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J A C K E T   #   E L E V E N   |    A P R I L   2 0 0 0  


Brendan Lorber


This report was first published in the Internet site of the Poetry Project of St Mark's-in-the-Bowery. It is reprinted here with permission, and with thanks.


THANKS to everyone who made ISSUE ZERO: THE LITERARY MAGAZINE CONFERENCE in NEW YORK (March 10-12, 2000) the success it was, who left me exhausted but unwilling to sleep, with an apartment piled under new magazines & brainpan cooking with the expansive spirit that many editors pretend they don't really have. Hunger seems to be the hallmark of successful magazines: editors voraciously seek out new writing & new approaches to language, readers await the next issue of a journal they dig with a certain anticipatory growl in their bellies. After the conference, people asked Douglas Rothschild, my collaborator on ISSUE ZERO, & me if it was going to happen again next year. We have no immediate plans, but if the American people insist, we'll see what happens. . .

The Panel

If you were among the 30 editors or 150 audience members in attendance here's a little reminder of what we went through, & if you weren't, well, we mostly talked about you, but here's what also happened:


One score & ten editors spoke about & from their journals over the three nights of March 10-12 (not to mention the kick-off night back in February, where my notes are sketchier but my impressions no less optimistic). The conference took place Friday night at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, Saturday night at Double Happiness & Sunday night at the Zinc Bar. Despite the fact that everyone at the conference had, at one time or another, been rejected by someone else there, the writers & editors were all eager to find out what everyone else was up to. Over the three days, the editors' emphasis on what made their magazines unlike any other in the world, gradually gave way to some interesting areas in which they were similar.

  • The magazine as community-building device, allowing editors to get to know new writers, writers to know other writers, individuals to see schools & movements play off one another
  • Many contributors in common with sensibilities that challenge & advance lyric & experimental trends simultaneously, acting as ambassadors from one camp to another or, more often, as restless, hybrid citizens of many traditions. Rather than levelling the traditions into a lowest common denominator or derivative works, the willful cross-pollinators yield a complicated, nuanced & even contradictory picture of contemporary poetics
  • Beyond an interest in experimental writing, a vision of the magazine itself as a kind of experiment
  • The combination of visuals & linguistics, paper & pixel technologies, all moving beyond categories & establishing the journal as a medium. Each issue as much a "work" as the individual poems & images of which it is assembled
  • Magazines founded because there were no others at the time that were printing what the editor was interested in - the early 1990's often cited as a period when there were many reading series but few journals
  • With few exceptions, a resistance to institutional or academic affiliation & good use of the freedom such independence provides
  • Usually low & invariably bright bright red budgets. Fire engine red
We settled on the title ISSUE ZERO for the event for a few reasons. Primarily, we hoped the conference would provide a behind-the-scenes look at literary journals, insight into the pre-launch vision of the magazines, when Issue 0 was the current issue. We were also dealing with magazines who'd consider themselves financially successful if their budgets could equal zero. These are journals independent enough to publish truly emerging writers rather than bigsellers - in a world of ones and zeros, we publish the zeros & do so with pride. The faux-defeatism of Zero as a title for a conference (or even a literary movement if someone wanted to go that far, poised as we are at the outset of this decade, the twentyzeros) seems somehow appropriate as an alternative to the self-aggrandizement of larger, more established literary organizations. If a lack of playfulness & narrowness of vision is what's called for to become "major," I'd prefer to try something more expansive on for size, something varied enough that it even admits of its own destruction.


The first night consisted of a talk show or panel discussion - whichever you prefer - at The Poetry Project. Seven editors and one special envoy represented seven journals from around the country into the wee hours of the morning. Douglas & I sat in the fireplace, Santa-style, & introduced the distinguished panel . . . 

We got things cooking with Michael Rothenberg, co-editor with Wanda Phipps of Big Bridge, a bicoastal online journal. "Starting with the future," as Douglas put it. Big Bridge gets 1,000-25,000 hits a month with little overhead and quick turnaround time. With big bios and many check-these-other-guys-out links, the site is very much about people & their interconnectedness. "They're generous with space," said Tom Devaney. The structure of their ever-expanding site is such that they are able to carry "spoken word & workshop poetry alongside agitsmut . . . guided by whimsy & passion & urgency & we want more."

