Thursday, February 7, 2008

What Was Left Over

ARCHIVES OF THE LUNA PARK BLOG

The updating of the Luna Park blog has been transferred (and, we feel, in a much better format) to the Luna Park website: www.lunaparkreview.com. We will no longer add to these pages here, but will maintain their contents where they are located for archival purposes. If you have any questions, please email our editors at lunaparkreview@gmail.com.

[At right is a page from the original Belgian literary magazine from which our name derives. Novelist and poet, Roberto Bolano mentions the issue that this page is taken from in his story "Vagabond in France and Belgium."]

Monday, January 14, 2008

Luna Park's Brooklyn Launch Event: Jan. 31, 2008

The premiere issue party is soon. Guest hosts: Mississippi Review and Juked.com. Special readings by: Angela Ball (AWP award winner), Tao Lin, Marie-Helene Bertino, and Claudia Smith. Music by Tin Pan Blues Band. Art by Steven Summer, Ken Weathersby, and TBA.

When: January 31st, 2008. Begins at 9:00pm.

Where: Noo Na (pictured at left), 565 Vanderbilt Ave (corner of Pacific St.), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY. Just a 10-15 minute subway ride from Manhattan--specifically, from the AWP Hilton.

Getting there from AWP Hilton: Walk north on 6th Ave. to 57th. Turn left and walk to the 57th St & 7th Ave. Q stop. Head to Brooklyn. Exit Train at 7th Ave and leave terminal at right. Head down Park Place to Vanderbilt Ave. Turn left and walk 4 1/2 blocks...you’re there.

http://www.lunaparkreview.com/

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We're Coming...

PREMIERE ISSUE OF LUNA PARK: JANUARY 31ST, 2008

Some (possibly) final notes before the first issue release:
  • Luna Park blog's upcoming review of Hobart will be moved to our first issue, as we recently received a review copy of their latest issue...along with a special gift. All we will say for the moment is the entire package from Hobart was so good we were compelled to give it more attention;
  • As our first issue launch will coincide with the AWP conference, we are publishing a special essay by Thomas Washington, looking at the conference through a writer's quizzical (and often baffled) eyes;
  • We have pushed our submission deadline for the first issue back to January 15th, giving reviewers a little more time to pore over their favorite (or most reviled) literary magazines;
  • And, for literary magazine editors, we are still accepting lit mag ads and excerpts of current issues. Please send these to lunaparkreview@gmail.com;
  • Finally: we are now accepting submissions of reviews, interviews, essays, and excerpts for our second issue. Submissions are due April 10th to lunaparkreview@gmail.com.
Oh--and this has nothing to do with our upcoming issue, but it is one of the coolest things we have seen in a while: a Kelly Link story/art video on Ninth Letter

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Luna Park Spreads the Word in Chicago

Until 2008, the editors will be in Chicago telling the industrial capital (and everyone at the MLA conference) about Luna Park. One of our editors will be presenting at the conference as part of a panel on journals run by students within university graduate departments (some examples of acclaimed literary magazines in this capacity are Ninth Letter, Willow Springs, and Black Warrior Review).

Remember: submissions for issue one deadline is January 10th. Issue will be put online January 31st.

(Photo: University of Chicago in 1906.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Preparing for the Park

The launch is almost upon us, and all of our efforts are being directed to the production of our first issue and our approaching launch event. The issue has had a great response and is filling up with reviews, interviews, and excerpts. Here are a few updates on the production of the Luna Park website, our coming January 31st launch party/fiasco in Brooklyn, NY, and some extraneous comments on and reviews of the lit mag world that we couldn't fit in on the regular blog posts here over the past month:
  • Website production is running according to schedule. Submissions of reviews, essays, interviews, or excerpts (from editors) for Luna Park issue one are due January 10th. The first issue will be released January 31st at lunaparkreview.com. (This will be roughly the same ongoing quarterly schedule: pieces due the 10th of Jan./Apr./Jul./Oct, and issues will come out at the end of these same months.)
  • Tao Lin has been added to the list of readers for the Luna Park website launch party this coming January 31st at Noo Na in Brooklyn, NY. Tao Lin is the author of the books Eeeee Eee Eeee and Bed, and also has a book of poems to be published in early 2008. Tao also has the blog, Reader of Depressing Books. We are excited to have him on board. (We are under the assumption that he will be reading from his upcoming book of poetry, but are prepared to be surprised.)
  • Juked magazine has also come on board for the launch event. (Also look for Juked editor John Wang at the AWP book fair; he will be sharing a table with Hobart.)
  • As most know, the Chicago Review has published in their recent issue (vol. 53 no. 2/3) one of the more controversial pieces in the literary magazine world in recent years, Juliana Saphr and Stephanie Young's "Numbers Trouble," an essay on the amount of female poetry published in United States' magazines and anthologies. The essay is in response to Jennifer Ashton's article "Our Bodies, Our Poems," from a recent issue of American Literary History [here is an early draft of the piece]. Ashton responds in the issue of Chicago Review to Saphr and Young's rebuttal with her essay "The Numbers Trouble with 'Numbers Trouble.'" And at the end of the issue, the magazine's editors, Robert Baird and Joshua Kotin, provide two charts illuminating the ratio of male versus female poetry recently published in literary magazines. Because of the attention these pieces attracted in the blogosphere and elsewhere, Chicago Review has made all the previously mentioned pieces available in full for free on their website. In November and early December, Poetry Foundation published numerous posts in response to the Chicago Review pieces on their blog, harriet.
  • A refreshingly new literary anthology, Best American Fantasy 2007, released their first book in mid 2007. Michael Chabon is quoted as calling this first book in the series, "A cabinet of dark wonders, and an important--no, a crucial--map of the richness and strangeness and startling range of the modern American short story." Rather than merely a science fiction or fantasy compilation, the anthology instead includes some of the best and most magically mysterious stories published in magazines online and off, such as from A Public Space, Oxford American, ParaSpheres, Pindelyboz--even The New Yorker. The overall series is edited by fiction writer Matthew Cheney (here's his blog), and guest editors are Ann and Jeff VanderMeer--both highly acclaimed fantasy authors. The 2007 volume includes exciting stories from writers working on the frontiers of the imagination: Kelly Link, Peter LaSalle, Daniel Alarcon, Brian Evenson, Kevin Brockmeier, Chris Adrian, and many others. Quite easily the most electric best of anthology to come out since Eggers' Best Nonrequired series was launched in 2002. Cheney's Best American Fantasy is a more than welcome addition to an often safe and conservative Best of series from Houghton Mifflin (Cheney's series is published by Prime Books). Cheney and editors are looking for submissions from magazines for their 2008 volume--click here for details.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Literature in the Americas

NEW ISSUE REVIEW: VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW VOL. 83 NO. 4, "SOUTH AMERICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY"
Literary magazines are often referred to as little magazines not as an insult, but to reflect the usual size of these magazine's readership and circulation. (Paris Review's George Plimpton famously detested the label.) It is a niche audience American publishers of literature must cater to, and this is even more true in the world of literary periodicals. Sure, many people read literary magazines, such as The Paris Review or The Georgia Review. Literary magazines, such as those mentioned, are even nominated for and win national magazine awards, plus they obtain attention from national newspapers. But compared to bigger commercial magazines, such as Time, Esquire, or The New Yorker, literary magazines are a very small affair.

