Posts Tagged ‘Whitworth University

29
Jan
13

Interview with Rock & Sling Editor – Thom Caraway

One of my favorite literary journals is Rock & Sling. I remember the women who founded the journal asking me questions about how to start a journal. They asked me circa 2003 when I had only published one or two issues of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics. My advice was very limited. I can’t imagine what I could have told them. Now, it is being run out of Whitworth University by Thom Caraway. Under his editorial management, Rock & Sling have been creating journals that are beautiful to hold and putting together journals with the conscientiousness that goes into making a well-designed book. Inside each issue there are also good stories and poems.

On Wednesday, May 16, 2013, during my Publishing class at The University of Southern Mississippi and taught by Angela Ball, I learned that one of my assignments would be to give a presentation about a literary journal of our choice. Rock & Sling was the first journal that came to my mind. I then went home, and asked Caraway if he wanted to participate. He agreed. I quickly typed up questions for him to answer. While these answers came quick, they had lots of thought behind them. Since I now have about 11 years experience in publishing (instead of just one or two), I knew what types of questions to ask. Because I knew Caraway’s love of journals and books and putting them together, I knew what questions to ask him, and I also knew what questions I would want asked of me. So the questions arrived with ease. In addition, I asked questions that would be of more direct concern to the other students in the class and to those who are considering submitting their work to Rock & Sling. I emailed Caraway the questions the same night. One week later, he sent me his responses, which appear below.

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As I recall, Rock & Sling was started by two ladies in Spokane, WA, around 2003. Who were those ladies, how long did they run the journal, and did it have the same focus as the journal currently does?

Susan Cowger, Kris Christenson, and Lori Klein. The journal came to us through Susan, whose daughter had attended Whitworth University. They were “a journal of faith, art, and literature.” Or “literature, art, and faith.” Some combination of those words. It seemed like all of the faithy journals had some combination of those. We simplified to “a journal of witness.” It captured the essence of what we wanted, and I think we’ve stayed true to the original mission, though we probably define “faith” more broadly than Susan did.

What prompted them to turn it over to Whitworth University and when did that happen and were you there when it occurred?

We got it in 2009. It had gone on hiatus in 2008, looking for a stable funding source. It was totally independent, but Susan and the other original group couldn’t subsidize it any more. I came in on the second or third meeting. Our department was generally in favor of it, but they didn’t really know how to make it go. I was the faculty advisor for the school’s undergrad journal, and that fall, I had also pitched a class in editing and book design. So it at least looked like I knew what I was doing. I spent the next couple months convincing various administrators that it was good for the university. That’s an on-going battle.

How did you get involved in becoming the Editor-in-Chief, especially considering that you teach full time and run Sage Hill Press?

It wasn’t going to go if they couldn’t get an editor. None of the other faculty had any experience in running a magazine, and I didn’t either, but I’d done Willow Springs and North Dakota Quarterly during my grad programs, so I kind of convinced them I knew what I was doing. My experience with Sage Hill Press certainly helped. I knew some design, and enough of the marketing and business side to sound reasonably confident. It turned out there was plenty I didn’t know. Teaching the editing and design class really helped, since I could make the business/marketing end of things part of the curriculum and sort of teach myself as I went.

What knowledge did you bring from running a press to running a journal?

It helped to know how a book gets put together (how to pick economical paper and an efficient trim-size, etc.), the printing side of things, and knowing the indie publishing biz. I knew where to go to find things, and had contacts at other presses and journals I could go to for help.

Does the journal help you run the press in any manner? Do you learn things from it that makes your press more effective?

The great thing about a journal is how many authors you can publish at a time. I was used to working with one author at a time, usually for 6-12 months, refining the manuscript, and putting it all together. The journal gave me access to a bigger base of authors. So I’ve solicited some authors we worked with on the journal to submit a book for Sage Hill. It’s also given me a better understanding of marketing and distribution.

On the other hand, the journal takes up much of my non-teaching time, so the press hasn’t maintained the kind of production schedule I’d like.

One of my favorite things about Rock & Sling is the colophon. Not many journals do that. What prompted you to include colophon? And how often do you change the typeface?

