|NOÖ Journal -- by Juan Carlos Reyes|
|Cavalier Literary Couture -- by Juan Carlos Reyes|
|Fix It Broken: Start-Up Corner -- by Richard Mocarski|
|The Collagist -- by Ashley Strosnider|
|Weirdyear, Yesteryear, and Daily Love -- by David Backer|
|Parcel: Start-Up Corner -- by Richard Mocarski|
|Nanoism -- by David Backer|
|The Catalonian Review -- by Ashley Strosnider|
|The Ramshackle Review: Start-Up Corner -- by Richard Mocarski|
|Roxane Gay -- by Richard Mocarski|
|Metazen -- by David Backer|
|Alissa Nutting -- by Richard Mocarski|
|MonkeyBicycle -- by Daniel Hollander|
|JA Tyler -- by Richard Mocarski|
|decomP -- by Richard Mocarski|
Reviewed by Juan Carlos Reyes
Content types: Poetry and Hybrids
Other formats: Short Prose
Why they stand out: A wonderfully extravagant format
Piece from the archives that everyone should read: “LIT MAG BOLD AS LOVE” by J. Morris
Why: A lively, sensual, almost sexual exchange between a fictional writer and a living lit mag, typical of the relationship the profiled journal ambitions to create between itself, the published writer and all readers
In full disclosure: the first outlets to receive my short stories whole-heartedly were online zines. Did it matter to me I could not flip through fresh pages to read my title? Sure—however, not to the extent it ruined my reading experience. Those initial publications in Tertulia Magazine were wonderful because the publisher Rosa Martha Villareal’s original .pdf quarterlies felt wholly physical: her graphic designer blended the visual and textual creating a frame not unlike an issue of Harper’s or The Los Angeles Review, offering the magazine’s published writers a sense of professionalism and a wonderful unity in an electronic setting—words that felt alive in a landscape that encouraged their vivid reading.
I knew then from writerly company it was no one’s preference to be read online first, if at all. After my third publication, however, I stopped caring, and despite my regular and unoriginal insistence to writer friends that print avenues only wanted to fit particular literary interests, few considered the electronic medium an acceptable format. Of course, today, in spite of the ongoing debate (a discourse Zine-Scene has taken up, asking questions and positing answers in discussions like Ashley Strosnider’s profile of Catalonion Review in which she considers, “Instead of asking ‘What can online journals do that print journals can’t?’ let’s try ‘What can online journals do that print journals can?’), the matter feels pretty much settled to me: e-zines have aims that fit the needs of today’s emerging writers; electronic outlets are increasingly plentiful and more available to the reading public; and, of course (lest servers crash everywhere in America, and all at once), literature published online is going nowhere.
Taking e-zines independently, then, with no comparison or contrast to their print equivalents, the most important matter to consider becomes maximized potential: how do e-zines meet it—how do their publishers create and effectuate an independent vision that allows its published poems and fiction to live in a vivid, tangible landscape?
In comes Cavalier Literary Couture, an e-zine that boasts one of the most elegantly extravagant presentations on the net. Recognitions of and ambitions for simplicity in e-zine design are great, and beautiful examples of it abound off every exit of the internet highway. However, for poets with no fear of a visual display that (though initially seems like it could contest the words) seeks first and foremost to enhance the pleasure of the reading experience, one is hard pressed to find a better online presence than CLC.
At first glance, the zine’s main page feels cinematic, a still life picture whose featured literature in roaming kites wave to you like an enticing welcome. Setting the tone is an almost other-worldly moon hovering over the European-like setting, a scene of rooftops and distant clouds, a night sky with trickling starlight. A Ferris wheel in the distance circulates its empty passenger cars as a woman in the foreground leans teasingly (in a burlesque cocktail dress) on the railing of her penthouse porch, seemingly mesmerized by a shadowy peacock perched on a neighboring ledge. The darkened flying kites, of course, take center stage, and each kite carries an embedded title—a poem or brief narrative—and a visitor can select any to bring up, on an interior browsing window with parchment design, the zine’s featured literature.
Browsing through CLC is not unlike strolling through a bazaar, a “free-wheeling, mysterious and fabulous circus,” if you will, as the journal’s July 24th e-newsletter so aptly noted. The online mag was established by a consortium of writers from both New York City and Washington, D.C., and it’s definitely no zine for those hoping to get their post-modern literature served on some plainer template dish. No: this here zine ambitions to take the graphic leaps its featured writers do lyrically.
The visual-textual marriage—a commitment editors hope to make a lasting one—creates a new vocabulary of relationships—like the juxtaposition of Peter Cooley’s “EN PLEIN AIR” with Bob Tomolillo’s “Purple Pen” (pub. July 28th, 2011) and the illustration of two women, skeletons exposed, bonded by their outstretched palms preceding Claire Askew’s poem “Little Sister” (pub. June 14th, 2011).
In an online literary environment dominated by straightforward presentation, a simplicity so pervasive as to incline towards the writerly no-no—the cliché!—Cavalier Literary Couture is a gutsy venture, and surely there will be readers who, in spite of their support, question the purpose of so much color—like Steven Riddle on his blog “A Momentary Taste of Being”: “Some things I saw there were magnificent and some made me wonder what was actually being purveyed.”
And, yet, the CLC vision feels as straightforward to me as any view outside my window: prominently, vividly, the exhibition on full display is the online reading experience. This ambitious e-zine model, like a carnival stroll, invites you to linger at each booth, get to know each framed poem and narrative by also embracing its visual partner. The journal itself is an elegant online performance, and it strengthens the literature it frames in much the same way a good reader changes one’s outlook on a poem at an open mic or poetry slam—the stuff being read simply becomes more physical in a playful space that encourages movement.
Interview with Cavalier Literary Couture Founder and Editor Christina Yu
Why did you start Cavalier Literary Couture? Were you hoping to fill a particular vacancy or meet a need in the literary magazine marketplace?
I started the magazine because I wanted to create the kind of place where the publication of each poem or story would be as much of an event as possible (hence the newsletters and work we’re doing with visual art). Having once been in the MFA world myself, I know what it’s like to be an aspiring writer (you try to build up publication credits and win prizes; you take it pretty seriously; you suffer through workshop, etc., and pretty soon you’re so wound up you forget the point). I’m not saying it’s bad to treat it like a career; it’s important to work hard and not be caught up in the mystique of being an artist (read The War of Art for more on that). But I wanted to create a place that brought visceral excitement and fun back to literary publishing. A place where it’s not about prestige, money, doing “good,” having the right politics, or any of the “serious” values that run the ordinary world—a place where it’s about “play” and exchanging “imagination for imagination.” A place where reading is illegitimately entertaining, not “good for you” in that boring way.
The artistic work that goes into running the magazine--the attention to design and detail, the work of juxtaposing visual art and poetry, the research and curation that goes into the newsletters, the discipline with which the internship program is run... all this energy and effort we exchange for the energy and effort of the artists we publish. So yeah, “exchanging imagination for imagination” is what we do.
And also, on a personal level, I’ve always loved organizations. Just think about everything you can do with a magazine or a small business! You publish work, you employ people, you give students opportunities, you mentor people, you bring people together... there’s so much surface area... Writing can be phenomenally isolating, especially with the winner-take-all aspect of success in the field. I wanted to help bring a sense of community back to the literary world.
Your online design is wonderfully extravagant and perhaps the most creative online setup I've seen. What was the inspiration for it, particularly the flying kites?
Well, I always hated the feeling of blogs. As a writer myself, I know how much energy goes into writing a poem or a story (it can take a few years of sporadic effort to write one really good twenty page story). If you put a literary poem or story on a blog, it just feels cheap; it doesn’t do justice to the work. I knew we would be publishing work online when we designed the site--and I wanted the experience to feel elegant and other-worldly. At the same time, I wanted a backdrop that would work with a variety of pieces. Ultimately I designed the site with certain writers’ aesthetic in mind. In particular, I was thinking of one of my favorite writers, Steven Millhauser. I also thought about two of my favorite movies--Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola) and Moulin Rouge. If anything, I just wish we could do more. We are constrained by resources, however. The toughest part of all this is not being able to fulfill all my visions. Very, very tough.
How did you go about choosing an editorial team? What were you looking for in your editors, and do you all tend to agree on aesthetic goals for the material you select?
I’ve established a solid recruitment relationship with my alma mater, Dartmouth College, where I get the majority of my editorial associates. Dartmouth has been so generous as to fund several interns and provide them with grants and fellowships to work with us. This summer, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with two RISD students. In the future, I definitely want to employ more visual artists; it helps to have visual art talent on board because of what we’re doing with arts & crafts, poetry “posters,” newsletters, etc.
I look for students I can trust who can really “own” their projects. Students who can take their projects from start to finish and bring something unexpected to the table. In terms of editorial work, I’m looking for students who have a mature sense of expression and a robust literary vocabulary. This summer, my team consists of the following students: Augusto Corvalan (who writes the newsletter and manages social media); Amelia Calsi and Kristine Rodriguez (who handle everything art and design related); Tyler Bradford (our resident PR & marketing guy); Duncan Bryer (who finds literary talent for us); Allison Malecha (who evaluates submissions and works out partnerships with artists); Ellie Sandmeyer (who writes copy for our site and brainstorms marketing ideas); and Christopher Walker (who is great with all things editorial).