Shark Art Editor Emilie Clark went next, discussing the poetics & visual art journal she co-edits with Lytle Shaw. "I only wish I could write coherently enough to send them something," Douglas said. The journal encourages contributors to work in what they don't consider their primary medium. They print writing by visual artists & address the lack of overlap between the two worlds of writing and art in other ways. "Artwork tends to be put between writing as a kind of pause [in other journals]," Emilie said, something which Shark aims to correct. For Emilie & Lytle, the journal becomes a medium in and of itself. "We want it to be an experiment for us," she said.

Robert Hershon grabbed the mike next, reporting on Hanging Loose, now up to issue 75. "He's funny, intelligent & has a deep sense of history," said Tom Devaney. Hanging Loose was founded in 1966, a continuation of another magazine that began in 1963 "that went broke almost immediately." Countering the trend of magazine publishers who print big-name work by poets in the generation before them, Hanging Loose always includes work by high school students. The journal's name is derived from its original format: loose sheets of paper in an envelope & "also a stance towards poetry." Bob wanted to stop publishing the magazine at issue 50, but his co-editors rebelled. "Magazines are a pain in the ass to edit & publish . . . they're expensive & become obsolete . . . all distributors of magazine are thieves & scoundrels without exception." But the hardest part of running a magazine, the reason it's a good idea to create an editorial board to blame for your own decisions, is that yr "constantly alienating people . . . The hardest thing to do is to turn down work from friends, people you work with, people you love & it never gets easier." But Bob keeps on publishing his groundbreaking magazine, in part, because it constantly exposes him to new ideas & writers. "All the books we published are by people we first got to know through the magazine & the magazine still serves that purpose for us. It keeps us in touch with young writers & new writers."

Amy Fusselman went next speaking on behalf of Bunny Rabbit which speaks on behalf of her. Inspired by guerrilla publishers & people who operate in the dark shadows of big organizations & fueled by a mistrust of editors, she said, "my hope is that everyone will be inspired to start their own magazine. Editors are the enemy & everyone should start making their own." Bunny Rabbit, which stopped after 8 issues but may restart because of Issue Zero, is a journal of Amy's own work. Mss submitted by people not Amy Fusselman will not be considered.

Jordan Davis & Chris Edgar, the editors of The Hat, took turns reading terrific poems from the three issues of their journal, allowing panel & audience members to draw their own conclusions. After reading Eric Sweet's poem "Black Smurf," one audience member was moved to exclaim "What the hell was that!?" I should point out that my calling the poems "terrific" is colored by their having read one of mine.

Next came Special Envoy Tom Devaney for Skanky Possum. "I have a lot of stuff they told me to read, but they're not here." The editors Hoa Nguyen & Dale Smith were back home in Austin, Texas, broke & no doubt hard at work on the next issue. Douglas said, "We did an experiment: we put Hoa & Dale in the transporter down in Texas but on this end what we got was Tom." Tom pointed out "The name Skanky Possum is funky & provocative & distinct." He went on to explore the personal & linguistic etymology of the two words, moving to the brink of hysteria without losing any of his incisive brand of intelligence. He drew several lines between Skanky Possum & other magazines in the conference. The individually handpainted covers, for example, connect it to Shark with its emphasis on visual art. "When people say community building & all that other boilerplate crap, it's not so far from the truth because these magazines actually do connect people in a way that's different from what you say when you apply for a grant." He also discussed Skanky Possum & other magazines in terms of a long-standing tradition in magazine-dom. He held up an issue that began with a poem by Eileen Myles. "Eileen Myles became well-known for being a good poet & also for publishing poets from the generation that come before her & publishing herself & her friends & other poets she admired. Skanky Possum is in that tradition. Hoa & Dale publish poets who might be a little older & who have offered them guidance."

Steve Cannon finished up the first night, representing his magazine A Gathering of the Tribes. He provided the conference with a first-hand account of the literary history of the Lower East Side over the last few decades &, along with Bob Hershon, helped to situate this moment in context. Several years ago, Steve went blind & his house burned down. The artists & writers who gathered together to help him stuck around & then, he said, "I got this idea: why not start a magazine & get some of these young folks to run it?" The magazine drew an even greater community, & new ideas began to germinate. Now Tribes is an arts organization that runs a magazine, a small press & an art gallery. "I have no idea how they do it," Steve said.


