Reintroductions



It’s been a while, and I’ve admittedly been avoiding this post for quite some time now. As with writing of any form, blogging is an effort difficult to sustain. It seemed better to keep my writing to myself, and go along quietly that way until death. Unfortunately, I’ve found I’m much too vain for such an exit. 

This post stands as a platform for my reintroduction to the oddly named blogosphere. I’ve decided that the Internet needn’t suffer my absence, lest the totality wilt. I beg for my loyal readers’ forgiveness; as I type these words, the reign of this terrible sabbatical ends.

Sorry, I’m grandiloquent for the hell of it. There’s something to be said for bombast. Namely, “Stop it.” Anyway, allow me to explain and subsequently excuse my nonappearance:

The last post date is, appropriately, September. That’s a damn long time ago. But, if it placates you, dear reader, let it be known that any unfaithfulness to this blog was inspired by good intention. Indeed, I used my final collegiate semester to apply to MFA programs.

Applying to MFA programs is a violent process.

For those uninitiated, a brief primer: It is difficult to be accepted into any Master’s of Fine Arts program. It’s commonly recommended that a student apply to as many as ten programs in the hope of better odds. (This is like shooting fowl with an M249.) So respect those MFA hopefuls.

Filling out ten applications (complete with 60-90 pg. MS) takes quite a bit of time. Especially if you find it necessary to create each manuscript from scratch. So, between classes, applications, and writing for pleasure––a misnomer if one ever existed––my irregular blogging soon ceased altogether.

In December of this year, I graduated from college a semester early. So, for those keeping tabs, I now hold a degree in employment at Barnes&Noble  English Literature. I didn’t pursue other minors or majors. I was in Journalism briefly, but thanks to some god, dropped out quickly.

(If I’ve got any admirable trait, it’s that I stick to my passions regardless of logic; this is indicated by the long, inconsequential trail of days that represents my life.)

With a little extra time on my hands, I decided to backpack in Europe. After all, where is a twenty-something to go but overseas? Alas––as with every repressed American––grandiose images of the Alps and the City of Lights wouldn’t relent, and in February I left to spend a month in France and Switzerland.

It was not what might be described as “warm”.

Thankfully, my blind lust for exotic adventure blurred reality just enough that such an undertaking seemed both advisable and responsible. Until the large Boeing wheels had graced Charles De Gaulle tarmac, the brutality and extent of the winter soon to smack Europe had eluded me.

However, thanks to careful packing––I’m an avid, rugged and generally handsome outdoorsman––I’d bought enough warm layers, gear, and socks to last the month. Despite some scares, (the trail an avalanche leaves down a 23,000ft mountain is unbelievable) I enjoyed myself, and witnessed a private, unrivaled beauty.

Oh, and importantly: while in Avignon, I got in touch with my parents. While this was miraculous in itself (public phones in rural france seemed unable to call anyone, anywhere), I was surprised to hear that I’d been accepted to Iowa Writer’s Workshop. I’d been dubious about my prospects, having previously been denied from three schools.

Success might be the only ‘demotivator’ more powerful than busyness. I returned in March from Europe; I was refreshed, avid, and less troubled by the ever-haunting prospect of failing as a writer. I had then no desire to return to the (rewarding) drudgery of Internet journalism. This included my positions at InReads, Escape into Life, and, of course, here.

I’ve brought this neatly around  to the present. Much of my opinions haven’t changed, which partly explains my disappearance. I’m dubious about the Internet; I prefer, whenever possible, to remain logged off. It seems much pleasanter to write in private, publish if possible, and otherwise stay mostly quiet.

Some things changed my mind. Firstly, the work on my blog was often kindly praised by readers. It secured me a freelance position with the Richmond Times Dispatch, and, I believe, made me a credible candidate for grad school. I’ve more or less realized that to have a future in this field (and maintain a relative level of passion) I’ve got to have some sort of online presence; there’s certainly nowhere I’d rather do it than here.

So, I’m mostly back, and actually pretty excited. I’m excited to reconnect with the various literary communities that I once visited often, and gain, hopefully, the support of a loyal readership again. I’ve streamlined the categories of this site, so the posted content will be what has been historically praised: Interviews, creative work, and commentary. By slimming things down, I assume I’ll be able to post more consistently.

Finally, I’ll just post some places my writing’s been published. I’m not sure what people have seen in my absence, and it never hurts to prove I’m not entirely useless.

I look forward to further posts.

