Literature as Impossibility Space: An Interview with John Madera

John Madera

The online journal Big Other turns 10 this year. Tony Trigilio checked in with Big Other founder John Madera for a look back at the last decade, thoughts on the current state of literature, and what the future of Big Other might hold.

Happy 10th birthday to Big Other magazine! I appreciate the journal’s eclectic commitment to innovative writing. Your focus is on new writing, of course, but I think it’s important that you feature new writing alongside homages to experimental writers of the past. For me, this is a more accurate way of thinking about influence: we’re in a relationship with those who’ve come before us, rather than being tangled up with literary precursors in some kind of anxiety-of-influence competition. The result is a journal with such a wide aesthetic range that it disrupts, thankfully, the conceptual categories of “experimental” and “innovative” that we often can take for granted. Can you talk a little about your history with the journal? 

Thanks so much, Tony! Hard to believe it’s been a decade. A hundred years in internet years! I very much appreciate your characterization of the journal, that is, your recognition of its “eclectic commitment to innovative writing,” each phrasal unit, each noun phrase perfectly summing up our mission. What does it mean to be committed in an age of devil-may-care irresponsibility, of total disposability, a disposability connected to society’s thrust toward self-annihilation? And yes, to eclecticism, to broadness and diversity, concepts and practices which, again contrarily go against society’s pressures toward homogeneity, insularity, etc.

To your question, ten years ago, disenchanted by the seemingly innumerable online circle jerks and echo chambers, I launched Big Other with the goal of helping to build and sustain a nuanced conversation about art, literary and otherwise. You’re only as strong as your community, after all, and the conversation, which initially took the form of a stellar group of bloggers directing their critical attention to worthy un- and/or under-recognized art and artists, slowly evolved into a full-fledged magazine publishing fiction, poetry, nonfiction, visual art, video, hybrid works, and more. 2019 found us launching Jamming Their Transmission, a talk show-style podcast featuring me in conversation with innovative writers, like Samuel R. Delany, Dawn Raffel, and Rikki Ducornet. I’ve expanded the scope of the show to include discussions about radical politics. I recently produced an episode featuring renowned socialist economist Richard D. Wolff. And an episode with black feminist political theorist Jasmine Syedullah about police and prison abolition.

Innovative writing attracts innovative readers (who, in turn, inspire ongoing innovative writing), and we need small-press community spaces like Big Other and Jamming Their Transmission for us to gather. 

Speaking of community, how do we create/strengthen/sustain vital critical contexts where small press books are substantially supported, engagingly discussed, etc.? Here’s one idea: Perform one act of community-building every day (or whatever you can realistically manage). Imagine if everyone interested in small press books and writers posted something about a small press book/writer they weren’t directly affiliated with every day. Imagine if those same people made it a practice to buy small press books (and talk/post about it), review small press books, interview small press writers, talk/post about and attend small press writers’ events, etc. Imagine if everyone daily posted something about an under-the-radar artist, literary or otherwise. Through these and other acts of literary activism, we might then not only counter the various circle jerks and echo chambers, not only actively subvert the actual and nefarious purposes of social media, etc., but also help to build, expand, and sustain the vital community we crave and actually need.

One act of small-press community building every day, yes. How about if every time we’re tempted to post a photo of our dinner, we instead post something related to a small-press book we’re reading? Years ago, small-press publishing was where I first learned that “marketplace” and “community” could be mutually supportive endeavors. They were antagonists in mainstream publishing, but not in the small-press community. It’s no accident that I came to this realization while I also was finding a home in the punk community. My trust, to this day, in small-press publishers is no different from the trust I felt decades ago in, for instance, SST Records. If a band was on SST, it had to be worth a listen. We all felt it. And even in those moments when we were wrong about a band, there was solace (and solidarity) in the “we” of our community. 

Whether the “we” is a punk community or small-press community, it always coalesces around its leaders—active agents who say, “I’m going to start a label, or a magazine, or a press. I want to be a guide, connecting folks in the community to each other.” This, for me, is an important way of thinking about the work you do with Big Other. How does your philosophy as an editor and writer shape the magazine, and how have you been changed, too, by the work you publish?

Like making music, like writing, like lovemaking, etc., editing transports me, places me in the “moment” or the “groove” or the “zone,” within what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” or “optimal experience,” which provides “a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality.” Editing, while often subtractive, is also additive, productive even, especially in how it demands total concentration, where you not only have a chance to bring order to disorder but to also actively and creatively oppose and counteract entropy and stasis. 