Yet it is existence in this smaller world which allows them to not only get away with their expected diversity of literary content and general emphasis on less well-known authors--but these magazines' greater anonymity and slower publishing schedule also allow them to publish compilations of critical, in depth, and exploratory work, many times resulting in more lasting writing than other, larger, non-literary magazines. There is less pressure, monetarily, at least, in the literary production and editorial world. Some literary magazines take advantage of this fact. They use their medium to engage an issue along a broad array of information, views, and artistic forms. They spend months researching and probing into a topic, isolating particular works from the past and present that best address the issue. And many times the results are more than satisfying; they can even be illuminating.

And then there is Ted Genoways's Virginia Quarterly Review (I say "Genoways's" because under his editorship the VQR is a different, more engaging, and seductive publication than it was previously). VQR doesn't just offer you a literary magazine in the general sense. Genoways's concoction of VQR is like a happy tri-marriage of The National Georgraphic, Granta, and Harper's; a wide-reaching literary-political reflection of the world.

The latest issue of VQR, vol. 83 no. 4, focuses on South America. The United States has (to say the least) a complicated political relationship with South America, from Teddy Roosevelt's big stick policy for relations between the Americas to our prolonged enmeshment in Colombia's drug war to American Presidents' less than amiable relationships with many South American leaders. But it is not an exaggeration to say that most U.S. citizens are unaware of the goings on within our sister continent. As Daniel Alarcon described U.S. knowledge of Peru during the early eighties in the winter 2007 issue of A Public Space, "Peru existed...as a rumor, more or less." (Image at right by Simon Diaz is from that issue of A Public Space.) Much of the job of this issue of VQR seems to be to unpack rumors of South America in the way only literature can, which is with the subtle registering and questioning of a subject through both precise and figurative language.

It is "the literary journalism I guess we are getting to be known for," Genoways has said, describing the editorial direction of the magazine. This type of journalism is not new for the newly restructured VQR. Past issues have included in-depth features on AIDS in Africa, the United States/Mexican border, and the current Iraq war. What is different--and altogether impressive--about this issue is that the entire issue, from page 1 to 322, is focused on South America. In a radio interview available online, Genoways explains that the project of putting together the current issue began nearly two years ago, when VQR managing editor Kevin Morrisey noticed that, every time he opened the newspaper, South America was on the front page. Morrisey and Genoways got in touch then with Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcon, a regular contributor to VQR, to co-edit the magazine. Alarcon and VQR worked together with Etiqueta Negra (a high-quality Peruvian magazine where Alarcon is on staff) to get the best South American writers and photographers for the issue. And, eighteen months later: a thick, full-color issue of VQR, filled with 17 pieces, each highlighting a separate, important, and fascinating section of this large southern continent.

J. Malcolm Garcia writes in "The White Train" about a train in Buenos Aires, which transports the imporverished as they lug paper and copper across town to sell. A new translation by Chris Andrews of a novel from Roberto Bolano, "Nazi Literature in the Americas"--a fictional portrait of literature and fascism in South America--is excerpted at length. In "Soy in the Amazon," Pat Joseph covers one of the Amazon's most destructive crops. And much, much more is included in the issue--fearful albinos, transsexual prostitution, blind mayors, and portraits of Incan descendants on the islands of Lake Titicaca (pictured at left). This is the sort of magazine which not only sets a high bar for literary magazines--and for magazines in general--but makes one reconsider the distinction between magazines and books.

[Special note: For the first time in the history of VQR, the magazine has put the entire content of the issue online. "I just really wanted people to see this material," said Genoways. "I think it's a really important gathering of material and I just wanted people to find it." The content is available in the form of an interactive map, featuring current and past VQR pieces on South America and its people. Also included in the map are pieces that didn't make it into the issue. The site is well worth the time, if only to see a new step in connecting print literary magazines to the digital age.]

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Lost Ideal

Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007) died last Sunday evening, December 2, 2007, in Manhattan. A frequent contributor to Partisan Review, Hardwick was well known as an essayist, novelist, and reviewing. Along with her husband, Robert Lowell, Hardwick was one of the founders of The New York Review of Books in 1963, after an 114-day newspaper strike in New York City. An acclaimed novelist and short story writer, Hardwick is most well known for her insightful, passionate essays. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt described her as, "credited for expanding the possibilities of the literary essay through her intimate tone and her dramatic deployment of forceful logic." Hardwick was also a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, The New Republic, and Harper's, where she published one of her most mentioned essays, "The Decline of Book Reviewing." Published in 1959, this essay criticized what Hardwick saw as a lack of criticism in book reviewing--everyone instead all too eager to pass around praise for even the most minor achievement. (Photo at right is of Hardwick in 1983; image from the New York Times.)

Here is a long excerpt of the essay (copied from the Harper's website): "In America, now, oblivion, literary failure, obscurity, neglect—all the great moments of artistic tragedy and neglect—still occur, but the natural conditions for the occurrence are in a state of camouflage, like those decorating ideas in which wood is painted to look like paper and paper to look like wood. A genius may indeed go to his grave unread, but he will hardly have gone to it unpraised. Sweet, bland condemnations fall everywhere upon the scene; a universal, if somewhat lobotomized, accommodation reigns. A book is born into a puddle of treacle; the brine of hostile criticism is only a memory. Everyone is found to have 'filled a need' and is to be 'thanked' for something and to be excused for 'minor faults in an otherwise excellent work.' 'A thoroughly mature artist' appears many times a week and often daily; many are the bringers of those 'messages the Free World will ignore at its peril.'"

[Here is Hardwick in a 1985 Art of Fiction interview in The Paris Review.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Degenerate Art

FOUND IN NEW ENGLAND REVIEW VOL. 28 NO. 3: MICHAEL HELLER ESSAY ON THE PAINTER MAX BECKMANN

"Essays, like butterflies, jazz (and God), move irregularly, not linearly," wrote Edward Hoagland in his diaries (originally published in Paris Review no. 162). The best experimental essays--those that, like jazz, do not conform, that are in many ways defined by their resistance--seem to vibrate with a hidden knowledge. Or not knowledge perhaps, but perspective.

