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Painted Bride Quarterly Tossed Across Earthside Cyberstoops
Museletter Correspondent Marj Hahne Talks With the Editors
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How does the medium shape its content? Is Web publication changing poetry?
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 Other Web-zines & cyberpoems:
• Rattapallax: The Sound Googles the Blast for a New-Po Zine
• Poetfest: The Ultimate Rejection Letter
• “Literature Nation,” an online collab by Miekal And & Maria Damon
 
 Elsewhere on the Web
• PBQ Online
• The Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive
 
 

“Endless unfolding of words of ages! And mine a word of the modern, the word En-masse,” said Walt Whitman in Song of Myself, words that speak to the eternal nature of truth and the poet's responsibility to unearth it and spread it to the people. No surprise, then, that Marion Wrenn, editor of Painted Bride Quarterly, quotes Whitman's prophetic words as an epigraph to her editorial statement introducing PBQ's debut online issue #63. Since its first print issue in 1973, this independent, Philadelphia-based literary magazine has survived on the dedication of volunteers -- local writers, poets, critics, teachers, editors, and other artists -- and on the patience of its contributors and loyal readership for each issue's funding to be secured.

Daniel Nester

“We're taking money out of the argument,” said Senior Editor Daniel Nester in my interview with him one Sunday afternoon in early November. Nester echoed Wrenn's view that poetry subsists, and will likely always subsist, in a “gift economy,” borrowing Lewis Hyde's term from The Gift: Imagination & the Erotic Life of Property. That is, because literary publications historically do not make money, the greater objective becomes distribution, passing the gift of poetry to the largest number of readers possible. Having weighed the pros and cons of print and Web -- reading a hand-held book versus viewing a computer screen, the rise in reputable Webzines, increased Internet access and literacy -- PBQ's 15-member, two-city editorial team easily reached their consensus to go electronic sometime in 1998 when faced with yet another full double-issue Painted Bride Quarterly “all dressed up but with no place to go.”


Because poetry exists in a “gift economy”

Nearly two years later, in late July 2000, after notifying contributors, receiving mixed support, and revising contracts (even offering writers an “out”), PBQ inaugurated its online incarnation with its Spring 2000 issue #63. 15,000 hits in 16 days made it virtually (ha!) painless to say goodbye to the 70-100 glossy-covered, perfect-bound pages of PBQ's historical print publication. Still, the editors know that folks like to hold the “spoils of their success in their hands,” and so will print annual “best-of” anthologies, the first one to include the entire issue #63, in addition to the best of issues #64-66, as a thank-you to its subscribers. Nester's pithy suggestion for those who wish to read every PBQ issue in their Barcaloungers: “Press 'Print.'”


“We're taking money out of the argument”

“Suspended between earth and air, PBQ is at home in this new element,” assures Wrenn. PBQ will continue the mission of its founding editors, Louise Simons and R. Daniel Evans, to “bring to the forefront of the literary scene the best established and emerging local writers together with their peers from across the country and around the world.” Wrenn and company will continue to double-read all submissions, but now can ensure a speedy turn-around time. The Fall/Winter 2000 issue #64 is currently posted at www.webdelsol.com/pbq, and #65, a translation issue containing Christopher Connelly's interview with Bob Holman, will be the first issue of the new year. In addition to its more reliable publishing schedule, PBQ Online will archive all PBQ's print issues. And because they wish to preserve PBQ Online's connection with its past, the editors did not break the number sequence between the final print and first online issues.

PBQ #65 cover

Perhaps the most promising outcome of this Webzine format will be the greater risks taken by its editors. While PBQ has always welcomed all styles of voice, school, and genre, Nester hinted that PBQ Online may playfully stray from the “Clintonian kind of poetry” that borrows from both language-style and narrative forms. Wrenn promises that “PBQ Online will keep poetry in motion. We are passing gifts, making them available, charging writers to write, readers to read, and to remember the resilience of poetry.” And prose. And visual art.


“Suspended between earth and air”

A visit to PBQ Online immediately arrests the eyes with its strikingly bold and beautiful “cover” art. Then begins the game-show dilemma of which category to choose. Behind the poetry curtain in issue #63 are new works by Yusef Komunyakaa, Philip Levine, Simon Perchik and Ruth Stone, among others. Pick Fiction. Click here for more unsettling photos from Scott Walden's “Unsettled: Photographs of Newfoundland's Resettled Communities.” The clock ticks sixty minutes later, with still more gifts to claim. Trade in minutes for a book review, an interview. Read all about “Oyl,” the latest collaborative effort between Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton. Fall out of the desk chair while eating up #64's hilarious “Tell Us About Your Visit” excerpts from Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's, due out this year from Verse Press. And like a pop-up book's flaps and tabs, each click opens a small window of surprises. PBQ Online's generosity doesn't end there, however -- follow its links to 20 literary e-zines, 17 miscellaneous online magazines, and 43 print literary journals.


PBQ  is at home in this new element”

PBQ is a resilient magazine, ready for digital metamorphosis,” Wrenn declares, and Senior Editor Tom Hartman is the digital magician. Part professional Web designer, part writer, Hartman knows how to design a literary journal site that meets its primary consideration: How will readers want to interact with the material? A reviewer of online lit mags for Pif Magazine, Hartman knows that folks have short attention spans when reading from a screen, so he “forfeited the visual bells and whistles” in favor of a cleaner multi-windowed design that facilitates printing individual pieces. Hartman's dual expertise saves PBQ Online “tens of thousands of dollars” in graphic design costs -- no small consideration when the decision was made to go online.


“We are passing gifts...”

“We will never get rich from publishing poetry,” says Wrenn in her Editor's Introduction, but that depends on what you're counting. 31 poets in debut double-issue #63, 18 in #64. I feel rich. I feel as blessed as Whitman, “[m]y right and left arms round the sides of two friends, and / I in the middle.”

Marj Hahne



Marj Hahne is our Museletter correspondent reporting from Philadelphia, South Jersey & Delaware. She is a performance poet, writer and educator who is passionate about helping children uncover and cultivate all their creative voices. Her previous feature column for About Poetry was “Reviews That Should Have Been Written: Poetry, The Press, and Public Space,” an account of the lively discussion between poets Charles Bernstein, Amiri Baraka, Eileen Myles & Jennifer Moxley, and reviewers Alan Golding & Steve Evans at a Philadelphia symposium.

Dan Nester is Senior Editor of Painted Bride Quarterly & Editor in Chief of La Petite Zine. His poems are online at:


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