That said, a challenging aspect of being an editor is also having to perform all the extra-editorial tasks, the behind-the-scenes necessary grunt work without which the finished writing, etc., will never be published. This shouldn’t be read as a complaint, though, since I’ve chosen this work, a work I find energizing in innumerable ways.  

Here’s another way of answering:

A poet whose submission to Big Other I rejected subsequently emailed me asking what types of poems I “leaned toward” in terms of content, form, style. Here’s my answer: 

“Thanks so much for reading and for submitting to Big Other! Your question is a good one, and I’m not sure how to answer it, since my tastes regarding style, content, form, etc., is quite broad. So here’s a list of living poets whose poetry I’ve very much loved reading in recent years: 

Hanif Abdurraqib, Kaveh Akbar, Heather C. Akerberg, Will Alexander, T. J. Anderson III, Rae Armantrout, Cynthia Atkins, Sarah Bartlett, Margo Berdeshevsky, Mei-Mei Bersenbrugge, Charles Bernstein, Erika Bojnowski, Christian Bök, Jaswinder Bolina, Laynie Browne, Daniel Borzutzky, Erica Carpenter, Anne Carson, Victoria Chang, Maxine Chernoff, Laura Chester, Ewa Chrusciel, Laura Cronk, Gillian Cummings, Ruth Danon, Raymond de Borja, Nik De Dominic, Shira Dentz, Mai Der Vang, Timothy Donnelly, Suzanne Doppelt, Cornelius Eady, Elaine Equi, Jennifer Firestone, Jack Foley, Carolyn Forché, Vievee Francis, Forrest Gander, Susan Gevirtz, Peter Gizzi, Rigoberto González, Johannes Göransson, Milli Graffi, Jorie Graham, Tse Hao Guang, Barbara Guest, Joy Harjo, Terrance Hayes, Jefferson Hansen, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Ishion Hutchinson, Catherine Imbriglio, P. Inman, Jessie Janeshek, Lisa Jarnot, Tyehimba Jess, Patricia Spears Jones, Saeed Jones, Andrew Joron, Michael Joyce, Julie Kalendek, Rosamond S. King, Noelle Kocot, Sylvia Legris, Michael Leong, William Lessard, Layli Long Soldier, Brendan Lorber, Yi Lu, Nathaniel Mackey, Jennifer MacBain-Stephens, Airea D. Matthews, Joyelle McSweeney, Miranda Mellis, Joe Milazzo, Jennifer Maritza McCauley, Dunya Mikhail, Albert Mobilio, Tomas Q. Morin, Thylias Moss, Fred Moten, Urayoán Noel, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué, Alice Oswald, Martin Ott, Danielle Pafunda, Michael Palmer, Joe Pan, Morgan Parker, Craig Santos Perez, Tommy Pico, D. A. Powell, Melissa Range, Claudia Rankine, Joanna Rawson, Victoria Redel, John Reed, Justin Phillip Reed, Elizabeth Robinson, Martha Ronk, Linda Russo, Sam Sax, Sorab Sepehri, Robin Beth Shaer, Brenda Shaughnessy, Solmaz Sharif, Eleni Sikelianos, Ron Silliman, Gary Sloboda, Danez Smith, Patricia Smith, Tracy K. Smith, Lisa Russ Spaar, Ken Sparling, Stephanie Strickland, Terese Svoboda, Cole Swensen, Arthur Sze, Kailey Tedesco, Craig Morgan Teicher, Ashley Toliver, Edwin Torres, Tony Trigilio, Joanna C. Valente, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop, Anne Waldman, Marjorie Welish, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Michael J. Wilson, Charles Wright, John Yau, Kevin Young, Saadi Youssef, Micah Zevin

As for ‘dead’ writers, the list, too, is very long, so I’ll mention just a few: 

A.R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Amiri Baraka, Matsuo Bashō, Lucie Brock-Broido, Yosa Buson, Aimé Césaire, Paul Celan, Inger Christensen, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, Mahmoud Darwish, H. D., Emily Dickinson, Jack Gilbert, Michael S. Harper, Kobayashi Issa, Denis Johnson, June Jordan, Bob Kaufman, John Keats, Audre Lorde, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, Pablo Neruda, Alejandra Pizarnik, Sylvia Plath, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sappho, Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Jean Toomer, Tomas Tranströmer, César Vallejo, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, C. D. Wright…”

