Readers who acquire most of their books by mail might wonder if their reading patterns are determined by whichever book the mail carrier speeds to them first. This is what happened to me when, thank the carrier, Matt Bialer’s Ascent (Bizarro Pulp Press, 2014) arrived first among the books I’d ordered this fall. Bialer is a painter and photographer as well as a poet, and Ascent’s visual texture is saturated with the strange world that tries its best to hide among the plain and ordinary. In this book-length poem of short, often single- or two-line stanzas, we’re raised (and lowered) to the level of light—flashes of light—that strike the tiny town of Van Meter, Iowa, in 1903. Van Meter’s citizens are the ordinary sort: respected, God-fearing, neighborly. So, when one such Van Meter-ite (“Of Brother Implement / …seed / And vehicle business”), sees a flash of light and smells a “Foul sulfur odor,” other citizens swear that they do too. Shots are fired but no bullets can kill this “Thing,” this “Child of the devil.” The account is based upon stories in local Iowan newspapers of the day, and Bialer includes snippets of these stories as well as the ‘story’ of the present-day narrator: “I look at the Facebook postings / Photos and videos / Tweets / Instagram / Tumblr / Flicker … / A flash of light / In the darkness / … We all saw it / We’re not crazy / ….” This “we” is all-inclusive by now, and indicative of the exhilaration that the forbidden (and the forbidding) brings to us ‘good’ people. “—It was nothing // —But we hooked up,” a friend confesses to Bialer’s narrator. “Right before the wedding? // Then don’t tell her / It never happened,” he responds.
While the events in Van Meter are reason enough to read Ascent, what truly hooked me was the poem’s nearly imperceptible slippage from past to present, from repressed erotic longings to fantastic sightings and “crazy” behavior. There are virtually no end stops in the entire book. It’s enjambment: sexy and terrifying.
After reading Ascent, I wanted more enjambment. Who else to read next, then, but Carl Phillips? His Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) is intoxication by enjambment. In the poem “First You Must Cover Your Face,” we have: “How still they are—the bees, I mean, / not the flowers bending and unbending beneath / a rain that’s come suddenly and, just as suddenly, / has stopped falling…Stillness, not of death, / but intoxication, / sweet coma, / zero-ness of no more wanting….” But no Phillips poem stays still. The “wanting” swells as its sentences lengthen; then, denied fulfillment, the sentences and lines shrink to bitter, heartbroken commandments: “Get dressed— // We should leave, now.” (from “In This World to Be Lost”) or the haiku-like, death-season sting of “Squalor of leaves. November. A lone / hornets’ nest.” (in “Surrounded as We Are, Unlit, Unshadowed”). But then the sentences swell again, defiant, demanding justice—or, at least, an explanation—and plow ahead, as insistent on their case as attorneys. “…Why shouldn’t we have / come to this, why not…,” the sentence queries, continuing its enjambed, eighteen-line length, “…so easily / torn is the veil diminishment comes / down to as it lifts and falls, see it falling / now it lifts again, why do we love, at all?”
My fascination with enjambment and slippage may have started with Michael Burkard’s poetry, which I’m rereading now for at least the hundredth time. Many moons ago, an MFA workshop instructor distributed a packet of contemporary poems. One poem ended, “Why stop there, why climb through the field / when field was just an attempt to close off / this silence, to close, to say silence I have / missed you like a donkey on fire, like a donkey.” (From “Wren: Three Mirrors,” from In a White Light and reprinted in Envelope of Night: Selected and Uncollected Poems by Michael Burkard, Nightboat Books, 2008. Disclosure: I helped edit this Nightboat title.) Whoa. How had Burkard done this—done this to me? The violence of that image: poor donkey—how horrible! And what about that simile’s subject: missing silence like a donkey on fire? Why would a poet miss silence at all, let alone so violently? I think on some level I knew that, for Burkard, poetry was silence; and where else but in poetry’s silence could such violence be borne?
Burkard’s images might freeze me dead with fear; but his lines, swift as jump cuts or sleights of hand, turn stiffening horror into active, palpable emotion. From the title poem, “Envelope of Night”: “Death was a past tense, though the memory whispered ‘until’ / until the night moved green, / moved its shoes from side to side, and this was regarded / as movement among magical branches, which it was, // but it was memory too….” The images are surrealistic, of course—those shoes!—but each line’s slippage to the next, without end stops, make them endlessly, terrifyingly transformative. It’s as when, in a silent dream, familiar people and objects glide from one “magical” (by which I read “enchanting” and “frightening,” therefore “terrific” and “terrifying”) context to the next. And, for me at least, the more familiar the person or object and the more terrifying the context, the more I love again—yearn for and mourn—those people who are distant from me now, having slipped away to whichever “magical branch” lost people and their objects-by-association slide. And so the questions I ask when I read Michael Burkard are the questions I ask of those now-silent loved ones: How did this happen? How could you have slipped away so suddenly? And what are you now? And from there, from those no-answer silences, the most terrifying poems begin.