TrajanFor me, I can’t really design a book until I know what the type will be. I’ll experiment with type for hours, sometimes days, until I find the right one. It has to fit the book, speak to the personality of the book, become a vessel for the text. But for books, it’s different, because the personality of the text is more unified. It all came from the same author. With the journal, the personality comes from the journal itself, as much as it does from the text. And the text varies wildly, so the type needs to be adaptive and versatile. It needs to speak in a variety of languages. Once I found the right one, and I knew it the minute I’d set any text in it, I wanted to know everything I could about it. The type was Perpetua, the designer Eric Gill. Eric Gill was an interesting dude, and designed a number of persistent types. The colophon itself probably goes back to a design class (which you were in) during my MFA days at Eastern Washington University. Christopher Howell taught that class, and talked at length about type, and the importance of choosing just the right one for books. Or maybe it’s just something I got obsessed about as a designer later. I had the standard palette, I think. Garamond, Palatino, Caslon. I started exploring. I also started to notice colophons, often in Copper Canyon books. It added a depth of meaning to the book. Not only did the writer put a lot of time and life and love into the creation of the manuscript, but the designer was also intentional about how the book was set, which was explained in the colophon. That fascinated me. And like any amateur, I imitated until I understood. For me, Perpetua is the personality of  the journal. It’s beautiful, versatile, and engaging. It creates its own kind of interest, but doesn’t overwhelm the text. The colophon was a way of conveying that, the debt we owed not only to the authors, but to the type designer.

I’m not sure the type will ever change for the body of the journal. I just love Perpetua. Everything I submit is set in it. Poems. All of my syllabi. Letters of recommendation. Many of my students now use it, and our poetry editor has adopted it as well. For our first four issues, the titles were set in Perpetua Titling, which is an all-caps type. I wasn’t wild about it, but it was consistent with the body. Before laying out 8.1 (our fifth issue), I lost the template from those first four issues on a crashed hard-drive. We reconsidered everything (save the body type), from trim size to title types, page-styles, titles, layout, etc. We’re actually going with a new title type, and a new master-page style (in the footer), as well as a different rule style. When you are in the rhythm of journal production, it seems impossible to consider changing things. I don’t know why that is. Probably because there is so much other stuff going on; it’s too overwhelming to consider a redesign of the whole thing. I also want a consistency in our shelf presentation. If people have several years of our journal on their shelves, I want it to look good. So after all of that reconsideration, we kept the same trim size and spine text. But I’ve changed some of the more extraneous elements. But it took months to arrive at the right balance. We’ve gone with a slab sans-serif title type, League Gothic (from the excellent League of Moveable Type), which works well with Perpetua, set in a half-tone black. I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve also messed with the master-page, the size of it, and what’s in it. For me, the design of the book, being the most consistent personality element given the ever-changing nature of the work we accept, has to be precise, so people know they are reading something good, even before they get to the content. 

Why isn’t there a colophon in the current issue?

It’s expensive to print on the inside of the cover. Also, for that issue, we had space. In coming issues, I’d like to move it to the interior, maybe as the last page of the journal.

What typeface is your favorite and what typeface do you think works best for text pages? for covers? and for online?

Perpetua. It’s just beautiful. The Roman and the italic. I use it for almost everything now. I also like Californian for text. Garamond is a classic, and very versatile. Caslon is elegant, but not suited for all purposes.

TrajanFor covers, I love Trajan, but it’s become very popular. I don’t think you can ruin Trajan through overexposure, but I haven’t used it much lately. It’s one thing if it’s the title type for The West Wing, another entirely if I’m seeing it in terrible flyers posted around campus or in elevators. Perpetua Titling is what we used for the first four issues, and it’s a big, wide-based, solid title type, but it feels a little heavy sometimes, heavy-handed. We used it for titles as well, and have moved away from it for both with the new issue. I used Perpetua lower-case this time around, though we kept the ampersand in Poor Richard. That creates some problems. In the same size as what’s around it, it’s too big, so every time I use it, I have to isolate it and manually change the size and kerning to get it spaced just right. I like doing that kind of stuff though, the kind of stuff only I really notice, like shrinking the kerning, or the font-size of blank spaces.

I’ve been playing around with some gothic sans serif type for covers. I like League Gothic, and Gear, and pretty much anything at Lost Type or the League of Moveable Type. The internet is such a great resource for designers now. You can find pretty much anything, between Dafont and the other warehouse sites, and most of it is free. Still, lots of stuff doesn’t always mean lots of good stuff, so I stick with what I know for the most part. Nothing too showy or flashy. I never want to overwhelm the actual text with the typography.

Online, I appreciate tall, slender sans serif type. I like Gill Sans, and though it’s maybe a little basic, Franklin Gothic is nice, too. And boring old Calibri is a very readable screen type, though I am not a fan of it in print.

Another thing I like about the journal is the covers. They are always so beautiful. Where do you find the artwork and who does the cover design?

I handle cover design, which I love doing, despite my limitations as a designer. I’ve never taken a class in design or anything, so I always feel like I’m missing out on some cool stuff I could be doing. But, I can place art on a page, and move text around, and so far that’s been working.

