For the past 30 quarterly issues, with alarming regularity, right on time, every three months or so, I, along with a rotating crew of intrepid volunteer editors, including, at one time or another, Philip Dacey, Jahann Dawkins, Karla Huston, Josie Kearns, have read a few hundred submissions to assemble a literary magazine, in the old Small Press mold, Third Wednesday. Every submission is read anonymously; Larry strips off all the identifying remarks and sends them on to us with initials only. Among our regular contributors have been Marge Piercy, Susan Deer Cloud, Terry Blackhawk, X. J. Kennedy, Charles Harper Webb, Simon Perchik -- I could go on and on. What I used to call the old "small press stalwarts", a lot of "Michigan poets" Midwest poets. M.L. Liebler, Jack Ridl, Larry Levy, Therese Becker, Dawn McDuffie, Caroline Maun, Pat Barnes, Keith Taylor, Clayton Eschleman, Susan Morales, Jeff Vande Zande, Ken Meisel, Wanda Coleman, Lyn Lifshin, Richard Kostelanetz, John Grey, Richard Luftig, David Chorlton, A.D. Winans, Alex Cigale.
Third Wednesday, because the print journal emerged out of a weekly poetry meet-up, held on every third Wednesday of the month, at Sweetwaters Cafe, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I'd spent most of the 80s. In the back of every issue we print the best poems by students from all grades, in the Inside/Out Literary Arts Project, Detroit's "Poets in the Schools" program that Terry Blackhawk founded 20 years ago. She just retired, June 30th; you can read her blog about the project on Huffington Post, and read the To Light a Fire anthology of the students' work. "Our students" had been featured in the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Daily, in Poets & Writers, Jacket2, PBS News Hour, and, yes, invited to the White House!
To make a long story shorter.... I've known and loved Third Wednesday's venerable editor, Laurence W. Thomas, for two decades. We first met in the 90s, when for five years I edited my own small press lit mag based on the aesthetics of found art, Synaesthetic; we immediately bonded over our shared Michigan alumni past, being grateful members (past winners) of the Hopwood Awards community, our mutual love of travel, the world of poetry, and of world poetry, of teaching, and of the Objectivists poets. He still lives "down the road", in Ypsi where, by the way, at Eastern Michigan, Clayton Eshelman founded his now historic Sulfur (in 1981) and ran it for 20 years.
When Larry (already in his 80s!) decided to start his own literary mag I could not resist his request for me to come on board as editor (or, more recently, even ask him for a sabbatical after seven years of service). Poetry communities are VERY relevant here, and the old small press journals that still thrive (I will be naming a few more here) are America's poetry bedrock. I flash back to a different age, the many virtual communities of the old "zines", in the pre-internet and, in many cases, even the "pre-publishing" days: mimeographed, xeroxed, newspaper rag, etc. "Those days": it doesn't seem quite that long ago. Must have been around 1995, I had gone to a small press book fair at DePaul University, in Chicago, and met there the legendary Bob Grumman of Runaway Spoon Press, got to know Joshua Saul Beckman, then of Object Lessons, a bit (I think he was living out of his car), the irrepressible Joe Maynard of Pink Pages....
What I mean to say is: by having 2 or 3 poetry submissions in my e-mail inbox, every couple of days, for the past seven and a half years, I have been able to keep my connection to the small press world a constant, and my editorial skills sharpened (for all these thousands of submissions, I have attempted to write a brief "report"). Which reminds me.... Editor Lawrence R. Smith, who had started it in Ann Arbor, had resurrected Caliban online in 2010, which is now up to its 19th issue! All the back print issues 1-15 (1986-1995) are for sale, 20 bucks, and the new digital issues are beautiful and free for the viewing.