As part of my Sex, Terror, Enjambment and Slippage Fest, I’ve also been rereading The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (Penguin Books edition, 2001; first published in 1794). (Radcliffe, by the way, was insistent upon the difference between terror and horror, the former, she wrote, “awaken[ing] the faculties to a high degree of life” while the latter “contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them.” [From “On the Supernatural in Poetry,” New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1826.]) Udolpho is a hoot. Ultra-popular in its day, it was the paradigm of Gothic romance novels. (Austen’s Northanger Abbey is part homage to it, part parody.) It’s anachronistic as all get-out: set in 1584, in the mountainous regions of Southern France and northern Italy, its wealthy characters make “tasteful improvements” to their estates when nothing of the sort was done until the 1740s. They drink coffee when none was introduced into these climes until the mid 1600s. Its anachronisms, bland stretches of poetry by Radcliffe, fooled-ya-style haunted-castle scenes, and all-good/all-evil characters don’t do much to drive home the terrors its heroine faces or to make the happy ending matter to a modern reader. But those wilderness scenes—and the sentences that describe them! In passage after terrifying passage, Radcliffe gives us the heroine’s journeys through the Pyrenees and the Alps, most of them at night in dimly lit carriages, along precipices and cliffs rife with banditti and through melancholy plateaus where few if any inhabitants or regular roads are to be found. Here, Radcliffe’s sentences vault and thrust as if toward the distant, unreachable peaks that, once approached, reveal higher and more perilous ones. The syntax is endlessly and terrifyingly sexual: “On every side appeared the majestic summits…, some exhibiting tremendous crags…whose appearance was changing every instant, as the varying lights fell upon their surface; others, still higher, displaying only snowy points, while their lower steeps were covered almost invariably with forests of pine, larch, and oak, that stretched down to the vale….” Elsewhere, “…a cataract flash[es] …till its waters, reaching the bottom, foamed along with unceasing fury….” Such scenes appear throughout the novel, in sentences that peak and gush, slipping one after the other from marvelous heights to veiled depths. These scenes and paragraph-length sentences—and not the frustrated romance that resolves in marriage and domesticity—are where terror and arousal, twins of the human psyche, live on.
There is something terrifying about slippage and enjambment. When a text moves without seam or stop, or when one story or form encroaches upon another, so that I’m not sure how I arrived, it’s not possible anymore to distance myself from the text. Where are the boundaries now? Can I explain how my personal traumas, the poet’s and history’s are separate? In A Conjoined Book (Omnidawn, 2014), poet and critic Karla Kelsey enjambs pieces that have to do with an unspecified personal trauma and the terrifying (and horrifying) fairy tale The Juniper Tree. (The Juniper Tree appears in the Brothers Grimm but has older sources in folklore and is arguably not exclusively German in origin, as Kelsey points out; and so it is a kind of slippage itself.) In both the personal and the fairy tales—the “conjoined” tales of Kelsey’s book—the uninterrupted history of human violence and environmental degradation speaks: “…& in the corner the shotgun / & the emptied urn, rusted urn, the lifting stone where pillbugs curl & hide as / heavy in wet wool you leave the scene through the garden door. / Under the rubric / of excuse is the story in which I was last in a lineage of hunters…” (from pg. 17 and one of many pieces in the collection titled “Interstitial Weather Remnant”). This narrator-inflected piece gives way to—or the fairy tale begins to encroach upon—“How / the flames roared. How the children pointed & she / was miles & miles from there. These are imprints of / events sketched in the imagination of memory. & he / is the yellow tinge atop the trees, opening his arms wide, telling the world to go to hell…” (from pg. 47, untitled). And then, later, in “Vantage & Graft,” we have mostly fairy tale—or do we? “…be quiet, said the mother, & don’t let anyone know about this… / …No-no-no you cannot tell anyone my daughter / for this crime / you have / committed / cannot be / undone.”
In The Juniper Tree, the mother has committed the crime and killed the boy, not the daughter. But who will learn the truth? Who can speak? If one text slips into another—if one voice slips into another—is anyone speaking? Can an ordinary person’s tale of trauma be told, or any personal truth be heard, as history trounces forward, one great episode of violence to the next? In note after note, Kelsey reminds us of literature’s powerlessness: historic scripts can’t be changed to suit the times. Readers, she reminds us, can reinterpret and re-contextualize literary texts over time but can’t edit them. History stomps and literature is immutable. Folk tales, however, are re-recorded, reinterpreted, and in flux: “[E]ven if the changes that take place in folklore texts are sometimes as slow as geological processes, what is important is the fact of changeability of folklore…” (from “Interstitial Weather Remnant,” pg. 87). Perhaps slippage, in folk texts and in stories we try to tell of our mutable lives, is where truth resides: “…& they / cut out / her / tongue // but / nevertheless / the bird / sings out / nevertheless / she wove / her story / into a / tapestry // the unspoken / overlooking / the field…” (from “Afterimages,” pg. 86).
On November 5, the Artistic Ensemble at San Quentin State Prison performed WATERLINE, a full-length production of original theater. The artistic ensemble is part of the Insight Prison Project; its members are all prisoners at San Quentin. They created and performed WATERLINE in collaboration with four outside facilitators including Freddy Gutierrez. I’m grateful to Freddy for the invitation to experience theater produced from within such radically constricted conditions, the sort of conditions that have shaped other moments in which theater played a vital part, from Russian agitprop to Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s collective, Associazione Nuova Scena, or the Black Repertory Theatre/School started by Amiri Baraka. Within the prison industrial complex, the constriction of everyday life under capital’s rule is intensified, its stratification, its genocidal drive, its logic absolutely clear. What does it mean to perform, to make art in such conditions? For those who make it, those who experience it? I’ve been confused about a lot of things in the wake of this performance. I experienced things I didn’t expect. The performance raised questions about my everyday life. About gender. About institutionality. About restorative justice. I wanted to write something about it. I wanted to write something for the artistic ensemble.
