Thursday, September 27, 2007

Poetry and Rapid River

Several people at Sunday's Flood Gallery reading commented on the recent absence of Rapid River's poetry page, so perhaps I should give one view, at least, of what's happening. The magazine's editor-in-chief, Dennis Ray, has been ill, in and out of the hospital for much of the summer, and has necessarily turned over much of the responsibility for the design and production of each issue to others. I was dismayed to find in August that the person selected to lay the thing out thought poems belonged almost on the margins of the mag's pages, buried in the page's outside column, with little note of author, and separated from one another, rather than presented as a body of work. There was no poetry page at all. We had some discussions about this; the person laying out the magazine held the view, shared, she said, with the proprietor of RR, that:
people would be more likely to read a poem if it appeared on a page with other articles. Less likely to read a poem if I was confronted by an entire page of poems.
Notice how the subject of these statements skips from hypothetical "people" to "I", revealing the personal nature of the bias; we're not talking informed responses to reader reactions here. And I love "confronted by an entire page of poems." Poems are scary, you know, better to let them just slip up on readers, and catch them by surprise.

I contended, on the other hand, that the decent presentation of their poetry was all we had to offer the poets we published. We're not, you know, paying them. Heaven forbid! My basic feeling was that the people we'd been publishing were real poets, people for whom the use of language had become a critical part of their activity in the world. They were committed to it, whatever their day jobs, and most of them could publish a half a dozen other places; they weren't retired pediatricians who'd decided to try their hands at verse - not that there's anything wrong with that, go to it, but it's a vastly different situation of engagement. So I thought we should continue to have a poetry page as such. I believe I said something on the order of "these poets could be literally marginalized anywhere. The decent presentation of their work is the only thing special we offer them. We're not yet a prestigious publication for poets, though we might became that, so if we can't offer decent presentation, then it's difficult for me to justify to myself asking poets for their good work. "

So I didn't ask anyone for work for the October issue. And there the matter stands, so far as I know. A stand off. Dennis, last I heard, was back in the hospital, so it may be a while before he's back at the helm full time, and can resolve the issue as he wishes.

What do you think? Seriously? I probably reacted as I did partly because there'd been no prior communication about the change to the mag's layout; I discovered it when I picked up a copy and looked for the poems of Ingrid Carson I'd sent in - and could hardly find them. How do the poets feel? Do you care how your work is presented in the context of a general arts magazine?

The Flood reading was great, by the way, and brought something on the order of a hundred heads out on a fine Sunday afternoon for poetry, scary as it is. Julian Vorus, Glenis Redmond, and A. Van Jordan read - Jordan, mostly from his new book Quantum Lyrics, poems which address everything from the adventures, intellectual and otherwise, of Einstein, to the music of jazz and the blues.

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Update 2/26/2008: Readers of Asheville's Rapid River will notice in the upcoming issue that I've contributed an article on the upcoming Asheville performance by Robert Bly. MaryJo Moore has taken over the poetry editorship, but I'll likely become a regular contributor once again.

There were a couple of vectors in the summer impasse over the poetry page I've give my view of above that remained invisible to me - particularly, another person with a hand in editorial decisions made in Dennis Ray's absence. That person, I'm told, has since hit the trail. There were apparently some missed or undelivered emails, and new email addresses, figuring in the mix. Oh, well. Dennis is much better, and that's all to the good, not only for him and his family, of course, but for Rapid River.

On we go ...

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