Michael Heller's free-form essay "Beckmann Variations" on the G
erman painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) published in the fall 2007 issue of New England Review (vol. 28 no. 3) is a cogent example of Heller's own ruminations on the function of art. Heller writes, "But then, what does any work of art do but intensify perception by limiting it?" The essay is about Heller and his wife seeing a retrospective of Beckmann's paintings at London's Tate Modern museum, and, like the best essays since Montaigne, it is a perceptive look not only at the subject of the paintings, but also into the slippery mind of Heller viewing the work. Heller's piece seems to argue that one of the most intriguing things about essays is that they allow a reader to watch the mind think. In the essay, he quotes Yeats on this issue: "In Per Amica, Yeats cites approvingly a critic who insists that, 'learning to know one's own mind, gradually getting the disorder of one's mind in order, led to the real impulse to create.'" Reading the essay one realizes that this reviewer's comment could as easily be applied to the painter Beckmann as it could to the essayist Heller.

Mostly widely recognized as a poet, Heller is also well-known as an essayist and memoirist; his 2000 memoir Living Root charts connections between Heller's Brooklyn and Miami boyhood with Poland and WW II. It is hard not to think that in his essay on Beckmann Heller's essayist talents are at their peak. Even in the company of this issue of NER's usual powerfully erudite and imaginative writings, "Beckmann Variations" stands out, not only because of Heller's own provocative rhizomatic interweaving of diverse subjects and themes in order to more effectively approach Beckmann's paintings with language, but also because of the essay's architectural ingenuity, an organic hybridity of poetry and prose--each section of the essay pivots around alternating poetic and prose riffs on the larger subject of Beckmann's paintings (or the even larger subject of our responses to works of art).

One major theme of "Beckmann Variations" is the idea of degenerate art. Heller writes, "Beckmann's work, along with that of most of Germany's modernist masters, was included in the Nazi's display of 'degenerate art,' the 'Entartete Kunst' exhibition held in Munich in July of 1937....Hitler made a speech to the nation about this un-German art. Beckmann heard the broadcast, packed his belongings, and with his wife fled Germany the next morning, never to return." And, eventually, they came to America, where in 1950 he would die of a heart attack on his way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see his painting "'Self Portrait in Blue Jacket,' which was hanging there in an exhibition." Would this painting have been considered degenerate by Hitler's standards? One can only hope so. As Heller shows us, much of Beckmann's work was devoted to artistic rebirth, which included a refashioning of modes and genres of painting. As usual, Heller explains in his continually quotable style: "Most serious and important art changes prevailing conceptions in such a way that it only nominally belongs to the species it came from. Beckmann's work was 'entartete,' belonging only to the flora or fauna of pictures then existing; it was already a rebuke to the art culture in which it had been created."

(Pictured above: "Falling Man" (1950) , 141 x 88.9 cm., National Gallery of Art, Washington.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Burnside

NEW ISSUE REVIEW: BURNSIDE REVIEW VOL. 3 NO. 2

Connections between form and content seem to carry more prominence in the art magazine world than in other literary productions. When we shop instead for books, we mostly look for the spine bearing an author's name or an intriguing title. Though books, too, are very often intricately and carefully designed (see Alvin Lustig's gorgeous covers for New Directions books or nearly anything by McSweeney's press). But in the magazine world, design is a greater portion of the product. Not that content relies on form--good writing can and does come in ugly packages--but it is the care and detail taken with the design and production of a literary magazine which carries a great amount of the (at least initial) attraction when perusing the literary newsstand.

The latest issue of Burnside Review (vol. 3 no. 2), a small literary magazine from Portland, Oregon, is approximately the shape of a CD case, with cover artwork resembling a Beatles or Doors record (see image of the magazine's back cover above). The cover has an antique look, faded and sepia-tinted, giving the impression the magazine wasn't found in the new bookstore down the street, but in the dusty bin of a secondhand store, shoved between books without covers and a pair of pleather boots. The production is simply done and beautiful throughout, something both intriguing to look at and easy to handle, satisfyingly combining art for the wall with the literary container of a magazine. And the small size of the issue makes it easy for carrying on the subway or bus, as well as a nice portable shape for the movable readers of the world, those who see bumping into things as hardly an obstacle for the opportunity to read while walking.

And the writing inside this issue is, again like the overall design, a subtle, simple-seeming surprise. Overall, the magazine has a somber tone, like a rock song you listen to alone in the car at two in the morning after dropping all your friends off at their houses, you sitting outside your own dark house, the car running, the song playing on the radio, and it seems you are the only person awake in the world, and though you know the song will end, somehow it seems like it won't, like it'll go on forever. There are powerful new pieces in here by the always fascinating writers Alberto Rios and Ben Lerner, moving work by newer authors such as James Capozzi and Anne Heide, and some alluring prose by young writer-to-keep-an-eye-on Leslie Jamison, who had one of her stories released by Burnside Review as the chapbook The Wintering Barn earlier this year. Though like most literary magazines some of the work in this issue is considerably more powerful than the rest, due to the smallness of Burnside Review's project for this publication--only 74 pages in all, hardly any pieces over two pages long, most of it poetry--there is not really the urge to skip forward. Nothing is rushed.

Instead of quoting at length from many pieces, here is an excerpt of Ben Lerner's stunning prose poem "Ars Poetica" from the issue, a poem strong enough to keep you in the car till the song is over, even in an Oregon January, stuck in the snow in a 1976 VW Rabbit with a busted heater, even then: "A famous novel, difficult to avoid. Its author, now very old, has for many years sequestered himself in a French village, refused all visitors, returned all letters. All my life I have seen people reading this novel. On subways and airplanes, in hotels and hospitals. My wife recently read it in our bed. At first, when people asked what I thought of the novel, I admitted I hadn't read it. Nobody believed me..."

[Click here to see the table of contents and read excerpts of vol. 3 no. 2 on the Burnside Review website.]

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Lion Passes

R.I.P. NORMAN MAILER, 1923-2007

Norman Mailer died early last Saturday November 10, 2007, at 84 years old. With him passed one of the twentieth century's most prolific, important, and controversial writers. Among his many other achievements, Mailer wrote for literary and political magazines from a very early age. Mailer wrote for his high school literary magazine and had a story accepted by Story magazine when he was only 16 years old. As a sophomore at Harvard, Mailer was elected to the board of the Harvard Advocate, the college literary magazine. In 1941 he won Story's annual college writing contest, and the $100 prize money helped convince his family that he had a viable career as a writer. Since then Mailer has published work in (to name a few) Dissent, the inaugural issue of New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, was one of the founders of The Village Voice, and is the subject of The Mailer Review, which printed its first issue in fall 2007. Click here to read two interviews with Mailer from The Paris Review. The world of magazines and writing will certainly be a less diverse and rich place without him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Begin the Beguine

Though the experiment continues at an astounding rate, we will pause for these several announcements and appreciations:

-The Luna Park launch party this coming January in Brooklyn, NY will feature poetry read by Angela Ball, who will be reading from her newly released AWP award winning book of poetry, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds. Other poets and fiction writers will join her in celebrating our launch.