 

Poems on Loan: Vol. 7

 

A continuation of the Pages to Pixels’ Poems on Loan series. The seventh installment comes from writer Rich Ives, whose poem here first appeared in elimae. It is entitled: “A Treatise on the Structure of Romantic Art”.

Ives has published in North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Fiction Daily, among others. He has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his writing and photography.

Read more of his poetry here, and here.

The Poetry:

Poems on Loan: Vol. 6

A continuation of the Pages to Pixels’ Poems on Loan series. The fourth installment has been graciously provided by Rainer Maria Rilke. The poem is entitled “Before Summer Rain”. (I have decided, though of course I am always happy to feature contemporary poets, that it would not hurt to throw some admirable classics into the mix.)


Interview: Brian Barker

Often a poet becomes overly comfortable with a certain mode of expression; lending his voice too-often to a style or method of conveyance that quickly becomes over-used. The freshet poets, then, are those who renew their language with each iteration of their art.

Brian Barker is such a poet; his work constantly employs new forms, encouraging a range of artistic and potetic enterprise to be enjoyed and savored. Check out his site here, and some of his poems here, here, and here.

Brian holds an MFA from George Mason University and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in such journals as Poetry, Ploughshares, Quarterly West, American Book Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Indiana Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, fugue, and storySouth.

An Excerpt:

The Interview:

PAGES TO PIXELS

What is the function of poetry today, in a culture of efficiency and hyper-mediaization?

BRIAN BARKER

I’m not sure the function of poetry is any different today than it was 100 or even 500 years ago. It is—as my old mentor, the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, used to say—a quest for a very rich truth, whether that truth be intellectual or emotional or both. It’s trying to teach us something about living on this earth, what it is to be human or animal.

It’s trying to shake us from the sleep walk of our lives and have us stand present before a moment or an idea. I don’t think our world of the 24-hour news cycle and smart phones and social networking and the Internet changes what poetry has always tried to do. If anything, it makes poetry more urgent and necessary. It commands our attention, something we all have a deficit of these days.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Your childhood features strongly in your poetry. Did you become interested in a poetic venture in your youth?

BRIAN BARKER

I was an avid reader as a child. I have fond memories of going to the public library weekly during the summer months and leaving with a fat stack of books. When I was eight or nine, I also wrote short stories for fun, little narratives full of talking animals. Somewhere along the way, in high school probably, my love of reading was put on the back burner for sports and trying to escape the nerd I was born to be. What a folly!

Poetry was never on my radar until my junior year of college. I was majoring in biology and thinking about med school or physical therapy. My English courses were what I enjoyed the most, though, and on the last day of a required Advanced Composition class, my instructor brought in two poems—Roethke’s “Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartz” and T.R. Hummer’s “Where You Go When She Sleeps”—as a way of advertising a contemporary poetry class he was teaching next term.

Well, I didn’t know contemporary poetry existed. I really didn’t. It was never taught at my high school, and I hadn’t yet taken any contemporary lit classes. I was blown away by these poems and immediately knew I wanted to try to write something like them. I changed my major the next day, signed up for my first poetry workshop, and never looked back.

PAGES TO PIXELS

With the advent of Internet self-publishing ventures, critics claim that literature will be inundated with a flow of unchecked, mediocre writing. Is this a new age of openness or blandness?

BRIAN BARKER

Perhaps there is more mediocre writing than ever floating around out there because of Internet self-publishing ventures, but then again, there’s always been a glut of mediocre writing. The problem with any present moment is that we don’t have the long view of history.

The mediocre writing—whether it’s published on the Internet or by a legitimate publishing company—will pass into oblivion eventually, just as it did, say, in the 1800s, and the Keatses and Shelleys and Wordsworths rose to the surface and keep on keeping on.

I think, in general, that we are in a new age of openness in American poetry that has little to do with the Internet and everything to do with the wide variety of poetry that’s being written at the moment. No one type of poetry is dominating, and that, to me, makes this an exciting moment to be a reader and writer of poems.

I do believe, though, that the Internet is a mostly positive force in the poetry world. There are a plethora of quality online literary magazines now—Blackbird, Memorious, and Diagram, are a few that come to mind—and such journals are reaching a record number of readers, both because they are free and because issues are archived online indefinitely.

Similarly, there are a bunch of blogs and review sites that reach new audiences and raise our awareness of writers. How a Poem Happens, First Book Interviews, On the Seawall, Poem of the Week, and, of course, this site, Pages to Pixels, are all good examples. So, ultimately I see the Internet as a friend to poetry and literature, a democratizing and broadcasting force.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Much of your poetry from your book The Black Ocean focuses on worldly tragedies. Is yours is a poetry of politics, or did you choose these events for their gravity alone?