Another way of answering your question, Tony, is this list of writers whose sentences are attentive to rhythm and sonorities, to evoking the visceral and cerebral, the strange and beautiful and disturbing: 

Harold Abramowitz, César Aira, Will Alexander, Roberta Allen, Osama Alomar, Gary Amdahl, A. R. Ammons, Donald Antrim, Louis Armand, John Ashbery, Nicholson Baker, James Baldwin, Djuna Barnes, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Roland Barthes, Augusto Roa Bastos, Paul Beatty, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, Sarah Blackman, Gabriel Blackwell, Roberto Bolaño, Jorge Luis Borges, Giannina Braschi, Jeff Bursey, Mary Caponegro, Italo Calvino, Alejo Carpentier, Tobias Carroll, Anne Carson, Olivia Kate Cerrone, Jimmy Chen, Jane Ciabattari, Kim Chinquee, E.M. Cioran, J. M. Coetzee, Joseph Conrad, Robert Coover, Julio Cortázar, Hart Crane, Lynn Crawford, Stanley Crawford, Rachel Cusk, Susan Daitch, Renée E. D’Aoust, Guy Davenport, Jeremy M. Davies, Lydia Davis, Samuel R. Delany, Sergio de la Pava, Gilles Deleuze, Don DeLillo, Helen DeWitt, Debra Di Blasi, Emily Dickinson, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, John Domini, Rikki Ducornet, Marguerite Duras, Lawrence Durrell, Umberto Eco, Stanley Elkin, Will Eno, Jenny Erpenbeck, Brian Evenson, William Faulkner, Thalia Field, Leon Forrest, Janet Frame, Carlos Fuentes, William Gaddis, Grace Campbell, William H. Gass, Forrest Gander, Renee Gladman, Jaimy Gordon, Tina May Hall, Peter Handke, Barry Hannah, John Haskell, Alissa Hattman, John Hawkes, Lyn Hejinian, Karen Heuler, Brandon Hobson, Noy Holland, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Gabino Iglesias, Shelley Jackson, Henry James, Andrew Joron, James Joyce, Michael Joyce, John Keene, Michael Kimball, Brian Kiteley, György Konrád, Joshua Kornreich, László Krasznahorkai, Babak Lakghomi, Janice Lee, Karen An-hwei Lee, Hillary Leftwich, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Ursula K. Le Guin, Eugene Lim, José Lezama Lima, Sam Lipsyte, Gordon Lish, Clarice Lispector, Norman Lock, Robert Lopez, Sean Lovelace, Malcolm Lowry, Gary Lutz, Nathaniel Mackey, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, Ben Marcus, Peter Markus, David Markson, Michael Martone, Carole Maso, Cris Mazza, Joyelle McSweeney, Herman Melville, Anne Michaels, Marianne Moore, Bradford Morrow, Thylias Moss, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Herta Müller, Vladimir Nabokov, Pedram Navab, Maggie Nelson, David Ohle, Lance Olsen, Grace Paley, Aimee Parkison, Georges Perec, Fernando Pessoa, Vanessa Place, Nick Francis Potter, Padgett Powell, Richard Powers, Lia Purpura, Annie Proulx, Manuel Puig, Thomas Pynchon, Ann Quin, Dawn Raffel, Victoria Redel, Ishmael Reed, Mark Richard, Doug Rice, Rainer Maria Rilke, Fran Ross, Salman Rushdie, Pamela Ryder, Juan José Saer, George Saunders, Christine Schutt, W. G. Sebald, Rone Shavers, Will Self, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, Lisa Russ Spaar, Muriel Spark, Ken Sparling, Gertrude Stein, Robert Steiner, Wallace Stevens, Laurie Stone, Terese Svoboda, Cole Swensen, Alexander Theroux, Henry David Thoreau, Jean-Phillipe Toussaint, J. A. Tyler, Mario Vargas Llosa, Paul Valéry, Enrique Vila-Matas, William Vollmann, Antoine Volodine, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop, Joy Williams, C.D. Wright, Stephen Wright, David Foster Wallace, William Walsh, Paul West, Curtis White, Colson Whitehead, Diane Williams, Tyrone Williams, Virginia Woolf, Can Xue, John Yau, Lidia Yuknavitch, Edgardo Vega Yunqué, Rafi Zabor…  

As you can see from the embedded links, I’ve been lucky to publish a number of the abovementioned writers. I consider it a privilege to be in conversation with all of them, and to help extend the dialogue about them and their writing by publishing their superb work. 

