Seven Questions for UNTITLED's editors Leonard Brink and Jono Schneider:
1) What is so exciting about prose poetry? Why start a prose poetry
Why start a literary magazine of any kind if not to promote and to provide
a forum for the kind of work one likes? I edited a magazine previously,
Inscape, that was much more eclectic. This time around I wanted something
more focused and that occupied a more definite space. If you're going to
advocate something it helps to take a stand that's articulate enough to
make sense to a readership that you're asking to subscribe to multiple issues.
I don't mean the kind of articulation that occurs in manifestos, literary
theory, or "poetics" as such -- somehow Jono and I were able to agree on a
place to stand and we hope that the poems we publish articulate that
I like the dissolution of the line. The line is what makes poetry, on
the immediate surface, look like, or appear to be, poetry. And I'm excited by
the surprise that happens in prose that goes against the look of prose. But this
prose doesn't have to be "poetry" -- think of Beckett here, or Leslie
Scalapino's novels, like Orion or The Front Matter, Dead Souls.
Because prose is the default medium for writing, we have an unconscious
default mechanism for reading it, even if we know enough to separate genres
through what we expect them to do for us as readers. But there is no
expectation for prose poetry, I think, until the reading has begun - that's when the
expectation begins to form. Or at least in the aesthetic we want to promote,
which would be a writing that turns at every corner, even when the corner is
the narrative thread that the writing is turning against.
2) Do you care to comment on the history of experimental prose? Is all
writing experimental? If you see the term "experimental" in three
sentences in a row, as you have just now, does it make you faintly sick? And if
We're kind of partial to the term "abstract," which is to say that
representational or narrative work doesn't turn us on too often -- I'd
rather go to the movies. Still, "experimental" is probably a more useful
term to describe the work we're interested in than "avant garde."
I think the work of the modernists relative to prose -- Stein, Williams'
Kora in Hell, even Nietzsche -- has a lot for us in the way of style that I want
the magazine to continue out into the future, to see how writing can keep
becoming new in some unseen form, even if that form looks like paragraph
blocks on a page. And language writers - Hejinian, Pereleman, Seaton - have
a lot for us. And the French New Novelists - Robbe-Grillet, Duras, Simon,
Sarraute. And Peter Handke and Edmond Jabes, and Maurice Blanchot.
These writers in particular - some of my personal favorites, though not
necessarily Leonard's - have presented challenges to the field of writing,
through style, through the question of who is speaking, through the
challenge to structure and form. So I think the alteration of the novel from the
"external" world -- where things are happening -- to the internal world that
doubts itself -- where I don't know what's happening, but I think it's
happening to me, if I even exist - is a way of thinking across this history,
is a record of this history. That is, the map of the history of writing
leads to the writer in the room spilling words onto pages, and these words point
out at the world, make a point of the world.
I don't worry about "experimental" in any other way than if I read
something that shows me something that I haven't seen about writing and the
art of prose. An experiment, as I see it, is something that is still
happening, that the writer is opening up through form.
I would also count Blanchot and Jabes among my personal favorites. As to
experimentation, there's nothing new under the sun. There are things
that stand in contrast to expectations. I think of John Ashbery as a prose poet.
The French surrealists, too, had no argument with normative syntax. Rosmarie
Waldrop's trilogy is as good as anything that's ever been written in prose, and
her translations of Edmond Jabes are classic. I think of J.H. Prynne as a prose
poet. We're about to publish a book by Beth Anderson, who refuses the prose-
3) Untitled has a wonderful energy and flamboyance, do you care to
comment on this? How does this observation strike you?
Thanks! I mean, you can blame it's success on the writers in Issue #1,
who made it relatively easy to assemble a packet of energy. But I also think
this speaks to the fact that a mag of lesser known ideas on prose has a lot
to offer to the world of writing.
4) Do you care to chime in on the Tosa Motokiyu / Araki Yasusada Letters
and the scandal / debate about the appropriateness of such writing?
