Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

Jordan Davis, somewhere in the West Village

 

By my count, 22 of the 81 contributors to Hat are bloggers – in that they are now (or have been in the past) represented on the blogroll to the left. Slightly more than one in four – I wonder how representative that might be of poets who are currently – by which I mean right now this year, not (say) 1995 – publishing in magazines. Or is it, as I suspect, high, a consequence of Jordan Davis’s own blogging? And if so, by how much? I, for one, would be surprised if even one in ten poets were publishing a weblog. One in twenty, maybe. Of course the implication of that when aligned with the 530-plus names on the list to the left would be something on the order of 10,000 currently active poets.

Life is so full of questions when you’re the permanently curious type, as am I. For example, I suspect, but can’t prove, that a number of the younger or less widely published poets from outside of New York City appear in Hat because they’re known, or at least more widely known, as a result of blogging. Jonathan Mayhew is a case in point, but so are James Meetze & Tony Tost & CA Conrad.

Historically, younger or newer poets have achieved some initial level of broader recognition through running reading series or publishing little magazines. That’s literally a form of service work than enables you to contact whichever poets whom you happen to like and ask if they would be willing to participate in one’s series or zine. From Pound’s work with Poetry even before World War I to something as recent as My Vocabulary, the poetry program on KSDT radio, the infrastructure of poetry has been constructed on the shoulders of younger writers in just this way. Davis, one of Hat’s editors, not only blogs & is himself prolific as a poet, but also is the producer & host of the Million Poems Show, a poetry talk show (no, I don’t know what that is, exactly, tho I might guess) at the Bowery Poetry Club. With Sarah Manguso, Davis edited Free Radicals: American Poets Before Their First Books. His collaborator on Hat, Chris Edgar, works as the publications director at the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, in addition to his own work as poet, translator, essayist, etc.

So this makes me wonder at some of the implications of blogging for poetry in general. One is that it might be easier for a newer writer outside of New York &/or San Francisco to make serious contact with publications all over – a democratizing effect that I suspect can only be positive. But a second might be that younger poets may eventually discover that they have less of a need to start their own little zines, some of which might have turned out to be the Sulfur, Chain, Shiny or Hat of tomorrow. Thus an unintended consequence might be a longer term reduction in the absolute number of possible places for a poet to publish. And it’s also possible that these two impulses might cancel one another out. Or that an increase in the number of people publishing poetry might generate more of a felt need for journals, not less.

A publication like Hat tends to evoke questions like this for me. For one thing, the journal has been constantly expanding over the years, from the 14 contributors to the first issue in 1998, to 41 for the fifth issue, which came out during Winter 2003-2004. With no visible organizing principle other than the alphabeticization of authors’ surnames, Hat’s one perceptible theme is quantity. And at its current rate of growth, number seven will come out around the end of next year with some 160 contributors, number eight some time in 2009 with over 300.

Or maybe not. I’m teasing of course, but the logic of the process seems inescapable. When you have a publication in which the average contributor gets exactly 2.37 pages, you can – as Hat does – have almost nothing but terrific work, and yet offer it in such small portions that no one author will be able to think of this as a major publication in their life. The effect for a reader is simultaneously exhilarating & frustrating, like a museum that offered one of everything, but groups of nothing whatsoever.

I can understand the resistance to organizing a periodical around stated themes – there is no journal of poetry I’m less likely to read (and less apt to like) than one in which all the poems are “about” something, regardless of how global or noble it might be. I don’t write that way myself & virtually none of the poetry I value would be characterized in this fashion either. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s an either/or kind of situation. For example, if one simply grouped together the poets in this issue who live in Brooklyn, or who live in California, you might get some sense as to how the work bounces off of its environment. And if you were doing that while actually editing the issue, then maybe you’d send off notes to people who fit one or another category & ask for work.

A more modest magazine that thus has a bigger impact might be Carve, whose current issue has literally just arrived. Carve is a particularly useful example, in that I think there’s no aesthetic discord between this mag & Hat. Carve’s editor, Aaron Tieger, appears in Hat & Jordan Davis appears in Carve.

Although Carve is just 32 pages, humbly saddle stapled, compared with Hat’s 192, dividing Carve’s number by just six contributors gives each more room to stretch out & convey a stronger sense of what they’re doing, even with a “title page” accorded all but one of the participants. I say “all but one” because two are William Corbett presenting an introduction to the poetry of the late Ric Caddel, the wonderful British poet, editor, publisher & librarian who passed away too young in 2003 from leukemia. The other contributors are Stacy Szymaszek, the Milwaukee poet whom I’ve praised here more than once, Davis of course, Guillermo Juan Parra, whom I think of as a Venezuelan poet but who is listed here as being from Boston, and Cheryl Clark, also of Boston, whose work I did not know at all prior to this issue.

Clark makes a good test case for my reaction here, in that I already know that I like the work of all the other poets involved with Carve. And the magazine’s simple enough printing format – generally on a par with Hat save for the binding – does show its ragged side here, with one line of one poem (I shan’t say which) literally excised via white paper pasteover from the end of one poem only to appear, typed & pasted on to the end of the next. Yet here is “Nearest Distance,” another of the five Clark poems in the issue:

Crushes me
to think
I will be
a part
of some
long
string
of white
faces
in a city
you
used to
live in.

Here enjambment ramps up emotion to the max & it fits what otherwise appears to be a simple, paintful statement perfectly. Cheryl Clark is someone whose work I’m going to be looking for henceforth.

It seems odd to think that, having died just two years ago, Ric Caddel lived mostly too soon to see the impact of blogging on the poetry scene. But here I note that three of the five other contributors to Carve are active bloggers: Davis, Parra & Clark. Maybe that one in twenty estimate I ventured at the head of this note isn’t as good a ballpark figure as I imagine. It’s something to think about, as I look at the literature that arrives at my door.





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