-We are also excited that the party will be co-hosted by Mississippi Review and Stirring literary magazine's Best of the Net series, with possibly more magazines to join the event. There will also be a small gallery of paintings and a jazz quartet. More information on the party in the forms of posters, postcards, and invitations soon to come. We are, as you can see, very excited.

-We are also excited to announce the addition of poet Raymond Wachter to the Luna Park masthead. Ray has been working his tail off soliciting writers for Luna Park and getting the word out about the site. For a day job, Ray teachers at University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Recently he has been quite ecstatic about his recent nomination for a Pushcart.

-In the next few days we will have a review of the new issue of Virginia Quarterly Review, "South America in the 21st Century.

-Soon to follow will be pieces on recent issues of: Burnside Review, Sentence, Hobart, Oxford American, and many more.

-Yesterday the editors received a copy of Tuesday: An Art Project (pictured at right) in the mailbox. We have been so enraptured by the thing, we nearly forgot to vote in today's elections. We haven't eaten or slept since it arrived, just keep opening it, closing it. If you are a fan of books, magazines, literature, art, or origami (you'll see), pick up a copy of Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Espresso and Absinthe in Modern Russia

FROM THE NEWSSTANDS: ESSAY BY JOSIP NOVAKOVICH FROM THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS NO. 17

The following is an excerpt of Josip Novakovich's piece from the latest issue of The Republic of Letters--which, along with other excerpts from the issue, can be found on the TroL website (excerpts which Luna Park is happy to disseminate because the TroL editors so kindly wrote this). TroL is the third literary magazine co-founded and edited by Keith Botsford and the late Saul Bellow. Begun in 1997 in broadsheet and in bound format in 2003, TroL has released just 17 issues in the past decade, because, according to the editors, the magazine is published "at irregular intervals--that is, when sufficient material of quality is available." Like their earlier collaborative publication, The Noble Savage, Bellow and Botsford have financed TroL themselves in order to allow them editorial freedom and the generosity they see as a necessary part of the literary magazine endeavor. In 1999, Bellow wrote a New York Times piece explaining his reasons for beginning TroL. Issues of TroL can be ordered from your local bookseller or purchased directly from Toby Press.


Five Easy Pieces

By Josip Novakovich

Most Russians don’t get up early. The shops in St. Petersburg open at ten in the morning, and that holds true even of coffee shops. Perhaps the notion of coffee as wake-up drug in Russia hasn’t filtered through the haze of the inimical climates and histories. Sometimes when the coffee shop opens, you can see jaded-looking men and women, literally jaded, a little green and sallow, drinking absinthe. Now that is a way to start the day—(no wonder there is a secretion of the liver contributing to the skin color). You may ask for coffee at 10 AM and the counter clerk, most likely, will look astonished, and ask, Espressa? They tend to turn their o’s into ‘ah’ sounds. Now it may take them half an hour to get the machine working, and in the finest St. Petersburg shop, the espresso machine didn’t work for two weeks during my stay there. But this is not the story of St. Petersburg but Moscow, which though more business-oriented and energetic, still has that late-to-bed, late-to-rise rhythm, and the train schedule seems to reflect that. The express trains from Moscow to St. Petersburg were scheduled to depart between one AM and two. I got the tickets for the two AM, and since I was indoctrinated by the American airport schedules, which in this era of security, demand that the passengers be early and planes late, I wanted to get to the station an hour before departure—to give ourselves margin in case we didn’t get a large cab easily. We were four, the whole family, with an additional member, the cello, with its huge case. We went out with our luggage and stood on the curb, next to an all-night kiosk. A few drunks leaned against the kiosk and drank from cans of beer. A small Zhiguli police car was parked nearby, bestowing the air of security on the block. I don’t know where the name Zhiguli comes from, whether it’s a play on the Italian gigolo, and whether the car is a copy of a Fiat, but there is definitely a second-hand air even in a new Zhiguli, and the cops looked a little second-hand and disinterested. In fact, they drove off. First a small car stopped, and a mustachioed man stepped out and insisted that all of us, luggage and passengers, could fit, and was mightily offended when I said we could not fit. He would not charge much, only one hundred and fifty rubles to the train station. Maybe our luggage would fit sans us. Maybe that was the plan, load up the car and drive off. After a decent amount of shouting, the man left.

Now another mustachioed man stopped with a larger car, a Lada coupe. We all fit, although it was not easy. He had some metal pipes and boxes in the trunk which he took a few minutes to rearrange.

I knew the direct way to the train station, having walked it. Down Koltze, turn left, up a huge boulevard, and that is that, a simple L trip, but apparently, for this man there was no such thing as a simple line. He drove us up Chapin, and there turned right, into a dark and bumpy street. His gas gauge kept beeping. Nice, he’s driving on empty. Maybe there’s a gas station here? Maybe he knows how to time everything? That might be a good scenario, to be out of gas, or to pretend to be, and to stop in an alley where his assistants could take our luggage and work us over. No doubt, such things have happened.

The cobbles of the street made the tires purr in their loud way.


At the traffic light, the man turned off the car, until the green light came back on, and then he cranked on the ignition. “Oh no,” Jeanette said. But the ignition caught. Maybe the corner was not dark enough. On the other side of the corner, diagonally, there was another Zhiguli with policemen. At the next corner there was another police car and a couple of policemen standing outside of it.


“All this police!” shouted our driver. “On every street corner. That is too much.”


And true, wherever we looked there were police cars. For what, I wondered? I hadn’t seen so many police even in NYC after 9/11, and this may have been related, a terror pre-emptive measure.


Our driver was getting more and more incensed at the sight of the police. Why should the police bother him? His being terrified of the police made him suspect. On the other hand, I was never particularly fond of them either, in any country, so his displeasure with the arbitrary executors of the law didn’t incriminate him in my eyes.


Anyhow, he made it to the train station, and I gave him two hundred rubles, as much as he had asked, and it wasn’t that much, six dollars, and he opened up the trunk but didn’t help me unload.


At the curb, a young man with a flatbed wooden pushcart offered to take the luggage for one hundred rubles.


“That’s a lot,” said Jeanette. “If the cab is only two hundred, this should be less.”


“That’s all right,” I said. “He probably needs the money.”


We loaded a large suitcase, and four smaller ones, and Jeanette carried Joseph’s cello.