In other words, writers, please send me that strange, beautiful, startling, and/or disturbing thing you’ve made; that life-affirming, mind-altering question mark.

The range in each list is inspiring. Big Other is an ongoing archive of beautifully unsettling work.

Thanks, Tony! And, you know, I’ve never thought about how I’ve been changed by the work I’ve published, and so I’m grateful to you for asking me that question. That said, I do often think about readers of the work and after all is said and done I’m one of them, which is to say, I’m the work’s first reader, and what a privilege it is to be that, to have that responsibility.

I’ve had a blast these many years, since 2003, coediting Court Green. I can also relate to what you describe as “the extra-editorial tasks, the behind-the-scenes necessary grunt work” required to publish the journal. It’s necessary work, for sure, and it’s energizing. I’m thinking of an interview I did with Adrian Matejka several years ago, and how he talked about editing and teaching as forms of service to one’s literary community. Some writers might bemoan the time that literary community service takes from the writing, but for others the service to the community actually inspires more writing. I feel strongly that enabling the pure, generative energy of others’ art-making practices can deepen our own writing practice rather than take away from it. Your commitment to small-press publishing—as both a writer and community-builder—is part of what made me want to submit work to Big Other. Can you talk about who your mentors were? Who inspired you to give back to the literary community in the ways that you do?

I’m so glad you submitted poems to Big Other, Tony. And I’m honored to have published them. By the way, congratulations on winning the 2020 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize! Very much looking forward to reading Proof Something Happened!

And yes to “forms of service”! And “generative” is the word for it, this “energy,” as you also say, inspiring dialogue, about what we’re making, what we’re sharing, what we’re building, this dialogue informing our practice, which is always collaborative, even at its most insular, which is a whole other story, and we need those, too, other stories, in more ways than one. 

As for people who’ve inspired me in my efforts toward building community, a host of people come to mind, but I’ll limit myself to four people, the cardinal directions of my publishing editor compass rose, if you will. First, there’s Lance Olsen, innovative artist par excellence, small press hero, literary citizen, and great friend. Lance’s writing always delights, startles, and puzzles; and inspires me to reject cliché and received thinking, to rebel against “conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct,” which Hannah Arendt (with whom Lance shares a birthday) says has “the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.” Lance’s novels and short story collections are master classes in form, structure, theme, style, and language, of disruptions of same, each book always making me wonder what Lance is going to come up with next. Additionally, for many years, he’s served on the board of FC2, the venerable small press, which brings to mind something else:

For Big Other, I’ve interviewed and published Samuel R. Delany, Norman Lock, and Debra Di Blasi; and I’ve also published Margo Berdeshevsky, Sarah Blackman, Michael Joyce, Brian Kiteley, Michael Martone, Cris Mazza, Lance Olsen, Aimee Parkison, Doug Rice, Curtis White, and Angela Woodward. So what do these writers all have in common besides being among this infernal country’s foremost writers? FC2, of course! That is, they’ve all been published by this “author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.” I’ve read a number of books from FC2, each one a wondrous example of Shklovskyan “defamiliarizing,” each one evocatively and provocatively making “forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” So for anyone wondering what my editorial bias is, well, there you have it: Like FC2, which has inspired me in so many ways as a reader, writer, editor, and publisher, I’m “committed to finding fresh and experimental works.”

Thinking of these editorial biases—honorable biases, of course, when we’re talking about eclectic venues like Big Other—I ask myself what could be more important than to jump at the chance to publish work that defamiliarizes? This is a vital editorial approach in any age, but especially in ours, when language too often is just an instrument, another tool for marketeers who see language users as individual data points rather than individual human beings. As an editor, I want to publish the kinds of poems I’m trying to write: that is, poems that dramatize new angles of vision, new and unfamiliar ways of seeing the world. But this can only happen if I read with a deep curiosity for what seems unfamiliar. And it helps immensely to have figures who inspire this kind of editing, so that we’re not in the paradoxical position of feeling all alone while trying to build and nurture a community.

