the html review

issue 02, spring 2023

A Letter from the Editor

Dear web surfer,

It’s Spring again, and so I am thrilled to welcome you to the second issue of the html review, an annual journal of literature made to exist on the web.

When Shelby and I started the html review last year, we thought it would be a small experimental project among friends, something only a few people ever saw. Instead, thousands of you visited, read, and reached out to us. This interest was not a consequence of a concerted PR strategy or algorithmic amplification, but the result of readers simply sharing something they liked within their own networks, often through literal word of mouth. We are forever grateful for your time and care. The inaugural issue will of course stay live, complete with its beautiful table of contents so many of you love, and we hope you will continue to enjoy it even as we expand each year.

Our 2023 issue is made up of 17 contributions that span modes of digital literature and experiment. We have poetic instruments, interactive fictions, illustrated essays, movable lyrics, linguistic gardens, and pixelated memories. I like to think each piece we publish is a specific illumination of how literature can exist in digital spaces. They are each reflective of a World Wide Web built with fingerprints visible, inviting all to participate and take ownership.

After all, this issue comes at a time when both our reading and digital lives are perilous.

The growth at all costs mindset endemic to much of the web’s infrastructure has inevitably led to bait-filled search engine results and thin-skinned billionaires buying entire social media platforms to promote their own egos.

Meanwhile, literary magazines, including many of our favorites, are shuttering at a terrifying rate, often due to the capriciousness of their wealthy patrons or corporate parents. Book publishing is beset with megamergers, dreams of monopoly, the threat of private equity vultures, all while cultural and critical institutions that still overwhelmingly support only a small cohort of the connected.

As friends and colleagues Maris Kreizman and Lincoln Michel have observed, there are seemingly endless attempts at publishing startups, techbro pleas for "enhanced" books, and hastily written AI stories spamming the submission accounts of magazines, all promotions of the worst possible forms of exploring the relationship between digital technology and literature.

Kyle Chayka, a writer we love, recently remarked “can we please build a more artisanal internet / media landscape” (in response to a depressing analysis of the future state of the media business in light of AI text generation hype, from Ryan Broderick, another writer we love).

We hope the html review can be a small part of that future landscape. One of many alternatives, along with our growing list of friends, compatriots, and idols.

We seek to use technological tools for storytelling and poetry instead of data harvesting for advertising. To play, explore, and harmonize rather than disrupt. To make things ourselves, slowly, favoring human practice over optimization. Transparency over ease.

As Maxim Leyzerovich, another fave of ours, observed, “you know what can’t be acquired? html”

We will open for submissions again in the Fall, plan to figure out some sort of event/live reading soon, and look forward to your reactions to this wonderful issue. Even though we don’t have a marketing plan or social media accounts, we still try our best to do right by our contributors, and ask only that if you like something we publish, please support those who made it, and share it in any way you see fit.

Love and thanks,
Maxwell Neely-Cohen
April 3rd, 2023