The porter wasn’t officially attired. He didn’t have the cap. He was a young, somewhat Asiatic-looking man, perhaps from southern Siberia, if there is such a thing. Such a huge region should have a south as well, not only an east. He had a black blazer as though he were a waiter at a fancy hotel and black thin-soled leather shoes which didn’t give him much traction, so as he pushed he slid backward, but he progressed. He didn’t go to the side, where he could avoid the stairs, but directly forward. He couldn’t lift the pushcart over the stairs, and he needed my help. I got the lower, heavier end, but I didn’t mind. It entertained me to see him at work. He huffed and puffed as though his job were horrifyingly hard.


“He’s putting on a show of labor for us,” I said.


“Why, it must be hard work,” Jeanette retorted.


[To read the rest of "Five Easy Pieces" purchase or pick up issue 17 of TroL.]

Friday, October 19, 2007

These Young People Today

FOUND X 2: THE UP AND COMERS, BENJAMIN PERCY AND VICTORIA CHANG

Journals where these writers' works can be found:
Glimmer Train no. 64
Ploughshares vol. 32 no. 1
The Antioch Review vol. 65 no. 3
The Missouri Review vol. 30 no. 2
The Paris Review no. 180
Tin House no. 31
Salt Hill no. 19


One of the most recognized roles of literary magazines is as publishing venues for new writers. This has been true since at least the beginning of the 20th century, when magazines like Poetry and The Double Dealer were dedicated to locating new talent--which they did in spades, publishing the early writing of such then unknowns as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Thonrton Wilder, T.S. Eliot, Jean Toomer, H. D., and numerous more. Their position as discoverers of new writers is a portion of their job that literary magazines take much pride in; it is one of the main editorial distinctions separating them from the better circulated and more financially lucrative glossy magazines, who most often cannot risk print space on writers or forms of writing that have not yet proven their audience appeal. Still the literary magazine world's role in the careers of American writers seems a little publicly realized fact (though one much mentioned in these pages). One might wonder, for instance, what number of the many readers of Jeffrey Eugenides Pulitzer Prize winning and best-selling novel Middlesex have even heard of The Gettysburg Review, where Eugenides published his first story. The same question could be posed about the first publications of such authors as Claire Messud, Sara Gruen, Junot Diaz, or Philip Roth. Certainly the literary magazine publishing complex doesn't have the cultural power it had during the height of modernism, with such things as television, the internet, and the general glut of contemporary publishing to compete with, but there are still, in the thousand plus literary magazines out there, much wonderful and powerful writing constantly being discovered and published.

Like in nearly everything, some works stand out above others. There are, at various times, writers whose works are being almost universally acknowledged by editors across the spectrum, everyone seemingly at once becoming aware of a new and exciting artistic talent. Recently, the writing of two stunning and amazingly talented writers appears in just about every literary magazine a reader might pick up (and even some wider ranging, glossier publications): 28-year-old short story writer Benjamin Percy and 36-year-old poet Victoria Chang.

1. The Short Story Writer.

"The blood in his ears buzzes, like a wasp loose in his skull. The rifle kicks against his shoulder. The gunshot fills the world." -from "Somebody Is Going to Have to Pay for This," originally published in The Paris Review no. 180


Benjamin Percy is undeniably the real thing. His stories are some of the most emotionally charged and gorgeously understated pieces found in print today; they seem filled with a barely controlled passion vibrating below the surface of each sentence, like the desperate shaking of a tornado shelter door as the twister passes directly overhead. Like a good Raymond Carver story (whose influence runs through Percy's writing), the emotional climaxes of Percy's stories are never sentimentalized or brooded upon, they simply happen, like things do in this world, and we move on beyond them changed, but as yet uncertain as to how. And aside from Percy's talent for moving character and plot, his language is as nuanced and delicate as the many interlocking gears of an enormous clock, each piece perfectly balancing against another. And his eye for detail is seductive in its selectivity. Here is a brief description of a couple spelunking in an opening beneath their house in Percy's story "The Caves in Oregon" from Glimmer Train no. 64: "Sometimes the ceiling would come loose with a click of stone, a hiss of dirt, nearly noiseless in its descent, but when it impacted, when it slammed to the cave floor, it roared and displaced a big block of air that made them cry out and clutch each other in a happy sort of terror." A silent falling piece of rock nearly crushes them and they cry out in a happy sort of terror, as we all do when we are scared and in love.

Nearly all of Percy's stories are an inspection of working class Oregon, a fertile ground for fiction, covered most memorably in the short stories of Carver and Charles D'Ambrosio. But it isn't only the frontier wilderness of Oregon that Percy depicts in his stories; the enduring theme of all his stories is what repressed pain does to someone, how in keeping our hurts and fears from others in an effort to protect ourselves from further injury, we are also changing ourselves, distorting, sometimes even crippling, our behaviors, perceptions, and desires. Not that Percy seems to argue that this isn't the way we should behave; he simply shows us that, in today's war-torn landscape where the gap between the rich and poor is widening every moment, this is how we live: in a forced repression of violence and fear, seeking (sometimes finding) some love and companionship to remind us we can be happy.

In each of Percy's stories there are elements of violence, either directly acted or only haunting the scenery. In some even, violence is the world's main form of currency, such as in Percy's Plimpton Prize winning story, "Refresh, Refresh," where two boys beat each other bloody every day in order to toughen themselves and make their fathers proud. Even in "The Caves of Oregon," arguably one of Percy's least violent stories, focusing around a couple dealing with a recent miscarriage, Percy begins the piece with a grotesque scene of a couple opening a meat-stocked freezer after a power outage earlier that day: "The sight of it reminds Kevin of the time he had his wisdom teeth removed. His dentist had given him an irrigator, a plastic syringe. Twice a day he filled it with salt water and placed its needle into the craters at the back of his mouth--and from them, in a pink rush, came scabs, bits of food. That is what the freezer looks like when its door opens and the blood surges from it--all down the front of the fridge, dampening their photos, glossing over their magnets, until the front of the fridge has more red on it than white." After seeing this, Kevin's wife, "makes a noise like a wounded bird....A tremble races through her body and then she goes perfectly still."

But, amidst all the violence and hurt in Percy's fiction, there is a constant desire by the characters for some undefined connection with others and an understanding of the self. This is not a conscious need, but instead it is a need the characters haven't conceptualized but just know they want, like an itch. And it is this need for others which drives the stories, this constant struggle of human needs against a violent world. The endings are usually unhappy. Sometimes the characters are allowed to see the calm surface of the world, such as in "In the Rough" from The Antioch Review vol. 65 no. 3: "He imagines he is sitting at the bottom of a pond, his pockets weighed down by golf balls, his words escaping his mouth, buoyant and drifting to the surface where everything is blue and full of sunlight." Other times, the characters aren't even than lucky, and the calm world does not even exist in the life of the imagination. In Percy's enthralling mystery tale "Dial Tone" from The Missouri Review vol. 30 no. 2, we are left only with the stark image of, "The hissing of radio frequencies, the voices of so many others coming together into one voice that coursed through you in dark conversations."