The Waldrops also come to mind. Among my fondest memories of living in Providence, RI—where I did my MFA in Literary Arts at Brown University—was meeting Keith and Rosmarie, who’d subsequently invited me over to their house several times for drinks and food and conversation, a house where every room is filled, floor-to-ceiling, with books, not to mention art, much of which was made by Keith; where, in the dining room, you’ll find Keith’s National Book Award medal in a fish tank. The house was also command-central for Burning Deck Press, which was devoted to publishing innovative writing: poetry, fiction, cross-genre work, books-in-translation. It was inspiring to see all those books, to see their fabled (and long discontinued) letterpress, and to talk with the Waldrops about publishing these books.

While it’s sad that after fifty-six years Keith and Rosmarie shut down the press, I’m so grateful to them, exemplary writers themselves, applaud them for their outstanding contribution to literature, to publishing and promoting worthy and underrepresented innovative/experimental writers. The shutting down of Burning Deck isn’t so much leaving behind a void but an insurmountable mountain of books containing the best words in the best and by turns surprising and disquieting, and always inspiring, configurations: books by so many great writers, including Walter Abish, Anne-Marie Albiach, Paul Auster, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, William Bronk, Robert Coover, Tina Darragh, Michael Gizzi, Peter Gizzi, Barbara Guest, John Hawkes, Lyn Hejinian, Emmanuel Hocquard, Lisa Jarnot, Harry Mathews, Claude Royet-journoud, Cole Swensen, Marjorie Welish, Elizabeth Willis, Heather C. Ackerberg, Tom Ahern, Beth Anderson, Anthony Barnett, Brita Bergland, Marie Borel, Kristin P. Bradshaw, Alison Bundy, James Camp, Erica Carpenter, Laura Chester, Marcel Cohen, Cyrus Console, Elfriede Czurda, Jean Daive, Michael Davidson, Michael Donhauser, Suzanne Doppelt, Caroline Dubois, Barbara Einzig, Elke Erb, Patrick Fetherston, Frédéric Forte, Susan Gevirtz, Jaimy Gordon, Milli Graffi, Jean Grosjean, Barbara Guest, Walter Hall, Ludwig Harig, Isabelle Baladine Howald, Catherine Imbriglio, P. Inman, Julie Kalendek, Janet Kauffman, Paol Keineg, Damon Krukowski, David Lespiau, Jessica Lowenthal, Gérard Macé, Elizabeth Mackiernan, Tom Mandel, Jennifer Martenson, Friederike Mayröcker, Lissa McLaughlin, Christina Mengert, David Miller, Sawako Nakayasu, Claire Needell, Gale Nelson, Sianne Ngai, Jena Osman, Gil Ott, Oskar Pastior, Anne Portugal, Pascal Quignard, Ray Ragosta, Ilma Rakusa, Pam Rehm, Sarah Riggs, Monika Rinck, Jacqueline Risset, Elizabeth Robinson, Stephen Rodefer, Gerhard Roth, Gerhard Rühm, Brian Schorn, Gail Sher, Farhad Showghi, Joseph Simas, W.D. Snodgrass, Heather J. Steliga, Ulf Stolterfoht, Mark Tardi, Esther Tellermann, Jane Unrue, Anja Utler, Alain Veinstein, Bénédicte Vilgrain, Craig Watson, Dallas Wiebe, Elizabeth Willis, Xue Di, and many others.

Another early inspiration is J. A. Tyler’s work as publishing editor of Mud Luscious Press, which is now defunct. The “death” of a journal is the death of a way of thinking, and I’m not sure I’ve recovered from this press shutting down, either. That said, while I’m deeply saddened by news of such a death or the actual death of someone who’s inspired me, helped shape my thinking in some way, who helped disrupt the so-called order of things, whose work and example continue to inspire me to be a better person, whether as artist, dissident, or whatever, I’m also compelled to celebrate the many exemplars who are still alive, many of whom have toiled and continue to toil in relative obscurity, each of whom deserve support (monetary and otherwise) and accolades (private and public) while they’re still alive. See my expansive lists above!

So thanks, again, to Lance, FC2, the Waldrops, and J. A., for providing a vital space for literature, for the people who create it, for the people who read it. 