Unlike some of the magazines that published parts of this body of work
previously, we went into it with our eyes open. It takes a certain amount
of virtuosity to write that affectedly and that's what most intrigued me
about the work. Once it's done poisoning the arts, political correctness will be
the death of our culture. It's already permeated the academic community
that has all but copyrighted the term "avant garde," and ruined it for
everybody. In any case, I like the challenge to the idea of authorship that the
Yasusada work presents. There will be more work in our second issue that
worries at that. Also, we've invited an Asian-American writer who expressed
an interest to give us something that counters the Yasusada work.
Kent Johnson has a wonderful sense of humor. The letters raise lots of
interesting questions about authorship, about identity, and about the
territorialism of writing. This is a problem, I think. That we can determine who
has the right to speak about anything, in any form. Speech and writing are
eerily bound to nothing other than the desire to say something right for the
speaker, regardless of the world, even if the speaker does not know the world.
We have to have faith that the speaker does know the world. And if s/he does
not, we can choose to reply for the world we know to be true. That's all. But I
also think the writing stands apart from this. It's funny, it's bizarre, it's
touching, it's interesting. And when we first accepted it, I was totally ignorant
of the scandal. --
Leonard: I didn't know that.
--And the writing, when I read it, returns me to that same state, where there is
only the scandal of reading.
5) Is there anything about publishing Untitled you've found surprising?
I'm surprised that at the moment there aren't more journals of
We've received a lot of work that uses narrative as its primary force, as
if writing a short story too short to be called a story makes the writing a
I like narrative - I'm not against it in the experimental sense. But I
want something more difficult in terms of what I'm holding in my hands,
trying to get at with my eyes. So I'm surprised that narrative is seen so
easily. I think narrative is a much more concerted effort, a fight for a
story, rather than a thread we can always pick up.
Yes, an awful lot of the work we receive for the magazine is narrative,
much of which is overwrought short-short stories. I guess the people who
write this stuff think that the quality of being short and overwrought makes
it poetry. We reject it, but then we don't claim to have cornered the market
on what people might call prose poetry.
6) What do you think of the web as a way of getting poetry journals out
amongst the people? How do you distribute Untitled? How has the response
been? Do you plan to branch out at all? Publish books?
The web is a great way to get poetry out to people. I'm surprised that
web-based journals have not done better, but a lot of good writers won't
give their work to them. I mentioned Inscape before. The production values
of this magazine were identical to a series of chapbooks I curated at the
time and I found it difficult to get work from some writers who seemed to
prefer the sort of perfect bound journals that resembled commercial
products of mass reproduction even if they had a fraction of the circulation. As
bizarre and hypocritical as that seemed I wanted Untitled to offer the
physical forum that writers preferred. The response to Untitled has been
great. I know of poetry magazines that have been around for a lot longer
that don't have as many subscribers as our first issue has provoked. Of
course if a big response were our goal we'd publish the collected works of
Leonardo di Caprio.
We HAVE branched out into book publishing. We're co-editors, with Beth
Anderson, of Instance Press and have recently published a wonderful book
by Keith Waldrop, called Haunt.
7) Is there anything we should know about Untitled? or anything you
think we haven't covered that you would like to comment on?
I'd just like to add that I love doing this - helping assemble something
that I find of interest. I also like combining known and lesser-known writers, because when the
writing's there, the name seems to fade a bit, while the work itself remains
in the foreground.
I'll second that. We've rejected the lesser work that some "name" writers
have sent us in favor of better work by people who have never been published
before. Some of these better known and more frequently published writers are
friends, and people I respect very much, and whose work I usually like, but
in the end a magazine will prove to be worth its salt, or not, based on its
editorial decisions. Popularity and commercial success aren't normally
associated with poetry anyway, so as long as we can afford to make the
magazine a work of art/a reflection of our own aesthetic we'll do that
rather than sell-out to collecting name-brand poets, including those that
are merely the flavor-of-the-month in a passing clique.