Saturday, March 11th, was perhaps one of the most miserable days since New York City was founded: 39 degrees and pouring rain. The water cascaded down the steps at Double Happiness, the most treacherous steps in New York even when dry. Nevertheless, the joint was packed for the second day of the ISSUE ZERO conference, to hear what a new batch of editors, people Suzi Winson dubbed "the custodians of everyone's opinions," had to say. They were there from nine journals & they spent a bit of time talking about the magazines & even more time reading astounding work from within. Many of the poems the editors chose to read seemed based on who was in the audience & a great number of audience members were so honored.

Melanie Neilson & Deirdre Kovac kicked things off with some vital statistics about Big Allis, a great & appreciative journal that emphasizes writing by women. Founded in 1989, they've printed 9 "nearly yearly" issues, 117 contributors, 649pp of writing, 727pp total including blank pages according to Deirdre. "Big Allis went to sea in a sieve we did, in a sieve we went to sea," Melanie said. She added, "We collect & publish to acknowledge & applaud - applaud the work of so many distinguished writers. We salute them."

Just in from Philadelphia were Chris & Jenn McCreary, editors of Ixnay. Begun two years ago as what the editors thought was going to be primarily a chapbook press, the magazine took center stage. Their plan all along has been to publish writing from Washington DC, Philly, & New York but that too has expanded. "It's given me an excuse to write to people I admire & not seem like a stalker," Chris said. The latest issue features a baby in a gas mask on the cover & a marvelous array of writers within.

Fish Drum was one of several magazines whose names had to be explained. Suzi Winson described a fish drum as a drum shaped like a stylized fish or dragon & used in zen ceremonies to accompany chanting. Whereas Jordan Davis wore a lovely shirt that matched the latest issue of The Hat, Suzi operates the other way, designing the cover of the magazine according to what she's already wearing. Fish Drum was founded by Suzi's brother Robert in Santa Fe in 1988 with the hope of being a quarterly. Twelve years later, it's up to issue 15, which, while behind schedule, is nevertheless impressive . . .  "We knew so many good writers & had so little time to hang out with everybody that we thought, instead of having them over for dinner, we'd just publish them & bring them together in a magazine. It seemed more organized & easier on the furniture," she said. "Don't let the gloss fool you, we're still a nepotism kind of deal." According to Suzi, the only was to get into the journal is by taking a shower with her. She then impugned my professional veneer, claiming I invited her to participate in ISSUE ZERO while in the famous shower. I neither confirm nor deny, but if anything untoward did happen I assure you we were just testing the waterproof cover of the latest issue of Lungfull! Magazine.


Next up was Jena Osman representing Chain which she co-edits with Juliana Spahr. Jena's in Pennsylvania & Juliana's in Hawaii, making for both a wide scope of work & several organizational challenges. But Chain's never shied away from such challenges: Their premiere issue seven years ago was based on a unique, community-building approach to editorial selection. They based the issue on chain letters of linked poems responding to the previous ones. "This worked really well, but was a logistical nightmare for us so we haven't been able to repeat the procedure since then," Jena said. She also emphasized Chain's attention to the visual. "In every issue there's a pretty substantial graphic element."

After a record-breakingly short break, Macgregor Card grabbed his tape deck & stepped up to represent The Germ which he (in Providence) edits with Andrew Maxwell (in Santa Cruz). Macgregor called their magazine "a detainment vessel to detain more & more poets & a kind of halfway house." The latest incarnation of The Germ grew out of a music program at Santa Cruz, but was really founded in 1850 by the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, making The Germ the oldest (if most sporadic) journal at the conference. "A convention of editors is really a convention of goblins," Macgregor said. "A goblin market." Everyone at Double Happiness then read the Christina Rossetti poem, "Goblin Market," from handouts Macgregor called hyperlinks while he played a wax cylinder recording (on tape) of the poet scratching out the poem.

Next at bat was Max Winter who's an associate editor of Rebecca Wolff's Fence. On the verge of their 5th issue, Fence has come out admirably on-schedule since being founded in 1998. Max read a range of pieces from the magazine & explained, "Fence was established with the intention of publishing work from both sides of the conceived dividing line running down the center of contemporary poetry . . . & people who are seen to be in the middle of that dynamic."