2. The Poetess.

"I wake the next morning, pretending
nothing happened. Pretending this life, this era,
with its cheap housing projects, music that makes
cars vibrate, men pouring concrete and snipping
hedges into shapes of animals, pretending."
-from "The Dislocated Theater," originally published in Salt Hill no. 19


Victoria Chang is making a great success as one of the most prodigious and continually intriguing poets around. But it is not mere ubiquity that makes readers and editors pay special attention to her work. The oeuvre of Chang's poetry asserts its importance through each individual poem's presence--like a loud fingerprint from another planet you can't help but recognize as one of your own. And, like all fingerprints, it is the zeitgeist, the roaming camera, the caffeinated, sound-bite-addled monologue in our heads.

Many of Chang's poems are unbelievably expedient in their delivery, coming at you with the speed of the contemporary, like an email made of sparkling quartz. "Each morning," her recent poem "How Much" from Paris Review no 180 begins, "I put on those shoes, legs,/ nylons, sex, black briefs with texts. Each/ dusk, there were martinis, drinks that said/ Cocktail! No choice." We are thrust immediately into the high sensual moment at Autobahn speeds.

In a recent review on Blackbird, Susan Settlemyre Williams nicely describes Chang's poetry as that which "thinks big, that harbors the best sort of ambitions, not to be acclaimed, but to stretch itself." Chang's poems are not meditations on an abandoned lover or ruminations of a single orchid on a battle-torn embankment; they seem to strive against these singular notions of the contemporary. Chang's poems resemble a sort of string theory of the poetic world, burning with a fever of multiple desires and personalities, with their hands in a variety of ages. In "How Much," the speaker of the poem is not only the victim of a lightning quick mind, absorbing a thousand sensory experiences in a New York minute, but, like ill-fated Cassandra, she can also see into the future. The narration in the poem shifts from place to place (apartments, cars, dinners) and voice to voice (answering machines, excited voices, chilling proclamations), moving from one worm hole to the next until we finally arrive at a less chaotic, taxi-cab- and cell-phone-free future, where "Somewhere in a kitchen, a mother will watch/ the last piece of beef fall off a bone." Beneath the demanding shimmering chaos forever remains the world of meat.

In her two poems from Tin House vol. 8 no. 3, "Seven Infidelities" and "Dear Professor," we again see Chang's amazing ability as a writer to leap about in a myriad of locations/events/voices/ideas in her poems, much as one would flip television channels or surf the net. Yet, just as websites and television channels are all part of one large, complex system, we never feel Chang is not weaving some intricate and important pattern with her imaginative bursts. "Seven Infidelities" discourses on a number of seemingly isolated instances of occasional want and deviance, but in the end everything converges into a thrusting violence as "houses fall into the ocean with all the people/ bumping into sofas" and "the snow falls in the shape of men and women,/ and they collide randomly in the dark." In a nearly opposite poetic representation of isolation in chaos, the landscape of Chang's poem "Dear Professor" is not the world, but the narrator's frictive mind, within which we roam between jolts of memory and ironic assertion: "Drugs are like running, someone said, when I didn't get it./ Never got it. You mean raining. Ruining. Like,/ like, like, not quite. Williams hated similes." Finally, our Chinese Emeritus narrator seems through being the conception of another's desire (the professors?) and
wants "to be Emeritus only,/ so the bullet in another chest does not hurt. So I can sink/ my mouth in, come out with it between my teeth./ So I win. So good enough."

But not all of Chang's poems have this same quality of order in randomness. One of her most powerful poems is also her quietest. "Proof," originally published in Ploughshares vol. 32 no. 1, is a subtle evocation of the almost mathematically precise weave of connections that makes up human civilization, and which seems to be a very common notion of our communal fate: now that the communication and travel have been simplified, we can no longer ignore our relations, no matter how distant, historical, or unexplained. But, if this is the case, that all our fates are linked, what happens to our individuality? Where, in this miasma of unity, is the I to be unified with? "Proof" explores the resemblances between a great-uncle who was killed in China and the narrator who is "standing in the dirt in La Jolla." Though this idea of worldwide interconnectedness is not new, Chang is able to make it intensely unique with a subtle shift from the idea connection to one of parallelity, our lives not as one, but running in pace alongside one another. And so "Our angles are equal, therefore we are parallel./ Then there must be two birds, two shores, two deaths."

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Job

FOUND IN NEW YORK QUARTERLY NO. 63: EDITOR INTRODUCTION FROM RAYMOND HAMMOND

"He could imagine us rushing around Manhattan in our suits and attache cases."
-from Hammond's introduction for
NYQ 63

From the outside, the world of literary publishing can seem rakish and cruel: a world of delays, unending rejection slips, and minuscule monetary rewards, if any at all. On the other hand--usually after reading a magical story or mind-altering book of poems--the same world can seem mysterious and wonderful, the sort of place where you would love to hang out if only you knew the right people, talked the right way, understood how they made such amazing things, how you could maybe get them to let you help.

The world of the literary object is a mysterious place for the uninitiated, which we all were at one time (excepting the occasional Waugh or Amis, of course). In many ways, this uninitiated world is inescapable even for the most seasoned publishing veteran. The power of fiction and poetry, though to some extent comprehensible, always slips just beyond our rational grasp. Language moves us, we know, and the language we call literature (from comics to Shakespeare to slam poetry) is that which moves us to the greatest extent; it is that which moves us inexplicably. There is a type of secular magic at work in literature (for more on secular magic, see our previous review of Cabinet magazine), and it can almost seem like the people who publish literature are, like people who work at Apple or on Hollywood films, living a life surrounded by this magic. That they are allowed the privilege. That they have a power the rest of us do not, one filled with music filled parties, lunches with artists, and an unending flow of cappuccinos. And that it is the duty of those with such privilege to share their glory, and that it is our right to censure them if they do not.

But, of course, anyone who has worked a real job or takes a few minutes to consider the world, will realize that no such publishing world exists--unless you replace parties with nights alone at the computer, lunches with tuna fish sandwiches at a desk (again alone), and cappuccinos with Folgers. The real world of publishing is filled with papercuts, deadlines, and the same uncertainty and apprehension as anywhere else. And still those who work in it are lucky, though their days be overloaded with work, bills, and more work.