What do you hope to achieve with the newsletter component of your venue?
Ecstatically ekphrastic. Our goal is to unite all the “makers” of the world. The fact that creative writing is a “craft” is taken as a given these days. Our mission is to take that old cliché and renew its meaning. We will be making crafts inspired by the pieces we publish; we will also be interpreting the spirit of our magazine through crafts and accessories; and showcase makers around the world who take “craftiness” to an extreme – who make extraordinary things out of ordinary materials, transform the world through their perception, and create spaces of strangeness and wonder. Words to describe us? Fabulous and stylized, savage and eccentric, monstrous and marvelous. In other words, we are looking to find and showcase artists you might find in the pages of a Nabokov, Millhauser, Borges, Kafka, or Ducornet story.
Why do you publish Cavalier Literary Couture online? What role do you think online journals play in independent publishing at large?
We publish it online because the online medium can be exploited in so many exciting ways. I’m only beginning to fathom the possibilities. (As you might know, I work at a tech start-up during the day, which has awakened me to a certain kind of potential.) We publish stuff online because it allows the project to be one long, ongoing literary extravaganza. We routinely feature archived work and every week, the summer associates look for visual art to match the pieces—and they don’t just focus on recently published stuff. So it’s not like you get published once and then your time in the spotlight is over once the next round of pieces is up. The pieces reverberate forever.
You publish a wide variety of work. Do you have any theories on what makes a piece a good online piece?
We’re trying to go primarily with poetry, prose poetry, hybrid pieces, and humor pieces. We’ll still publish the occasional long story.
Do you think that work published in print should be different in some way than the work published online? Why/why not?
Not really. Well, I certainly don’t think that online publishing is inferior in any way to print (running an awesome website.... running an awesome newsletter can be way more work and require more investment than printing a few thousand copies of something). That was a big mentality change I made when I switched from academia to the business world... the emphasis on technology and innovation can be liberating.
The future for Cavalier Literary Couture is bright. What's in store for readers and writers, alike?
Well, we have our newsletter, our visual art projects, our poetry posters, and our crafts right now. We will continue to explore the idea of “exchanging imagination for imagination.” Which is inspired by a Jeanette Winterson quote, about how the “currency of art,” the “moon metal” of the imagination, is never lost.
All this was always in the plans. It was just about having the manpower and talent to do it.
When I read a good story, I wear it all day. It becomes a constant droning in my sub-conscious; it pops up in all my conversations (perpetually relevant); it hangs out under my eyelids waiting for me to hit the pillow. Whether or not people in my life have read that story is irrelevant, I want them to read it, and if they don’t they’ll read it vicariously. Reading as much as I do allows me to be lax with my physical wardrobe. I don’t need to be sleek or stylish with my clothes, I’m plenty sleek and stylish draped in the stories I wear.
Fix It Broken would like me and you to be both stylish in our subconscious wardrobe and our physical wardrobe. Each quarterly issue includes a feature story that is made into a t-shirt, Fashionable Fiction.
The fashionable fiction feature seems like it had to come from the brain of someone young, so it’s no surprise to find out that founder and editor Greg Dybec is only 21. Many people might hide from their youth in a community like indie lit, since publication history brings with it some sort of cultural capital, and is normally associated with age. Not Greg, instead he embraces his youth and the youth of others in the indie community. On the Fix It Broken blog you’ll find the Youth is Write Interview Series, which consists of ten interviews with ten of the most influential young authors around (none of them are over the age of 28). Aside from making me feel a bit dated, this series highlights the energy and innovation of the next (well, current) generation of writers. It gives us a glimpse into the psyche of those writers who grew up with the internet, with cell phones, with Eminem.
What I’m trying to point out is that in its infancy (one published issue) Fix it Broken is something fresh and something daring. But, enough with the apparatus, it doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t bring the goods. Thankfully, Greg brings the goods. The first quarterly issue of Fix it Broken is live and chock-full of fantastic stories. From the Fashionable Fiction winner, Haper Hull, we get a glimpse into a crumbling man taking control of his life by disengaging with the world; to Crystal Beran’s travel narrative that makes me want to sail and also never go near the ocean; and finally to the only possible way this issue could end with three illustrated shorts by John Dermot Woods, including the especially fitting Fudderman’s Folly, where we all get a glimpse at the limits of imagination and the restriction of these limits which the internet is enforcing.
Fix it Broken is a baby, but it’s already walking, talking, dancing, moon-walking, back-talking, and break-dancing. It’s taken me by storm and it will take you by storm too… And also make you a better dresser.
Editor Greg Dybec was nice enough to answer our questions.
Why did you start Fix it Broken?
I couldn’t not be an active member of the literary community. I was just beginning to get consistently published and I loved every part of it. Like most ventures, you think about how you could do it your own way and leave your mark. So, I compiled the ideas, guidelines, and the fashion aspect and pretty much launched it all within about a month of having the idea. It’s like if you really could just pray to a stork to bring you a baby as soon as possible. Sort of.
Where does Fix it Broken fit into the literary landscape? How would you define your literary aesthetic?
I would like to say that we’ve sort of constructed our own little medium, bringing to the table quality quarterly issues, carefully selected artwork, a live community, and of course, fashion based on fiction. The aesthetic aspect isn’t anything solid. We’re looking for a certain feeling that you get from reading a story. Everyone knows the feeling. It’s the mark of a successful story. A writing professor I once had described Kafka’s stories as almost floating over a dark abyss, one that we’ll never be able to escape. I think that’s a pretty good way to describe the stories that are quick to catch my interest.
The fashionable fiction feature is a unique aspect that sets you apart from other magazines and provides something tactile from a digital medium. What’s the inspiration behind the fashionable fiction feature?
Like you said, something tactile. Except with us, the tactile object is not your work on paper, it’s your work as fashion. The idea behind it was the fact that fiction is perpetual and sensory. When you read a piece you love it affects you in so many ways. It leaves you with certain images, tastes, and ideas of your own. I thought it’d be interesting to bring stories to life in a different, but still creative medium. It also showcases various artists and designers, as we all work together to both interpret the piece and develop a visual aesthetic that, in a sense, captures the essence of the story. Plus, t-shirts are just an awesome canvas for expression, so why not throw great fiction into the mix and see what happens?
What does Fix it Broken give readers that other magazines don't (aside from accessorizing their stories with t-shirts)?
We offer life. A living, breathing literary journal. A lot of journals out there are static in-between issues. That’s something I never want Fix it Broken to be. We offer reasons for our followers to consistently check back, whether it be interview series, writing challenges, posts, or guest posts. Fix it Broken is still a baby, but the main thing is that it’s alive, working it’s hardest to always provide something for this community and we just want friends to share it with. It’s also a place for artists and designers. The fact we work with different clothing companies and artists offers readers a sort of portal into that realm as well.
Do you think that work published in print should be different in some way than the work published online? Why/why not?
Absolutely not. Each sphere, whether print or online, have capable and accomplished journals that are passionate about getting good writing out there. Whether on paper or on a computer screen, words are words and readers are readers.
Do you feel readers and/or writers perceive an individual piece differently based on which format it was published in?
Unfortunately, I do believe that argument is still pertinent, and I’m not sure when it’s going to die out. Though, at this point in time, with such strong and successful strictly-digital publications emerging, it really is becoming a matter of preference. I would like to think that more readers and writers are starting to realize what each outlet has to offer, and the fact that either way, whether print or digital, these great journals are all fighting for the same cause. Can’t we just give peace a chance?
Your Youth is Write Interview Series is intriguing and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it thus far, particularly the scavenger hunt with Steve Roggenbuck and Richard Chiem. Aside from making me feel old (full disclosure – born in 1981), what do you hope to accomplish with this series?
I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it, as much as you could; but really, that’s not old at all. It’s gotten a great response so far, and I agree the scavenger hunt was definitely one of the highlights of the series. I’ll actually use that as an example to answer your question. I feel that the backbone of youth is creativity, and I wanted to do something that didn’t just say that, but showed it. I knew that if I got such a talented and hard-working group of young writers and editors together the outcome would be undeniably interesting, because that’s what they all are as individuals, and that’s what the literary community is as a whole. So, I gave them minimal guidelines and let them interview each other, and bam, young minds at work do great things. The scavenger hunt, for example, was as much of a surprise to me as everybody else. One day that was sitting in my inbox and it just confirmed everything I believe in about young creative genius.
You have embraced your digital home with a fully developed blog and facebook presence; however many online magazines allow for comments on their stories to foster interaction between reader and writer/magazine, thereby calling attention to one of the benefits that online literature has over print. Did you consider allowing comments on stories when you developed the magazine? What lead you to decide to forgo interactive discussion with the audience?
Really good question. I did consider it, yes. It’s always great to get feedback and interaction, but something told me to let the issues stand-alone. I encourage feedback and conversation everywhere else (the blog, Facebook, etc.), but personal preference led me to believe the words of the stories should be the only words involved in each issue.
