Friday, December 04, 2009

What is the future of Lit Journals?

Journals old and new. Or, I’ve seen the future of literary journals, and I like it just fine.

So this is what I think the future of literary journals looks like:

Example #1. The Colorado Review. The new issue came out just recently, and it’s here on my desk, so it’s going to stand for all those journals out there (FIELD, Denver Quarterly, etc) that I like very much. This issue of CR (fall/winter 2009 Vo 36 No 2) is beautifully put together. A generous 180 pages. Edited by Stephanie G’Schwind, with the poetry of this issue (they have revolving poetry editors) edited by Matthew Cooperman.

The genres are broken out in sections: Fiction (three stories, close to 60 pages), poetry (20 poets, close to 60 pages), and nonfiction (two essays, 20-something pages), and book notes (nine reviews, 30 or so pages).

I’ve broken it down this way, rather than just going on about how excellent the work is (which it is, by the way, with some of my favorite authors (Rosmarie Waldrop, Martha Ronk, Michael Burkard, and on) represented, because I think it’s the editorial vision that’s important. The way CR uses its space, the way it forms, is its lasting value. I think there will always be a place for this sort of literary journal. But of course the work is also excellent, so go buy a copy. They make great Christmas gifts for your writer and reader friends (and/or yourself)!

Example #2. Recently I’ve come across two online journals that are showing a bit of what can be done, that I’m finding to be innovative and forward-thinking. You can see what I mean right away by going to them:

Booth: A Journal

Connotation Press

Booth has a great idea: You can download it as a PDF or you can view it in a very nice Internet interface (the same interface that Blue Hour Press used for my chapbook Guidebook).

Connotation Press mixes several things in a tabloid format, that’s quite attractive. John Hoppenthaler has a “Poetry Congeries” that is a nice mix of things.

It’s a good future. Check it out.

To close, here’s a short self-interview (kind of) that I did for the Poetry Congeries a couple months back (John Gallaher - Poetry with Q&A):

This interview was conducted in late September, 2009, in the Gallaher family living room, a comfortable room with large windows overlooking the front yard and street, in rural Missouri. It was 59 degrees at 9:00 a.m., when the interview started. Later, the temperature rose to around 78 degrees, with full sun. Overall, a very pleasant day. This was going to be a self-interview, but luckily for me, I had a couple questions from Amy Unsworth for the website Pages Rustle, which she allowed me to incorporate, so I didn’t have to just talk to myself, which, to be honest, wasn’t getting me very far.

How you would classify your poetry, and what interests you in contemporary poetry (lyric, narrative, language, sound, etc)?

I wish I knew how to classify my poetry. I feel things would be a lot easier for me if I could. When I was first publishing, back in the 1990s, I had very little luck. My work didn’t begin to be published with any frequency until 1998, when I had poems in Sulfur and Denver Quarterly. And so, looking at the poems around mine in those issues, I thought that’s what I must write like. And perhaps I do. At least some of the time. If that’s much of an answer.

So do you think of yourself as writing differently at different times, or in different situations?

Maybe. It’s just that I suppose we all do . . . and, well, there are times where I think I’m doing something radically different than something else I’ve done, and then someone sees it and says, “that looks just like a John Gallaher poem.” So I’m learning to keep my assertions tentative.

And what interests you in contemporary poetry?

I like when a poem surprises me, when it does something I don’t expect it to do, but not just to be surprising, or unexpected. There’s always a danger when one goes for a kind of surrealism, maybe, or a relationship with the absurd, and is looking for surprise, that the poem will just kind of spiral out into confetti. Still, a little confetti now and then never hurt anyone . . . We’ll all survive the experience. I like art to be a little shifty. Like life.

Are you describing what Tony Hoagland calls, negatively, the “skittery poem of our times”?

Or something like that. But Hoagland does a pretty poor job describing it. And he critiques a lot of poets for writing that way, but he also praises a lot of poets (Dean Young, famously, but also younger poets like Dobby Gibson) who write in the way I think he’s critiquing . . . so who knows. Styles and modes and methods come and go. And they come around again. So for now, I feel the post-confessional autobiographical mode is exhausted, but that doesn’t mean it will remain so. And now this mode that Hoagland is noticing (that others have been noticing for close to two decades) is perhaps at its zenith and will start to be supplanted. At least there are current essays out there to that effect, one by Stephen Burt in a recent issue of Boston Review.

Changing tracks a little bit, who did you study under?

Kathleen Peirce, Wayne Dodd, and, for a short time, Mark Halliday.