BRIAN BARKER

Good question. I don’t choose events for their gravity alone. I find doing so can lead to poems that are dogmatic and overbearing, poems that seem to be (mis)using the event for poetic gain. In order for me to write about something, I have to become obsessed with it for one reason or another.

It might be figuring out how some public moment in history fits into my own history, or it might mean just trying to understand something that doesn’t make sense to me, no matter how often I roll it over in my mind.

The poems in The Black Ocean that deal with Katrina, torture, the genocide of Native Americans, the Chernobyl disaster, etc. are overtly political. I have felt for some time compelled to write with a social consciousness.

One of my mantras comes from Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “Campo dei Fiori”: “Those dying here, the lonely / forgotten by the world, / our tongue becomes for them / the language of an ancient planet.”

But politics and poetry is a risky marriage. Poetry’s power comes from mystery and discovery. Politics are all about hardened stances and belief systems. When poetry simply becomes a mouthpiece for those stances, then it sacrifices its depth, its vitality, its mystery, its power to move us to awe, delight, or tears. It becomes an artistic endeavor with a short shelf life, something built for the moment instead of eternity.

My solution to this over the years has been to find ways to get myself lost and put myself in the dark so that I’m not quite sure what the poem is going to say or where it’s going to go or what it’s about. For example, I knew exactly how I felt about America’s policy of torture under the Bush administration. I was pissed off! But it didn’t make sense to compose a poem that spews that anger and, in a sense, preaches to the choir.

So, I started trying to imagine ways to reframe the subject so that I could understand it better, and in order to do that, I had to find a way to address torture that that clouded or subverted what I already knew. The result was the poem “A Brief Oral Account of Torture Pulled Down Out of the Wind” that speaks from different voices in an attempt to create a mythic history of torture that that stood over and against the narrative woven by politicians and journalists.

In my attempt, then, to come at the subject slant, I write from the viewpoint of a hood, a dog, a fly, etc. In doing so, I hope I’m able to get beyond simple notions of good or bad and delve into something more complicated and complex.

PAGES TO PIXELS

As a young poet, maybe you can speak to this: Many believe that as the audience for poetry diminishes, writing becomes an act of economic futility. Is there anything enchanting or romantic about the notion for art for art’s-rather than money’s—sake?

BRIAN BARKER

I’m not sure I see evidence that poetry’s audience is diminishing. In fact, I might argue that it’s actually more robust than it has been in years. There are a record number of creative writing programs, and no matter where one stands in the tiresome debate about their efficacy in making writers, there’s no doubt that they create an audience for poetry and literary fiction.

There are scads of websites devoted to poetry and poets, and poetry shows up more and more often in popular media. The News Hour has a poetry segment each week and Terrance Hayes was interviewed on CNN after winning the National Book Award for Lighthead. And there are more independent publishers of poetry than ever, hawking their books at festivals and conferences across the nation. So, I think the state of poetry’s audience is strong.

Does that mean poetry is an economically viable enterprise for writers and publishers? Definitely not. But it never has been. Poetry has always been an act of economic futility. There are very few poets today that can make a living off their poetry. Most have day jobs as teachers or translators or editors or waiters or factory workers or doctors. And before poets had day jobs, they had patrons.

There might be something enchanting about the economic futility of poetry, but a if young writer wants to endure as a student of the art for a lifetime, he or she has to have a better reason to write than just a romantic notion.

PAGES TO PIXELS

In reading your work for this interview, I was floored by your poetic range. You’ve written everything from prose poetry to clipped couplets; what inspires this poetic variability?

BRIAN BARKER

Thanks. I’m a restless poet. My obsessions are always shifting, and I like the challenge of trying to teach myself how to write a new kind of poem. That unknown territory is stimulating to me, and I’m wary of putting something down on the paper the same way as I did before, and the same way as I did it before that. Doing so leads to going through the motions, and, I think, flat, tensionless poetry. So, I like to shake things up a bit, try to get myself lost in some new approach to see where it leads me.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Do you write poetry every day?

BRIAN BARKER

I don’t write every day. I envy people who can. I’ve tried a couple of times in my life to sit down and write every day, but it’s just not very fruitful for me. There tends to be a lot of fallow time between poems when I’m reading and thinking and waiting for the next obsession to take hold, waiting for the creative cisterns to refill.

Once one of these things happen, then I can have months long stretches where I write almost every day, but eventually that momentum ends. I’m OK with that. When I’m not writing, I’m always trying to put myself in a position to be open to what might come next.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Who’ve you been reading?