What are some other online journals that you admire and why?
I would say that consistency is key. Having said that, journals such as > kill author, PANK, The Paris Review, The Kenyan Review, Monkey Bicycle, and Artifice have always been so consistent in both quality and aesthetics. Hard work and passion shows, on every page (both print and digital) and great writing will find its way onto those pages. I think that the designs of journals are just as important as the work in it, especially with digital publications. The Internet provides an opportunity to basically create whatever you want in terms of design. This is by far the most difficult question since there truly are too many quality zines to name.
What does the future hold for Fix it Broken?
As I said, Fix it Broken is a baby. A newborn. Not even one year old, and we realize this. There is so much for us to learn and so many ways for us to grow, and that’s the real plan: learn and grow. We’ll continue to propose new ideas and introduce (what we perceive as) exciting concepts to the literary community. That’s a promise. Hold me to that.
Reviewed by Ashley Strosnider
Birthday: August 2009
Frequency: Monthly (The 15th)
Content types: Short fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews, novel excerpts
Other formats: Chapbook contest, published through Dzanc Books
Why they stand out: The Collagist represents work by the forerunners of literary publishing and people you’ve never heard of, and best of all, it does this every month. The reliability, consistency, and professionalism of the issues they deliver calls to mind a real live magazine subscription—all for free, and without ever having to wait on the mailman.
Piece from the archives that everyone should read: “The Air Must Circulate” by Renée E. D’Aoust from Issue Nine: April 2010
Why: Nearly ten issues later, this beautiful and simple piece of nonfiction still resonates. D’Aoust treats a personal essay with the short story’s attention to character and detail and the confessional poet’s commitment to self-reflection and metaphorical resonance. Caught between two different cultures which both seem foreign to her, the understated grace of D’Auost’s language and observation make a convincing case for her story’s own circulation, as well as the air’s.
See for yourself: “Friends from America send me e-mails: How is Sweden? I write back, Switzerland is great.”
The Collagist as Ransom Note.
With Issue 18, The Collagist has sent its readers a ransom note. Each issue is a mosaic of sorts, combining separate texts each bearing the mark of its author’s distinctive handwritings in order to create a sense of a unified whole. Even the best analysts will be hard-pressed to identify a dominant voice, ideology, or persona—the mastermind behind the heist. But despite its divergent voices, that slight of hand eschewing blatant authority, the message is clear: The Collagist has something we want. Recurrent themes and concerns which reveal themselves in layers throughout the reading of Issue 18 explain, piece by piece and clue by clue, just what we’re missing and at what cost it may be retrieved.
We speak of the particularities of writers in terms of their voice as a mark of style. We understand, of course, that this stems from a historical function of storytelling as something told and heard, and thus, something quite literally voiced. The poems and ballads, the songs and stories of war victories, were carried and repeated, even re-voiced by bards and entertainers. Unique voices were mutable, subject to constant remix. Oral cultures understood Creative Commons long before contemporary anxieties about ownership.
And then came writing.
Plato was appalled. What scared him most was the threat that the capability of archival posed to the privilege and function of memory. Once we started writing our stories down, he worried that all of culture would stumble and slide down the slippery slope of laziness until nobody bothered to remember anything at all.
But memorability isn’t the only aspect of story at risk when an oral culture becomes a literate one. Plato was so taken with memory that what he failed to acknowledge was originality, uniqueness, that particularity comprised in voice. Perhaps he didn’t foresee that the literal meaning of voice would cease to be relevant, that a storyteller’s voice would now exist only metaphorically. We can study handwritings, if we want to, take a writer’s notebook and analyze the curvatures of his letters, the apparent haste with which they’ve been scrawled, and we can use these as clues to reveal something special and unique about the language, the story, the author’s biography and context. But with the printing press came yet another leveling force, rendering the handwriting itself largely irrelevant. Writers’ original drafts were typeset and thereby reproducible, subject to standards of font and size and kerning and gutters, and the meaning of “original” was diluted.
And now, to make matters worse, we’ve got the internet, where writing is not only archived in certain fonts according to certain frames and certain templates, but writing can be published and made public with little to no policing. We can celebrate this as a democratization, a leveling of the playing field. Perhaps the opportunity to avoid the filters of editorial lenses, this option of avoiding the critic as judiciary force determining worthy versus unworthy additions to culture is something freeing. Just start a blog, and publish whatever you want as indiscriminately or as carefully as you so choose. As soon as you hit publish, it’s available, and it’s archived, somewhere deep within the bowels of a communication and information system only a fraction of us can begin to comprehend. And then you can safely forget about it.
Sure, it’s free. It’s raw, it’s untamed. But it’s anarchy. And how could a foreigner ever hope to navigate such a jungle? No one wants a dictator, but some of us might be hoping for ambassadors.
Into this wilderness of forgettable and normalized internet publishing sprouts The Collagist, an autonomous nation-state with benevolent rulers and happy, informed, involved citizens. But, as professional and kind-hearted as this regime and its followers may seem, The Collagist remains a force to be watched. Under our noses or maybe behind our backs, they’re up to something.
The Collagist features work in multiple genres, by a variety of leading voices in independent publishing as well as relatively unknown names. Each of this writers contribute their own particularities to the overall effect of the issues, as they leave their marks and their distinctive handwritings upon the shape of the whole. In “My Incoherent Alphabet,” Laura Van Prooyen considers the difficulty of finding a voice and words to speak her needs and wants, the impossibility of defining the spiritual longing that rushes into the gaps in human understanding. “I sit before the page and begin a prayer./” she writes. “The incoherent alphabet I spin is prayer.” This image, a disjointed and inconsistent alphabet spun together out of the loose strings surrounding it might as well be the collage of stolen words and letters on a ransom note. Paradoxically, though, Van Prooyen inverts the image as her speaker, the one piecing language together is clearly less in the position of demanding a price for the return of something stolen than she is begging to know the price at which what’s been stolen from her might be redeemed.
Another iteration of the ransom imagery comes in “Your Memoir is About Me,” a poem by Gary L. McDowell, in which he confesses to the crime. “My eyes take midnight hostage./” Here, he has taken something and holds it captive. And yet, no sooner does he give us time to mourn the loss of midnight or become indignant at its kidnapping than he convinces us, with a deft turn in the following two lines, that perhaps we’re all better off if he just keeps it for us. Because “In a world of perpetual dawn,/nobody is ever missing.”
With the pieces chosen for Issue 18, readers are provided a well-rounded meal, and evening’s entertainment, complete with Palm Reading in “The Boy and the Palm Reader” by Nick Kocz and Jenniey Tallman, and a guest of honor, “The Princess of Herself” (by Roberta Allen.) Like the protagonist in Michelle Latiolais’s “Hoarding,” The Collagist has stocked its cupboards to the brim to ensure no visitors go hungry and none get bored. “The prospect of running out of something seemed painful to her, quietly disastrous.” Latiolais’s character is convinced her greed doesn’t translate to selfishness, but she convinces herself she’s stocking up in order to provide for others, to be more adequately prepared to play hostess.
“Maybe they would come if she laid in provisions,” muses Latiolais’s protagonist. “Was that it? Preparations. For guests, should they drop in, guests on their way to the museums or the theater, the opera, provisions for that possibility, the chance that people might come, might visit, drop in, have a cheese straw, a glass of wine.” And if the hostess finds comfort in making others comfortable, well, who ever said altruism required pure motivations?
In “H1N1” Melissa Broder deals in stark, provocative imagery to treat similar subjects, including self- indulgence, spiritual longing, and again, that insufficiency of language to name all it’s trying to articulate. “Prayer candles/ on an avalanche level/ I forgot my dialect/ of defects entirely” demonstrates that even an awareness of deficiencies doesn’t necessarily render them able to be articulated clearly. A few stanzas later as the poem approaches its end, we find our speaker refusing to attempt articulation as she reflects on a moment when “a guilty future chimed/ but my tea read stay/ be not a saint/be queasy.” Unlike McDowell’s midnight hijacking, here Broder’s speaker remains silent,“confessing nothing/ to a slice of honeyed toast.” Her refusal, however, rings significant, as we pity the toast for what she won’t tell it, we realize all that she has just confided to the reader about the risings and fallings of her own human physicality.
Kyle Beachy’s essay “The Extent of Our Decline” tackles many of the same anxieties, all framed within the concerns of shifts in the publishing industry, particularly as these changes stand to affect novels. A very poignant and informative piece, it stands to shed new light on the way we read this essay itself—considering its place within Issue 18, its relation to the surrounding works, and the significance of The Collagist at large. If we read the issue chronologically (and admittedly, we’re less likely to do this online where hyperlinks abound), this piece of non-fiction follows all of the creative works. This positioning indeed invites readers to reconsider the work that’s come before it in light of Beachy’s argument.
And where the publishing world seems divided and anxious about the pros and cons of different mediums, the marketability of genre, Beachy reiterates an old portrait of the artist working for art’s sake. “Today's poets strike me as heroic, standing as they do among the enlightened creators who know well to expect nary a dime for their art. Perhaps a dime. There's little space for illusion inside the pursuit of poetry, and the work, for better or worse, is created by and large free [of] the burden of potential jackpot.” Despite the ease of critiquing such naïveté, Beachy’s sentiment here rings not only encouraging but on target. The Collagist doesn’t sell subscriptions, doesn’t charge a fee to disseminate literature. There’s clearly more to the market than monetization.
