November 13th, 2010 / 1:00 pm
Literary Magazine Club

{LMC}: They Have Not Been Nice

If you would like to have the full PDF of NY Tyrant 8 so you can participate in this month’s LMC discussions, get in touch with me. But still, when you buy a literary magazine, an angel gets its wings.

It’s true: The editors of New York Tyrant have given me a stern talking-to. They’ve cleaned a few small clocks. Instead of prudently pussy-footing their way along the long shore of mainstream taste, as do some editors who purport to be “open to experimental literature” (carelessly using the derogatory term): the Tyrant’s editors have chosen bravely to lead us into the wild and brilliant, mind-losing woods and then lead us back out, then lose us into the woods again, then lead us out, then get us happily lost yet again. But, of course: I already knew what the Tyrant has purported to be about — I knew what they were interested in. Therefore: their tactic was not a surprise. I thought I would live with it, and now I live with it.

There are two ways to read a print journal. If you’re like me then you’ll begin reading New York Tyrant #8 at approximately two-thirds of the way through, with the first piece that grabs your eye, this being, in this case, Josh Maday’s spooky, fragmentary Dark Math.

This is the sort of material one reads literary journals to discover. Maday is now on my watch-list.

But, here’s where I get weird. When I pick the journal up again, two weeks after finishing it, I have an odd thought, which is: Since I’d read the journal in my own haphazard, personalized manner: my impression must have been in some way wrong — or, at any rate, different — not in content but in experience . . . because surely a journal, like any book, is meant to be read from cover to cover? So, I’m wondering: what would my experience have been like had I read this journal properly? I’d never considered this of a literary journal before, but then: I’ve never reviewed one before. So, now I considered it. I wondered: what would such an experience actually have been like? Had I begun at the beginning and walked straight forth, instead of beginning in the middle and working through the whole in pieces: when would I have first discovered that I was lost in the woods?

To be realistic: I do not think that this question is highly important, but in some way I feel it to be at least slightly interesting.

So, in making this return-trip of mine to New York Tyrant #8, I find myself thinking: What sort of impression might I or should I have gained from the journal had I gone to the title page and walked straight forth?

Of course it’s not important, but it’s something that interests me, and at the very least it gives me a simpler way to talk about the pieces themselves – it’ll put the pieces in better context – so, off I go.

The first thing to see is that I do not lose myself right away. I almost do so in the first piece, but really not quite. The first piece is a rather odd note, and I don’t know quite what to make of it. This piece makes a gesture to enter the woods, but it does not actually do so, and then the following pieces bring me away and back somewhat toward the stream.

So, it doesn’t come at the beginning, I do not plunge directly into the wood right away as I did in my initial read. Even on page 23, the end of the fourth piece: Brandon Hobson’s understated Downtown, only a subtle gesture toward the woods is made. (Hobson has two pieces in here, which are, very oddly, split up.) Elliott David’s With Pieces brings us to the edge of the woods and lets us look in, but it’s actually not until Craig Davis’ bitter Riparian Wedding, on page 59, directly after which Ken Baumann finally lets us have it, in a sort of musical way. Three titles after this, M. T. Fallon’s fever-ridden Menchov piece lays us a few more strikes. (Menchov doesn’t appear to be a real person, at least according to Wiki, who knows only one Menchov, and he is not any kind of linguist.)

After Wikiless Menchov, it’s immediately time for the disappointing interview with Padgett Powell, which marks something a little short of the halfway point.

The latter half of New York Tyrant #8, conveniently Padgett-marked, was more satisfying.

At any rate, even when I’m just halfway through, I already know the answer to my perhaps self-indulgent question: the difference in approaches is only that in one case I am in control of my experience, and in the other I’m not. This is not really very important . . . but it does raise a slightly more interesting question.

This question concerns the narrative arc, as defined by the editors. With a print journal: the progression of literary works defines a narrative which does not exist in a webjournal. Although a print journal does allow itself to be read in a non-linear fashion,  lending itself to be flipped through and enjoyed out of order, beginning with whatever catches one’s eye first and then proceeding to the next interesting anchor: a print journal still works with a progressive narrative, and editors must know this if they do not arrange their authors alphabetically . . . although, weirdly, many journals don’t seem to pay all that much attention to the aesthetic implication of the order the pieces take. New York Tyrant #8 doesn’t appear to be different.

Were it not for the two final intriguing pieces: the journal would end on a technically and artistically rather light note, and were it not for the first piece: the journal would begin on a relatively moderate note; and the actual opening note and the actual closing note are not well defined. There might have been some thought put into the order that these pieces took, but even the interview is not placed directly in the middle; so the order seems quite random.


Of course no journal I’ve read is perfect – not even, say, 580 Split‘s brilliant #6 (which was followed, unfortunately, by a disappointingly dismal #7), nor any of 3rd Bed’s celebrated and celebratory productions – and despite the interesting material here: this one, too, contains many works which left me none the richer. Most of these were not bothersome; only two of them were.

The first of these was the interview of Padgett Powell: I know next to nothing now about Padgett Powell that I didn’t know before, and Padgett Powell, in interview, has told me little of interest. Is this a failure of the interviewer, of Powell, or both? I cannot say if it is partially Powell’s failure, but it is definitely a failure on the part of the interviewer. I’ve never conducted an interview, myself, but it seems to me that before the interviewer enters dialogue: he or she should always make certain to be well-stocked with questions that are likely to receive responses which are either or both interesting and/or informative for the reader. When I read an interview: I want to learn: not how to cook a fish, but what the artist is like and how the artist thinks and what the artist thinks about. The only thing I really learned about Padgett Powell, in this interview, is his feelings in regard to several other writers, most notably seminal Texan literary hero Donald Barthelme.

The second bothersome thing in Tyrant #8 was the series of drawings by Atticus Lish: It’s true that I’m somewhat prejudiced, here: After so many years of exposure, I feel quite sick of outsider art, especially outsider art that aims to be amusing but does not quite succeed. And, to be honest: I was never really enamored with outsider art to begin with. But this is not merely a matter of taste, it is also a matter of what I see as a lack of substance. Outsider art, in order to validate itself, must be at least moderately substantive. The subject matter, presentation — it’s voice, in other words — must be strong enough to overcome the clumsiness of the presentation. I don’t ask for much from these artists, only enough thought to make me wealthier after reading it.

So, what can I conclude, in the end? As a whole, I’ve found New York Tyrant #8 to be a good collection, and a satisfying one: definitely more satisfying than the great majority of print journals. It shows a conscious, capable and adventurous editorial attitude and aptitude. However, I cannot help but wish that it contained more of the truly interesting material that loses us in the woods. I’m curious to see whether or not #9 would fulfill my need for more and more works that move and challenge my thought and spirit, and in fact, I did go as far as to try to subscribe, until I saw that a subscription would cost me $50, which I could not afford. Were the subscription priced at, say, $30 for one year (?) (three issues): they would have my money, today. (Duotrope says they’re a quarterly, but a volume is traditionally one year; no dates are given on the Tyrant’s site, so I cannot figure if they’re actually a quarterly or a tri-annual.)

(Worse: a single issue of New York Tyrant is a full $15.)

I would hope that simply saying I would subscribe if were I able to afford it should be endorsement enough. However, I do not know how many others would be able to afford it. I also do not know how many other under-class readers have been discouraged from subscribing upon sight of this big, scary number. For many people: $50 qualifies as a significant investment. For $50, New York Tyrant needs to be outstandingly great, and while it might be great for other people: for me, New York Tyrant doesn’t quite make it so far as that.

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One Comment

  1. Donald

      Holy colons, Kaelin