BRIAN BARKER

Here are the five books of late that have floored me: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas; Landon Godfrey’s Second-Skin Rhinestone-Spangled Nude Soufflé Chiffon Gown; Carsten René Nielsen’s The World Cut Out with Crooked Scissors; Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, and Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us.

 

Interview: Anne Valente

Anne Valente is the author of over twenty published stories; her work has been included in multiple anthologies, and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, as well as for honors from a variety of journals from Story South to Best of the Web.

Her most recently published story, “By Light We Knew Our Names,” tells a harrowing story of an insular Alaskan town, and four women within it who are held emotionally captive by men–fathers, brothers, husbands. These men are either haunting in their absence, or dominating in their presence.

Anne’s writing is pitch-perfect in this story, and elsewhere; it seems that she gives her characters just enough ability to navigate a troubled world, but never frees them entirely. Her work deals in tuned details, finely timed events, and conflicts that shock and excite. How artfully she demonstrates the trouble and resilience of the worlds to which she lends life.

Anne lives and teaches in Ohio. Find her site here, and her work here.

An Excerpt:

The Interview:

PAGES TO PIXELS

Much of your work appears in successful online literary journals. How has the Internet affected literature? Does it encourage undiscovered voices, or inundate readers with a mass of unregulated writing?

ANNE VALENTE

I think the internet certainly encourages undiscovered voices, both in online literary journals and blogs, and also exposes readers to a variety of new writers, whether they’re already established or emerging.

Print journals are wonderful too, and I think it’s important to read a mix of print and online journals to familiarize yourself with the literary landscape, and also to discover new writing.  The variety of journals out there reflects the diversity of ways that people access information and literature.

PAGES TO PIXELS

How do you feel about e-readers? It seems, to me, absurd that we might convert art from one medium to the other and treat it as the same.

ANNE VALENTE

I’m actually not that familiar with e-readers – I’m kind of perpetually teased by my lack of knowledge about new forms of technology.  I can see their benefits, but I haven’t yet felt the need to purchase an e-reader.  I like the weight of a book.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Does theory represent central importance in literature, or does formal and stylistic innovation take a back seat to an effective narrative?

ANNE VALENTE

I think often these two go hand in hand.  Certainly, I don’t know if many writers keep a concept in mind when they set out to write a story, or that their piece should abide by certain stylistic rules or embody a particular theory.  At the same time, theory or style can be kept on the back burner while writing, and can certainly emerge in the editing process.

For me, a story needs to have heart first and foremost.  But that doesn’t exclude the possibility that a story could very deliberately be using a chosen device – a particular point-of view, for example, or a specific narrative structure – to bring into full focus the story’s heart and intent.

PAGES TO PIXELS

 

It seems, looking at your awards, that most of your work become noticed just recently, within the last few years. What do you attribute for this sudden, impressive rise into the literary community?

ANNE VALENTE

I suppose what may seem like a sudden rise is really only a reflection of when I first began to send work out, or when I felt comfortable enough with my writing to begin that process.  I started writing fiction in late 2005 and had never written a short story before that.

Those early stories were pretty bad, but I pushed myself to edit and edit, and to write more and more.  I started actually submitting stories in 2007 and had my first story published in 2008.  It takes that much time and more to learn the landscape of literary journals, to figure out which magazines you admire and what writers you really appreciate.

It’s an ongoing process, alongside continuing to edit and edit, and write more and more.  I guess any writer’s perceived success is a reflection of many hours in the background, spent reading journals, researching, and continually working on projects.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Seemingly, something of the attraction of being a writer resides in mysticism; a certain, uncountable status. So, Writers: the unacknowledged legislators of the world, or regular, curious people?

ANNE VALENTE

I don’t know if I can speak for other writers, but I think I’m just a regular, curious person.  A large part of what draws me to writing is the broadness of it – whatever sparks my interest, I can pursue, and maybe even write about it.  That’s a pretty remarkable green light to be able to work with on a daily basis.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Willow, the setting for “By Light We Knew Our Names,” your story in a recent issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review, provides vivid and striking environment for its characters. How important, generally, is setting to a your work?


ANNE VALENTE

It depends on the work in question, but in this case, setting was incredibly important.  I wanted to convey the isolation of the town, and the harshness of it.  A place where the landscape felt barren and used, while above, the sky bloomed in impossible splendor.  The contrast between these two felt important to me, that these girls must live in this unforgiving place and be taunted by this beauty and possibility above them, just beyond their reach.  Setting is crucial when it furthers your narrative in some way, and in this case, I felt that it was essential to the story.