Toward the end of the piece, Beachy writes, “and now. Just look at these poor pages. Yellow and old, they smell of a death that is almost assuredly their own.” The irony is obvious here. Although Beachy’s essay will appear in a forthcoming printed work entitled The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books (Soft Skull Press, March 2011), his words here exist on a webpage which isn’t yellow or old, isn’t subject to decay. “The Extent of Our Decline” is now doubly archived, not only by Soft Skull’s printing, but also within the online annals of The Collagist. And if archive fills a role that cultural memory has ceased to take responsibility for, then access to and replication of works in a digital medium becomes doubly important.
Of course The Collagist is a collage, a coming together of distinct figures to achieve a unified whole, not only within the boundaries of each issue, but across them and throughout the magazine in its entirety. It’s an archive and an artifact, and it is as outward looking as it is introspective. It is a direct address to the readers. It asks readers to notice what’s missing—in the world, in the human experience, in the individual, and in the industry. It asks readers to value creative work and the efforts of independent publishing, to think critically about their modes of consumption and their attention spans. The Collagist’s Issue 18 is a ransom note, and it reads something like this:
We have what you’re missing.
Pay nothing but attention.
Act immediately or face the consequences.
Your future is in our hands.
Love, The Collagist
Interview with the Collagist Editor Matt Bell
When you first began The Collagist, what prompted you? Were you hoping to fill a specific vacancy or meet a need in the literary magazine marketplace?
I started The Collagist in conjunction with Dzanc Books, and was already on board there working as one of their Writers in Residence and as the editor for Best of the Web. They had decided they wanted to start an online literary journal, and asked me if I wanted to edit it. So the initial impetus came from them, but in general our visions for it aligned, in that Dzanc's mission has always been to champion writing that might be passed over my more mainstream or conventional presses. The Collagist is my own interpretation of that mission, in the literary journal space, which is of course already able to take risks that book publishers might not.
So, when the first issue went live, how far ahead had you planned? Maybe to Issue 2, or did you have your three year business plan set?
I think when the first issue went live, I had part of Issue 2 accepted. We had some goals for growth, but we tend not to try to accept work too far in advance. Even now, after 18 issues, I'm rarely too far ahead. Once and a while I'll take something for a couple months done the road, but I really try not to do too much of that, as it makes it hard to keep accepting work at some point. Keeping our dates from acceptance to publication shorter also means that we're reading more submissions before we make our decisions, which helps ensure that the strongest stuff is making it into the magazine.
How did you go about choosing the rest of your editorial staff? Do you all tend to agree upon aesthetic goals for the material you select?
We've been lucky that the staff has come together very organically. Poetry Editor Matthew Olzmann lives in Detroit, and so is local to Dzanc's home base, and we'd been lucky enough to know him for a couple of years and to be impressed with his own work. We were very lucky to have him come on board in that way. We've had five blog editors (usually two at a time, and currently Tyler Gobble and Ariana Lenarsky), and we met all of them through different ways, but all either came highly recommended or had worked with us on other projects. Reviews Editor Gabriel Blackwell had contributed to The Collagist, first as a fiction writer and then as a reviewer, and I was so impressed with his reviews and his ability to edit them with me that I immediately thought of him when I decided I need helping editing that quick-growing section. So I've been very lucky to have fantastic people to work beside, and to have had such an easy time finding them.
As far as accepting material, there's not a ton of conferring between us, but mostly just because we're all fairly autonomous. I read all the prose and decide on my own, and Matthew does the same for poetry. Gabe makes decisions about book reviews, both what to run and how to edit them. Tyler and Ariana do their interviews without any interference from me. It can be odd, because we're producing all this content, but we're not always in direct contact with each other, because everyone's more than capable of doing their job on their own.
And while we’re on the subject of selection, you publish a wide variety of work—particularly in terms of length. Do you have any theories on what makes a piece a good online piece?
I don't think it's any different than what makes a good piece anywhere else. The biggest differences, to me, is that there are some textual artifacts that don't work well online (like footnotes), which tend to make me pass on those types of pieces for purely layout reasons. On the opposite side, there are some things that are easier to do online, like very wide poems, or prose pieces that include images. We've published some works like that in the past, and will continue to in the future, as its one place where the elastic nature of web design really benefits the work.
Can you explain a bit about your relationship to Dzanc Books? Does this make you sort of cousins with Monkeybicycle and Keyhole and Absinthe and the gang? Are there any sibling rivalries or territory disputes?
Dzanc Books is the publisher of The Collagist, so we're ultimately responsible to Dan and Steve there. That said, they're very hands off with my decision making, and provide all kinds of support when necessary. So it's a very beneficial working relationship, and I'm lucky to have it.
As for competition between the magazines, I don't think there is. At least not on my end. The funny thing is always seeing a story I passed on appearing in one of their journals, and I'm sure the opposite has happened more than once. There was actually a story a year ago that I passed on because I didn't think it would work well online, and then Keyhole accepted it and published it on their website, where it worked awesome. So I totally failed to see that one correctly, but was happy to see it go to such a good magazine.
One thing about The Collagist that strikes me as fairly unique in the online realm is your monthly Letter from the Editor. An old staple of print rags, it doesn’t seem to carry over very often. Penny for your thoughts?
What I like about the letter is that it's A) a chance for us to deliver bits of news about The Collagist directly at the source, when people are most likely to be visiting the site, and B) that because we don't do a lot of direct communication with our readers, it's a chance to be approachable, and to try and start a conversation around the magazine and the writers we publish.
Although I suspect that Internet years work something like dog years, The Collagist is still just a baby. How have things changed in a year and a half’s time, since the first issue in August 2009? What other changes do you think/hope the next year and a half might bring?
I think I feel more confident in our aesthetic, if nothing else: Every new piece we accept both affirms and redefines who we are, in some way, and I think after eighteen issues that's clearer than it was after one or two. So that will keep happening, and thankfully so. Because of that, we're also always getting better and better submissions, which makes the slush easier to read and the decisions harder to make.
Titling gives me headaches when it comes to things as small as articles and poems. So, I have to ask-- how on earth does one name a literary journal?
If you're like us, then the trick is to pick a word that no one quite seems to know how to say out loud, so you can have uncomfortable conversations about it for the rest of your life.
Weirdyear, Yesteryear, and Daily Love: Earl Wynn's Three Literary Magazines
Reviewed by David Backer
To publish = p(x)
Where x is any text, traditionally in word form, signifiers alphabetically concatenated into arbitrarily-referring orderings. (‘Tree’ refers to brown thing with green things on top.) Also, these traditionally inscribed in ink but now digitally formed and presented. A text doesn’t need to be of this kind to be a text, but when I think “literature” I think of the alphabetic instances of story-telling.
‘p(x)’ is a function on any x such that if x is a member of the set of unpublished texts, then x becomes a member, via p, of the set of published texts:
p(x) : x e Ut --> x e Pt
Some questions: What qualities change about the text in this transition from unpublished to published? What qualities does a text need to have in order to undergo it? What does it mean for a text to have qualities? What are the criteria the function p(x) uses to choose texts that should be published? We’ll deal with the last question here.
Certainly p(x) is a value-assigning function, in that we discern with it from among unpublished texts which of them are worthy of being published; that is, which of them should be published and those that shouldn’t. This is the editor’s responsibility. Just like a person more generally must decide among options--things to say, do, buy--the editor chooses what texts to publish.
There are different ways to interpret this function, p(x), some of which have only come about recently because of Internet media. To understand and communicate these new interpretations, many contemporary literati rely on another realm of value-assignment: politics (more specifically, idealized political theory).
Earl Wynn uses the political analogy when he talks about the digital literary discourse. Wynn, like many, say that the Internet has “democratized” literature. This is evident in Wynn’s three magazines Weirdyear, Yesteryear, and Daily Love, as well as many other new digital literary phenomena. My goal here is to start trying to figure out what “democratized literature” means. Understanding this better will mean understanding Wynn’s project better--and maybe a lot of other projects too.
Political systems are value-assigners. They’re functions. The easiest example of this is choosing a leader. From among all members of a political body (I’ll call them denizens), a political system chooses one that should have power. This can happen in a variety of ways. Let’s say ‘l’ is a function on the set of denizens, D, such that if a citizen becomes a leader, s/he becomes a member of the set of leaders, L.
l(x) : x e D --> x e L
This is the same kind of formula as the one representing “to publish” above. This one means “to become a leader” or “rise to power.” The same kinds of questions apply here: What qualities change about the denizen in this transition from ordinary person to leader? What qualities does a denizen need to have in order to undergo it? What does it mean for a denizen to have qualities? What are the criteria the function l(x) uses to choose denizens that be should be leaders?
We’ll deal with the last question about criteria. One response to it is tyranny. A tyrant or dictator “takes” power, and no one but him/herself decides that s/he is worthy of being a leader. S/he does this traditionally with violence, manipulation, and charisma. S/he is the judge, jury, and executioner. The single gatekeeper of the community.
