A few years ago Cal Bedient and David Lau started publishing the incredible journal, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion. I asked contributor, Joshua Clover, to say a few words about the journal and he told me the journal is one that “recognizes we are in a proto-revolutionary moment, not yet knowing what direction or character it will take, uncertain, anxious, but full of go-for-broke commitment. He went on to say that Lana Turner is not a journal “for those who wish to stand on the siding judiciously watching the trains rush by, discussing their character, imagining the best possible train. It is not a train for everybody (and I hope it stays that way!) and it is wildly imperfect. But it is happening.”
Each issue of Lana Turner contains almost 300 pages of poetry, essays, artwork, experimental fiction and reviews that carry on the tradition of the left-wing avant-garde. One of the things I most like about the journal that many of the pieces are extremely opinionated so much so that I’ve found myself throwing a copy of the journal across my living room in exasperation (which is, in my opinion, a rare thing for a journal these days.) I sent David and Cal a few questions about the magazine and the following are their responses. At the end of the interview, you will find both editors’ bios and a sample poem from each. Enjoy.
One of the things I most enjoy about Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion is that, while there’s a diversity of work, there seems to be an editorial direction that really unifies the journal. What are you looking for when people send you work to maintain, from issue to issue, this unity?
Cal Bedient: We look for work that is alive, rare, difficult, arresting, you know the list. There are no new criteria and the old ones have been rehearsed ad nauseam. So let that be.
We do not like work that says, “Like me; I’m human and unassuming just like you. I ask only a little of your time, a bit of appreciation for my hip intelligence, my sentiments, my (you may be pleased to discover) clever way with words and sounds. I ask for passive acceptance.”
Strong poets want to discover how much can yet be asked of a poem—an inexhaustible question. Which is to say, how much can be asked of the author and the language. Terrifyingly, everything. The art is cruel, like all things excellent. No magazine of any length can be brim full of masterpieces but we feel we have been fortunate not only in the work we’ve solicited and work that has come to us unbidden. Much of the poetry in each issue is poetry, in Yeats’s plain, simple sense, of “the whole personality”—wholly engaged if not unified. We are somewhat elastic, however, when it comes to partial poetry if it is experimental or political: not that it can’t be both. The first, the experimental, is crucial, because the art must be periodically radicalized, kicked about in order to stay alert; and the second, the political, just as crucial, because “the state is an extraordinary machine,” as Badiou says in his new book, The Rebirth of History, “for manufacturing the inexistent.”
To elaborate a little: the turn to head poetry in the 1960s (evolving from Oulipo to Conceptualism), followed the Modernist poetry of the whole personality and some avant-garde physical poetry, as the next step in the dialectical movement of innovation. Okay, so we have seen what the manipulative head can do on. The result, in that quarter, is a severe paring down of the art, a rejection of its many resources on the grounds that some are naive and complicit with believing something, taking it seriously, failing to be safely ironic, above the fray. Head poetry has been interesting—“provocative”—but I, for one, do not accept it as a compelling new (but by now old) direction. Still, we have included some examples of it, not mere “samples,” work that we really like; and no doubt will continue to do so. Then, too, we love, for instance, Derek Beaulieu’s irrational visual poetics, an implicit critique of gainful capitalist-compatible art, and Amaranth Borsuk’s visual and digital experiments. As for poems with a political scold or scald, we expect them to be brilliant pieces of writing. Geoffrey O’Brien’s “Winterreisse” in the forthcoming issue (no. 5), Joshua Clover’s “Spring Georgic” in the last issue—these long poems, just to name two instances, are second to no other recent poems in creative difference and intensity. As the editors of a magazine of cultural critique—of “opinion” —as well as of poetry, we welcome, and attract, poetry with a critical kernel or blade.
In each issue we have several compartments of poems, some easy to label, others more difficult (they may go unlabeled). As the material comes in and, as it were, self-sorts, some of the poems naturally band together with the prose critiques (in issue 4 and 5, essays by, for instance, Tariq Ali, Bernard Stiegler, Joshua Clover, and Alain Badiou) to compose a block set square against the capitalist and technology exclusions of self-reflection—a culture without conscience. (David would throw a stronger light on all this. He’s a polymath, and one of the things he knows and cares a lot about is politics.) Another division will inevitably be made up of poems deriving from, at whatever distance, the romantic and Modernist poetry of a subjectivity ventured upon the world and its entanglement with the passions. And still another distinguished by a tense eccentricity of language, some of it edgy and either openly or subterraneously linked with the politico-economic and cultural disillusionment of the poems of critique. And still other divisions may appear—for example, the group of poems by and about women in the “Queen to Play” section of Lana Turner no. 4
Not all your readers will know that we also publish experimental pieces of fiction (an astonishing short story by the notorious author of Babyfucker, Urs Allemann, leads off no. 5) and essays on movies, music, and art; color-plates of such artists as Peter Sacks, Howard Hodgkin, and (in no. 5) the great Iris painter Barrie Cooke; numerous poetry reviews; and still more.
