Monday, August 2, 2010

Editors of Small Magazines

Ever since printing presses got up and running, the editors of small magazines have been crucial to all nations' literature. "Small" refers to the circulation but often also to the format. People who, say, look at the modest poetry shelf at Borders or Barnes and Noble see "culture" from the other end of the telescope, after fame (to the extent poets can be famous) has been established, earned, manufactured, or some combination thereof. You will find Frost, Eliot, Plath, Yeats. The reasons you find them are often more complicated than you would imagine.

Meanwhile, new poetry keeps getting written, and if poets want their poetry read by people other than themselves, their friends, or their local colleagues (in school or in a local poetry "scene"), they will send their poems off to small magazines. That first acceptance from a magazine outside one's circle/region/school is crucial. It brings validation. It gets the poet in a wider game, for better and worse, but mostly for better.

The first such acceptance I had, as far as I can remember, was from the oddly titled but venerable WIND: Literary Journal in Pikeville, Kentucky. It was edited solely by Quentin Howard. I'd used Len Fulton's International Directory of Small Magazines and Little Presses to look for places to send my stuff, and I'd picked Howard's magazine out for reasons I forget. The acceptance came in Winter, scrawled on the margin of a hand-printed flyer, with a guestimate of when the poem might appear. I went on to publish other poems and one story in the magazine over the years, but I never met Mr. Howard. He died, and I think some of his associates tried to keep the magazine going, but it soon folded. Many of these magazines are the product of one or two person's virtually unrewarded dedication to seeing literature into print--tough, grassroots stuff, completely hidden from mass-culture.

Now many magazines have migrated online, or started there, but their purpose is largely the same. So, a tip of the cap to editors of small magazines and little presses, where the real work gets done.

The poem Mr. Howard accepted was "Sea Monster," oddly enough. I can't trust my own memory of how the poem came to be, but I know I was taking a course, as a first-year graduate student, in transformational (or "deep") grammar; and I was most interested in the interior and dramatic monologues of Robert Browning and Randall Jarrell--chiefly for the "move" in which one inhabits a decidedly different persona from one's own; and I was still enthralled with Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry, as I suppose I still am, because of its achievement in the poetic equivalent of jazz.

Hence, I suppose, the mention of grammar, the interior monologue spoken by a sea monster, and the ubiquity of alliteration and words with Anglo-Saxon roots.

Anyway, a link to a reading of the poem, with thanks again to the late Quentin Howard:

sea monster
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