Another response is oligarchy or aristocracy, a group of people that select themselves or get selected by history--either through nepotism or the acquisition of material wealth--to hold power. They are the gatekeepers, plural. They are a number of deciders, as opposed to the singular tyrant, though they are an exclusive minority of their community. For every 1,000 denizens there may be one or two oligarchs or aristocrats.
Another response is democracy. Instead of minority rule, there is majority rule. Every denizen, through voting, becomes closer to a ruler and every ruler (if it’s representative) becomes closer to a denizen. Pure democracy means there’s no difference between rulers and denizens. Whatever the majority may decide on any particular voting occasion, in democracy every member of the community has a voice. Every member has equal standing and has a right to speak and be heard by his/her fellow community members. One person, one vote.
Each of these are different interpretations of the leader function, l(x) (see Plato's Republic for more). A tyranny is a one-decider function. Oligarchy is a some-decider function. Democracy is an all-decider function. This is in the context of political communities composed of denizens. The literary community, however, is composed of writers and readers. These two kinds of community differ in important ways, one artistic and the other civic, which makes the business of drawing an analogy between them difficult, but not impossible.
Let’s start with the publishing function. Ideally it’s a function on texts, not denizens. If a text is judged worthy it will be published. The worthiness of a text comes from an interpretation of it's qualities, it's merit. The best texts, we're assured, are published, and if a text isn't published it hasn't yet achieved worth. We have to continue editing and submitting.
This is a meritocratic interpretation of the publishing function, which isn't exactly kin with the political interpretations mentioned earlier, though the way this supposed meritocracy occurs in "reality" reveals why political analogies are so fruitful for grasping it.
As any seasoned submitter knows, texts aren't only judged by their quality as texts. There are such things, for example, as solicited and unsolicited submissions, the former more prestigious than the latter. The difference between a struggling upstart magazine and The New Yorker. The well-connected versus the unconnected. Here, in the concept of “submission,” lies one load-bearing concept that reveals the wider political reality of publishing status quo.
A text I compose is something like my political voice in the civic arena. It is what I speak, how I think, what I want to communicate-- my own little ray of reflected Being. When I submit a text, I send in my voice for judgment. It it’s judged worthy, as mentioned, it gets published.
I want to dwell on this particular word: “submission.” It's ubiquity in the literary world is a puzzle. In the free, expressive, and cathartic space that artistic creation and consumption creates, the presence of submission, a hierarchical and rigid concept, stands out like a black sheep. When I read the Koran this puzzle became clearer and more profound, as the concept has a central importance in Mohammed’s philosophical revelations. One must submit one's entire self to Allah, for example. What does it really mean to “submit” one’s writing in this sense? To some degree it retains it's religious significance: To give up one’s voice to a “higher” power, an authority, with some amount of faithful and reckless abandon. To give up one’s self without scrutiny or complaint.
In this light unsolicited and solicited submissions take on a new meaning, and the connection between our literary community and political communities gets clearer. A writer may only get published, that is, have a voice, if s/he is well-connected, knows the right people, or if the right people know him/her. If this "people" centers around a singular person, there's tyranny. If it's a group, there's oligarchy.
It seems clear, anecdotally at least, that the literary community has been (is) largely oligarchical, with a tendency toward tyranny.
Historically we know that oligarchy is an unjust political system in at least two ways. First, a majority of individuals who actually have voices are assumed not to have voices. These are the poor, serfs, minorities, etc. Second, the quality of any particular voice doesn’t matter--one might be genius or foolish--what really matters is whether one is a member of the club. We'll stick with the first one, though a longer polemic would include the second as well.
The civic arena, at least in the "developed" world, has done much (via liberalism and democracy) to combat these injustices since the Enlightenment. We tend to think that everyone's voice, irrespective of club membership, deserves to be heard. Obviously, this is an ongoing project and in many cases has failed miserably (though, as Churchill said, it may be the best of the worst). There are still millions of voiceless persons, but it's significant that we tend to think they should have voices.
In contrast, the literary arena has retained a kind of feudalism. To have a voice writers must submit their writing to a higher authority, a club of editors and agents and publishers at varying levels of hierarchy (which, in it's totality, is what I mean when I say "literary establishment"). But unpublished writers, insofar as they write, already have voices by definition, just as serfs, the poor, and minorities have voices in their civic communities insofar as they're members of those civic communities. This is why oligarchy is patently oppressive: one small group of voices says to a larger group of voices "you're not voices until we say so."
This is the reality for writers. It’s the same reality anybody who has wanted to be a successful writer has, at some point, bemoaned plaintively and, after they’ve either persevered or failed to be accepted by it, grew some kind of calloused, cynical relationship with over time. (For the most recent iterations of this cynicism, see MuuMuu House's submission guidelines and some of HTML Giant's content and comments.) This cynicism shouldn’t prevent us from interrogating the reality further: How many writers are worthy, but aren’t chosen? How many voices have been ignored or unheard because of a publishing system that is one-decider or some-decider based? Should the literary world be oligarchical? Can it be any other way?
Like in politics, injustice accrues at the limitations of our systems of organization. These questions arise because the publishing community is defined in those ancient hierarchical terms of “submission” and “acceptance.” The publishing function is constructed (read: limited) this way. But as we know from political history, systems change. The transition from oligarchy to democracy, we tend to think, has been one of progress. The oligarchical literary world, going digital, now has the opportunity to see beyond those old limitations.
(4) Earl Wynn
Enter Earl Wynn. His three magazines Weirdyear Fiction, Yesteryear Fiction, and Daily Love publish stories every day. This requires a less hierarchy-oriented style of editing, though it retains some semblance of the old oligarchical submit-accept interpretation of the publishing function. Wynn explicitly calls it democratic.
And it is. If you can get your manuscript into acceptable grammatical shape and its content is at least somewhat appropriate for the magazine’s general themes--Eclectica, History, and Romance, respectively--then you’re a published author. (I know this from experience: I’ve published a story at Weirdyear and a story at Daily Love. Both times I got my acceptance within 10 hours of my submission. For all those concerned with taste-making and ensuring that the only the “best” texts should become “literature,” see Wynn’s response to my interview question about whether the quantity of what he publishes affects the quality of he publishes.)
At Wynn’s magazines not any text is literature. But certainly more texts are literature there than have been for other magazines. For this reason Wynn's is definitely a more democratic interpretation of the publishing function than we’ve traditionally seen in the literary world. There’s less of a club. Authors published in Wynn’s arena have a platform. A voice. A link they can email to friends and post on Facebook, Twitter, and their Gmail status boxes. It’s not just them posting their own writing, like on a blog, but their writing actually gets published at a magazine. So readers read it. This is less oppressive and less cynical. The chances that these writers will find audiences for their writing (albeit smaller, a “narrowcast” instead of a “broadcast”) is way better than in the previous system where they couldn’t get any readers at all. Wynn's approach to publishing is less inspired by the ethos of "You only have a voice if we say you do" than by "You have a voice. Let us help others hear it." It’s democratic literary publishing and, I think, if political history is any guide, it’s probably the future.
What do your three magazines Weirdyear, Yesteryear, and Daily Love give readers that other magazines don't?
I think the most important thing that all of the imprints of Thunderune Publishing (including these three magazines) present is new and unheard talent. Most mainstream fiction magazines prostitute themselves to circles of established authors because they know that people are more likely to buy a book (or a magazine) if it has a name on it that more people know. If you’re publishing a bunch of nobodies, you are narrowing your sales angle, and suddenly those big glossy adverts that make the magazines so easy to produce in throwaway quantities start to drop in price (and demand.) The internet is the one way around this (it’s like having unlimited, free, full color copies of your magazine (plus back issues!) to hand out, and its as easy as throwing up links) and the magazines I run take full advantage of this. The publishing industry as it stands functions on a broken and exclusionary model which kills more artists than it fosters or matures. It’s based on pre-internet technology, and while the behemoths of the industry are trying to adapt or integrate into the new, still-forming model (they can smell their death on the wind otherwise) the smaller, quicker publications like Weirdyear, Yesteryear, Daily Love and so many others (props to 365 Tomorrows– they do daily sci-fi stories) are setting the tone for the future of art in the digital age.
What is a literary magazine's role in culture? Does it have any obligations to fulfill?
Honestly, it depends on the literary magazine, but they usually lean either toward maintaining an agreed-upon standard as to what is “good art” and therefore become stuffy pillars trying to resist the eternal tides of change, or they buck the agreed-upon standards entirely and ride the tide of change to see where it goes (and what new art washes out of it.) Personally, I believe that all literary magazines have the obligation to be different, experimental and in pursuit of new and different forms of written art, but not everyone agrees with me there (I belong to the more revolutionary and less establishmentarian camp).
Some litmags take an entire year to curate one issue. Each of your magazines publishes a new story every day. What's the philosophy behind "daily content"? Why publish so frequently? Does the quantity of what you publish affect the quality of your magazines?