When we first got started, I couldn’t get any of our overworked art faculty to sign on as art editor. I said I’d do it in the interim, but as it turned out, I didn’t really know any artists. One of my colleagues in the English department, Fred Johnson, kept asking me if I knew such and such artist. After a few of these, I started making a list and checking them out. Turns out he was connected to a lot of artists through his time at Ball State, and they were all fantastic. So I just started emailing them. Some have been hesitant to commit to covers for an ostensibly faith-based journal. Some have said no, for that reason. After the Gala Bent and dan Baltzer covers (6.1 and 6.2), I thought I’d make it look like I was at least trying, so I started asking the artists themselves for recommendations. So dan led me to Jeffrey Youngblood for 7.1, and he recommended Emelie Anskog for 7.2. I’ve been pretty happy with the results.

For this particular issue (volume 7, issue 2), there’s a lot of risk in the design. The logo is right up against the edge of the cover. That’s risk because the exactness of trim is not perfect. Many publishers would have pulled the logo in a bit. And the same for the art work. A lot of risk is taken in putting the picture into the bleed and also in cutting off part of the picture, but I like how the art exceeds the cover? Did you feel you were taking risks when designing this cover? How did you feel about those risks? Do you often take those risks when developing covers? (I also ask because in a previous version of this cover, which is on Facebook, the logo was on the left with a safe distance from the spine and the volume/issue/year information was on the right and vertical and a safe distance from the edge of the cover.)

Rock & Sling 7.2 Final Cover

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Final Cover

Rock & Sling 7.2 Draft

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Draft Cover

I was so scared for 6.1, I did stuff fairly straightforward. I wanted it to look great, and not piss anyone off. After that one came out, a designer friend and I got to talking over beers, and he suggested I start messing with placement. He said, “Try turning the title text box vertical. Move it around.” I’d never thought of that, and I loved it, so tried it for 6.2. Our name isn’t even all the way on the front cover for that issue. I placed it so it’s half on the front and half on the spine. My theory is just to get out of the way of the art. I love the art. I want people to see the art.

So then I started moving the logo and other elements around. I really like the logo bleeding off the page a little, like who we are is incidental to the work we are publishing. It freaks our printers out. They always want me to move it in or up a ¼ inch. The only cover where we lost a bit of the content was 6.2. dan’s work has so much going on in it, and I cut an inch or so off one side to get it to fit vertically on the page. If I’m going to bleed it, I make sure that what is cut is still implied by what remains. And the artists have all been pretty happy (as far as I know) with their covers. I could shrink the art down to fit the cover, and frame it with a solid-color bar or something, but that’s just boring to me. The only reason I can see for that is to make sure people get a good look at the name of the journal. That’s much less important to me.

I think some journals might get a little used to themselves. I worked for North Dakota Quarterly, which has looked the same for forty years. Same size, same gothic type, same white cover and spine, same kind of cover image. That’s great, to have traditions like that, but one thing I love about journals is how responsive they can be, so I’ve been hesitant to make the issues look the same, at least on the outside. If I have to move our issue info to the back to feature the art more effectively, then that’s what I’ll do. If anyone is going to pick up the journal, it will be for the art, not for what issue number it is. So that stuff can go on the back if it needs to. Each issue has its own personality, which starts with the art. I like to think that we are conforming to what we get, rather than conforming or choosing material based on who we are.

As for the text page design. The title of the poem/story is all in caps, below that is a line that extends most of the width of the page, below that is the author’s name in gray, then there is some white space between the author’s name and poem or story. Also in the footers, the page number is black and Rock & Sling is gray. What overall effect do you think that creates?

Similar to my design aesthetic with art and the cover (get out of the way), I think the work is more important than the author. We went back and forth before the first issue. Some designs had the author info on top and bigger than the title info. I just didn’t like it. For me, the shape of the page is big title (“ooooh”), author, in a half-tone (“who’s that, oh, there’s the poem . . .”), and then to the work (“aaaah”). The author’s name is off set, and the title and text align with each other, so a straight line connects them. I wouldn’t mind moving the author’s name elsewhere, but I don’t think authors would like that (as an author, I wouldn’t like that).

With 8.1, I moved to a different type for the titles. Perpetua Titling is an all-caps type, and it just felt too big. So there is more distinction now between title and text, and I changed the rule from a heavy line of left-slashes to a lighter double thin line. The authors are in a small-caps Perpetua, and solid (the titles are half-tone now). We switched from an offset printer to a digital printer, and smaller half-tones (<10 pt) looked like crap (you can tell in 7.2). So the half-tone is on a larger slab sans serif type, and should print better. [For a good article about the difference between offset and digital printing, go here: http://www.printlocal.com/offset-digital-printing.htm.]