PAGES TO PIXELS

“By Light…” focuses on women terribly abused, taken advantage of, yet resisting and headstrong. Did you mean to make a greater social statement with this piece, or depict a difficult point of conflict?

ANNE VALENTE

I guess this points in some ways to your earlier question, of narrative versus theory or concept.  In the case of “By Light We Knew Our Names,” the story itself came to me first.  A lifelong dream of mine is to see the northern lights, something I still haven’t done.  By writing about them, I had the chance to experience them from the too-southern reaches of the Midwest.  I also had this group of girls jostling around in my head.

The two came together in a narrative, and the story emerged first and foremost as I was writing it.  But I also wrote the story, I know, as a response to the sort of insidious ways that gender discrimination occurs in this country.  It is something I experience often, and something I can never really talk about because no one wants to hear it, or because it doesn’t seem that bad.

I think this story came from desire to show just how bad it can be.  I wanted to expand it to a terrible degree, to make it impossible to ignore, to show how dangerous the world can feel for women at times, and how our anger sometimes has nowhere to go

PAGES TO PIXELS

What are you working on now?

ANNE VALENTE

I’m working on a novel, and I’ve also completed a collection of short stories.  Alongside novel progress, I’ve also been working on several new stories.  It’s kind of nice to have a few projects moving along at once, and to let them inform each other as they go.

 

Journal Profile: Guernica


This post kicks off a new series on Pages to Pixels, “Journal Profiles”. In this series, popular online literary journals will be reviewed and explored in regards to mission, innovation, design, and intention. The first magazine to be reviewed is Guernica.

Since its recent inception, Guernica, “A Magazine of Art and Politics,” has quickly risen to Internet fame. Esquire has called Guernica a “great literary magazine,” and George Saunders has said that the publication “respect[s] the life of the mind with an intensity rarely seen these days.”

A varied range of worldwide contributers ensures unique content, refreshing literary depth, and a mixing of diverse viewpoints that stand as the foundation to all progressive movements, artistic and political alike. Through informative interviews, impressive fiction, an accessible design, and a mission worthy of popularity, Guernica should expect a bright future.

This interview is with Joel Whitney, an Editor in Chief with the magazine. In the piece, I’ve labeled his responses with  ”GUERNICA MAGAZINE” rather than with his name. Guernica is published twice monthly, and accepts submissions of Essays, Interviews, Fiction, Poetry, Art/Photography. Follow the magazine on twitter here.

The Profile:

PAGES TO PIXELS

The Internet has allowed hundreds of arts magazines and literary journals to flourish. How does yours differ–in either intention or success–from the others?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

In some ways ours differs by taking little pieces of what we loved most. We’re hybridized. We loved the long writer interviews that The Paris Review does, and wondered if you could have a series that honors the voice of polemicists and activists and political thinkers in the same way; we loved the cross-genre arts interviews that BOMB does and saw a possible model for interviews-as-conversations in that; we loved how Ploughshares and the Best-American series use guest editors to create micro-climates within their own aesthetics. And we stole.

But maybe the single biggest difference is that Guernica looked at politics as the arts’ twin sibling in the family of culture. We want our ratio of arts coverage–our attention to aesthetics–to be higher than in current events or general interest magazines. And we wanted politics to be seen as part of that culture, which it undeniably is, and to be handled the way it is in opinion journals, in the sense of taking sides in the disputes. So there’s that.

But we’re really just looking for great writing and great ideas, and we’re not afraid to spark arguments, and this is why we’re cited widely in places like Slate, the Times Book section and its blogs (Arts Beat, Idea of the Day, now defunct, or Freakonomics), on Arts and Letters Daily, at The New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog or in The New Republic, in Best American Essays–to shamelessly name a few.

PAGES TO PIXLES

By pairing “Art and Politics,” does Guernica encounter any difficulties? It seems that often, if art becomes the vessel of political ideals, something may be muddled.

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

To look at art and politics in the same space is not necessarily to make one the vessel of the other. If done with a clear mind, the effect is the opposite of muddling. But let’s back up. I’d say the onus should be on skeptics: what is the problem with a total freedom that allows artists and writers to think about whatever they want?

That’s what we tell other countries––when, say, China, imprisons its artists for their politics, right? Our first instinct isn’t to say, You shouldn’t talk about those things together. Our first instinct is to praise freedom, and condemn whoever abridges it to protect their narrow political interests. So is the freedom to write about politics, if you want, a freedom that good artists know not to use? Well, not when we’re looking beyond the United States. Why is that?