Quality is always an issue with no-budget, online-only daily fiction zines like Weirdyear, Daily Love and Yesteryear Fiction. I make a point of turning away anything that is riddled with basic grammatical errors (mostly because I don’t have time to fix them all on every such piece that comes in, and it says right in the guidelines– please proofread!) but I try to take on as many pieces of fiction that have merit to them as I can, especially if they are from new or unestablished authors. Publishing daily means the overall quality isn’t what you would get with a magazine that provides content with a larger time space in which to catch and sort submissions, but it also means that we don’t have any “unpublished close calls” or “runner up” pieces. If its good, I’ve got a spot for it, and you bet your boots I’m going to put the Steven Kings and the Dan Browns right up there next to the Jane Blogs and Joe Nobodys. What else could any self-respecting purveyor of artistic talent do? As artists, we’re already labeled as being stuffy, hypocritical and exclusionary– why not buck that altogether and be more egalitarian? The philosophy behind daily content is entirely driven by a desire for equality and the knowledge that there are wider definitions when it comes to what’s good than most of us realize at first blush. Don’t think for a moment that means the material on the site is a hash of recycled crap though– there are some real gems on these sites, and zero outright duds, but best of all it’s free, and you can’t argue with free.
What is "cyberpunk"?
Cyberpunk is a fragment of a movement in the aesthetic consciousness of society that I talk about in my article on ‘punking In The Emerging Quantum Mainstream. It is the artistic reflection of a dystopian, might-have-been (and might still be) future projected by sci-fi visionaries of the 1980's. It’s Blade Runner, it’s Matrix, it’s Robocop, it’s the Alien franchise, it’s everything authors like William Gibson have ever written. It’s cybernetic implants, spyware, adaptive information technology, and of course, my own series, Pink Carbide.
I hate it when writers ask rhetorical questions in fiction. If I encounter a third-person omniscient narrator asking me something I tend to stop reading. Do you have any pet peeves that make you stop reading a piece of fiction?
Honestly, my biggest pet peeve is poorly constructed references to any major religion. Don’t get me wrong– I have a soft spot in my heart for stories which contain well-researched, theological allusions, but any story that is all about praising Vishnu, Jesus or Zeus is going to leave a bad enough taste in my mouth for me to give it the boot. Tense shifts bug me too, though I have seen them done properly. You can tell when an artist is purposefully changing viewpoint or tense within a story, and you can tell just as easily when they just don’t know what they’re doing.
Do you think digital communication has affected human consciousness? Why/why not?
I think that digital communication isn’t so much a force acting on human consciousness as it is the future of human consciousness, especially in regards to social interaction. As technology advances, we will wear it closer and closer to ourselves, not necessarily to the point of total integration (like you see in Cyberpunk) but to the point where everything social that is done at a distance is done digitally as realistically as if you were there yourself. Eventually, I figure, it won’t matter how far away your family and friends are, you’ll be able to sit in your living room and talk to an almost-real projection of them whenever you want to or attend huge parties held entirely in a mind-accessed virtual reality. It’s a shut-in’s paradise!
You were born in the same (scary) year I was, 1984. What does it mean to be an artist in our generation?
I think that our generation is at the forefront of a new paradigm in regards to what it means to be an artist. We live in an age where, more and more, we are the masters of our own destiny. Today, every man, woman and child has the potential to be exactly what they dream of being by simply doing, recession or no recession. Before, artists were bounded by their local circles, the art galleries within walking range or a phone call, and it took all but a miracle to get something to attract national attention. Today, all of that is small-fries. Today, your art can be available worldwide with just a couple of clicks. It’s that simple.
We are the generation between X and Y, the middle ground between “why not?” and “why me?” We are old enough to remember a pre-internet world and yet we are young enough not to be frightened by our society’s increasing digitization. We are the 21st century’s lost generation, but the wasteland of life into which we’ve found ourselves lost is full of more potential than any of our ancestors could believe. We live in the new wild west, and the frontier is as digital as it is endless.
From what I can gather from your website and wikipedia page, you lead an idiosyncratic life. You've published sixteen novels, maintain three litmags and a publishing house, (among a number of other websites) and you do pyrography--making art using fire. What is a typical day like for you?
I spend about eight hours a day in front of a computer, but I use the rest of my day to stay active and spend time with my awesome and gorgeous to-be wife, Desiree. I make myself take weekends, but even then I’m usually working on something. I’ve always got a project going, and I follow my passions wherever they go, whether that means researching, creating, or dreaming up new projects to sink my teeth into. Everything I do during the day is aggressive, direct, primed for efficiency and artistic in nature. For me, art is about the experience, the presentation, the reaction– I do it for myself, but I also do it with the reactions of a given audience in mind because that’s the most exciting thing about a project launch– seeing the reactions of the public, whatever they may be. My magazines are set up with as much automation as possible both to cut out the need for additional employees and to keep my hands free when it comes to other projects. Pyrography is something I do when I really want to relax or get in touch with my spiritual side, but digging a hot soldering iron into wood for hours on end means I only usually do it every other week (to give my hands a chance to recover while still typing 2000+ words per day.)
Parcel Magazine is a new bi-annual print publication out of Lawrence, KS. Its editorial team includes former Black Warrior Review editor and fiction writer Kate Lorenz; poet, publisher (Blue Hour Press), and graphic designer Justin Runge; and independent bookstore (The Raven) owner Heidi Raak.
As we state in our start-up corner preamble, we feel that new print magazines face the same uphill climb to respectability that online magazine do, but they might even have it tougher since their content must be purchased by readers. We've chosen Parcel as the first spotlighted print magazine because we feel it's the perfect fit for Zine-Scene's mission due to the fact that it embraces its medium: "Parcel is a beautifully designed showcase for work by known and developing writers and artists. Each issue is a collectible volume sent to subscribers along with limited edition broadsides and postcards."
Editor Kate Lorenz was kind enough to answer our questions.
Why did you start Parcel?
It was a dream project for both Heidi and myself. I was out of an editing job, and Heidi wanted to found a journal that the Raven Book Store could underwrite. We thought that Lawrence, Kansas, would support another literary project -- which it has with open arms – and that we could add to the booming community of writers and artists.
Where do you envision Parcel fitting into the literary landscape? How would you define your literary aesthetic?
Though it sounds like we're saying, "We like EVERY kind of music," Parcel does aim to publish a wide range of literature. We're interested in mixing traditional narratives and poetic forms with more innovative formal pieces. More than a focusing on a specific aesthetic, our goal is to present our writers' work in a pristine book, as well as to support visual artists with our postcard series.
What will Parcel give readers that other magazines don't?
From an editor's standpoint, I'm striving to make the publication as technically perfect as possible. It disheartens me when I see exceptional magazines publish pieces with pretty serious typos or errors. When I edited Black Warrior Review, we frequently received notes from our authors thanking us for the care we took in editing and in making the pieces look beautiful on the page, which I hope will continue through Parcel. The bi-annual postcards are also a selling point, and we look forward to seeing what other projects these collaborations might yield.
As you know, Zine-Scene is about the promotion of online literature -- but we're interviewing you, a publisher of a print magazine because you embrace your medium. Can you elaborate on Parcel's plan to embrace its medium?
We appreciate the inclusion! While Heidi and I read and support online literature, we are also book fetishists -- we love the book as a tangible object. We knew in starting a print journal that we would need to fully commit to the medium, which is why we brought Justin on board as the design editor. His work with Black Warrior Review was astonishing. It's also why we chose the name "Parcel," and why we're including postcards for subscribers. We want Parcel to be a complete reader experience that begins with opening the package in the mail and ends with reading pieces by extraordinary writers.
Who is designing the broadsides and postcards? How are these incorporated into your vision of the magazine as a whole? How do you envision the magazine itself being designed/produced?
We're hoping to use a different artist for each postcard. Letterpress and printmaking are some my favorite art forms, and fit in with our mission to promote artful books and book artists. We hope to explore this more as the journal grows. The magazine will be a straightforward volume, but with a fastidiously selected typeface, page layout, and cover design.
Do you think that work published in print should be different in some way than the work published online?
Logistically there are some differences. As I understand it, some online editors give an extra look to shorter pieces which read more easily on a computer screen. But, as technology progresses and we become more used to reading on the screen, I think there will be less and less of a difference between print work and online work, especially with regard to indie and small press publications.
Do you feel readers and/or writers perceive an individual piece differently based on which format it was published in?
I've heard people say that reading a print publication lends a certain gravitas to the work, in the same way that reading something online can seem extra hip. For me, most of these differences are superficial, or are at least subjective.
What are some other little magazines that you admire and why?
Again, we like EVERY type of music, but there are certain magazines we admire for different reasons. Ninth Letter makes a great case for the possibilities that lie in print publication. The Denver Quarterly presents a diverse showcase of contemporary work, and it's nice to receive issues so regularly. In terms of online publications that are well-curated and easy on the eyes, we like Diagram, The Collagist, Annalemma, and Pank's online issues. Of course, we also have to put in a plug for Blue Hour Press, Justin's gorgeous collection of online books.
What has surprised you since you started Parcel?
The support from our friends, fellow literary enthusiasts, and writers has been overwhelming, if not surprising. I'm also surprised every day that Heidi has entrusted me with such a project. We're all still a little giddy.
