I’m reviving LMC and the first magazine we’ll be discussing is Beecher’s, the graduate student run literary magazine from the University of Kansas. We’ll feature a new magazine every two months and hopefully that lighter schedule will allow more readers to participate.
The debut issue of Beecher’s we’ll be reading features Alec Niedenthal, Rebecca Wadlinger, Joshua Cohen, Rhoads Stevens, John Dermot Woods, Phil Estes, Creed J. Shepard, Lincoln Michel, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, John Coletti, Colin Winnette, Dana Ward & Stephanie Young, James Yeh, Alexis Orgera, Rozalia Jovanovich, Ricky Garni, and Justin Runge.
Earlier this month, we enjoyed Parts 1 & 2 of Terrance Hayes, the guest editor for the current issue of Ploughshares, and here are the final two parts of the great conversation when he visited Emerson College. While we’re on the subject, what do you think of the guest editing approach at Ploughshares? How do you think that such an editorial approach shapes the magazine over time?
Our third selection for Literary Magazine Club is Ploughshares, a literary magazine based out of Emerson College in Boston, MA. Ploughshares has been publishing since 1971 and is widely considered one of the most pre-eminent literary magazines in the country. Pre-eminence, is of course, a relative concept but many great writers have been published by Ploughshares and they’ve been publishing continuously for 40 years, which in literary magazine years, feels quite a bit older. Published in April, August, and December, each issue of the magazine is guest-edited by a prominent writer. The issue we are reading this month, Ploughshares 36.4 or the Winter 2010-11 issue, was edited by National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. In his introduction, Hayes writes, “Some say imperfect lines don’t belong in a museum, but I think a sentence’s shortcomings make it human. And anyway this museum is not after perfection. Perfection is not only oppressive, it’s boring.” The writing he has selected for this issue promises to be imperfect in really interesting ways. Each week this month, starting this coming Monday, I’ll post a question that has come to me as I start reading through this issue so we can generate some discussion.
Why are we reading Ploughshares? Why the hell not. After announcing this month’s selection, one member voiced the concern that a magazine like Ploughshares doesn’t really need the extra attention it might get by being one of our selections. He felt our attention would better be directed to lesser known magazines rather than one with a higher, national profile. I understand that concern but at the same time, there’s a lot to discuss about and learn from a magazine like Ploughshares that is well-organized, well-funded, and well-regarded. In the realm of literary magazines, that combination of qualities is rare. You often have excellent magazines that aren’t well-funded or well-funded magazines that aren’t necessarily excellent. I also think there are interesting things to talk about when talking about a high profile literary magazine. Is the reputation deserved? Why? How much does reputation matter? How does it influence as both as readers and writers? Is the guest editor structure a useful one? What do those different perspectives bring to the magazine that a single editor cannot? In what ways does using guest editors, perhaps, detract from a unified voice for the magazine? What can new or lesser known magazines learn from more well-established magazines? How can independent magazines achieve a Ploughshares like reputation without university support? Is such a thing even possible or desired by the editors of independent magazines? There are countless other questions but more than anything I feel that success does not inherently make a magazine less interesting. The notion that it does feels short sighted.
The content from this issue that’s available online rotates each day so you can sample the offerings and participate that way. The best way to get the magazine though is to buy it. Even magazines like Ploughshares need reader support. Information about ordering (well worth it) is also available on the issue’s main page. As always, if you’d like to write a guest post about any aspect or piece(s) in this issue, or if you would like to join the Google Group, please e-mail me at roxane at htmlgiant dot com. I would love to hear from you. I look forward to our discussion this month! In February, we will be reading Unsaid 5. If you haven’t gotten ahold of this magazine, get on it! You will be blown away.