This goes out to Adnan, Anouthinh, Antwon, Carlos, Chris, Eric AKA Mike, Garey, Gary, Gino, Ira, Julian, Losdini, Nate, Neiland, Richie, Rodney, Upumoni, Ami, Freddy, Tatiana, and Sebastian.
Up early to eat borscht and leave by 8, discouraged by everything, the early hour the diversity and inclusion working group the administration the bargaining table the budget the money raised at the gala on the backs of where it doesn’t go the affordable senior housing crisis aging generally holidays death rape we need to get a wooden salad bowl. We sit for a long time in the chapel waiting for everyone to move through the gates and walk in a single line on the path above the water show their ID pay attention to where your body is raise your arms while someone runs a wand around stamps your wrist through here hold your ID up will the gentleman in the suit pull the gate closed after us. While we wait in the chapel we make a to do list except we don’t have paper or phone nothing in your pockets just ID and keys if necessary. On the brief walk across the yard between the final gate and chapel, an empty fountain of mid-century design reminds me of fairyland, the sky so blue above it and afraid my body is going to do something weird wave my arms around cause a problem in the airport security line sometimes I worry I won’t be able to stop myself from making an inappropriate joke about weapons or lipgloss or toothpaste as weapons. Guards cross the yard with huge rings of keys swinging from their belts like the Andy Griffith show. I feel high vertiginous I’m inside the state. The gate locks people inside. This is one of the better prisons like everything in the Bay Area there are so many artists and therapists and volunteers and programs a friend said people joke it’s a community college someone else says more like Harvard. Afterwards I ask if there will be another performance it’s a stupid question. What it takes to get 60 visitors in at once.
Inside of San Quentin State Prison (CDCR Photo)
But this isn’t about me or not too much just that I got to see the single performance of this play with an audience of 60 visitors from the outside and I’m not sure how many men on the inside but a lot, they filled the chapel. Four facilitators from outside worked with seventeen men on the inside, they met three hours, once a week for a year and a half. They didn’t know if there would be a performance at the end or not. They set the question aside and talked together instead did some writing together some moving. I think these meetings and other meetings and programs like this are the only places where the men socialize across racial divisions I think it may be the only multi-racial space in the prison.
Before it begins Steve waits for us to listen like the artistic director at a small theater and this is the curtain speech he has some housekeeping to go over but he says housecleaning instead. I have a warm feeling for Steve. We can’t use the regular bathroom because there is drug testing going on and they have to maintain something about visual clarity they have to watch the men in line. We should use a bathroom in “the captain’s porch” instead and if you are unfamiliar or do not have a brown badge go with someone who does. Do not exchange personal information with a prisoner. That is the policy. Wait for someone with a brown badge to take you out. Sign out of every book you signed on the way in so they do not have to look for you or call your house later tonight. Laughter. After Steve talks the men enter and fill in the rest of the rows behind us, visitors from the outside get the front rows. Some of the men recognize a television actor I don’t Clive says he’s on TV. More quiet talking after a while some men lay down on the floor backs to the audience curled on their sides head cradled on their arms. The sound of water, rain, water falling and running down pipes and walls water drops. Freddy welcomes us and talks about the project and I have a warm feeling for Freddy. I have a warm feeling sitting next to Clive in his suit because we hard a hard time figuring out what to wear no colors nothing that might cause misrecognition nothing a prisoner or guard would wear no denim no green ok purple purple is ok. A beautiful woman in a bright purple scarf I saw her at the gate maybe she is bringing some courage some encouragement to someone she knows inside. Waving purple brightly. I don’t know. I have a warm feeling sitting next to someone I’ve done yoga with the Friday night donation class but don’t know her name. Then it is starting and when it is over we will turn to each other and say we weren’t ready for it to end. It begins with the drought. With water inside the body. All the water metaphorical water water as itself rivers and oceans and tears and pee all the water outside the prison makes it a view for money for a resort a postcard of mist or fog around rocks around the edge as we walked up the hill so blue. Where it meets the sky.
After the play we drive away from the prison in our truck and don’t know how to talk about it.
I keep calling it a play but that’s not quite right. A dance. Poems stories sometimes just sounds part of a word. My face keeps breaking out crying all the way through the performance I hold back or try how maudlin so easy to be a person crying feeling things but this is stupid too look around everyone is crying. Richie one of the performers starts crying during the Q&A and men are shouting yes to him and it’s ok and the men’s hands on the back of the other man who is crying or laughing and some of you knew how I grew up and how did you step into that role how or tell a story that isn’t yours? His friend gave him that story asked him to tell it. All the questions are smart questions. Richie spent most of his life in a level 4. Why these stories. The ensemble wants critical feedback from the 60 visitors mostly artists community art types sitting in the two front rows but none of us has anything. The actor from TV says “In terms of technique I don’t have anything on you” someone laughs “yes you do you’re free” one of the men in blue there are a lot of jokes about calling on “the man in the blue shirt” during the Q&A most of the questions are from people in blue shirts who the play is for where it came from and returned to.