As for the footer elements, those are different now, too. I love the design of Versal, and they have massive page numbers in the footer, so I beefed up ours a little (18 pt League Gothic), and switched out “Rock & Sling” for just the Poor Richard ampersand. It looks maybe too contemporary, and probably will only last a few issues before I start to feel self-conscious about it.

CLMPI see you are member of CLMP. What does this do for the journal?

CLMP is a good resource for marketing and administrative information, plus it gets us on their lists and makes us look like a legitimate journal. It doesn’t cost much, and the resources are really useful, as are the list-servs. There’s lots of experience to draw from, which, given my lack of knowledge at the outset, was really important.

On the copyright page, it reads:

The editors of Rock & Sling believe that the act of writing and of reading literature is a way of witnessing to the truth of experience, drilling down to the core of language’s vitality, and accepting an understanding of artistic language as a kind of testimony. The word “Witness” means to testify: to tell the truth. The demands of the word are bracing in its charge to the writer to understand that his and her work matters not just as expressions of experiences and responses but as an active language engaged morally as well as aesthetically. To tell the truth is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of hope. To testify is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of faith.

Why do you have this theme? How is it different than, say, Image.

That definition was written by our poetry editor, Laurie Lamon, when we took over the journal. We use it as a framework for understanding our mission as a “Christian” journal. We publish a lot of work that isn’t overtly faith-based, at least in Christian terms. (I think specifically of your Paleolithic poems). But that work engages ideas of faith, or of something bigger than itself. Whatever you call it, that’s faith, which means it involves God, or god, or divinity.

As far as how we are different than a journal like Image, I’d say that on the surface, we really aren’t  We’re probably the AAA ball-club for Image, and that’s fine. But I think we are also perhaps more responsive to what Christian or faith-based literature could be or is headed toward. Image has a tradition. Every issue looks the same, and generally, every issue sounds the same. It’s a good sound, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be publishing Pattianne Rogers, Gregory Orr, and B. H. Fairchild. They get great writers. But I think we are better able to take risks, because we don’t have much of a reputation at stake. And things are going on, especially in the evangelical church, that art will need to respond to, that won’t look or sound like traditional mainline Christian art. And that’s kind of where I want us to live.

With such a religious theme, what type of submissions do you receive and how do you decide what to publish?

Laurie and I agreed at the outset that our final consideration for taking a piece of any kind was “Does it demand to be published.” We get a lot of poems called “Psalm.” Lots of retellings or rehashings of familiar Bible stories. Poems or stories from Judas’ POV, or Lazarus’. Lots of annunciation poems. A lot of what you’d expect for a Christian journal. But the best pieces are those that are comfortable with ambiguity, those that acknowledge that doubt is a facet of faith, that in fact, one is meaningless without the other. That’s the central tension of most of the work we publish, I think, though it takes many forms. In that way, I don’t think we’re that different than any lit journal. Is it beautiful? Does it move me in some way? Beauty, even terrible beauty, is an expression of faith. I guess that seems apologetic of sorts. For me, beauty implies aesthetics, and aesthetics requires a big, pure, perfect Something. We call that God, but you don’t have to, and we like work that inhabits some space in between.

Part of my mission as the editor of a Christian literary journal is to show people what Christian lit can be. It isn’t all easy answers, Scripture, and parables. Lived faith is never easy, and the art that comes from it shouldn’t be either.

I’m an atheist with hope, and you’ve published me. Do you think you’ve published other atheists? Do you recognize a difference in poetry between atheists and those who believe in something other?

God, I hope we’ve published other atheists. I was an atheist when I took over the journal, or at least a hopeful agnostic. We don’t have a Shibboleth or anything. The work speaks for itself, and using your poems (or Jeff Dodd’s “Dear Russel Nakagawa” poems in 8.1) as an example, the work demonstrates a kind of faith, regardless of the writer’s beliefs. My favorite pieces we’ve published aren’t explicitly Christian. But as Jonathan Johnson always said, “You’re subconscious is smarter than you are.”

How do you generate submissions?

I have no idea. People knew us from before we took over, and we still get submissions from them, though we probably publish fewer of those folks now. So there is some previous name recognition. Mainly, I think it’s having a good-looking book and taking it to AWP. Our submissions always spike after AWP. We typically get 250-300 submissions a month. Ad swaps with other journals help, I think. We swap with folks like Sugar House Review and Weave Magazine, and some bigger journals, like Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, and Willow Springs. That gets our name out there. Probably half of our website hits come off of searches for “Christian literary journal.” So being a kind of niche helps. We get somewhat higher submissions from places where I know we are selling the journal in stores, or have it in libraries. But we get stuff from all over the world, which is awesome. I really wish I understood how people knew about us, or why they submit work. I hope it’s because the journal looks great, and the work is awesome, and people want to be a part of that.