David Lau: Our journal tries to be independent of the more ossified codes of poetry discussion, the various camps or program mentalities. This sort of partial “autonomy” makes us a lively venue for the poems and essays we print. We represent a formally interested terrain of poetry what in Matvei Yankelevich recently called the “gray area.” We’ve given space in our pages to very established poets and younger poets, poets in their 20s (when we started the project I was still in my 20s) and poets in their 80s. We want work that has critical content and I think that means political content. Anti-imperialism, the crisis of capitalism, the current communization tendency—some of the historical developments of our time are significant if not dominant in our pages. We also try to develop and maintain discussions of contemporary poetry, painting, art, music, film and other topics across and between our different issues.
Lana Turner (both the print journal) and the blog are particularly political. How do you see a literary journal fitting into the political or as a force of the political? Do you have any historical models that have inspired you?
Cal Bedient: The old Partisan Review, when Philip Rahv was still an editor, and more recently Salmagundi and The Boston Review are models inasmuch as they look outward toward the public sphere as well as spy inward via poetry—the latter a looping arrow of a move, since the inward refers us back to the outward, through whatever scrims of the passions. One could say that there are two great fields of investigation for poetry: the social (the made world) and the natural; and that the latter has been the greater one for poetry, and will continue to be so, despite every arrogant attempt to it (reject the senses, the passions, the lyrical thrust of the human being toward the extra-human (and Conceptualism does reject it). But the first is just as crucial as the second. If the societal set-up swings an ax at your shins, it is only natural to protest. Vallejo: “It is time, then, to groan with the whole ax . . . and everything is owed to everyone.” In the most “relevant” poetry, I think, the inside is continuous with the outside, the lyrical with the critical. It isn’t necessary to have two separate bins. There can be a sliding scale in a poet’s output—whether in single poems or in the large; a traveling this way then that. Or why not attempts to get at it all in one jump?’
David Lau: I’m not sure how a literary journal can’t be political. We’re inextricably political animals. In our imperial society, where politics is reduced to economic management and a few “issue” debates, there’s a tendency to lose track of Aristotle’s famous point.
Lana Turner doesn’t have a line, or a specific political position, like Endnotes, a collective of communists writing some important work. Lana Turner has mainly an aesthetic politics, focusing on radically different approaches to the form—differences made possible by the modern and postmodern transformation of the poetry. Our first issue’s editorial statement pointed to precursors like Blast or The Sixties. I’m inspired by journals from recent decades like Hambone, o•blék, Temblor, or Sulfur. These were journals in the mix during our initial conversations about Lana Turner in 2006.
Many literary or cultural publications have political dimensions. On the explicitly conservative establishment or cultural counterrevolutionary side of things, The New Criterion has long nurtured a polemic directed at the legacies of the 60s or the postmodern turn in progressive art. Other journal politics are more implicit: there’s been a lot of work done to show just how much of the old liberal anti-communist literary scene and its journals were in part funded by the CIA as part of the cold war’s cultural front: Partisan Review, The Paris Review, etc. Such journals often had a depoliticized or aestheticized perspective in their pages. It was also a “scandal” when this funding was revealed. Today the situation is quite different, where everyone largely accepts the enormous amount of corporate money at the heart of things like the Poetry Foundation. Even leftish people just aren’t that critical of these things. Such are our depoliticized times.
But aesthetic politics aren’t the only part of Lana Turner’s politics. In the tradition of a left and experimental small publisher, Lana Turner’s just as interested in plain old politics: the affairs of cities, the question of social justice, the possibility for today’s social movements to challenge the power of globalized capital. So when it comes to politics and poetry we have to struggle on two fronts. The journal is a place where I continue those struggles. The blog on our website has offered me a way to address more immediate politics from a journalistic perspective. When Occupy was going full force last fall, I had connections to poets in various cities and started to solicit work on the developments in Oakland, Kansas City, Portland, Detroit, and New York. It was an interesting time for Lana Turner Online.