“For a short time”?

Well, by the time I studied with Mark Halliday, I was finished with my classes and working on my dissertation. Mostly we just disagreed on things, which turned out to be quite valuable, in its way.


Well, with Kathleen Peirce and Wayne Dodd, I had two wonderful thinkers and teachers who were very much on my side, encouraging me. They were both saying things like “more!” and “go further.” Mark Halliday came along with a big STOP sign. Or maybe a YIELD sign. DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD, maybe. It was healthy. It made me defend myself to a skeptical audience.

What sorts of things did you disagree on?

Oh, the usual. Which poems were good and which weren’t. But such things are to be expected. It’s good to disagree. We’re supposed to have the force of our opinions. And different styles of poems reflect different opinions and desires of what wants to enact in a poem, and desire in the poems one reads. He asks questions about what a poem means, and I, well, I’m less interested in that approach.

Do you subscribe, then, to McLeish’s idea that “a poem should Be/ not mean”?

Wayne Dodd used to say that a poem should “mean AND be.” I always liked that formulation, and would like to, as he would say, associate myself with those remarks. But I feel like that might be hedging, to leave it at that. I am drawn to moments where meaning is deferred, knowing that meaning is inevitable, as our lives contain meaning, or embody meaning. So yes, I would side with the “Be” if such a choice were demanded, but only if I could remind myself that there’s a lot of meaning tucked away in that “Be.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that a poem should be thought of more like a tree than like a newspaper.

People, when talking about your work, often mention the influence of John Ashbery, but there’s also the mark of Wallace Stevens there as well. Would you consider Wallace Stevens and the Modernists to be a major influence on your writing? Or do you look more towards the New York School poets?

The only two Library of America editions that I’ve purchased are the Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery ones. I know their work better than I know anyone else’s. So, if that might be evidence, I suppose the answer would have to be that I have a foot in each world. But, truth to tell, I read the poetry of Rae Armantrout, Michael Palmer, Martha Ronk, and Charles Wright, as well as numerous others, nearly as much. There’s such a large world of reading out there, and I adore so much of it, I’d hate to narrow myself to one (or even two) writers. And that’s just poetry. I’m also very interested in painting. That’s probably had as much (or maybe even more) influence on the way I see things, or attend to things as poetry has had.

You maintain a blog. How did you get started doing that, and what do you think of blogs in general? Do you see them changing the way we talk about poetry?

I started my blog a few years ago because I was, well, lonely, mostly. I live in rural Missouri, and I don’t get to see or talk to many poets. The Internet seemed a good way to, as they say, “reach out and touch someone.” The Internet has changed the way we think. It’s changed the way we value information. It used to be that information had value if it was hard to get. You had to go to the library. You had to buy a book or magazine. Information was valuable. Now, it’s turned completely upside-down. If information is valuable, it’s available in seconds on the Internet. It’s only things that are devalued that are not there. I’m probably overstating it, but certainly there are things that are not there that should be there. We’ve lost a lot of things from the past. Blogs are crazy places. Things go viral for a few days then crash. And the comments stream remains. When the history of our age is written, I think it’ll be seen as one of high clamor. There’s a lot of noise out there.


At 12/08/2009 6:11 PM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

Can you direct me to a poet you feel is a prime example of the 'post-confessional autobiographical mode' as you say? I simply want to be clear as to what falls under this mode.

At 12/08/2009 7:17 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

When I said, "So for now, I feel the post-confessional autobiographical mode is exhausted, but that doesn’t mean it will remain so," what I was thinking of is kind of abstract, but I was thinking that the kind of poetry many people write in the generation before mine, typified maybe by David Wojahn and Tess Gallagher, or Rita Dove and Dave Smith (just to grab a few names from the air), is passing into somethign else now.

That sort of thing is always happening. Styles change. That's not to say that one is better than the other, just that they change, the way whale song changes over time.

That's also not to say it's completely gone. Many young poets still write that way. Matthew Dickman is an example of one such poet, and he's getting quite a bit of positive notice.

But in general, I think the style is passing into something else. That "skittery" thing.

At 12/09/2009 1:16 PM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

I see. I didn't think you meant that autobiographical poetry was ending, necessarily. I simply wanted a bit of context or reference material, I guess.

What you seem to be discussing is the evolution of poetic style. I would say I have a tendancy toward autobiographical content in my poems, but I also enjoy this "skittery" business.

Have you read Paul Guest? Thoughts? if you have.


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