What do you look for in a submission? That is, do you want a cover letter? What do you want in the cover letter? What’s a perfect submission for you, aside from quality poems and stories?

Ah, cover letters. I train my interns not to read them. I always read them. I like parsing the bullshit. I remember one author, when I was poetry editor at Willow Springs, with a full page of publishing credits. I had never heard of 10% of them. So I started looking them up. Maybe they were so local or small that they had no web presence or even Google hits. But most of them were made up. I kind of loved that. So I have a pretty cavalier attitude about cover letters. I’d rather a cover letter told me a good joke then tried to convince me that I should publish something because The Kenyon Review or Tin House published them. At the same time, I’ll probably read something a little closer if they’ve been published in The Kenyon Review or Tin House.

A perfect submission follows the guidelines (upload each poem separately, not as one doc with five pages), has a three-sentence cover letter (“You guys are awesome. Love the design. Hope you like these poems/this piece.”), and blows me away from the first sentence or line of the submission.

Are you pro or con Submittable.com? If you use it, what benefits does it have over email?

I admit to some nostalgia for the days of snail mail submissions, and writing comments on the envelopes, the arguments for various sizes of envelope. But I love Submittable. We got on board when we started up (after having met Michael FitzGerald at AWP), when they were still Submishmash and cheeky. It has built-in organization, which I lack entirely. It catalogs and archives efficiently, it tracks information I’d be too lazy to input, and it makes it easy to get work out to lots of readers, and to comment on that work. I’ve never used Submission Manager, but I don’t see any reason I would switch. And beyond that, it’s still free. That’s amazing, considering the service.

Do you take postal submissions? Why or why not?

No. I lose them, or forget to respond.

The journal has an Editor-in-Chief, which is you, and a poetry editor, prose editor, web editor, managing editor, assistant editor, and assistant prose editors. What do these roles do? How many are students, professors, and contractors?

The poetry editor is faculty. The nonfiction editor is staff, a senior editor in University Communications. (She has an MFA, and serves as the craft essay editor for Brevity, a terrific online creative nonfiction journal, probably the best there is.) Our prose editor is currently an alum, and three-year assistant, a terrific writer and editor. The managing editor is the English department program assistant (Annie Stillar, the daughter of my middle school shop teacher, and she is amazing. The journal wouldn’t happen without her), and she manages the budget, invoices, mailings, booking travel, and all of the many detail things that would kill me. The assistant editors are students who have been around a while, or who have taken my editing and design class. They manage their genre’s submissions, recommend stuff for editorial meetings or for rejection. I do that, too, to help clear out backlogs, but they handle a lot of it. The editorial assistants are all students. They read the work the assistant editors cull from Submittable. If it gets approved in the meeting, it goes up to the genre editors for final approval. I’m kind of in each of those steps, nudging. I’ve bypassed the readers on occasion, and passed stuff up that they didn’t like. It’s all a learning process for them. They are really sophisticated readers, but still not always paying enough attention.

How do you raise money?

Badly.

How many subscribers do you have? How many are people, libraries, swaps with other journals?

Around 100 subscribers. Another dozen libraries, and a half-dozen journal swaps.

What is your print run?

Now, it’s 400. We started at 1000, hoping to get picked up by Ingram (which demands 400 copies just for them). That hasn’t happened, alas. 1000 is enough to get onto an offset printer, and the quality is so much better. So that’s my aim, to get the subscriber base high enough to justify the expense. (Though it really is more cost effective on an offset printer, 2.05/copy vs. 3.25+/copy with a digital printer.)

What is the best form(s) of publicity? Do advertisements in other journals work?

The journal itself is our best publicity, followed by the authors. I try to design the book so that when people see it, they must pick it up. And I like it when our authors get excited about it, and start telling their friends about it. A great table at AWP doesn’t hurt.

Ads with other journals do work. I’ve seen it in cover letters. “I saw your ad in Redactions, and was intrigued …”. (I’ve really seen that.)

What’s the most enjoyable part of the journal for you?

I’m happy that I still get to do the design. If I had to choose between being the editor or being the designer, I’d probably pick designer.

Also, putting the journal together, once all the work is accepted. The interns have a big hand in that, and I just love watching them reason through an order. We place a big emphasis on the opening and closing sections, and they do a good job of helping see the entire arc of the issue.

Do you ever get lost in doing layout as you would when writing?

Absolutely.

How many times do you proofread the journal before sending it out?

Probably five times. After that, I have to stop. It could go on forever.

Do you proofread the proofs or do you just thumb through to make sure there are no glaring errors?

The latter. Widows and orphans, typos, and that’s it.