Much has been made, recently by the organization VIDA, of the disparity between men and women being published and reviewed in journals and magazines. Do you count the numbers of men and women you publish?
Cal Bedient: Where the poetry is concerned, no counting; at most a readiness to detect a serious imbalance. But it hasn’t needed to come into play. A good deal of the best work we receive is by women. One could add “of course.” On the other hand, the journal isn’t a parliament. It’s dedicated to talent, not to equal representation.
Going by memory, I would say that roughly half of the brief reviews are by women and roughly half are reviews of women’s books. But the majority of the longer prose pieces (not that there have been many; they are actually hard to acquire) are by men. Why? We have had valuable essays by C. D. Wright, Catherine Wagner, and Vanessa Place, among others, but men have seemed more ready to commit to writing essays; more ready to scrimmage. I would like to have more essays by women, but it isn’t a mission. People have to be willing—better, eager—to write.
David Lau: We don’t have a programmatic position about this question of representation as other magazines have had and do still have. We talk about it when it seems to come up in our practice of editing. We might receive work we like but we may talk about trying to solicit work from women if we haven’t received enough quality submissions from women. But there are so many incredible women writing today, we don’t have this problem too often. (I don’t have time to go into it here, but in passing I have to be careful about using this word woman. As Denise Riley and many a militant or radical feminist has asked: “Am I that name?”) As editors we are happy to have printed challenging work by women, people of color, minorities, as well as writers from foreign and distant lands. These are voices that have been underrepresented in the pages of many experimental North American magazines.
I want to associate myself with Cal’s comments. I affirm the idea that much of the most compelling work written today is written by women. This is particularly true in North America. But of course it’s true elsewhere. I once wrote that the 20th century in American poetry is the feminist century. I still hold that view.
Editors’ Bios and Poems
Calvin Bedient has published five books of literary criticism (most recently, The Yeats Brothers, with the University of Notre Dame Press), and Omnidawn will publish his fourth book of poems, The Multiple, in September. He was a co-editor of the University of California's poetry series, New California Poetry,
and currently co-edits Lana Turner.
Some men are like the bees
they want a destruction
the historical male decays,
so difficult now, mother,
in these Capitalism will eat you days
Like bees that crawl on an egg hot from the hen’s ass
(they do not know what’s inside
they will kill this thing hot from the hen’s ass),
they are quite toxic,
with just a little delicacy in the sensory department
Area 51, Groom Lake, composition by field—
is that what you want, to spread the radiation around?
The soul sits up looks about like a rabbit
expecting probably a thing of youthful blood
but the west is old
Belief, we gave you all our heart, didn’t we, daddy?
Look, the mother is walking aside
in what I call “transcendental ontology,”
the “tall” part sticking its head up
over the trench (well, you cannot say I have not warned her)
If she were Marx’s mother, would she be sorry?
Even Venus could not be so sorry
Where have all the revolutions gone?
Invisible hooks pull at the poets’ mouths
Is there a new art? You wander the desert,
looking for the new art
Who now will hum the undollared basis of all comparisons?
The imagination isn’t capitalist, you know,
it rabbits in phenomenalistic little hops —
easy to pick off
(oh be cured of that)
Back in Area 51 the F-117 Nighthawk
nicknamed Harvey after Harvey the rabbit
got down into the hole and exploded
the fucker wrote up the paperwork
we need to take out more targets on a single sortie
David Lau’s book of poems is Virgil and the Mountain Cat (UC Press). He co-edits Lana Turner. Recent poems and essays have appeared in A Public Space and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He lives in Santa Cruz.
Crave you Exarchia chromed up with Koukoulofori?
Syntagma sipping on slurry?
Do you like banks?
Neither contest nor demand constitute force.
Prisoners or farmers. No flaneur.
(Lost this precarity
given newfangled “security.”) Don’t desertify,
don’t propagate liberalism
with the urgency audible to power.
Dodge fares, steal / practice escape.
Seed trade the total submission called legal.
Communize the simple lands of the old world.
Crave you the subject / simultaneity early and lake.
Time ceased waiting life linked thought.
Give up desires without intensity, democracy.
Crave you sectarianism, particular truth.
Not afraid / forming gangs—we are
what has cubicle isolation,
squat scene, criminal origins,
field work, 80s purge.
Scrape out the inside, the false differences,
flight facilities. (Exhaustion.) Don’t give in.
We are in a civil war, irremediably there.
Multiply and consolidate the fly artwork.
Deep cogitations then sleep.
Normality subsidized this lingo.
In London police struck and nearly killed
a young man called Alfie—dripping in gold.