This goes on all week I stand in the grass at work and say something about how disorienting it is when art matters when you weren’t expecting it and realizing how often you do not. I confess I was afraid before we saw the play that it might be somehow bad, I mean emotional but not very good. Or expressed through genres that aren’t my genres. Or afraid of myself as a portrait of liberal guilt, observing myself observe the performers through a webbing of painful self-awareness of individual privilege. I sit on a bench at the bar I don’t know how to talk about it. How when art matters, why is this, what do I mean, or when emotional work, under what conditions, the basic problem of the prison of the chapel in the prison where art mattered, when there is a group of men and the form of their being together is tenderness and all the places where this is not so, everywhere art that does not matter does not move the way something moved through the basic problem of the prison the chapel in the prison the inside and the outside.
It begins and ends in water with water it’s blue. Some blue shirts say PRISONER. Some performers wear the same kind of boots. Some don’t. One has on a grey shirt I don’t know why or how someone wears a ring or belt or grey shirt and someone else doesn’t.
There is a lot of holding. Some men form a couch carrying another man leaning on his side propped up telling the relaxed story of leaving his father’s house at 17 and bringing with him the TV his father bought him and other things his father bought him and the kush plant his father wouldn’t let him keep which is why he left for a house with roommates and it was perfect with an empty swimming pool they could skate in a story I think sort of about the black middle class and slipping and getting caught in something and trying to get out and not being able to get out of something that ends very badly but begins with being carried on a couch with a high GPA athletic excellence and a lot of education you can hear in the language of this story
Some men form a mother on her knees carrying a child across her back across a river in Cambodia to a camp in Thailand collapsing there sleeping then getting up and folding a grey blanket a red cross blanket a donated blanket folded like a flag into triangles the pain of citizenship of carrying that boy on your back all the way here
Some men form the walls of a cell pressing in on another man EIGHT BY TWELVE he says EIGHT BY TWELVE again EIGHT BY TWELVE
One man reads single lines really simple lines it’s like My Struggle but more vast. Each line a piece of paper drops to the floor and piles up there while two other men crawl along behind moving the paper pushing it forward placing a sheet under each foot as the man reads a line and steps forward another man crawls there and places the paper he drops under his foot so each page allows him to tell more each man on the floor crawling behind him pushing him forward holding him up
there is a story that won’t be told
one man staggers under the weight of a folding table
there is a list of names spoken through a dance so intricate and the performer so handsome people would want to watch this man dance on a screen I think if he released a track or danced on a screen people would want to keep listening people would not get enough of watching this man ever
it’s hard to enjoy the dance these names crying side by side over and over the names of friends maybe or brothers maybe killed by police I think the men are gone the names hurt and the dance snaps through his arms and feels so new here together 60 of us from outside and I’m not sure how many inside but a lot they filled the chapel listening to these names crying side by side I don’t think this will ever be on a screen or on the track
later the man who dances like that says when he’s doing this when he gets to dance or write or sing it feels like the life he should have had the one where he dances writes sings
one man very old begins singing twinkle twinkle little star
one man holds a guitar and another slowly pulls the strap over his head, takes it out of his arms
“I just kept losing things”
the men seem a lot smarter than a lot of the men I know
maybe because of the men touching each other or forming mothers or how each holds the dance in his face and arms differently each seems fine with the way he does it the way he holds it
the men touching the other man’s back when he is crying afterwards
the men calling out go on it’s ok
the men making sure someone else gets to talk
I notice the men don’t talk about sex in the play
I wonder what they are allowed to represent and not allowed to represent
the stories are all bigger than the men
the men hold little paper boats white boats and follow them with their eyes
it ends this way
sailing out of the room on little paper boats
Stephanie Young lives and works in Oakland. Her most recent book is URSULA or UNIVERSITY. Other poetry includes Picture Palace and Telling the Future Off. With Juliana Spahr, she edited A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a- machine-gun Feminism. She edited the anthology Bay Poetics, and is managing editor of Deep Oakland (www.deepoakland.org).
Last month, I briefly touched on some of the ways that technology can problematize our writing space. This month, I’d like to balance some of those claims with a deeper investigation of what the internet as a place for publication and community means for us as writers. By interviewing a few writers/editors about their own involvement in the WWW zine scene, it’s my hope that we can all gain some greater perspective on web-related issues. Adam Clay is the co-founder/co-editor of TYPO, an online mainstay for over 10 years, and Kenzie Allen is founder/managing editor of a new online journal called Anthropoid. What follows are their insights, experiences, and outlooks.
You and Matt Henriksen started the online literary magazine TYPO in 2003. Can you bring us back to that moment or give us something of an origins story?
When we started TYPO, we didn’t really have a concrete plan or idea of what we were doing. The two of us were both graduate students at the University of Arkansas, which didn’t have a literary journal (and still doesn’t), and were interested in putting together a publication which the two of us could curate and design. For a short time we considered a print journal, but the costs seemed to outweigh the advantages. At around the same time, a few journals were publishing online, including Diagram, storySouth, and Drunken Boat. Of course, there were others. From a financial perspective, the online journal just seemed to make the most sense. It costs around $60 a year for the web space. We also design the journal in-house, so we save money that way. In additional to the financial advantages, the reach of an online journal is far more greater than print journals. We can also publish whatever we want—there are no limitations on length or content. Once a journal is affiliated with an institution, things change. Having complete control over the content, the design of the journal, and the work we chose to publish was certainly an exciting possibility. On top of all of this, it’s a journal we can continue to work on. If we had started a journal at the University of Arkansas, it would have been passed onto the next group of graduate students—certainly, this is a positive thing in some ways, but a journal can lose its consistency in the hands of a wide variety of editors.