When you get the final product, do you look through it or are you too scared and already involved with this next issue?

The latter, again.

By the time the final copies arrive, are you bored with that issue already?

I wouldn’t say bored, but I’m already thinking about the shape of the next issue. But when it arrives, I’ve never sat down and read it. I know the work. I know it’s good.

What does your journal provide that other journals don’t or what do you do that other journals don’t?

I think one thing we do that not many other journals do is focusing so much on aesthetics. I want the entire experience of the journal to be beautiful, down to how it looks when we mail it out, where the shipping labels go. I can think of a number of journals who publish really great stuff, but just look like crap. Nobody has paid any attention to what the thing looks like, from the paper to the type to the margins. So I think we build a beautiful container.

I think our specifically faith-focused mission is also somewhat rare. There’s less than a dozen journals with our kind of mission. And of those, I think we are putting out some of the best work, and certainly the most aesthetically appealing journal. My goal with the journal is to reach a wider audience, to get into the hands of the “regular” lit journal audience. The work holds up. I want to teach people that Christian art, or art made by Christians and non-Christians doesn’t have to trite or cliché or boring.

The UPC is on the back cover. Typically, journals put that on the front cover. (I think it’s a law or something.) Why did you put it on the back cover? Why do you even have an UPC?

I put it on the back because it’s ugly, and mucks up the front. I’ve worked in bookstores, and it’s just as easy to scan a bar code on the front as it is on the back. We have the UPC to make it easier to sell to bookstores, which are reluctant to sell anything without a bar code of some sort. It helps them track inventory.

Do you have distribution? Who distributes for you? Where does the journal get sold?

We have distribution through Ubiquity, who specializes in selling journals to indie bookstores, which are more likely to carry a selection of literary journals. Ingram has turned us down twice for distribution, and I think that is largely a function of our longevity (they want to make sure we’ll be around for a while) and the decline of the big-box bookstore.

We’ve also started handling some of our own distribution, which is a bit labor and time intensive, but allows us to track copies more effectively. Ubiquity doesn’t provide any reporting on where the copies are going, which sucks. But I’ll get emails or texts from friends saying, “Hey, I saw the new issue at a store in Houston, looks great!” So I know they are out there. We also see occasional spikes in submissions and subscriptions from particular regions or towns, so I suspect that stores have copies thereabouts.

What part of working on the journal do you like least?

Budget stuff. At least once a year, I have to defend, usually in written form, the journal as a printed thing. “Why not just have it online? That’s free.” Administrators, trustees. People concerned with the bottom line, which I understand. My first response (which I have to restrain) is, “We cost under ten thousand dollars a year. How much to baseball uniforms cost? How much do these ridiculous university-emblazoned water bottles cost?” But there’s a significant value to the students who help staff the journal, and it’s hard for some folks to see past the economic argument, which isn’t even true.

Do you pay authors? What do you pay them?

Two copies. Someday, I’d like to pay money, but that will take some doing. If we can get some big donations and establish an endowment . . .

Do you think it is unethical to not pay authors in money or contributor copies?

Yes. All journals should at least be able to afford to pay in copies. The work is valuable; it’s what makes the journal what it is. Copies are at least a nod in that direction.

Thank you so much.

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For the downloadable Rock & Sling Tip Sheet I made for the presentation, click Rock & Sling Tip Sheet.

29
Nov
11

The Line Breaks in Nathan E. White’s “From Sense Each Inheritance Is Named”

By the time you read this, I will have briefly gone over the line break in my Introduction to Creative Class at SUNY Brockport. For the class, I had the students read Lineation: An Introduction to the Poetic Line, which I wrote for a lecture some time ago. Most of that essay/lecture is about the line and the line break. At the end are two exercises, where I give the reader/student two chunks of non-lineated text and ask them to insert line breaks. That is I give them the text of the poem with the line breaks removed so it reads like a paragraph of prose. And then I ask them to put in line breaks where they think they should occur. And then they compare to the original, or we work on it as a group and compare it to the original.

Rock & SlingI want to do the same thing in the class, as well. But I can’t use the same poems, so I am going to use Nathan E. White’s “From Sense Each Inheritance Is Named.” This poem first appeared in Rock & Sling (Issue Six, Number Two. Summer 2011). It’s a fine journal out of Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, and edited by Thom Caraway.

In class, the line breaks will be made as a group effort. The students will decide where to put the line breaks, and I’ll insert them in a Word doc that is projected onto the wall. After they are done, we will compare their breaks to the poem’s breaks. As a result, I have to explain why the breaks are where they are in the poem. So here are the notes I wrote. I want to share them here because I think there are interesting things going on that I want to share with more than 22 students.

But first the poem.

