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.
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