February 26, 2011

We're moving our site this week, so it might be wonky

Our current site hosts are just plain weird, so we're moving our site to Green Geeks where we hope to ride into the cloudy green sunset.

In the run up, I somehow ended up here:


The link looks so cool I can't help but post it entire.

Ah, memories.

February 23, 2011

How Versal's poetry team preps for a meeting

Or, apparently I'm into posting pictures now.

Last meeting tonight! Get ready for it...

February 11, 2011

How to read – the politics of quality and multiple readings

(NB: I love AWP, everyone there is awesome, and all the Versal editors had a superblast. Tot de volgende jaar in Chicago!)

When we talk about the notion of the “experiment” or the “innovative,” especially in fiction, where certain notions, such as plot or character, tend to be a bit more codified than the (perhaps) more open field of poetics, we often tend to think about works that subvert (I’m going to stop using scare quotes – assume that all terms are provisional) these concepts – concepts that we attempt to teach in the creative writing class. Think, here, about Beckett or Proust as classic examples of texts that subvert our understanding of plot – texts in which, as the Talking Heads describes heaven, nothing really ever happens. Or Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana, in which there aren’t really people as characters, or Vanessa Place’s Dies: A Sentence, which is an 117-page novel of a sentence, or anything by Kathy Acker, which combines writing and drawing, rewriting canonical (male) novels, multi-vocalizing and defacing them, lacing them with the abject.

My point here is not to diagram a history of textual non-conformities (which, if truth be told, would hearken back to The Odyssey), but to open a discussion of the writerly and readerly conventions we take for granted. If we understand ideology (I think this is Barthes here, and certainly not the Webster definition) as a set of artificial values that we mistakenly believe are timeless and universal, then we also must look at writing and reading as a set of conventions that we take for granted. We pretend, for example, that the psychological novel has always existed, though some of the novels that make up the core of the canon (air quotes, scare quotes) could care less about personal psychology – think Tom Jones, or even Austen and Dickens, where social structures dominate over psychic concerns.

It’s easy to see, when talking to a reader of popular fiction, some of these fundamental assumptions in action. By and large, readers (who is this reader?) look for round characters, they look for plot, they tend to (whatever this means) want to read books that don’t call attention to themselves as written; the book as window on the world. My father, who has submitted himself (often unwillingly) to all kinds of writerly muck-muck, is not alone when he associates aesthetic fluff and writerly self-awareness with unnatural and unnecessary artifice, pretentiousness, and elitism. Did I hear no end of it after giving him Rick Moody’s Purple America, a book whose first ten pages are an absolute tour de force.

One of the reasons I love working as the fiction editor of Versal is that, at semi-regular intervals, we, too, have to question our own assumptions. This year, through the type and quality of the work we read, we had to look at an unquestioned, fundamental underpinning to the selection process; that of pleasure and textual depth. The questions went something like this: is the quality of a piece DEPENDENT on deepening and increased enjoyment after multiple reads? Could we accept a piece that shined on first reading, but added little in subsequent readings?

It is, perhaps, a core assumption of the literary selection process (and the reading of literary fiction in general) that a piece “withstand” multiple readings. What adds to depth in a story? Subtle psychology (often through the choice of physical detail), the unpacking of metaphor, the where’s waldo of literary allusion, the puzzle-like assembly of how the parts of a complicated machine fit together.

Yet: as many theorists have argued (think Baudrillard here, for starters), our era is one in which depth is itself a fiction, and surface is everything. The age of the unlocked text, the deeper moral is gone, and in fact had never fulfilled its promise. There is and was no originary signifier. What was important, perhaps, coming back to Beckett and Pynchon and countless others, was not the fulfillment of meaning, but the journey towards an always invisible endgame. On a more practical level, do we (or any other literary journal) assume that readers would read each piece multiple times? Perhaps it is simply chutzpah or magical thinking to hope that readers would spend so much of their twittery time reading and re-reading.

Given hypermedia, ADHD, micro-clocks, crowdsourcing, zombie flash mobs, and porn movies based on the Transformers, is it a terrible mistake for us to judge work based on this very 19th century notion of depth? Writing about Davis Schneiderman’s Drain, I noted that its very project is to undermine this notion of depth in meaning. His metaphors break as they are written; his signifiers contradict themselves. Characters are caricatures and the plot undoes itself. Yet the book, at least on first read, is an absolute joy, its language vibrant (and often disgusting) and playful and shimmering. Would we, out of habit, reject such a work?

I, for one, am not ready to give up on depth; my own writing would amount to little without depth as an end-point. At minimum, however, I want to recognize (and have readers recognize) that depth, too, is an artificial construction, time and context sensitive. Perhaps in this admission, we will further be able to open up ourselves to other modes of writing.



February 08, 2011

AWP tattoos

On Thursday night Sarah and I decided to push through our jetlag with a cocktail at the hotel bar where we had the pleasure of meeting Robb Todd, who, in addition to being a lovely and interesting person, had an amazing tattoo of an old-fashioned typewriter producing a line of poetry. During the rest of AWP I kept encountering writers with literary tattoos, which has led to a bit of a fetish.

"Duidingswoord van extreem mooie dingen"

February 05, 2011

Sold out

Dear lovely everyone,

Versal is sold out! so we packed up to get a beer.

Thank you for another awesome trip to the USA.

The editors

February 04, 2011

"Anna, I want to wrap myself up in your warm Russian fur."

The best part of yesterday was yesterday.

Thank you to everyone for coming to our panel and our offsite. What amazing events, both of them. See what a little strategic flyering can do? I thought flyers were dead. But no. Though maybe next year we'll just print 1000 of them?

Usually when I organize something I'm too distracted to enjoy the thing I've organized. I'm just type-A that way. But yesterday was an incredible exception. After Journal Porn ended and the crowd mountain became just a crowd, we went to The Diner up the street and I had French Toast for (finally) dinner. I was jetlag-cold so Anna wrapped me up in her Russian fur coat, hmmmm. Then Shayna and I came back to the hotel and I went horizontal and slept like a baby.

Here's a picture of the panel yesterday. From left to right: Jen Woods from The Lumberyard Magazine, Matvei Yankelevich
from 6x6, Sandra Doller from 1913 a journal of forms, Jodee Stanley from Ninth Letter, Shayna Schapp from Versal, and Travis Kurowski, our amazing moderator, from Luna Park Review.

As Travis said, "This is like being at a table with Spike Jonze and Sophia Coppola."

February 03, 2011

Hotel-room pow-wow

Jennifer, Anna and I are sharing a hotel room at AWP. It's HUGE. About the size of a large Amsterdam apartment. So, after a delicious meal in the nearby Lebanese Taverna (crammed with other AWPers), we all gathered in our room tonight for a talk about the future of Versal. It's going to be big and bright, of course. To my knowledge, we have no photo documentation of this meeting, so just imagine nine beautiful people engaged in deep conversation about all the amazing things possible for our lit mag.


It's just fucking awesome.

Some of the coolest people on the planet make up the Versal team. You guys rock buckets.

February 02, 2011

Microblogs from AWP because we don't have time for else

Overheard tonight over the second annual Tuesday night sushi Versal dinner somewhere in Washington D.C.: "Enter my bubble if you want to be sex free." Note this overhearing comes from and is by Versal editors.

We're here. Most of us, anyway. Here's a shot of Matt, Anna, and Robert tonight at an Irish pub.

Shayna and I endured a fairly bumpy ride between Ireland and Iceland (r/c). Go figure. Here's a dumb one of us between seatbelt constraints.

Does anyone else notice the incredibly high percentage of couches to floor space at the Marriott Wardman?