Thursday, April 05, 2007

Not cognitive dissonance, but disappointment that what at first seemed like a bold statement against might-makes-right navel-gazing is more likely an isolationist gesture: this is how I read the essay by Steve Evans on the decline of the literary journal. There are hopeful moments, but they decay rapidly:
If I interrogate this attitude — into which I seem to have drifted imperceptibly, and wholly involuntarily, in recent years — a set of disappointed expectations begins to be discernible, a list of little grievances which I here make public in the Blakean hope of dispelling them. My expectation that little magazines should, at least at the very beginning, when hopes and energies are high, and printing and shipping debts aren't yet, establish a rhythm, preferably a brisk one, and stick to it for a while, hasn't fared at all well: the bi-annual has become the norm, the annual a favored alternative, the biennial not unheard of (I believe that Shiny now follows this rhythm by design; many others do so de facto). And as the intervals between issues lengthens, the spine sizes fatten, until magazines are indistinguishable from anthologies in girth, if emphatically not in the patient and rigorous application of well-considered selection procedures. One could, I suppose, choose to be cheered by the bounty thus proposed, but this plethoric mode of editing invites a reader's indifference — the more so when multiplied from one journal to the next — by visibly displaying the editor's own unwillingness to exclude things, which is tantamount to the inability to value anything.
Most of the journals I've seen have been careful to exclude all things aside from offertory-like white envelopes, actually. A glance at the left column of Evans's site shows that he doesn't record journals in the public accounting of his reading. He does however in the Modern Review feature posted on Poetry Daily interview editors at two New England periodicals that meet his criteria of publishing a manageable amount of reading at a brisk pace: Boston Review, and the Beloit Poetry Journal.

All the same, publishing an essay is somewhat less isolationist than keeping silent. I don't share his disappointment at the current landscape. I'm pleased to read him anyway.

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