Saturday, April 19, 2008

No affiliation

Can I just repeat: I don't understand journals/presses who claim they have no aesthetic, that they're "open" to anything as long as it is "good." Lets not play that game folks. Everybody has interests and tastes. Editors make choices. You can't really have an honest debate until you recognize that you have a take on things.

This doesn't mean I advocate some kind of orthodoxy. For some reason this morning I am thinking about the journal The Prose Poem from the 1990s. It was certainly obvious about its aesthetic affiliation - basically Russel Edson-influenced work.

I always felt weird about that journal because I thought I would be the ideal reader - I often write poetry without linebreaks, I like Russel Edson as well as any number of other people who write without linebreaks, I've read a lot of Surrealist writings - and yet I always felt that that journal was so orthodox in its takes on the prose poem that it strangled me to read it. And certainly there was no place for me in there.

But it's not just that it had a strict stylistic register - it was perhaps the extent to which the editorial vision was based solely on stylistics (certain deadpan sentences, goofy humor etc) and nothing else. And perhaps this is then what the people I quarrel with above want to get away from by claiming free agency?

I really have no idea why that journal popped into my head this morning.


Blogger Max said...

I think the editors of journals should be as strict, dictatorial, and subjective as they can be about what they publish. Saying that one only desires submissions of "good" quality is no longer shorthand for "hey, surprise me!" (which is a completely valid impulse). Rather, I think that more and more it means "I have no idea what I want to publish, so just send me whatever, as long as it meets a certain threshold standard of quality."

8:27 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I have to say I kind of agree with Max and you, Johannes. I think that if you don't have an aesthetic, something you're hoping to pull from, why are you even running a publication? Stay home and put on 'Step It Up and Dance.'

I agree with Max that 'good' is completely subjective and is a cop out for not wanting to do a bunch of reading. I kind of prefer, as a reader, publications that mostly ask people to send poems, not folks with open submissions. Granted, for a younger punk like me, I thrive on open submissions, but as a reader, I like to see what an editor (like you, Joyelle, et. al.) are interested in and who you ask to be in your publication.

The one time someone asked me to submit, they didn't like it :). Go figure!

3:11 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I think a lot of lit mags are just really poor in terms of their editorial structure, where you've got a bunch of readers slogging through submissions, and then they have these democratic meetings where they vote stuff up or down. In my experience working at a certain lit mag, this tended to make the final product a relatively unadventurous middle-of-the-road rag. If any piece of writing stuck out or distinguished itself in any way, people would take really firm stances on it in one direction or another, so the only material that would ever get in was middling stuff--not bad, but not great either--that the committee could form a consensus on. The whole experience really made me wary of "democratic" editing practices. My view now is that a publication is going to be far more interesting if a head editor or genre editor basically has final say on what goes in. What makes this even more interesting is if the editorship changes from year to year, so you get a new editorial voice at each interval.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Paul Gibbons said...

I love it when someone comes forward with this sort of heresy. I have many secret conversations with my wife about "Best of" and "Best New" and even Silliman's comment about "books deserving of a prize." This transparency you're suggesting, if it's achievable, would be daring and fresh.

7:17 AM  

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