by Ravi Shankar
Ten years ago, on a rooftop, over mojitos, under starlight, between friends, Drunken Boat was born.
The story from retelling has reified into apocrypha, or at least tainted my memory from remembering the exact order of events but of this much I’m sure: Mike Mills and I were on a rooftop in Brooklyn, on one of those autumnal reprieves when the air briefly regains its summer balminess, and we were surrounded by visual artists and writers, most in or fresh from graduate school. We both were just over a semester away from paying back student loans and scrabbling to keep our apartments. And I did own the URL Drunken Boat, having purchased it with the heady intoxication of internet bubbledom, sure that it would be the equivalent of a Fifth Avenue address on the web.
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Mike was an artist/graphic designer and I was a poet/editor and we had been friends for years. It made sense to use this URL to create a magazine where we could publish the work of friends, mentors, those artists and writers we admired. And because we worked in different medium, right from our inception we were interested in art and literature. When I look at the low-fi pea-green background with the anchor navigation button and roll-over text, I’m thrown back into those early days, hunched over Mike’s Mac with Red Stripes, looking at the work we had collected, thinking about throwing launch parties and promoting the magazine. Some of the pieces in the issue like poet Alfred Corn’s “After Ghalib” and visual artist David Humphrey’s surreal and pop cultural studio snaps were the kind gifts of our professors. Others like Leslie Scalapino’s “The Tango” were an early foray into multimedia poetry, image and fragmented text grafted together. And what journal would publish Corn, a formalist, alongside Scalapino, a LANGUAGE poet? Right away those distinctions and categorizations were not of interest to us.
Rachel Hadas’ critical essay “Revise, Revise” deserves notice for showing us how Elizabeth Bishop worked through revision and for moments like this nugget of ironic wisdom, considering the venue it was appearing in, that “the poet needs patience, which the computer by its very tendency to speed things up tends to erode.” I should also point out the broken links from our interactive art pieces, highlighting the perils of preservation when it comes to digital art. Among the most dated pieces perhaps is Austrian sound artist Karlheinz Essl’s field of sound like an airplane engine droning towards and away from us. Nothing quite announces the advent of the new industrial millennium quite like that. But hands down, one of my favorite pieces has to be Jennifer Coates’ pseudo-business letters. Before Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s these bizarre, hilarious, mildly disturbing group of missives highlights the quirky sensibility that I think continues to characterize Drunken Boat.