1 : Introduction
The Collagist comes in with a beautiful image of what looks very much like paint blooming in what was until now pristine water or paint thinner. This is the page’s header, and it’s about as visually rich as the journal gets. The header-bloom becomes the journal’s emblem, and this emblem is usefully repeated at the bottom of the page. (It would be nice if that bloom could double as the journal’s identity icon, replacing that generic isometrically-projected black box — I haven’t tested whether or not the size restriction will allow it.) If you click on the tiny little bloom at the bottom of the page then you’ll be returned to the top. The rest of the site is just as simple and understated, lending itself primarily to the stark and clear presentation of the works themselves, nothing distracting.
Here’s a confession: I look for metaphors in real life, like how maybe the way people tie their shoes under their desks represents their baser instincts, suppressed in corporate life. As a reader, writer, double-ended-candle-stick-burner, too often I look for metaphors about the effect or state or future of online literary publishing. I am a twenty-something luddite, reaching through the din of electronic narrative to find a reason not to ignore it, a reason why the ‘pages’ of the world wide web should affect me just as much as the ‘pages’ of real-life-paper-cutting-dog-ear-able books.
The first time I read Andrew Borgstrom’s “571 Points,” it disguised itself as a metaphor for internet literature. Each line translated into another answer, another echo for my interminable questions.
“We walked our final street like mathematicians writing poetry with our bare bodies.” Math! I think. Computer programming! Zeros and ones, and this website I am reading, when boiled down, stripped to its elements is all numbers, formulas, becoming poetry before my eyes. I begin to read faster as I become fluent in Borgstom’s particular language of mathematics and poetry.
“I did not purposefully hide the flyer…My subconscious purposefully hid the flyer because it hides all flyers and not because it has anything against riding in free hay.” Of course it did! I cry, how could one recognize the posters or billboards or informational tomes that really mattered if one did not allow their subconscious to consciously hide the flyers, the pop-ups, the free hay of internet activity? To steer away from the PoetryHourlyDigest or Best-Flash-Fiction-Of-the-Second email alerts.
“We searched for horseshit in the road,” he writes and I know that anyone skimming the Internet for clarity or truth or just a god-damned answer to a basic question of how-to or how-come understands this ancient quest.
“I managed to say nothing in thirty-three syllables.” Blogs! Twitter! What I write all the time without pretending it is literary while still trying to decide for myself where the line is drawn. At least he is self-aware, though? He knows he is saying nothing. Commenter 56 has no such self-awareness.
But alas, “Where had all the horseshit gone?” Now he is supplementing the percentage of cotton in her shirts–nay, supplementing the lack of venerable online writing with writing of his own, his own contribution. He is too deep in the horseshit to smell it. Or has he transformed the horseshit into manure?
“You kept adding water to dilute the flavor. We figured everything had a solution.” Water….dilute…solution. Wordplay. Satisfying. Short-lived.
Towards the end, he is eating his words. “You taught me how to spell interminable. I dog-eared the page. I ate the page.” Not the page he wrote, but that he adopted. That he learned and understood. And here I get tongue-tied. This is no metaphor. This is a racquetball court with no one’s footprints on it but everyone he has never loved. This is a super-sad-fictional-love-story. On the internet. One that has made me reach into my own needs to create within it a metaphor for what I needed to be explained the most at the moment I read it. What is more literary than that?
One of the things we’re most interested in doing with the LMC is looking at both print and online literary magazines. Much is made about whether or not great writing exists online and every other month we’ll try to answer that question as we read a new issue of an online magazine. The first online magazine we’ll be reading is The Collagist, edited by Matt Bell and published by Dzanc Books.
The Collagist is published on the 15th of each month and features a mix of fiction, poetry, novel excerpts, essays and reviews.
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.
Please enjoy a copy of Andy Devine’s Apartment City. 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. But still, when you buy a literary magazine, an angel gets its wings so consider buying a copy.
Catalogued along so many strong-voiced stories and stylistic usages, Andy Devine’s “Apartment City,” can seem out of place. More of an invoice than a story, it’s simply an index of all of a decomposed novel’s words and the number of times in which they appear. Here’s a chapter:
Question (4x), questions (20x), quiet (37x).