Actually, it’s one of the oldest of the received ideas from the middle of the 20th century; during the Cold War there was a systematic campaign by U.S. intelligence to fund literary magazines and arts movements (such as abstract expressionism) that divorced art from politics.

Peter Matthiessen is on record admitting that the magazine he founded, The Paris Review, was launched, unbeknown to its much more famous editor, George Plimpton, as a CIA front, or at least with CIA money. (I’ve been reading about this period of “literary renaissance” in Frances Stonor Saunders’s Cultural Cold War.) I’m sure the effects of this are complicated to trace. But your question suggests this campaign (to beat the Russians for influence in Western Europe, using cultural assets) was wildly successful.

Is Orwell’s precision muddled by his span of literary writing and politics? Is George Saunders’s work muddled by its total cultural critique? Would Asia’s first Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, have been better off if he specialized his knowledge in one field, and never thought broadly about the problems of nationalism, English occupation, poetry, and spirituality?

On the other hand, I should also quote The New Yorker‘s Peter Schjeldahl in his 2006 Guernica interview: “My problem with political art is not that it’s bad art necessarily, but that it is terrible politics.” So we look at them next to each other, but our poetry section isn’t weighing in on the debt crisis. Koch-funded Tea Party stupidity can’t really be captured in a sonnet.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Speaking of politics, do you favor submissions from well-established writers, or do the unsolicited have an equal opportunity?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

We try to publish about half and half. I’m sure at any given time in Guernica‘s life, the count has varied. Alongside BOMB, we were first to publish fiction by Rivka Galchen, I believe–who has since been named a 20 Under 40 writer to watch by The New Yorker. We also helped, with AGNI, to launch E.C. Osondu, whose debut story collection (Voice of America) is a must-read.

We were the first to publish Sandy Tseng, a poet who went on to win the Discovery Prize and now has a national following and at least one book. And to speak to your question, we didn’t solicit the work we got from Sandy, Rivka or E.C. Rivka’s came via a guest editor (“politics,” if you like). E.C.’s came via the unsolicited email pile and won him Africa’s biggest literary award, the Caine Prize. Sandy’s was also unsolicited. And Adam Day, who just last week won the first ever PEN Emerging Writer Award for his 2008 Guernica poem––he came to us via our unsolicited pile. So big congratulations to him.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Should readers consider your site itself—in design, layout, type—an artwork, or a platform for artistic enterprise?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

Readers should feel free to consider it in any number of ways. We see it as a platform for culture, a place to be seen by readers in well over a hundred countries around the world––part of a true international community, arguing, debating, praise-singing (Auden’s term for what poetry does) and criticizing itself. And if they like the layout too, cool. Many have praised it and it is the work of many terrific artists/designers, a true communal effort.

PAGES TO PIXELS

You’re using the Internet to push art into new terrain. However, many publishers are interested in simply making art as easily digestible and accessible as possible. In the generation of the diminishing attention span, are viewers willing to pay closer scrutiny to a piece?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

To start with the diminishing attention span, yes, I think people get bored easily these days, given all the choices out there. But the ideal Guernica reader (we’ll take anyone actually) is self-aware enough to notice that this quest for a quick fix that the internet sometimes fosters, is a.) already in us (not the internet’s fault) and b.) precisely what is boring.

That is, boredom itself is boring. Interest creates interest. And so that is our faith that we keep with the reader. The audience for longform journalism is growing constantly. In May for the first time ever we received a million unique readers. It’s true that every site on the internet is vying for the attention of people who can click anywhere and can read about almost anything, some of whom, I’m sure get distracted by journalistic porn and literal porn.

So we have to do our due diligence and make sure that with our display copy we don’t break trust with the reader; what we tease has to really be what they get when they click. There’s shouldn’t be any flab. But at the same time, if our purpose is to foster a community of people who will educate each other, then we can’t settle for the salacious 800-word blog style piece that piques our appetites but doesn’t truly nourish our curiosity about how the world really is, or give any information but  “news” in the narrowest sense. The disposable sort of news.

PAGES TO PIXELS

It’s difficult to bring fully the essence of literature onto the Internet; some claim that the art of writing relies on the holistic, artful presentation of the printed medium–a presentation that is lost in the coded generalities of the Internet. How has the site managed this problem?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

Let’s see if I understand your question. In the beginning of the internet’s life, people didn’t want to read on a monitor. We remembered our parents lying to us that sitting too close to the television would destroy our eyesight or something. But I think many of us, of my generation and younger (I’m a proud member of generation X) have gotten used to reading on a monitor. Probably some of the Baby Boomers too, who took a little longer, in my inexact experience, to grow computer-savvy.