What would you say were/are some of the other advantages you see to an online platform as opposed to print? What were/are some of the disadvantages?
I talked some about the advantages above, but it’s worth mentioning some disadvantages. With the ability to publish as many issues as we want (with as much content as we want), there might be the temptation to lower one’s standards or adapt what we accept because of them. I don’t think this happens too often with journals, but it certainly can. I do think technology has impacted online publishing in some interesting ways. Born Magazine (which is now defunct) really did some interesting things with the medium. Linebreak (started by students at the University of Arkansas after we were both there) features a poem a week read by a different poet. I love the idea of a journal that can publish weekly or daily—it allows for more opportunities and venues to publish.
There’s this great sequence of letters in the second issue of TYPO called “Disarm the Settlers” by Tony Tost, where the politics of contemporary poetry are kind of casually, personably, but somehow also rigorously and unflinchingly scrutinized. It’s some pretty exhilarating and insightful stuff. Near the end of this sequence, Tony addresses the internet and what the development of an online zine culture might mean or look like in the political landscape mentioned above. He seems to indicate that this is where a real revolution can take place, but that it will take some time. That got me thinking about TYPO’s intentions. What was your vision or purpose for TYPO from the get go? Was or is the internet in some way more conducive to that purpose?
I don’t really know if we had an idea of what we were doing or where it would take us when we started TYPO over eleven years ago. Our first issue felt like an experiment in a lot of ways—we solicited poets whose work we admired and asked them for work. Luckily, they all responded and trusted us with the work. From there, we opened submissions and were floored by what appeared. I first read G.C. Waldrep’s poems in my inbox, for example. It was exciting to see where the work would come from and to look back at the archives to see how many poets we’ve published. I don’t know if one could say that we have a vision, per se, but maybe a direction is a better way to describe it. We want to be a space to publish work that might not have another place to appear. Our two translation issues are a good example of that.
A lot of magazines say that they’re just looking for good work, that that’s ultimately their guiding criteria for what they will publish. Maybe this is one of those vague or innocuous statements that’s used as some kind of assurance so as not to dissuade anyone from submitting, but I think there might also be some truth to the admission that outstanding work can sometimes transcend our own more localized tastes. With that in mind, would you say you had a pretty firm style or aesthetic you were looking for going into this venture? Have any of the submissions you’ve received over the years pulled you in a different direction or forced you to question that style or aesthetic preference? Was there ever a submission that you just had to publish even if it didn’t fit with a particular issue’s approach?
That’s a great question—as a writer, I think editing TYPO has been one of the greatest things I could have ever done. My academic work and reading life have both been crucial, but editing by far surpasses everything else. We never wanted to be a journal that published one “type” of poem—if a narrative poem shows up and it strikes us, then we want to publish it. I do think we tend to lean in a more lyrical or experimental direction, but it hasn’t prevented us from publishing other kinds of work as well.
You co-edit TYPO with Matt Henriksen. Have your individual tastes as editors ever been at odds or a problem? What happens when you guys disagree? How do you work through something like that?
As far as disagreements, we’ve always had a set policy (never really stated) that we can veto one another. If we don’t agree on a poem, we reject it. It’s worked well for eleven years, and often times those poets who we reject resend and resend and usually we publish them. I can’t think of a poem that we’ve rejected that I regret not publishing. In the end, it’s always worked out.
Early on you have some pretty big names like Franz Wright, whose Walking to Martha’s Vineyard was already a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize at the time of his publication in TYPO, but you also have this whole slew of up and comers, who are maybe pretty established now, but whose careers were just blossoming when they first appeared in TYPO. You’ve got Ben Lerner in this second issue, and it’s that long poem at the center of Angle of Yaw, a book that went on to be nominated for the National Book Award a few years later. You read that poem then, and you’re like this guy is on to something, you read that poem now and it suddenly has this historical significance or weight or something. Did you feel like you were on the cutting edge of something with the work you were receiving and putting together? What’s it like looking back on some of the early issues now?
That Lerner poem came through in our inbox for the second issue, and I remember being blown away by the magnitude of it. There had been some 9/11 poems here and there, but the way the poem elegized loss in such a way really moved me. I think we took the poem immediately—I remember thinking about how publishing a poem like this one was a good example of what we would be able to do with the journal, both immediately but also in the future.
Many of the writers found in TYPO are featured there more than once. Graham Foust, Johannes Göransson, Matt Hart, Kent Johnson, Alex Lemon, Karyna McGlynn, and Jen Tynes all make at least a few appearances. That’s actually one of the many things I really enjoyed about reading through a lot of the archives. All the work is still fresh and exciting, but there’s also this sense of perspective or larger context when you have these reoccurring poets. Maybe you could describe for us your ongoing relationship with some of these writers and their work or give us some sense of what that experience has been like.
I mentioned above how editing has been an important part of my growth as a writer and this really gets to the heart of things. Many of my best friends I’ve met through editing TYPO and it really has allowed me to be a part of a community that I might not have been a part of otherwise. As writers, one can write, but I think being a part of the community as a literary citizen is equally important—one creates a venue (as a publisher or a curator of a reading series, for example) and one seeks out a venue as well.
You have two translation issues (Issue 7 features Swedish poetry and Issue 18 features Venezuelan poetry). How did those come about? How is that experience or process different from putting together all the other issues?