Q’s simple. The entry for L is a hell of a lot longer, and the thought of reading through the whole thing, repeats and all, from “1 (4x)” all the way to “.(5728x)” is ridiculous. Who would? Maybe on a dare, or if you had something to prove. Maybe. But it’s an interesting experiment, and it says something about the nature of writing. It calls out something that’s essentially obvious, though often overlooked: writing is made up of words. Arrangement also matters.
Beyond, or behind, the Oulipian humor, speaks a necessary mythology. Rumor has it that, before there was any list, there was a real novel―in the sense that we normally think of novel. Rather than print it as it was, the strutctures of English were replaced with those of data retrieval. What would have that book been like, this mythology asks. Of course, with just the raw ingredients, and nothing of the composition, there’s no way to recreate the lost book. Instead there is the essence of uncountable, also unwritten, books. What we get is pre-digested, pro-biotic literature. Analysis has already been performed, but according to the rules of a separate discipline. It’s like Quinault’s 100000 sonnets. It recalls the character in If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, who develops a machine to interpret fiction based on a novel’s distribution of words. “Apartment City” is the code on which such an apparatus would definitely operate.
The novelty feeling, while sometimes primary, is undercut by the excerpt’s invitation to a different sort of reading. You could read this piece like a minimalist chorale, twenty eight voices simlutaneously dictating. The pluralization of “come (25x)” to “comes (2x)” could provide a shocking release, some sort of drone masterpiece. You could read word after word, you could admire the way “downtown” foreshadows “dress (15x), …, drink (33x), drinking (12x), …, driving (4x), …, drove away (7x), …, dusk(2x).” You could giggle at the way “policemen (14x), polish, ponytail, pool (5x), popped, pose, posed, position, positions (2x), possible, pot (8x)” insinuates any number of high school fantasies.
More likely, the most pleasure you can take from this sort of exercise is in the fact that it even exists. It’s a mind toy, like the best fiction and poetry, a concept with only the thinnest material clothing, alien and humdrum. It reminds you narrative is only one way to stimulate memory, but it gives no other advice.
Here is Garson’s Silt. 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 so consider buying a copy.
I will not dishonor Scott Garson’s story by writing something longer than he did. There is no insightful analysis in my post, just appreciation. I read it many times, and that is the mark of good work that is so short. I will read it again many times.
My favorite bit: “… hummed in the jaundicing keys of tube lights.” Tube lights are the death of us all and the word jaundice makes me shiver.
SPOILER ALERT! Skip this paragraph if you have not read the piece yet … The end was also snazzy (snazzy is not the right word, but I just felt like saying that): “Were you not also looking to get solved?” Ah, yes, I was looking to get solved. Thank you.
So I do not gush too much, I have a serious problem with one thing. “Public relations specialist” should not be capped. It is an outrage. How dare you, sir.
I have no answers, only questions. Did anyone else enjoy this piece as much as I did? Elaborate. Share your favorite line. If not, why? And what’s up with that title?
Patricia Lockwood created an illustration of one line from Sean Kilpatrick’s The All Encompassed Drowned.
James McGirk wrote a reflection on Czar Gutierrez’s Bombardier.
Mike Meginnis wrote a comprehensive analysis of the assembly of New York Tyrant 3.2.
We had a live chat with New York Tyrant editor Giancarlo DiTrapano. Sorry you missed it. Drinking was involved, as was music by The Smiths, and many unsolved mysteries were solved.
Alex V. Cook wrote a reaction to the letter Breece D’J Pancake wrote but did not send to his mother before his 1979 suicide.
On the Google Group, we’ve been talking about matters of gender, women’s writing, why women don’t submit, how to read experimental work and Matt Bell’s An Index of How Our Family Was Killed. There’s more, but you have to join to know.
Speaking of Matt Bell, next we are reading the November issue of The Collagist, which debuts on 11/15. At the end of the month, we’ll do a live chat with Matt and who knows what will happen.