Jack Ross, ed.: brief 29 (April 2004)
The Secrets behind my Smile …
I’ve been asked to put together a feature on New Zealand literary magazines for the Sunday Star-Times. As well as Landfall, Sport, Poetry NZ and the other usual suspects, I’d like to include Brief. Most of the formal details I already know. But rather than just idly pulling ideas out of my own head, I’m hoping for snappy comments from you, Fergus, Justin and other editors.
The big question, of course, is why do you do it? I know there’s no fortune to be made from editing literary magazines, and precious little fame. So what’s the purpose? And what are the rewards? I’d be lastingly grateful for a quick response, if you’re able.
Best wishes, Iain Sharp
“The big question, of course, is why do you do it?”
I have to say I’ve asked myself that question many times. Part of the answer is vanity, of course (though I guess I’d prefer to think of it more as a “sense of mission”) – I have extremely strong views on the writing I like and the writing I don’t like, and editing this magazine gives me a chance to promote the one and put into context (rather than, I hope, explicitly denigrate) the other.
It takes a lot of time, and is (in this case) completely unremunerated – but then so are our contributors. They do it for love, which makes it easier for me to do so too. And there is a certain satisfaction in holding the physical magazine in one’s hands, each time something from nothing much, a shaped artefact from a pile of contributions, commissions, possibilities ...
It’s great to meet and work with so many diverse people and artists. A magazine can become a kind of power generator feeding a lot of diverse activities. It’s a little like a gallery or a school in that respect. All one can offer is a hearing, a forum, but sometimes that’s all people want.
I remember, the first time I ever edited a poetry magazine, receiving a long autobiographical poem by an American describing in detail various of the homosexual pick-ups he’d made, with long descriptions of all the sex they’d had. “Nobody in their right mind would print this,” was my first reaction. “It’s wildly overlength for our format; it’ll drive the subscribers (who still mostly tended to send in poems about cats and vases) insane; we might even be prosecuted for obscenity ...” But then a voice spoke to me from out of the darkness: “Fuck it, I was born to print poems like this.” I try to keep that experience in mind every time I put out another issue of brief. If it doesn’t offend someone, it’s really not doing its job.
In retrospect, the extracts from that reply which Iain Sharp was able to include in his article (“Poetic Licence,” Sunday Star Times: Sunday (1/2/04): 23 [also available at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/sundaystartimes/0,2106,2801409a6620,00.html]) were bound to make me sound like a ranting, foul-mouthed egotist – especially when accompanied by a pic of the aforesaid smirking in a trench-coat by a wall of books, but what can you do? The idea, at least, was to promote the magazine a little (I’m forced, however, to identify with Nick Ascroft’s remarks about “the joy of spouting editorial wank, great sour-faced opinionated screeds written minutes before the ink hits the press and half-regretted by the following afternoon.”)
While on the subject of literary magazines, there are three newcomers to welcome to the scene. From Auckland, we have Raewyn Alexander’s annual Magazine (“stuffed with Arts, Fire and Boodle”), from the Bay of Plenty we have the bi-annual Bravado (edited by Owen Bullock, Sue Emms, and Jenny Argante), and from Christchurch we have another bi-annual, Doc Drumheller’s Catalyst. I’ve been able to include contributions from Raewyn, Owen, and Doc in this issue of brief, which may give you some idea of the different brands of writing they espouse.
I must confess to having a particular soft spot for the last-mentioned, Catalyst, partly because of Doc Drumheller’s comment that “Much of the inspiration [for two earlier magazines put out by his creative writing students] came from brief … The philosophy was to create a series of page works that could be submitted to a printery photocopy-ready.” I’m a little disappointed by the comparative tameness of much of the typography in this magazine, though. There are some nice ads and pictures, but most of the poetry seems to stick resolutely to the left-hand margin. It’s a project which gives promise of future anarchic leanings, though.
Raewyn Alexander’s Magazine is essentially an anthology of writing from her wide circle of friends and literary associates (myself included). It’s a varied group of mostly Auckland writers and artists, and the contents include pictures by Barry Linton and Cornelius Stone, poems by Janet Charman and Olwyn Stewart, a profile of playwright/director Patrick Graham, and reviews of books by Jull Chan and Alistair Paterson.
Bravado seems more in the Takahe mould – a handsome, A4-sized journal with wide margins, well laid-out copy, and interestingly eclectic taste. It’s too early to say much more than that.
It’s important, I think, that New Zealand writers should have more places to send their stuff to, and so all of these magazines appear to me to deserve support. None of them (with the possible exception of Catalyst) has the explicitly innovative and experimental bias of brief. I certainly see no necessity for rivalry – rather, for cooperation. We can complement each other.
So, anyway, kick loose, chill out, take a load off, have a swig from the Cairo vessel, buy yourself an ice-cream – maybe this time we really do have more fun than you’ve ever seen …
Iain Sharp: Poetic Licence (Sunday Star Times: 1/2/04)