But all of us know now that when our eyes get tired we print a piece (recycling when we’re done of course), or just save it for later by saving our Firefox windows, or we prompt others to read it for us by posting it on our social media (another way to save a piece for later). But I don’t think there’s a real difference between reading on the page and reading on a screen or a printout from a screen. If it wasn’t already dead, that idea died with the birth of the iPad and the Kindle (neither of which I use).

Yes, we may miss the smell of a freshly printed book. But one doesn’t preclude the other. I read pieces of things excerpted in my favorite magazines, or as a preview on Amazon or Google, often then buying the book on Amazon, in solid-object form. Ok, probably your question is about the art of printing, and the art of doing it by hand. But that isn’t the sort of thing we read, in most cases, in the mass marketing of books and magazines anyway.

PAGES TO PIXELS

There seems to be a growing fear of globalization, both artistically and pragmatically. Guernica features work by artists from all over the world. Have you noticed a significant formal and stylistic distinction in pieces from different regions?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

I think the sort of globalization that readers whom I sympathize with fear is the NAFTA-style globalization. This style of globalization has institutionalized many undemocratic laws, processes and powers, and often favors the wealthy in the exploitation of what should be considered a community-owned resource, a commons, such as the environment. It diminishes, often, the rights of labor.

In a recent Guernica interview Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi Nobel Peace laureate, compares this globalization to a highway where the rules protecting little vehicles from the proverbial giant trucks of multinational corporations have been abolished. And so these multinationals just smash the rest of us. What is needed there? Better rules. Traffic lights. Penalties for smashing the janky little Mini-Coopers and mopeds and scooters most of us drive. But I don’t think there’s a widespread fear of internationalism–that reaches down to the man on the street.

This speaks to your last question too. The Internet can foster a kind of solidarity that we saw during the early parts of the Arab Spring. Much faster than print ever could. And if you take the example of literary fiction, we see a huge booming market for stories about the world, from around the world, about places we want to learn more about. Somebody named it immigrant fiction. And I would say it’s one of the exciting trends out there.

True, maybe there’s a self-interested fear of foreignness on the European and American right, a violent last-ditch effort to make us afraid of immigrants. True, the mainstream media tends to pounce on these kinds of stories, for a number of reasons. But usually this is transparent; the idea is to manipulate a constituency’s paranoia for votes. It doesn’t work in the U.S., according to this convincing piece by Stephan Salisbury. Though Richard Hofstadter might disagree about its effectiveness.

This fear of, or reaction against internationalism is a twisted psychological mirroring of (what Ben Kiernan calls “accusation in the mirror”; what Bush may have thought of as a pre-emptive strike against) the more informed fear of globalized, institutionalized inequity.

As for artists, they have always been sensitive to this inequity, institutionalized at the very top. And I think the fact that artists’ styles vary, for instance, in literary writing starts with two things: how you say it in that original language, and the experience of the lived history of that place. And that can be very personal. Great writers have a very particular way of saying things, a very interesting take on their national language or local dialect alongside their particular voice as an individual, and they have a very keen idea of what their history is–whether it points inward or outward or both.

Literature merely performs these things. But what comes through in great literary writing is the great universal that makes internationalism such a gift. As with the biosphere, our heritage is our variety. On a day-to-day basis, we may see a lot more news about the treasury department of a country. But what tends to last, in the sense of Pound’s “news that stays news”: these are the artists and literary writers, our true national treasures.

PAGES TO PIXELS

What’s next for Guernica?

GUERNICA MAGAZINE

Our search for a benefactor continues.

Poems on Loan: Vol. 5

A continuation of the Pages to Pixels’ Poems on Loan series. The fourth installment has been graciously provided by Brian Laidlaw, and published in Pank. The poem is entitled “Elegy for the Analog Self”.

Brian is a poet and songwriter out of San Francisco. He studied Creative Writing at Stanford, and earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota. His lyrics have been featured in American Songwriter Magazine and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New American Writing, FIELD, VOLT, Quarter After Eight, The Iowa Review, among others.

The Poetry:

 

 


 

Interview: Ricardo Maldonado

In certain poems, I find a passion and excitement that creates an irresistible aura; as if the poet invokes an art that reaches––and destroys––the rigidity of the written word.