We were fortunate to have two translators reach out to us and offer to put the issue together—we allowed both Johannes Göransson and Guillermo Parra to decide what to publish. In many ways, it was a different experience for us, but it really felt important in terms of allowing these poems to appear in translation for the first time. Another positive aspect of publishing an online journal is the international possibilities that it allows, in terms of both readership but also in terms of the work we publish.
Any thoughts on what the internet has meant for younger writers when you were first starting out and what it means now in terms of publishing, exposure, community?
I spoke indirectly about this earlier, but I really do think the internet has provided a way of connecting that didn’t exist before. Obviously this applies to the possibility of online journals, but small presses have thrived because of it as well. Before the reach of the web, one would have to find handmade books at either a reading or a bookstore in a larger city. I grew up in Mississippi and though there was a good bookstore there, I had no access to more obscure or experimental writers at the time. In the end, the web has been a real equalizer for those of us who want to create art but don’t have the institutional machine behind us. I often encourage my students to start a press or a journal, simply because it’s so easy to do, but also because of the door it opens into a broader literary community.
Any new online zines out there that you are particularly excited about now?
There are so many editors publishing compelling work—it’s hard to keep up sometimes! I really like Sixth Finch and the way in which they publish new writers alongside established ones. Even though it’s been around for a long time, Diagram is one of my favorites. They’ve slowly built an amazing archive of work over many years.
Any points of real pride or success with TYPO you’d like to share?
Hitting the ten year mark was really a major point of pride for me, personally. We hosted an anniversary reading in Fayetteville and hearing work from poets we’ve published over the years was truly remarkable. It was a reminder of what possibilities and community can emerge from an undertaking like this one, even though we might not have known what we were doing or where we were going at the time.
What are TYPO’s plans for the future, or is there anything you’d like to share that readers should keep an eye out for?
We don’t have set plans at this point—we’re planning to publish a few issues each year and see where things may go from there. We’d definitely like to publish additional translation issues, should the opportunity arise. To be honest, the journal really has taken on a life all its own so I imagine we’ll let it continue to develop in this way.
Anthropoid is so new, it hasn’t even come out yet. What can we expect to see with the first issue?
Beautiful, crisp, honest, writing. Though we did coalesce a bit of a theme for this issue, the content seems unlimited in subject matter. We’ve got everything from the earliest epochs to the arrival of metal, desperate how-to guides, fairies and murderers (and crocodiles)(and monkeys), BROS BROS BROS BROS VIDEO GAMES and an array of diverse voices. What’s even more special about it is how much heart and vulnerability there is in this issue. It just so happens that the subject matter is varied and exciting, but the pieces were selected also for their spirit and execution.
Why Anthropoid? How did you come up with that name and what does it mean in terms of a mission statement?
I came to poetry from a background of anthropology. So, I am interested in emerging histories and identities and voices, and the lens of participant observer. It all deals with the humanesque, which is Anthropoid’s ostensible “theme,” if one can call it that. Because that’s open to almost anything, isn’t it? Most of what we make, our material products and what we observe of others or ourselves or our environment, all of it can be said to be, well, human. It leaves open the door to almost any subject, while inviting narrative vibrancy, the experiential and its significance, the cultural and the profane, for a kind of reporting-back-on-an-alien-landscape that is not so alien after all.
Why did you decide on the internet? Was it more an issue of ease and access, or are the goals and purposes of Anthropoid better suited for an online approach?
Anthropoid is a collaborative effort, which is why we refer to an “Anthropoid Collective” – we have a staff of writers who curate the content and edit the magazine, and who also contribute writing (which is then curated by other staff). It’s the writer’s room meets lit mag, with a focus on community and continued relationships with the voices that appear with our “pages.” So the magazine really took flight out of the idea of community. The digital approach allows us the ability to put out content in and in-between issues, and to add visual and graphic content to accompany that “ethnographic” work. You have ease, access, immediacy, and I think the digital also affords a bit of a hybrid audience one might reach, geographically and throughout various disciplines. We have a sound ethnography and visual pieces in this first issue and I’m excited to be able to showcase that. There are lots of possibilities with the medium, cinegraphs and video, or radically ironic hyperlinking, with this format.
And yet, the beauty of print influences our design and our consideration of the visual presentation of the work. We obsessed over preserving the poetic line and wielded fierce CSS magic for things like dropcaps, space jumps, and tabs. There were several pieces that really required the extra care to preserve their visual appearance. But then the online format allowed us to go even further: as one example, using a “fadeIn” mechanism so that content is revealed as the user scrolls, for the pieces which might benefit from such a reading experience.
Are there any models or examples of what an online magazine should look like or do that you turned to when you decided to start Anthropoid? Is there anything new or drastically different from what you’ve seen elsewhere that you wanted to attempt or achieve with Anthropoid?
Anthropoid has a huge crush on Nautilus, and the Bold Italic (beautiful, exciting magazines), and we looked to online journals, print journals, friends and neighbors, to see what was going on in those spaces. I have some background in digital media from my time as a UI/UX designer, but I looked to things like the New York Times’ Interactive Stories and the Electronic Poetry Center to understand more of what was possible with the medium.
The spirit of Anthropoid is interdisciplinary, so we’re hoping for contributors from many backgrounds and audiences. In my anthropological work I’ve given presentations on the use of poetry as ethnographic method, and much of the writing we see today could be argued to be a kind of ethnography.
