s blog in their short but accurate description of Forklift, Ohio. They call Forklift, “lovingly crafted, oft celebrated,” which, coming from this magazine, shows just how important of a role Forklift has played in challenging the status quo of lit mags and leaving its mark on the world of editing and publishing.

Works Cited

“A Look Inside Forklift, Ohio.” Poetry Foundation via Harriet Blog, 30 Oct 2012.

Forklift, Ohio.”

Forklift, Ohio. Issue 22, Fall 2010.

“The Machinations of: Forklift, Ohio.” Flying Object.

Walker, Ken L. “Spotlight: Forklift, Ohio,” Coldfront Magazine Online, 15 Feb 2012.