In all the poetry I’ve read of his, Ricardo Maldonado exudes such a passion. With writing reminiscent, in parts, of the exuberance of American transcendentalism–certainly, America! America!–Ricardo couches his electric work in philosophical, grave subtexts.

Certainly, there is a seriousness that extends beyond the work, here.

Ricardo Maldonado’s online presence is low, though his work is impressive. Look for more from him in the future, and check out his writing here and here. Find him on Twitter here.

Excerpt:

Interview:

PAGES TO PIXELS

Writers—poets especially—seem to be created in either tumultuous or peculiar environments of youth. (Most recently, Jhumpa Lahiri.) Did events in your childhood inspire you to write?

RICARDO MALDONADO

At mass,  in fourth grade, we were made to sit—in our white polos and grey slacks—by a statue of Christ, asleep in a glass cage, post-crucifixion—now and in infinity, a corpse, I thought, bathed in red light from the windows. As a child, I was often subject to a sense of confusion over the state of his body, and feared that I would die too.

I dreamt of it and my mother would play the keys on my Casio whenever I awoke, and her tenderness and love—her mercy–would calm this fear. I remembered this after my father’s death. I was unprepared. My father—how incomplete he seemed—an oak—how inscrutable inside the coffin—his fingers stitched together. My first line of poetry read “When you go away.” For some reasons I think I am still writing that line.

PAGES TO PIXELS

You’re not easily found on the web, but you’ve got work in or upcoming in wonderful journals: Diagram, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Blue Letter…What’s up with the low profile?

RICARDO MALDONADO

I would want to say that publication takes time, care; that I would want my work to appear where it is honored—it has been, I am grateful—that my work is not suited for every journal. For the past four years, after Columbia, at the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, I have learned from other poets, and also from my friends (my teachers) to be patient and precise.

PAGES TO PIXELS

The Internet has encouraged a new generation of the avant-garde, the “Conceptualist Poets,” who employ computational logic to produce “Uncreative” poetry, a conglomeration of preexisting texts. They argue that by removing the egocentricity of authorship, they shape language in new ways. Is there anything valid to this theory?

RICARDO MALDONADO

Our age asks for its own formal inventions and conventions—for example, my most recent work borrows from Walking with Dinosaurs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. My poem “America! America!” references President Obama’s Inaugural. We are what we peruse. We are what we stream. The act of writing is too particular to allow and welcome conceptualist definitions. The web may have changed how we think of books and the page, but I see no difference between conglomeration and the forms of antiquity—early examples of centos, for example, can be found in the work of Homer and Virgil. Meaningful poetry, regardless of camp, reflects a critical engagement with the texts of the world.

PAGES TO PIXELS

A new branch of neurology—dubbed Neuroaesthetics—has begun to define artists by virtue of their unique cognitive functions; e.g. writers are typically schizotypic. This science suggests—and in some cases proves—that writers are writers because of biological processes rather than divine inspiration. If, in the future, the exact makeup of a writer is determined, will the art lose its status?

RICARDO MALDONADO

Conversations about the mind of the poet at work, as he/she discovers a given subject, as he/she invites the reader into that process, feel more appropriate. A discourse that envisions poetry as mere biological process seems inadequate.

PAGES TO PIXELS

What of human experience does poetry more ably document: Its tragedies or splendors?

RICARDO MALDONADO

Pure tragedy or splendor feels unpoetic—I am beginning to find grey areas most interesting. The human mind is able to inhabit various emotions and psychologies simultaneously.

PAGES TO PIXELS

Your poems favor brevity—stanzas are usually coupled, and clipped. What do you favor about this form?

RICARDO MALDONADO

The short poem funnels and/or concentrates a great deal of frenetic energy. I recently asked my students to write the poem that scared them the most—concision, in my mind seems to fulfill that request, although I am trying my best to recognize and honor the psychological impetus and requirements of a longer poem.

PAGES TO PIXELS

“America! America!” your recent poem in Boston Review, seems to speak for the American outlier, “confus[ing] the gods”. Certainly there is a turn from those gods to the natural (the “fluttering trees). Do you describe a certain social climate in this poem?

RICARDO MALDONADO

President Obama’s Inaugural provided the germ for “America! America!,” with words giving birth, or, rather, mutating into others. As a Puerto Rican—a citizen of two minds and two languages—I am curious about what America stands for and what is has to offer—in the current climate: the usual stories of frustration.

PAGES TO PIXELS

What’re you working on now?

RICARDO MALDONADO

I’ve been revisiting Cavafy, O’Hara, Larkin, and Vallejo, learning from my students and my colleagues, learning how to write about the future and how to forgive.