What are your thoughts on the proliferation of online literary journals in general? What does an online zine culture mean for us writers, in terms of what we’re reading, where we’re publishing, and how we go about creating literary communities today?
I think I’m most fascinated by the new opportunities opened up by the online approach, lest our current system become insular. I’m interested in new audiences and new voices, and new means of distribution for the arts. These days, though print is my first and true love, the amount of content I consume digitally is taking some primacy, especially with the ability to rapidly connect with a large group of writers or readers who will have shared around or read the same work. It’s easy to read a poem online, share it, and discuss that poem with my fellows; it’s easier to congregate around poems this way right now, especially since our friendships even more frequently span countries or oceans. Those friends turn around and share poems in response, like any good poetry nerd-out, and unless we both have access to JStor, we tend to share the pieces we’re able to read and access online. Readership goes hand in hand with marketing. So you’re seeing print journals hybridize as much as they can, include some online content, some are even starting to make their own mobile apps, and I think that’s pretty awesome. My hope is that at some point the print medium itself will be able to afford some of the things done digitally, that we’ll turn around and combine that interactivity with the tactile type of “digital” manipulation – you know, the kind we do with our digits.
Even more generally, how has the internet affected or what does the internet mean now for how writers interact with one another? What has it meant to you?
Certainly it affords community and access, for writers, thinkers, and, particularly for marginalized voices. Every one of the people on staff at this publication met through the internet. We’re “meeting” the writers through their work, through that vehicle, and turning around and promoting their work that way as well. It does important things for the diversity of our publishing. And for myself, I’ve been able to connect to other writers who share my indigenous identity, in a way that buoyed my spirit and my work (and guided me). And, I suppose I’m able to say “I want to make a literary magazine,” and then execute it. That could be a good thing or an obnoxious thing, of course.
You’ve got a pretty sizable editorial staff. What has the experience of assembling this group and working with them throughout the process of putting out the first issue been like? This is ultimately your brain child, so it’s your vision, but you have all these other ideas, motivations, and dispositions at play that go into making it a reality, right? Are there any points of compromise you’d like to point to? Moments where you’ve had to be convinced or convince others about the merits of a particular piece up for publication? Any situations where things have really come together in some larger communal sense for the greater good of the zine? Anyone you’d like to call out publicly? We’re fishing for some pretty sensational stuff here…
Gosh, if I could buy them a face-cake and send the pieces across the country, I would do that. There were definitely pieces we argued about, and work that we couldn’t fit in that was still terrific work (and when we said “we hope you’ll submit again” we really meant it!). There is such an incredible range of people working on this project, and they’re all extremely talented writers themselves (making the critique process very rewarding). For this first issue we did things largely by volunteer-basis only, with the knowledge that everyone involved would have busy schedules. The community around the magazine is large (larger than our masthead and growing!) and self-motivated, and we relied on when and how people could pitch in. So far it runs on passion. And goodwill and patience. J
There’s also, obviously, the work itself to consider. What was it like balancing the submissions you were receiving with the magazine you hoped to put out? What kind of impact has the work you’ve received had on your vision for Anthropoid?
We were looking for work that had a pulse to it, and not strictly academic work, which might be one’s first inclination when the word “anthropology” comes up. But we didn’t go in expecting a theme in those terms, we didn’t go in knowing quite what we were expecting. We wanted a spectrum, not a pinpoint. Inevitably there were some pieces submitted that seemed perhaps overly theme-y, and some we felt were too literal for what we wanted Anthropoid to be. The magazine is a gathering of things that begin to brush up against a new kind of ethnography, but ethnography itself is not the subject of the magazine – the humanesque, is. We always knew Anthropoid’s vision would be refined by the content. The staff contributor content also had to adapt to our submissions, and we ended up holding back some pieces to make room for the issue that was evolving. The emergent “theme” of some of the issue also spurred our desire to put out other types of more deliberately themed releases, mini-folios and the like.
Anthropoid is more than just a literary magazine. In your About section, you write, “We embrace a broad subject matter, in the name of ‘what it is to be / feel / resemble — or not — that which is human.’” I’m curious about that broad subject matter and how the different methodologies you’ve solicited or sought out for this magazine’s composition get at this idea of humanness. You mention “ethnography & essays, experiential narratives, fiction & poetry, visuals, conceptual work, and genre-bending, from voices in the literary field, the humanities, and the sciences.” What would you say are some of the values of such a varied and interdisciplinary approach?
There are so many different kinds of humans and so many things they do or experience or have thoughts about. Whether the human is the subject, or the writer, the products, the writing, could always be argued to be human. So, again, that’s everything, right? But it also emphasizes what is experiential, what is perceived, what is given significance. Things like narrative are human fascinations (and, well, these things are being written by humans and then read by humans). In the issue we do have a section called “Ethnographies & Essays” rather than “creative nonfiction.” If some say every poem can be considered an elegy (to a moment in time), I’m the type to argue that most creative or narrative non-fiction we see today can be considered an ethnography (or autoethnography) of a kind. We were interested in seeing a speaker in these pieces, in the act of observing and re-contextualizing – which is, human. All of the things we cited in our About and Submission pages, the mediums and the forms, were only some examples of the ways one could arrive at that kind of humanness, that participant observation, that re-contextualizing and relating back to other humans. The results can be a cultural analysis (an ethnography), or a cultural example (a product of human thought). Or, they can be both.