Continuing: I was overjoyed to recently discover Michael Hathaway's redoubtable newspaper rag, the Chiron Review, revitalized and in perfect bound format! Still grateful for my inclusions in two issues, including a feature in 85 (which meant your name went on the cover!) This year the Chiron Review is celebrating 33 years of (mostly) publishing: Marge Piercy, Edward Field, A.D Winans, Stephanie Dickinson, Lenny DellaRocca, Michael Hettich, Belinda Subraman, Adrian C. Louis, Robert Cooperman, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Andrew Demcak, Charles Harper Webb, David Trinidad, Kenneth Pobo, Rane Arroyo, Jim Valvis, Ron Androla, CA Conrad, Hal Sirowitz, Richard Kostelanetz, Susan Terris, Catfish McDaris, Ryan G. Van Cleave, Charles Rammelkamp, Diane Wakoski, Joe Maynard, David Meltzer, J. P. Dancing Bear, Greg Kosmicki, Mark Wisniewski, Steve Kowit, Alan Catlin, Michael Meyerhofer, Susan Deer Cloud, Aram Saroyan, Tony Barnstone, Millicent Accardi, Puma Perl, Liz Swados.
Coming up on 50 years next year, and reading for issue 105, is Hanging Loose Press. Wow! Congratulations, Robert Hershon, Dick Lourie, and Mark Pawlak! Coming up on 40 years next year, and another gargantuan issue 64 forthcoming, is D.C.'s amazing and incredible Gargoyle Magazine. Congratulations and thank you, Richard Peabody! (A feature on Peabody is in The Washington Post). And the Niagara Falls annual Slipstream turns 35 with its 35th issue!
Bob Hershon responded on Facebook right away, so I quote him: Thank you, Alex. We figure that Dick, Mark and I have put in a combined 135 years of editing. Scary, huh? If you (or any other readers here) are in NYC, please come to the Hanging Loose New Titles party, May 29, 6-8pm at Poets House. Honoring new books by Joanna Fuhrman, Pablo Medina, Thomas Devaney, Ed Friedman, Michael Lally, Caroline Hagood, and Rosalind Brackenbury.
AC: Hi, Robert! I will not miss it! For any folks in NYC: next Friday, May 29.
I spoke today with Larry, now nearing 90; he has stepped down as editor of Third Wednesday and passed the reigns to its Publisher, Joe Ferrari. With the publication of the journal, we've managed all these years to keep alive the legacy of the old Detroit area Gravity Presses (lest we all float away). And now it will be passed down to the next generation. Thank you for everything, Larry! To be continued....
Poetry is a culture, with its own history, tradition, artifacts, tools, social institutions, evolutionary processes, and of course social milieu. One need only consider the fact that, even though we have a language in common, the divide between the American and British poetry worlds is practically unbridgeable (I can only think of a handful of poets who have successfully crossed it: Eliot, Frost, Auden, Plath). The same can even be said of the practical absence of integration of American and Canadian poetries, something that has always astounded me. My intent here is that perhaps setting the table by discussing American poetry institutions might help American readers to only just begin imagining themselves in the shoes of a Russian poet.
The first thing to consider is that the evolution of Russian poetry has been repeatedly interrupted by repression: after the Golden Age, at the beginning of the 19th century, and again after the Silver Age, from roughly 1925-1955, the middle of each century was entirely a wasteland. The Second World War, in which some 25 million Russians died, so dominated the post-war culture, still dictated by Socialist Realism, that for roughly two decades after, practically every film made had a war theme, and Russian poetry was dominated by the war generation of poets, who had served as journalists on the front lines (until Kruschev's "thaw" and the "60s generation" it made possible).
For the remainder of the duration of the Soviet Union, discipline continued to be enforced, if somewhat more laxly, by the Writers Union and the network of state controlled so called "thick journals", the only available means of official publication so that (as I wrote in my first post), the only alternative path to publication was Samizdat (a highly illegal "self-publishing" micro-press) and Tamizdat (the heavily condemned practice of publishing abroad). It is worth noting that the Russian practice of reciting poetry from memory, as well as copying poems and secretly circulating them in manuscript, was at least in part an act of cultural resistance and survival. The next quarter of a century was marked by a parallel "underground" unofficial poetry process.