What does the future hold for Parcel?
We're madly working on our first issue, which will be out in February. There will be a rip-roaring release party at the Raven Book Store, before we ship out to the AWP Conference. And, we hope that everyone will like the journal and will want to be our friend.
Frequency: Thrice weekly
Content Types: Twitter Fiction
Why they stand out: They promote a form born in the digital age.
Piece from the archives that everyone should read: Jimmy Chen
See for yourself: "Basho, abashed, wrote two lines of a haiku before erasing it; that it was written in blood on stone, made him miss dinner."
Spotlight by: David Backer
Frequency: Irregular, dependent on sufficient quality content to form an issue.
Content Types: Fiction and Poetry
Why they stand out: Simplicity and quality, coupled with a consistent blurring of the line between what is prose and what is verse.
Piece from the archives that everyone should read: Josh Siegel’s “Thirsty Horses” i n Volume 5
Why: For its unsettling equations which border on the inscrutable, yet after second reading yield emotional resonance even where they do not cough up logical resolution. Siegel’s combination of elegance and absurdity is representative of the Catalonian Review. “Thirsty Horses” perfectly embodies a sort of strangely beautiful tension which pervades and characterizes each issue.
Spotlight by: Ashley Strosnider.
All too often, conversations assessing the varying merits of online and print journals are rooted in comparisons of capability rather than quality. We ask “What can online journals do that print journals can’t?” And our answers center around things like the speed, ease, and low cost of publication, or multimedia presentations of texts or interactive commenting platforms. I’ve seen an increasingly omnipresent assumption that all online journals be technological innovators to capture interest and hold down a place of respect in a quickly changing market.
But what if we rephrased the question? Instead of asking “What can online journals do that print journals can’t?,” let’s try “What can online journals do that print journals can?” And the answer is simple: online journals can publish interesting and quality writing.
The Catalonian Review is consistently and refreshingly simple in its publication of quality prose and verse. Copious white space and simple, elegant fonts create an online experience that is a clear and effective translation (translation, mind you, not mimicry) of reading on the printed page. And that’s it. But when a publication can’t hang its reputation on innovation, it’s got to depend upon the quality of work published.
So how to be relevant, reputable, refreshing? Again, we see that one need not necessarily do something new, one only need do something good. And what the Catalonian Review does is good: quick and personal responses to would-be emerging writers, creating cohesive, quality, free and accessible online issues of poetry and prose.
Yet, The Catalonian Review makes an interesting choice in its presentation of genre. That is to say, The Catalonian Review simply does not present genre at all. Their homepage welcomes readers with the statement “we publish prose and verse.” Yet, when readers click to open the current issue, there’s no quick route to the prose or the verse, no simple way to weed the poetry out and go read the short stories nor vice versa. Readers see a list of contributors’ names, and the choice then, is not between genres but personalities—would I rather read Francis or John or I., Dennis, or Peycho first?
This eschewing of genre is particularly compelling after only a few moments of reading within any one of their six issues to date. The question quickly becomes not where is the poetry and where is the fiction, but instead what is the poetry and what is the fiction?
Fontana’s “Bronze Age Tools” is a prime example. But before I go any further, a disclaimer: The Catalonian Review does not provide biographical information about its writers, nor contact information, and therefore, I do not know whether I. Fontana is male or female. I flipped a coin and determined to refer to Fontana from here on as “she” (but I won’t tell you which gender was heads and which was tails). “At first,” she begins, “we ate mostly yams,” immediately embracing her readers in a seemingly harmless collective act, but at the next moment, she complicates it, as “No one knew what to do about it.” As soon as she implicates the reader, she renders him immediately guilty, too, of some sort of problematic dissention as apparently innocuous as yam-eating. Still, Fontana suggests that something, at least, should have been done. As the story of “Bronze Age Tools” unfolds, Fontana gives us plot in vague, sweeping gestures. “Some changes were made, not without resistance, and we learned to eat many things.” The prose is simple, but its suggestions are not, and perhaps the most interesting details in Fontana’s story happen somewhere behind the prose, in the lacunae between the few bare facts of change, resistance, and education. Fontana resists specificity in a move that universalizes the experience and demands a symbolic reading. Where her prose isn’t particularly poetic, the reading approach “Bronze Age Tools” calls for certainly is—and with Volume VI of the Catalonian Review as context, the question of tools and progress is one we must ask of our writers as well as of Fontana’s yam-eating nomads.
We need not assume that all art can be interpreted as a commentary on art simply by merit of its existence in order to read “Bronze Age Tools” as a chronicle of technology’s effects on art and literature.“While others still wore the same old masks,” Fontana writes, “we wore new ones, and drew magic symbols of power on ourselves.” The collective “we” takes on simultaneously the powers of creation and disguise. We all present faces other than our own, but while the others stay the same, we put on the new, representative of a progress of sorts—and we don’t stop there. We “drew magic symbols of power on ourselves,” Fontana writes. Power here is merely symbolic, and it is self-designated, drawn by the self for the self. “We spent a lot of time worrying about luck,” and what strange new writer doesn’t?
The piece continues, “Things happened on their own, and we did what we could not to be left behind.” And just as no one wants to live in the only hut without a fire or drive the only ox cart with square wheels, Fontana suggests that these sorts of change are no longer innovative but perhaps simply socially normative. Can we hope that for the future of online publication? And do we?
“Bronze Age Tools” ends in Ib. after “we became Assyrians” and “did what we were known for.” The speaker “grew old, with seven daughters, as a merchant of bangles in Ib.” The capacity for creation is still apparent in this fertility of offspring, particularly in the detail of their femininity. And as for the speaker’s status as a merchant of bangles, she’s simply peddling the means of disguise and adornment, new masks for our wrists, magic symbols. This critique of progress ends in a fallen empire, once a powerhouse, now a distant legend. Which only suggests, perhaps, that while to deny change is to willfully become obsolete, embracing innovation can’t necessarily guarantee opposite results.
In Maeve Bennington’s “Stalemate,” a self-consciousness drives the piece from its initial abstract beginnings as it steadily moves toward specificity, engaging the world beyond itself in increasingly detailed considerations of the obvious and the expected. In line two, Bennington evokes the second person, asking the reader to listen and understand. “It's dripping. Darling, can't you see that it's dripping? Look! I told you!” The repetition, the emphatic phrasing seems almost paranoid it an insistence that its own concerns be noticed, validated, responded to.
As the speaker continues to follow an associative train of thought, the poem moves toward meaning through an eclectic cast of characters—the mailman, a married couple, a Canadian, his strangled mother, a you with a phone, the voice on the other end of the line, a me, a man who was run down by a carriage in the street, that same man considered in light of his fatherhood, a dead poet, the speaker’s own father, Sartre, Heidegger, the Germans—who, when considered together, form “Stalemate’s” definition of humanity.
Bennington (notably, one of the magazine’s editors) writes, “I knew a poet once, but now he's dead too.” She directly engages Barthes’ death of the author as well as pays homage to the longevity of written work.
That Bennington’s name is actually a pseudonym only reinforces what is perhaps (or for her, at least) a necessary separation between the personal identity of a writer and her written work. And yet, while the speaker’s observations and assertions throughout are very specific, detailed, poignant and unique in voice and eye, the speaker’s father remains unmoved and disinterested. Bennington writes, “I'm often forced to refer to the quotations of a famous author/ when addressing my father. He doesn't care for anything I have to say.” Instead, he wants to hear approved quotations, prewritten and rehearsed, above raw or unique thought. For him, reputation must precede the writing. Beyond the theoretical reference to Barthes, Bennington specifically names Sartre and Heidegger, and the poem names itself an eclogue in the end, settling down (or at the very least, promising to settle down) to take its place within a philosophical and poetical dialogue it’s more than equipped to read and speak. In a magazine that embraces pseudonyms and refuses to provide any biographical information about its contributors, “Stalemate” resonates beyond its own boundaries.
These two pieces from Volume VI suggest not so much a dominant aesthetic as a common concern at the Catalonian Review, stories and poems that reach out of themselves toward a collective we and an external you. How does one learn to eat something new, or make another understand a leak? When is change necessary and when is it inevitable? And what is the shelf-life of a disguise or a philosophy, a story in print or words on a screen? For now at least, the Catalonian Review is here, and if simplicity, self-awareness, and quality are enough, perhaps, it’s here to stay.
Interview with editors Waylan Martin and Maeve Bennington.
What's the story behind the origin of Catalonian Review? Did you two found it jointly, or how did you come to be co-editors in chief?
Maeve and I (we use pseudonyms) were exploring markets and finding out about the lit mag business. Some of it was mystifying. But more than anything, we were concerned about the options out there for writers who wanted to debut their work reasonably quickly—I mean writers whose work maybe hadn’t been seen yet. This was our main objective in founding the magazine.
Pseudonyms, eh? Care to elaborate?
The reason we use pseudonyms is that we don't want anyone looking us up and reading our work before sending along their own work. We prefer to be approached as if we were the most reputable editors in the world--simply because we're not. But we try to be fair and kind, and openminded.
Do you conceive of any cohesive aesthetic for the Review at large? How about the composition of individual issues?