Editor Raymond Hammond discusses this constant relationship between the unending work and the rewards of literary magazine publishing in a refreshingly sincere and engaging introduction to New York Quarterly's most recent issue, number 63. As self-congratulating as such a piece could easily be, Hammond's piece comes off as an immensely readable and unpretentious view of what goes on behind the masthead of one of the nation's top poetry journals.

Hammond wrote his introduction in response to a letter NYQ received from an author whose poems their editors had rejected: "In the letter, the writer was upset that we had not accepted any of his work and added that he was further insulted by the fact that he could imagine us rushing around Manhattan in our suits and ties with attache cases making arbitrary decisions about who gets in the magazine and who doesn't." The great "umbrage" Hammond takes with the letter is not that the writer was upset because his work was not accepted. Instead, what bugged Hammond and drove him to dedicate five pages to illuminating the world of what his job as editor consists of was that the man imagined Hammond and his staff "rushing around Manhattan" in suits making off-the-cuff decisions about NYQ content and, one might infer, having a simply gay old time doing it.

The reality, as one might assume, is quite the opposite. Hammond is hardly the corduroy jacketed literary aesthete one might imagine sitting behind the editor's desk of a literary magazine, but he is most likely closer to the norm than many readers might expect.
In his "other life," Hammond is a Federal Law Enforcement Park Ranger at the Statue of Liberty (here is a link to a picture of Hammond "on the job," as it were). Not the job one would expect for a lit mag editor? As Hammond himself puts it, "All of your editors have regular jobs, most of which do not pay very well and most, if not all, of which have nothing to do with magazines, academia, or the arts." Well, maybe he is painting the lit mag world in too broad a blue-collar tone, as some editors jobs are with the academy or the arts, and a few even work full-time as magazine editors, but his point is made. The majority of the work done on lit mags is from the heart and done for little or no pay--some even pay for the opportunity, shelling out money from their own checking accounts to keep the magazine going. (True: some people working in publishing did go to Ivy League schools, were rich, and may have got their positions because they knew someone at the company--but one can rest assured that this is very rarely the case for literary magazines, if ever. It is a more blue collar world down there, as Hammond's piece shows.)

And the introduction to NYQ 63--where Hammond shows us his early poetic career and befriending former editor William Packard (pictured at left)--is only the first section, as we are told that the story of Hammond's "becoming editor will continue in issue 64." If there are more sensitive descriptions of working class New York poets and portraits of the late Packard like the following, then the sequel will definitely be worth the wait: "Afterwards we met up with Bill who was elated that Anna had come. They had not seen each other in years. We walked towards the subway, Doug and I up front, Bill and Anna lagging behind lost in conversation about poetry. I have a vivid image of the night in my mind, the snow had begun to lightly fall through the light of the streetlights overhead and settle on their shoulders as they walked and talked behind us. At the end of the block, Doug and Anna parted and Bill and I decided to sit on the corner pizza parlor and have coffee. He said that he had lost a friend that day. It was January 19, 1997, and I had heard on the news that James Dickey had died. We talked for an hour probably even longer but the time always flew by, as Bill shared memories of James Dickey. When we parted, I ducked into the subway as Bill walked off into the lighted snow. Little did I know that this would be one of my last vivid memories of seeing Bill walk."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Real Illusion

NEW ISSUE REVIEW: CABINET NO. 26, "MAGIC"

"Cabinet is my kind of magazine; ferociously intelligent, ridiculously funny, absurdly innovative, rapaciously curious. Cabinet's mission is to breathe life back into non-academic intellectual life. Compared to it, every other magazine is a walking zombie."
-Slavoj Zizek, philosopher


One possible regret regarding the vast number of literary and little magazines published today is that individual bright stars could be overlooked due to the overall luminescence, and so not get the attention they so obviously deserve. It would seem all editors need admit that there are a few little magazines out there on the newsstands that are a bit more fantastic, a bit more wow than all the rest (and, in the end, wow is what everyone in the magazine world is going for, even if it is of the more conservative or ruminative kind). When such gems are stumbled across in the little magazine world, they are perhaps more precious than in other areas of publishing because of how few issues of these magazines are produced, how poorly most are distributed, and how short of a life span these magazines tend to have. When one is found that not only seems able to bring more attention and appreciation to itself but also to the general efforts of small artistic magazine production, a reviewer can't help but be a little ebullient.

Cabinet magazine is one of the sharpest little magazines out there, captivating for the most part due to its stunning originality. An issue of Cabinet is similar to a Basquiat or Twombly painting; like these painters who seemingly couldn't paint a boring line, the editors of Cabinet seem unable to produce an issue that isn't unique as a fingerprint. They take great effort to work beyond what is expected of them as a small arts magazine, pushing past the barriers of the newsstand to success in other publishing and performative venues. As a publisher, Cabinet is as diverse as its editorial content. Individual issues of Cabinet are divided into three sections:--columns, main, and a themed section--each issue then structured like a museum, where a reader moves from room to room. Also, in order to reach the maximum amount of readers and bookstores, Cabinet prints and distributes the same exact issues as both magazines and books (British lit mag Granta is another publisher who has successfully done this). Cabinet also publishes actual books on a variety of subjects and they put on Cabinet sponsored events around the globe.

For anyone interested in, well, interesting things, Cabinet magazine is one not to miss--and the entire run is not to be missed (excerpts are available on their website), not just this issue. The first 25 issues of the magazine cover a range of frightfully interesting topics largely unique to the world of little magazines, such as invented languages, pharmacopia, doubles, laughter, and ruins. Cabinet's last issue (26, pictured above and reviewed here) is, among a myriad other things, an eclectic study of magic in our political and social lives. Like a novelist always trying to trump their last work, the editors of Cabinet are not to be outdone by previous releases, but continue with each issue to impress with renewed creative vigor. (The next issue of Cabinet, which shipped to subscribers October 3, contains a themed section on, of all things, mountains--which, like everything else, the editors and writers at Cabinet have been able to make seem absolutely fascinating and original. They have taken Pound's maxim "make it new" more than to heart; they have made it their DNA. The coming issue contains the intriguingly titled articles "Mont Blanc Montage: Up the mountains, in fiction and fact" and "Making Sense at the Movies: Habit and memory by light of the silver screen.")

The subject of the last issue, magic, is a very popular one today on both sides of the Atlantic. True, most thanks goes to the billion-dollar industry of Harry Potter and his fictional magic, but there has also been a Hollywood resurgence in stage magic in the recent films "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige," both originally works of prose fiction. It is this type of magic which is the focus of the Cabinet issue--that is, the illusory magic of the sleight of hand, the levitating body, the woman sawed in half. This magic not of sorcery but of illusion is defined in the issue by Johns Hopkins professor Simon During as secular magic, or "magic that makes no claim to be in contact with the supernatural--it's not calling on hidden powers to act on the world." The same of course cannot be said of Rowling's Potter, whose magic comes from something Potter cannot fully understand or control, bringing about much of the amazement and drama of the story.