The equivalent of the small independent press in the USA in Russia was the flowering of Samizdat (self-publishing). Anthologies, in addition to the previously mentioned Blue Lagoon, are the online Anthology of Samizdat, which includes work from the handful of legendary journals like Syntaxis, Apollon-77, 37, Metropol, etc. Finally, a gorgeous two bricks of a book generously illustrated with reproductions of the work of unofficial artists, is Samizdat Veka (Century of Samizdat; edited by the minimalist poet Ivan Akhmetyev, with commentary by the Lianozovo group poet Genrikh Sapgir). An online collection of these texts is available as the Anthology of Unofficial Poetry. For the last wave of Russian Samizdat in the 80s, see Mityn’s Zhurnal, whose archive resides at Kolonna Publications, and Epsilon-Salon.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the core of the Russian literary world still consists of the old so called “thick” journals, whole literary enterprises inherited from the Soviet times that have survived largely (I believe) with aid from Soros and The Open Society Institute. I do not know if this aid was “seed money” or it continues to take care of the thick journal, but Zvezda (Atlanta Review contributor Alexey Purin is the journal's poetry and criticism editor) is currently running a Kickstarter-like campaign to raise 500,000 rubles. (That’s just under 10 thousand bucks for you and me; seems hardly enough to cover printing and shipping costs for the coming year.)
A number of the Atlanta Review Russia Issue poets have also been key contributors to the independent Russian poetry press. Dmitry Kuzmin's many online and print projects have made a historic contribution to the development of Russian poetry. He was the first to promote his and the younger generation's work and publish a journal dedicated to gay and lesbian writing, Risk. His Vavilon remains an invaluable resource. He has been publishing his own independent journal, Vozdukh, and associated press, since 2005. Another contributor, Vadim Mesyats, jointly with the old science publisher Nauka, has since 2005 been publishing Russkiy Gulliver press, and its quarterly journal Gvideon (contributor Andrey Tavrov editor). Contributor Maxim Amelin edits the respected humanities press OGI. Contributor Alexander Skidan is the editor of NLO press journal's Praxis section. Among other journals, the poet and editor Alexey Alekhine has published the independent Arion going on for twenty years. Of the newer journals, I would particularly note the wonderful online independent TextOnly that has been coming out since 1999 and has an impressive editorial board.
Then, there is the “regional” literature, so to speak, with the journal Ural, covering the Urals and Siberia. There is sufficient critical mass, and university literature departments, that “schools” of poetry developed, that is workshops coalesced, in the 80s and 90's around Vitaly Kalpidi, who edited several anthologies of Contemporary Ural Poetry, and more recently, in Nizhni Tagil, around Evgeny Turenko and Ekaterina Simonova. Lake Baykal hosts a popular poetry festival, as does Kiev, the Kievskii Lavri hosted by Atlanta Review contributor Alexandr Kabanov (who also edits the bilingual journal SHO,). Participation in, or boycotting of, the immensely popular Voloshinski Festival in Crimea has now sadly become a divisive subject.
The oldest emigre literary journal (founded in New York 1942), Novyi Zhurnal, is still publishing quarterly. Another older journal, SLOVO/WORD, continues to come out, I believe from New York’s Jewish Workmen’s Circle, now with over 20 years of quarterly issues. Interpoezia (Andrey Gritsman, Russia Issue contributor, is its editor), also headquartered in New York, is in its 12th year of publishing. The incredible experimental poetry journal Chernovik has been produced in northern New Jersey by its editor Alexander Ocheretyansky for 25 years. And there is the younger, more Americanized experimental, Novaya Kozha (Igor Satanovsky editor). I would be remiss not to mention here another Russia Issue contributor Irina Mashinski and her Storony Sveta. Now on issue 16, the first 15 are available in its online archive,
A note about the significance of Druzhba Narodov, the old thick journal dedicated to the “Friendship of Peoples”, that is to the myth of a nation of unified peoples, guided by their older, Russian brother. It continues to play the role of integrating into the Russian literary process writing in Russian from the "near abroad", now the independent states of the Baltics, Caucuses, and Central Asia. With the ongoing internationalization of Russian literature, it was first among a handful of journals to dedicate recent numbers to the critical mass of poets writing in Russian in the USA, primarily in New York City.