     From Sense Each Inheritance is Named

     Whispering tsk, tsk the straw swishes:
     the boy watching the dust drift studies
     the absence of shadow in the fields.
     Before him, without a sound, dark shapes
     of men in their lines breaks off from ground.

     At the table, he studies faces
     held above each plate. He wonders why
     they must ask for a blessing. At night
     they talk of harvest, frost, how they need
     to rest, cold crossing the lower fields.

     While they sleep he fixes the distance
     between stars, imagining angels
     whose work here is the movement of air
     through bodies at rest: each one dreaming
     of cold fields, dust waltzing before light.

So that’s the poem. Here’s what I have to briefly say about it to my students. That is, here are my notes.

The first line seems pretty straight forward. It ends on punctuation and with straw swishing. It’s an image/thought all to itself. And it’s end-stopped, which means it ends on punctuation.

Sir Philip Sidney

Sir Philip Sidney

The next line, while a bit awkward in its delivery, also delivers an image/thought for the line, but this new clause unit, runs on to the next line. This is called enjambment. When a sentence or clause is completed on the following line or lines, then the line is enjambed. It’s also known as a run-on line. This device was widely used by the Elizabethans, such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sir Phillip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Campion, and it was also used by Milton. Then the use kinda vanished for a while until the Romantics in the 1800s, who resurrected it. They saw enjambment as a symbol of liberation from neo-classic rules. And it’s been all the rage for the last hundred or so years.

So what happens on an enjambed line is magic. There is an amount of time it takes the reader’s eye to go from the end of the line to the beginning of the next line. A lot can happen in this small time. This is where the reader’s imagination really interacts with the poem. This is where magic happens. In this case, on this line, it’s some minor magic, as we are left with a boy studying, but we wonder what he is studying. As we read this poem for the first time, which is kinda how a poem should always be read. The first reading is the experience, and each re-reading is to relive that same experience with new knowledge and meaning. This is why it’s so important to create an experience that is understandable on the first reading. We don’t want to confuse the reader or mislead the reader or trick the reader. All of those things kick the reader out of the poem. They make the poem an exclusive territory when it should be an all-inclusive territory. Just like when you talk to your friends, you try to speak clearly so they can be included in your experiences. Unless of course, you don’t want them as your friend, then you talk in an exclusive manner.

Dust DriftsBut here we are on the line turn. A boy is studying a dust drift or his work in front of him. We have the image of studying. But when we get to the next line we see what he is studying. He is studying “the absence of shadows in the fields.” Wow, that’s a pretty terrific image. He’s not only studying the absence of something, but the absence of shadows. It must be night. But what happens is that this poem creates two instances – the boy is studying a dust drift or something and the absence of shadows. Okay, so why not say

he studies a dust drift and the absence of shadows.

Isn’t that the same experience? Yes and no. It says the same thing, kinda, but the experience is much different. In the one line he is only studying a dust drift or something else that we imagine. Perhaps he is studying books. But this moment of studying is one experience. Then we get another experience on the next line, he’s “studying the absence of shadows in the field.” The statement I wrote, “he studies a dust drift and the absence of shadows” means he is studying both things at once. This poem creates two different instances for the reader. And this line is also end stopped.

Let’s look at another spot to make this more clear. Let’s look at the second stanza, which is filled with enjambed lines. Note how each line could be like its own story:

At the table, he studies faces

There’s an image that stands on its own, and it also recalls the “studies” from stanza one. Because he was studying the absence of shadows before, I get the feeling that he must be studying really intently. I mean, who studies the absence of anything, let alone shadows, without studying intently. That feeling now carries down here with the second use of “studies.” So he’s really studying faces.

held above each plate. He wonders why

Daily Bread Man Praying At Dinner TableHere the image is completed. People are praying and he’s studying them praying. Praying is an intense activity, too. So now we have two intensities. This line, too, kinda stands on its own as a mini-story – “held above each plate. He wonders why.” Eh, kinda. Anyway. Now he adds another intensity because “He wonders why.” At the end of this line, however, he doesn’t leave the reader with an image to hang on to. Similar to the second line in the first stanza, this second line has the reader start imagining on the line break. Here the reader is trying to figure out what he is wondering? Is he wondering about the faces the he is studying? Yes and no. And this is the beauty of the line break. He can create two instances, each one an experience that you can experience. It’s an accretion of experiences like the “studies.” The accretion here is that he is wondering about the faces in the intensity of prayer and he is wondering about why they ask for a blessing. You get to move with the author. He’s not saying “I’m wondering how they pray and why.” No. He’s delivering each experience to us as he experiences it. You, the reader, get to move with him.