The enchantment of stage or secular magic is that it is "dealing with known unknowns....And by displaying the trick honestly, the audience's consciousness of the changeability of the world is reinforced." This definition is excerpted from Ian Saville and Sally O' Reilly's faux interview exploration into the Marxist implications and uses of the secular magic world, "I Can See Your Ideology Moving" (the picture of the ventriloquised Karl Marx is at right). Like many of the writings in the issues, "I Can See Your Ideology Moving" is very postmodern. It is a stylized play script which runs the gamut from a local British festival, to a ventriloquist acting as Brecht and Marx, to questioning the text as performance, to, finally, an argument for magic as a healthy defense against the persuasive ideologies of capitalism. It's a deft, nicely argued, and very humorous work, emblematic of the best pieces published in the issue--they all walk the line between funny and serious, expressive and representational. Form equals content for works published in Cabinet, resulting very often in strikingly illuminating views on previously less complex subjects.

The issue is a salmagundi (also name of one of the original American lit mags) of ideas and art, a well organized grab bag of insight. One can flip open the issue at any page and be impressed, caught off guard. The first article, "Talk to the Hand," is a revealing look at the history and scholarship of gesture, which once had, like composition, its own rules of rhetoric. Next is "A Minor History of Aquatic Ambulism," a timeline of human attempts of walking on water, with the occasional successes. In the middle of the issue is Cabinet's third installment of their collaboration with the London-based magazine, Implicasphere, described as a "unique theme-based periodical." The theme of this installment is stripes (previously they have been nose and salt & pepper). The installment begins, "Stripes appear bold, strident even, wearing their intentions on their sleeve. And yet they are sly shape-shifters that trick the eye," and the issue then continues on to explicate and illuminate the world of stripes, ranging from looks into the New Orleans' red light district, the stories of Rudyard Kipling, skunk stripes, and many more striped exhibits, texts, and occurrences in the natural world.

Like the famous 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica or seventeenth century cabinets of curiosities (of which Cabinet's own name seems to derive), issue 26 is yet another of Cabinet's disarming exhibitions into the magic of the world's minutae--only this time, they rove not only into the magic of the world, but the world of magic. A world, we come to see, both under appreciated and a part of our everyday lives--from President Bush's photo ops to our television addictions. "At some time or other we have all decided that life is one long disillusionment," wrote magician David Devant in a 1935 essay. "It is a platitude," he continues, "and like all platitudes it seems that each of us discovers it anew." Devant was one of the most popular magicians of his time, and, somewhat ironically, was also the first person to exhibit films in London, and so helped bring about the new dominant medium of the magician: the cinema.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Voices from the Masthead: Editor Joseph Levens On Why He Began Summerset Review

The Summerset Review is published online quarterly and in print form periodically. This fall, the literary journal is celebrating its fifth-year anniversary and has introduced features believed to be new to literary magazines: Readers are compensated based upon critical comments they contribute. The journal is hoping that this will increase the awareness and penetration of literary magazines in our world and culture.

Joseph Levens is founder and editor of
The Summerset Review. His fiction has appeared in Florida Review (Fall 2007), New Orleans Review, AGNI, Other Voices, Sou’wester, Swink, and elsewhere. We asked Joseph why he does what he does. This is what he said.


WHY I DO WHAT I DO

For the past twenty years, it has happened all too often: I’d start reading a story in a literary magazine, and within a hundred words whisper to myself: This is going to be good. Three or five or eight thousand words later, after other whispers and gasps and sighs along the way – Wow, Damn, God – I’d be left with a tear in my eye, knocked dizzy with emotion. I’ve missed train stations, had meals run cold, and been late for a variety of engagements because of stories like these.

A piece causing all this trouble won’t always be one that is terribly heart-wrenching. No, it could have been a happy story, and very often is. The prose is what usually gets me, the little things, those that make you stop dead, think, think of some aspect of life, lives like mine or very unlike mine, places I’ve been to, places I never knew existed, objects, an orange sapphire (weren’t all sapphires blue?), a piano in perfect tune and tone never played by its owner. It’s like ankles in ice skates; it’s like eating peas off a knife.

There’s no anticipating how I am going to react, what I will like, what I won’t, when I open a literary magazine. Things just happen. I’m a sensitive reader and allow myself to be easily manipulated, suspending my disbelief as if it were a helium balloon, floating, hovering, teetering. Almost always, the stories that have the most impact on me are penned by writers I’ve never heard of. They magically appear in these journals for reasons traveling well beyond scientific analysis. How the story got on the page, how the book got into my hands, how the connection is made in my head, these are all things that cannot be explained.

I do what I do because after this happens to you time and time again, you begin to conceive ways of getting more of these stories out there. I’m left thinking that, for every piece having a great effect on a reader, chances are likely another five, ten, twenty stories are waiting, waiting, waiting, never to be set on a page and exposed on a global stage. Why not? That, I suppose, is for another essay, likely to be a bit ugly.

In addition to my role as editor of The Summerset Review, I am a writer myself. My objective, in my writing, is to reach out and provoke that tear I myself have experienced, in as little as one or two readers who may have innocently stumbled across my work, persons I do not know. To the chagrin of some I am sure, the matter is not at all about money. I am assuming I may not be the only writer out there with this sentiment, and so I thought to do my part and create a vehicle others may use to meet similar desires.

This vehicle comes at a cost. The journal receives an average of five submissions a day and we do not solicit. We run no marketing or advertising campaigns because our humble staff of two (including myself) barely have time to give each story a fair shake (sometimes two or three shakes), edit, correspond, copy-edit, and do everything else, all so that we can put out what we believe are five quality pieces each quarter, chosen from the heart. We pay contributors a nominal fee and never look at the magazine as a revenue-generating source; the focus is elsewhere. (It would be remiss of me to not mention the CLMP, an organization I believe truly cares about literary magazines, and does their best to support them.)

I don’t know exactly how well it is working. It’s not the kind of thing you can read all about the next morning in the newspapers. Once in a while I will come across that shining submission, though, a story that would be like one I read in another magazine, ankles in ice skates, peas on a knife, and realize that, no, wait a minute, hold on; I am not reading another magazine. The writer is sending the story to me, understands what I am talking about, has had similar things happen on the train, gotten in trouble just as deeply and as often.

The real reason I do what I do, if you’ve stuck with me this far, is revenge, actually. I’m tired of cold meals, tired of missing my station, once again late for an evening of whatever else. It’s about time this happen to more people. I’m doing my best to see to that.