There has been sustained and substantial interest paid recently in Russia to Russian-American poetry (and fiction), dubbed 'Wind from the Hudson" by poet Andrey Gritsman and “Hudson Note” by critic Lilya Pann. Druzhba Narodov devoted two issues to it last year, and Russkiy Gulliver's Gvideon journal did one. Work by Ilya Kutik, Dana Golin, Vladimir Druk, Andrey Gritsman, Pavel Lembersky, Liudmila Vyazmitinova, Andrey Tsukanov, Vladimir Efroimson, Irina Mashinski, Vadim Mesyats, Vasyl Makhno, Grigory Starikovsky, Alexey Tsvetkov, Helga Landauer Olshvang, Natalya Reznik, Gennady Katsov, Elena Suntsova, Julia Trubikhina Kunina, Rita Balmina, Katia Kapovich, Philip Nikolayev, Sergey Solovyov, Ian Probstein, Alexander Veytsman, Vladimir Gandelsman, Bakhyt Kenjeev, Alexander Stessin.
New issue 68 of the Ukrainian Russian language independent Kreschatik contains a selection of new work by Russian-American writers and poets, including contributors to the Russia Issue of the Atlanta Review Polina Barskova, Vladimir Gandelsman, Ian Probstein, Alexey Tsvetkov and friends and acquaintances Anna Glazova, Helga Landauer, Margarita Meklina, Gennady Katsov, Maxim Shrayer, Vasyl Makhno, Dmitry Garanin, John High, Konstantin Kuzminsky, and Gary Light.
NYC now has even its own Russian poetry press once again; Elena Suntsova started Ailuros some five years ago and Irina Mashinski has began publishing books with her journal Storony Sveta (in the 80s and 90s, it was Hermitage Publishers, which I believe still offers its titles for sale). Internationally, Jerusalem, with its Jerusalem Journal, has a sufficiently large Russian speaking/writing community to support its own journal or two. Also, for over 15 years, in Denmark, Novyi Bereg (New Bank, bilingual, in Russian and Dutch). Also in Denmark, more recently, in English translation, there is Glagoslav Press, which has just published Atlanta Review Russia contributor Tatiana Shcherbina's novel Multiple Personalities (transl. Melanie Moore). OKNO is an online journal (Anatoly Kudryavitsky, Ireland, editor) now on its 11th issue. Other presses that come to mind: in Moscow, Glas is no longer publishing, but did for nearly a quarter of a century and keeps its books in stock. And Overlook Press in NYC still carries some of the old Ardis titles from the 70s and 80s.
Newer online presences include Promegalit, which has a focus and home base in the Russia's Eurasia region and makes available a handful of significant independents such as Gvideon and Zinziver (since 2005). Dmitry Kuzmin's Litkarta, which like our Poets & Writers registry organizes poets in geographic sections and dedicates a page with bio and picture to each, has not been updated in many years. And finally there is Stihi.ru, the most common route, still, being self-publication.
I could go on to list here the various poetry reading series (in New York, these are held at Samovar, Cafe Uncle Vanya, Cornelia Street Cafe, the Brooklyn Public Library and the recently defunct Russian Book Store 21) and the handful of prizes (including ones devoted to the more experimental poetry, Andrei Bely Prize, to emigre and near abroad poetry, Yeltsin Foundation's Russia Prize, and to the youngest generation, the Debut and newly-formed Dragomoshchenko Prizes) and you have the sum total of all the Russian poetry institutions, so that, in comparison to the USA, the prospects of publication (see complete list at Zhurnalny Zal) for Russian poets are quite measly. This is perhaps the main reason why publication in translation, that is abroad, continues to be highly prestigious and sought after.
This relative absence of literary journals is particularly strongly felt in Central Asia, where I went to teach at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA; see my "story", beginning pg. 25), and where practically no literary publications remain. The old Soviet thick journal Zvezda Vostoka (Tashkent, Uzbekistan), whose last poetry editor was Russia Issue contributor Shamshad Abdullaev, temporarily shut down by the Uzbek authorities, in 1994, was rebooted as a mere shadow of itself.
In closing, I would like to announce an initiative I intend to lobby for in the coming year: the establishment of a Novaya Zvezda Vostoka (New Star of the East), an online journal under the auspices of the American University of Central Asia. It only remains to recruit the various prospective stakeholders (such as PEN, the Open Society Institute, US Aid) whose interest in supporting the development of literature would significantly broaden human (and economic) development in the region, while serving the goals of international integration.