This is a question that magazines always try to answer but end up looking silly when they do. So we will try to be careful, and so far we’ve avoided answering this question. We publish work that pleases us, and by reading our issues you can probably infer what that might be. Our content is free—one of the boons of an online magazine—so all anyone has to do is read what we’ve published so far. Our tastes are ever changing and expanding, so we will refrain from saying anything too particular. But we do lean toward the zany.
Why do you publish the Catalonian Review online? What role do you think online journals play in independent publishing at large?
We publish online because that is the only way we can. The advantages of online journals are numerous and I think they in some ways outweigh the advantages of print. For one, we don’t need funding. Two, writers do not have to buy the magazine. Three, we can put issues up quickly. But on the downside, a reader or contributor will never have that old-fashioned permanent feeling of holding a physical copy of our journal. That I think is the one main drawback, but we can live with that.
Specially, then, what role do you hope the Catalonian Review plays?
We hope we can publish strange writers quickly.
You're notoriously swift with replies. What's your trick?
Simply put, we don’t like to waste people’s time. I think for the most part people appreciate that. No one wants to wait six months for a rejection. But also, that is our niche—we respond quickly; it distinguishes us. It’s basic business. If you are a new journal you need to distinguish yourself, responding swiftly is a great way to do it. With the help of wonderful websites like Duotrope writers are able to see how fast a pub is likely to reply. Thank goodness for them, the people of Duotrope, for helping writers to better understand the publishing world so everything doesn’t seem so mysterious and closed-off.
In your submissions guidelines, you ask writers to tell you "what you either like or do not like about your medium." Can you define "medium" in this context? Do you see any trends in writers' answers?
The word “medium” is up to the writer to define. Any answer is acceptable and we try not to let the answers sway us at all in considering the work, at least not in the sense that one’s thoughts on writing are as important as the work they’ve sent. The question is there to indicate whether the writer has read our guidelines. Often they haven’t, and this isn’t a deal-breaker in the slightest, but it will impact the attention we give a particular piece; if you don’t answer the question and the work doesn’t grab us right away we may not be very interested. However, if you don’t answer the question and the work is clearly something we like, we will publish you. Maeve also wants to keep an eye out for writers who have similar interests to us, and seeing the answer to that question is a great indicator of just that. Obviously the work will also demonstrate that, but it’s almost like an added component to our application process. We want to know what our contributors are thinking about. We originally implemented the question because we started receiving a lot of submissions from writers who had obviously given no thought to whether their piece was a good fit with our publication.
As a matter of fact, what happens to these answers? I don't see them anywhere on the site...
We never plan to publish these answers as a supplement to any particular work. We don’t really care what people say about writing, at least not nearly as much as the writing itself. So far we haven’t received anything that has blown our minds, not nearly as much as some of the work has. However, if a person’s thoughts on writing do ever blow our minds, we’ll publish it as a piece.
Anything new or exciting in the works?
The Catalonian Review will continue to publish eclectic material at its own pace and read the work of anyone who wants to send it to us. We are a new publication and we are just becoming widely read. That is enough for us.
And last but not least--if you had to rename your Review after a different region of Spain, what's your second choice and why?
If we had to rename the Review after a different region of Spain it would have to be the Canary Islands; maybe something like The Canary Island Big Gulp Magazine Review. That has a nice ring.
Reading through the issue gives you a sense of unease (in a good way) as the authors are not trapped in by their forms. Be it poetry, prose, or visual art, the work is breaking boundaries, blurring the lines with dense language, unique images, and mixed media.
We’re pleased that editor, Mark Reep, agreed to give us an interview and are anticipating a great issue 2.
Interview with editor Mark Reep.
Why did you start The Ramshackle Review?
Ramshackle was initially imagined as a lit and arts zine pairing each featured work with its creator’s comments on process. Available Light seemed a clever name for about ten minutes, until a Google made it clear we’d better come up with something a little more original. In retrospect, that was a good thing. I’d had the name Ramshackle Review in mind for awhile as well, and it offered opportunity to do something broader, open-ended.
I’ve always disliked categorization. I told Nicolle Elizabeth at Fictionaut’s ‘Checking In With…’ recently that Ramshackle is (among other things) one of those 70’s radio stations that played everyone from Elton John to Black Sabbath. RR1 included a Sheldon Lee Compton short story about the death of Breece Pancake and a Rebecca Bohn flash about a family of beavers whose loom had broken: Very different content, but both beautifully written and moving. Our first issue is only partly indicative of what we’d like Ramshackle to become, but I’m pleased with both the quality and range of work included. Both Sheldon and RR1 featured artist Pamela Wilson provided insights into their process, and we’ll continue to share those as well.
Where does the Ramshackle Review fit into the literary landscape? How would you define your literary aesthetic?
Like many of us, I read both for pleasure and to be inspired in some way, both by content and use of language. Unless I’m moved, woken up a little, shown something new, some new possibility, I won’t be interested long. That’s made me a very selective reader and editor, and some days I feel badly about that. But of course my take is only that, and the next editor may feel entirely differently.
Inspirational is one of those words that’s become a category. Like most, I wish it hadn’t. We all have our own unique gifts, insights, approaches, and if something you read or view in Ramshackle inspires you to close your browser and open Word or a sketchbook or whatever you work with and do what you do, then it’s served you well, and I’m happy.
These days much of the work I find beautiful, strong, enduring is simple and spare. Most adjectives not only ring hollow and distract, but deny the reader opportunity to paint a bit more of the picture themselves. I like John Crowley and Phil McCray, too. But very few of us can write hundred-word sentences that stand up as well as theirs.
What does The Ramshackle Review give readers that other magazines don't?
Most publications seem likely a reflection of their editors’ tastes, and Ramshackle’s no different. A number of RR1’s contributors are well known and respected, and we’re honored to share their work. But we also look to publish writers and artists few of us have heard of (yet). Nothing unique about that, but if we can help a few new voices gain a bit more exposure, that’s an honor too, and satisfying to be part of.
I would describe the first issue as language driven with an eye toward breaking the boundaries between prose and poetry. (This seems like a nice tie into the title of the journal.) Is it your intent to focus on language?
Language is certainly a focus, but at least a kernel of story or compelling image is essential too. I’ve always liked blurring forms and lines- Fact and fiction, particularly. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried was inspiring in that regard.
What made you choose to keep comments activated for pieces in your journal? Has this ever caused issues? Are the comments censored?
One of the things I like about blogzines (along with the free part) is the opportunity for readers to comment and interact directly with contributors. We all benefit from feedback and encouragement, and so far there’s been no need to delete any unkindness or spam.
Do you think that work published in print should be different in some way than the work published online? Why/why not?
Both print and online offer an expanding array of options and opportunities, and as an editor and web designer that’s exciting. But I’ll also always look to present work in a way that provides maximum opportunity to enjoy without distraction, and that generally means simplicity.
Do you feel readers and/or writers perceive an individual piece differently based on which format it was published in?
Probably, and in a few ways. For one, I expect that to most of us who grew up pre-digital a book of poems on the shelf likely still feels more tangible, more solid, than an online collection or e-book. But obviously that has nothing to do with the worth of the work itself; I certainly don’t feel that way. Good work is good reading wherever you find it, and I’m always looking for more.
What are some other online journals that you admire and why?
Smokelong, elimae, Narrative to name a few, all for obvious reasons. Lotta blogzines- Ink Sweat and Tears, amphibi.us, A-Minor Magazine, for demonstrating that no budget was no problem. Writer’s blogs: M. John Harrison’s Ambiente Hotel, Kio Stark’s Municipal Archive, Tim Etchells’ Notebook- Work by Tim and his brother Mark will appear in RR2. Charley Parker’s Lines and Colors is the class of the arts blogs, and not just because he’s featured my drawings.
What does the future hold for Ramshackle?
More fiction, nonfiction, interviews, poetry, music, visual arts (we consider drawings, paintings, digital, photographs, photo manipulation, mixed media, and we encourage comments on process). It seems likely we may outgrow Blogger at some point, but for now we’re happy there. We’re reading for Issue 2 through November 30; submissions to email@example.com.
In lieu of a new journal spotlight, we are unveiling a new feature at Zine-Scene: Start-Up Corner. This is a platform to highlight new literary journals (any journal with one issue or less) by interviewing their editor. This feature will be sporadic and will take the place of a Zine or Author spotlight, depending on when they fall.
Unlike our other spotlight features we will not exclude print journals. Our rationalization behind the inclusion of print journals is that start-up print journals have the same uphill climb to respectability as start-up online journals. To build a strong following journals need credibility, which comes from the nebulous reputation. Building a reputation typically takes time (as it should, to an extent) but in the right hands the first issue of a new journal can be fantastic. Additionally, a start-up print journal does not have the benefit of free access and a potentially wide audience for their first issue. Therefore, we want to give the editors a chance to explain their aesthetic and their goals. Our hope is that readers will be able to spot journals that they will like before a year or two passes: that readers can get onboard with a journal from the beginning.
That being said, our first Start-Up Corner will be on an online journal, The Ramshackle Review, and will go live tomorrow, Tuesday, October 24, 2010.