This line also kinda reads like a mini-story – “they must ask for a blessing. At night.” So you have that effect. It’s like a weird, double enjambment in experience and meaning. For one sense is “He wonders why they must ask for a blessing” and the other sense/experience is “they must ask for a blessing at night.” It’s like one experience blends into another, as often happens in life. The fluidity of moving and living is occurring in this line. Also, it’s interesting how there is a slant rhyme occurring in stanza two’s second and third lines with the long I. “Why” and “night” are both magical and mysterious, so they are yoked together through a subtle harmony of the long I. We’ll hear this long I at the end of the poem, too. How do those long Is connect?

Anyway, to stanza two’s third line. So we’ve got that fluid experience going and another enjambed line. Here the reader is doing one of two things, they are either in the fluid experience asking for a blessing at night, or they have started a new thought with the new sentence, and most likely the latter. Here the reader holds on to their image of “night” on the line turn. You have to give the reader something to hold on to here. You have to give them hope. They are taking a big leap of faith to get from this line to the next. So they need something to hold to comfort them and transition them to the next line. Here they have the “night” to hold on to. We also expect some action to occur to on the following line. So maybe our minds are trying to figure out what happens “at night.” All sorts of things happen, and all those things that we can imagine happening are crucial and become part of the poem and the experience. What’s the first thing you think of when you read “at night.” Is it something scary or comforting? Either way, it will deliver you into the next line.

Harvest FrostOn the next line we learn what happens at night. They talk of the crucial things. That’s what happens at night. So if you imagined scary, you are still in that zone, because “harvest, frost” and “needs” are kinda scary when your life depends on these things. And if you were in the comfort zone of night, then you are abruptly taken out of that and get to experience something of dire importance. You get to feel the shift in mood.

Again, this line is enjambed. Like the second lines in the preceding stanzas, this line ends on an abstraction. The reader gets to imagine something on the line turn. At this point, the reader is probably thinking about the need of food because we were just at the dinner table and talking of harvest and frost, which we know can destroy a harvest and, thus, food. This is a real concern. So on this line turn, the reader is probably still thinking about the need for food and all the anxieties that come with the need for food, especially those who grow it themselves.

But on the line turn we get a surprise. We get “to rest.” That must feel good to read, especially after the studying and the intensities and anxieties we just felt. But then we get the comma and the rest of the sentence – “cold crossing the fields.” How do we read that? Is it like “to rest, as the cold crosses the lower fields.” Is it like a subjunctive?

Isn’t it interesting how he uses “crossing” with “a blessing” so close to each other?

Again, this line and the previous line rhyme. They rhyme with “need” and “fields.” They need the fields alright, and that connection is yoked together by the subtle long E sound. These are good ways to rhyme. When they connect things and they don’t get in the way of the poem.

Then we get this big line break or stanza break. Here we are left with the image of cold wind blowing across the fields and we still carry some of those worries, maybe.

Then we get to the next stanza, and everyone except the narrator is asleep. And we get the line “While they sleep he fixes the distance.” Again. Another mini-story. A line can often be a mini-story. But what the heck is he talking about? “He fixes the distance.” (Part of me is thinking this is weird like “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go.” Which has its own unique conversation with the poem. But back to the poem.) I’m not sure what this line means on its own, but I’m compelled forward on the enjambed line. That’s another thing an enjambed line can do, it can propel you forward. It’s a place to gain momentum. It’s like centripetal force. You get whipped around. So we get whipped to the next line to answer the question in our heads, and it’s to fix “the distance / between stars.” Oh my god. What an image. And what does it even mean? What is wrong with the distance between stars? Nonetheless, he is going to fix them. He’s going to draw them close, I imagine. Perhaps to make warmth to save the crops.

So here we are on a new line, again, a mini-story. “between stars, imagining angels.” There’s nice balance on that line. The comma acts as a pivot. There are two words on each side. Two actions on each side. And the poem moves forward defining and redefining before it comes full circle with “dust” and the long I sound.

So what am I trying to say about the line break? Let me quote what I wrote in response to one of your fellow student’s poem:

On the line break, there is a brief but long pause as the reader’s eye moves from the end of the line to the beginning of the next. In that moment, all this magic happens. The reader is left on their own based on the image you give them there. They carry that image with them on the line turn and briefly ponder it and imagine it and feel it, and then the movement picks up again. It almost like being on the swings . . . . The line is like the moment the person is pushing you. The whole time that person’s hands are on your back, from the moment their hands receive you, cushion you, and push you off again, that’s like the line in poetry. The line break is all the free momentum that occurs the instant the fingertips and back depart from each other and you fly through the air. The line break is a propellant. It’s magical and freeing and thrilling.

The Swing as Line Break

The Swing as Line Break

//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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