I loved hearing the story of the Waldrops, who, as amazing writers themselves, also gave so much of their energy to the larger writing community with Burning Deck. The shutdown of Burning Deck, and of Mud Luscious, really does feel like a “death of a way of thinking.” On the subject of literary losses, I’m thinking, too, about the recent folding of Ahsahta Press. The editorial example Janet Holmes provided with Ahsahta—publishing challenging, innovative work while also maintaining a successful writing practice of her own—is an example that guides my own work. When I cofounded Court Green, I was well aware that the lifespan of literary journals tends to be short. I’m delighted we’re still going strong, and that we successfully morphed from print to online. Maintaining longevity as a journal isn’t easy. Ten years of Big Other—that’s a big deal. Are there trends you’re seeing in submissions these past couple years that really excite you? I don’t mean “trends” as in “trendy.” But instead I’m thinking of patterns of language and craft, ways of speaking about the world—and/or talking back to it—that you hadn’t seen in the first several years of the magazine? Can you talk a little bit, too, about your vision for the future of Big Other?

Court Green is wonderful, that is, it’s a vital journal. I love the William Carlos Williams quote on the site: “Read good poetry!” It’s like an MFA in Creative Writing in a sentence! Well, at least half of one! Speaking of Williams, I periodically change Big Other’s tagline, and at the moment, it’s a quote from Williams’s extraordinary Paterson: “beauty is / a defiance of authority.” 

As for trends in submissions, I can’t say I’ve seen any, that is, except for in the writing I end up rejecting, alas, you know, the many cliché-ridden pieces, the playing-it-safe writing, the mannered weirdness, etc. But if there’s any trend, that is, direction to the work I’ve published, it’s contained, perhaps, in something John Coltrane purportedly said: “I start in the middle of a sentence and move both directions at once.” What Coltrane is suggesting here is a kind of “thereness” that isn’t merely the in medias res zone it seems to suggest, but an impossibility space, an always-in-flux place allowing for impossible movement. What it also suggests, maybe even simultaneously, is a possibility space of interruption that’s really a collaboration, that is, a sentence is being or has been uttered and you can insert an utterance within that sentence, the sounds of which are then pushed in both directions toward a beginning and an end, which might themselves be never-ending multiplicities. As for my vision for Big Other, I hope that, through word of mouth, these art objects “especially worthy of love” (as William H. Gass calls them), these gifts, really, will continually find their proper recipients.           

Finally, please list ten representative pieces you’ve published in Big Other.

Big Other is all about flux, diversity, possibility, impossibility, innovation, so here’s an eclectic list of pieces from our archives that beautifully defy authority: 

Osama Alomar’s “Four Fictions”: Epic in scope and range, these marvelous miniatures suffuse war, disaster, violence, loss, memory, and sadness with wistfulness, and, yes, even sometimes wonder and delight.  

Sarah Blackman’s The County Coroner”: Lyrically limning the extremities of life and death, this fiction probes the so-called borders between reality and imagination, language and the thing itself, moreover, as Blackman writes, the “unright, the transgressive.” 

Kim Chinquee’s “Four Fictions”: There’s so much sadness and yearning in these elegant short fictions it aches.

Laura Cronk’s “Three Poems”: Visceral and cerebral, these fiercely feminist poems will cut you open. 

Elaine Equi’s “Four Poems”: Foregrounding lyricism as interrogation, of memory, of belief, of identity, each knowing poem here is patinaed with whimsy and melancholy.

Brendan Lorber’s “Ten Poems”: Evocatively fractured with caesuras as rivulets, these expansive poems explore time, memory, music, mind, body, belief, family, politics, and interconnectedness.

Victoria Redel’s “Seven Poems”: From the engaging engagements with Christian mythology to the stunning musicality (e.g., “your cartoon avatar hula-hooping or stomping in rain boots”; “I am clasp, / fist, unfit to unfurl from this tight husk”; and “clusters of makeshift tents bent under gusting winds”) to the wrenching poignancy and righteous indignation suffused throughout, this suite of poems is a marvel. 

Arthur Sze’s “Blackcap”: I love the tactility of this poem, how it dissolves the borders between the human, the animal, and the vegetal.

John Yau’s “Four Poems”: So many things to enjoy in these poems: the evocative lyricism; the anti-empire disruption of the sonnet; the knowing dispensing of certain punctuation, which evokes the thematics of journeying. 

Micah Zevin’s “Five Poems”: Full of righteous indignation, Zevin’s poems interrogate and attack conventional notions of intimacy, beauty, identity, and representation, and expose social media and various new technologies as the flimflam shams that they are.

Thanks so much for this conversation, Tony! 

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