Tool: A Magazine was next, with editors Erik Sweet & (first time at a mike since being kicked out of chorus in 5th grade) Lori Quillen coming atcha from Albany. Lively & approachable, Tool has contests in almost each issue & solicits poems ("We like to get mail so we started a magazine") as well as a bat skeleton. Apparently bat skeletons are very rare. They only need one. "Our magazine started two years ago to publish the poets & writers whose work we admired & liked," said Eric.

Running in directly from a half-marathon was special redheaded envoy David Cameron representing San Francisco-based 6,500. "It's a magazine where the editors change every issue but the contributors remain the same," said Douglas. The first part is true, and the second part is also partly true, though the poems themselves are different & generally excellent. Katie Degentesh just edited the second issue of the magazine founded last year by Brandon Downing. Next in the captain's chair: Jan Richman. Reading from a faq list they had provided David, he explained that 6,500 was published by 9x9 Industries, "a collective of San Francisco writers, artists & performers."

The final speaker at Double Happiness was Gary Sullivan, editor of r e a d m e, an online journal of poetry, poetics, essays, reviews & interviews. The site was founded about a year ago & has blossomed with, in addition to the writing, almost 900 links to other writers and, links to 130 other magazines which confirms my belief that we're all working together here, even those editors who consider themselves rivals or enemies. Gary finished up the evening by reading a love poem Nada Gordon had written to him & which he had published. "I can't believe you're going to read a love poem written to you by your girlfriend!" Nada shouted. But he did.

After much haggling, trading & purchasing & further drinking & apologies to Tadd the bartender & the other bartender, whose name escapes me, for running so long into their prime Saturday night bar time, we wandered out into the torrential night. Later there was a party at Sean Killian's house on 3rd Street. (I brought a couple cases of beer left over from the last Lungfull! Magazine fete & Douglas brought some delightful wine.) At the party, I found a comfy wicker chair with a magazine rack built into the armrest &, hoping I wasn't cornered by any difficult people, I sat there until things wrapped up at 2:00 am. Nice talks w/ Gary & Nada about the movement afoot tho they seemed less sold on the idea, w/ Susan Landers about the same, Janet Bowden on the aboriginal peoples of America, Australia, New Zealand & Sweden, Ange Mlinko & Steve McNamara on things other than Morocco. And so ended the second night.


Bone weary, which is part of the fun of conferences like this one, and perhaps, of reading this far into reports on conferences like this one, I got myself over to Zinc Bar for the third & final evening of ISSUE ZERO on March 12. It began at 5:00 with a book fair in which many of the editors from all three nights showed up to flog their wares & continue the drinking they had begun a few hours earlier the night before. At 7:00 pm we began the next round of presentations with eight more journals.

Presenting the long-arm stapler of the law was David Kirschenbaum, editor of Booglit. When asked what similarities he felt existed among the many magazines gathered together this weekend, he focussed on the strange compulsion we all have to create & run these journals. "It's a benevolent crack habit." David appreciates the community more than almost anyone & his instant publications, along with his magazine exist as documents of & homage to the events during which they are created & make their debut appearances. He brought with him a Booglit All-Stars instant chapbook - a selection of his favorite writings from the pages of his magazine over the years which he assembled during the Friday night talk show.

Katy Lederer gets annoyed when I describe Explosive as the best-smelling magazine in the world & I'd be annoyed too, because such comments, as heartfelt as they are, might distract from the excellent array of work she publishes. Explosive is a tricoastal magazine, headquartered in New York, San Francisco & Iowa. It vacations & does research in Las Vegas. Each cover is a linoleum block print created by artist David Larsen & Katy brought in one of the huge blocks to show us - which was exciting to witness in an age of Quark & PageMaker. Where David Kirschenbaum had compared the compulsion to make a literary magazine to crack's smoky lure, Katy likened it to the strange affinity rams have for growing horns so big & unwieldy they can no longer support the weight of their heads. She also discussed the potluck nature of the journal economy in which trading is de rigueur & the more you give to the universe, the better off you are.