We knew the limitations of trying to get at a somewhat defined but broad vision in the limits of an ‘About’ page, however, so we did hope to further refine and add to those examples with what appeared in every issue. The value is partially in the diversity of content we’ve seen and hope to continue to see and curate.
What would you say to someone who sees the practice of science and the practice of art as incompatible? How are those practices combined or in conversation with one another in the first issue of Anthropoid? Have you come across any difficulties in trying to incorporate both disciplines? Have you discovered any surprising points of connection or synergy?
As an anthropology student, my field school advisor reminded our crew that if we couldn’t write up our findings in a decipherable way, our work would be useless. Further, that the sciences needed to make their findings accessible and understandable, for different audiences — the indoctrinated and also the general audience. How else are you going to find external sources of funding or support? The anthropologists won’t be able to keep up the research unless they are also able to present the significance of their discoveries to the public.
If the practice of science is another art, craft, or artifice, one can apply it to one’s family tree or bird migration patterns, or, and this is what’s beautiful about creativity, to one’s own heartache. Science, art, and writing, it all involves discipline, rhetoric, theory, application, and presentation. Sometimes there are challenges in how to make these subjects approachable, how to explain the relevant terms and conditions to the layman, and it becomes increasingly important for the scientist (/writer) to also look at (and perhaps indict) the self in relation to the study. Modern ethnography is headed in this direction. And writing has always facilitated human inquiry, as have oral traditions and other ways of making narrative. And perhaps, as will Anthropoid.
There’s a definite spirit of inquiry here. Maybe that’s something that’s central to the sciences, as well as the arts. What role does questioning play in the pieces you’ve selected for publication?
I think the very idea of participant observation hinges on inquiry, or at the least, curiosity. In many critiques we ask after the inciting incident, whatever made the speaker make an utterance at that moment in the first place, and that’s part of it as well. The pieces in Fauna are asking questions about human goodness, connection or moments of its failure, histories and myth, community, silence, desire; there is a strong sense of seeking, if not answers, then confirmation of experience, as with any inquiry. Each of these pieces defines its own cultural context, its own fears and goals and contentments and vulnerabilities. And they do so by inquiring after what’s acceptable and not, what links us, what we’re after, whether or not there is any use for grief.
Some “subjects” (which of course intersect): loss, appropriation, womanhood (as well as boyhood erections), grand estates and greenhouses, loneliness, the action of a prism, disappointment, Donkey Kong, evolution, beauty, ladybits (and broliness), dissociation, coercion, ownership, ghostliness, a ferry ride, imprisonment, and also, empowerment.
Is there anyone or anything that you’re particularly excited about being in the first issue?
All of it?! I’m excited that we had some genre bending, but I’m even more excited that the writing is just so strong. I’m excited to share each of these pieces, which by now feel like old friends.
What’s next for Anthropoid? Any big plans or ideas for future issues?
We’ll be looking to do more themed mini-collections or folios, lots of blog content (the collected issues are only one part of the Collective), we want to find ways to make readership a more communal act, and, we hope to welcome even more diverse voices across literature and the sciences to the Anthropoid Collective and community.
Adam Clay is the author of A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World (Milkweed Editions, 2012) and The Wash (Parlor Press, 2006). A third book of poems is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, Crab Orchard Review, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, and elsewhere. He co-edits TYPO Magazine and teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Kenzie Allen is a Zell Fellow in Poetry at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program, and a descendant of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. By day she works as a UI/UX designer and by night she tries to astral project into the desert. Her poetry has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Sonora Review, The Iowa Review, Apogee, Word Riot, and Day One, among others, and she is the managing editor of the Anthropoid collective.
Jim Redmond is a Michigan man, who now lives in Austin, TX. He conducted these interviews and will continue to curate a monthly blog series on literary communities for Drunken Boat. Some of his writing can be found or is forthcoming in PANK, ReDIVIDer, RHINO, Columbia Poetry Review, and Word Riot, among others. His chapbook, Shirts or Skins, won one of Heavy Feather Review’s chapbook prizes a while ago.
Get your mind off the cold winter weather for a moment and enter into the dreamlike space of this week’s vintage poetry pick, “The Centaur Festival.” Miho Nonaka’s short but scintillatingly detailed poem will once again take readers away to celebrate with mysterious creatures in a foreign realm, just as it did when it originally appeared in DB 3, Fall/Winter 2001-2002.
“…Fish-mouthed, you pass through rows
Of acetylene torches, the stalls of tortoise shell candies,
Cinnamon water, and bottles of five-pointed sand grains-“
Miho Nonaka is a bilingual poet from Tokyo, Japan and a professor of English at Wheaton College. Her poetry and essays have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. For more about Nonaka’s publications and research, check out her page on Wheaton’s website.
A unique combination of words and images, Vintage DB 28 is a treat for poetry- and art-lovers alike. Holly Woodward’s inspiring pieces of visual poetry, including “Pieces of Paradise,” “Before Time Made Mistakes,” and others, previously appeared in DB 15, Spring 2012.
“The god makes straight
for his old enemy, the abyss;
he falls, down to his heart
At his approach rocks shatter and
for the earth has become open…” (Pieces of Paradise)
Holly Woodward is an artist of many mediums such as poetry, calligraphy, and painting. Her work has been published in a multitude of journals and she published a chapbook, Wanting, in 2009. For some of Woodward’s occasional musing and updates on her writing, visit her blog at Wit’s End.