Garrett Kalleberg
Photo: Garrett Kalleberg

Garrett Kalleberg overcame the problem many online editors face of not having anything to trade in order to get other peoples cool magazines & books. Who wants to pay retail when you are working just as hard as the editors of wood-based journals? So to accompany beautiful & textured The Transcendental Friend, he's published a companion CD with many spoken & sound pieces. Web sites don't have the same distribution issues that hard copy magazines face of course, & so TF is hit from all over the world, from Mexico to Russia & points in between. In the two years since he founded the site, he's put up 13 new issues for his international readership.

Drew Gardner

Photo: Drew Gardner

Snare was next, edited by Drew Gardner. The premiere issue came out a few months ago. "It comes in two covers (green & blue) so a collector would need to get both," he pointed out, although Skanky Possum's got that angle pretty well taken care of with more covers than they have copies. Drew also pointed out the inverse nature of close reading: "The less money you spend on a magazine, the more people will pay attention to what's in it. I've managed to keep it low cost." Drew then read several poems without telling us who wrote them or even when one ended & the next began as a way of emphasizing that Snare could be read as one long poem rather than several individual ones, that the publication of any magazine is actually the creation of an indivisible work of art in which the individual poems are elements of a larger assemblage.

Andrew Levy
Photo: Andrew Levy

Andrew Levy, who co-edits Crayon with Bob Harrison, quietly endured a silly introduction from Douglas & myself (who were, by this point, giddy & exhausted as David Cameron must have been by the end of his half marathon. Perhaps more so because David actually trains for those things.) in which we talked about taking eight Crayons & putting them in the oven & melting them together & then writing with them. He quickly refocused our attention & expanded on the idea Drew had introduced of the magazine as assemblage. Discussing the first issue in which over 100 contributors wrote work in response to Jackson MacLow's lifetime of great linguistic explorations, he said, "the challenge was to lay all this stuff on the floor & arrange it as a composition." Andrew began Crayon in 1995. "I looked at the magazines, at least the ones I was aware of & was kinda bored . . . I can't stand boredom & I can't stand sentimentality . . . & also can't stand trendy styles of writing so I usually go for something else, something that's a little cheeky & subversive & disturbs me."

Mark Bibbins, poetry editor of Lit magazine then got up to read several pieces from the two issues of the New School's beautifully designed literary magazine. Editor Rebecca Reilly explained that he should read "because he makes every poem sound 20% better." At the same time Lit has the advantage of being funded & guided by an institution, they face the challenge of having to start over each year with a new set of editors, a challenge they have met admirably & with verve.

Ram Devineni
Photo: Ram Devineni

Finally, there was the difficult-to-pronounce but delightful to read aloud Rattapallax. With its editor George Dickerson in a plane coming from a reading in far-away climes, publisher Ram Devineni was on hand to discuss the magazine's vision. After each issue, the magazine does a reading tour in the U.S. and in Europe, tending to hit 25 venues in 15 cities. The editor takes the now unusual approach among poetry magazines of editing contributors' work once it's been accepted, editing primarily to reinforce the music of the language which he feels is what divides prose from poetry. As if on cue, when Ram said he was going to read some poems from the three issues, a Bossa Nova singer began her set in the other room of Zinc Bar. Not the type of music, perhaps, Rattapallax had in mind, but it made for an interesting close to the three nights.

Douglas Rothschild and Brendan Lorber

Photo: Douglas Rothschild (left)
and Brendan Lorber

When I returned home & climbed through the ground floor window into Lungfull! World Headquarters, I found a message on my machine from Log editor Edmund Berrigan. He hoped the conference had been a success & was actually on his way to Zinc Bar to talk about Log but then reconsidered. "I had some things to say, but then it occurred to me that nothing I could say would represent Log as well as its absence." Log magazine, one of the more personal endeavors, comes out when it comes out & is distributed by the happy confluence of running into Eddie when he happens to a have a copy on him.

With, a few other messages still blinking, 200 emails in the inbox, notes shoved through the open window, Lungfull! Magazine issue 9 frighteningly behind schedule, and copies of several other magazines splayed across the couch, I fell into a luscious succulent few hours of sleep. Decelerating from Zero to 40 winks in no time flat. And when I awoke, there you were reading this, my diary.

As always, I remain your Big Zero,

Brendan Lorber


J A C K E T  # 11 
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