In more than a decade of writing reviews, I don’t think I have ever said this before – read this journal for the editorial remarks. I’m serious. Here’s editor Sean Bernard in an interview with poet Neil Aitken, winner of the 2008 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry: “How does being Canadian (ed. Note: Neil is Canadian) give you a poetic advantage compared to being a wine swilling urban American?” Oh, did I mention that his interview with Aitken is one of the best magazine interviews I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever? Here are the editor’s comments preceding an excerpt from a novel-in-progress: “This is an episode from a novel-in-progress and it is fairly self-contained: Prism readers will be reassured to learn that the boy survives.” Here is the editor responding to Aitken after a particularly fascinating and unusual answer to one of his questions: “I don’t believe that for a minute.” Here is the editor from the notes that precede the “Canon Interview,” an imaginary conversation with a dead author (Jane Austen this issue): “On a recent full moon night, we were driving our editorial van through the Inland Empire.” Our editorial van!
I have to admit that I didn’t care for the issue’s poetry or fiction nearly as much as for the editorial remarks and the interview, although I was taken with the opening of Chad Chmielowicz’s “Five Pines Road”: “To not be able to tell your feelings from your thoughts / about your feelings is common at the Laundromat.” (Although when the poem turns into something of a lament about “not feeling up Mary Anne Davis,” the adolescent-boy-thing doesn’t really interest me, after all.) I did think the short reviews were quite fine. It’s not that the rest of the work in the issue is entirely without merit, simply that the editorial remarks and interviews eclipsed the rest for me.
The interview with Aitken truly is worth the price of admission. The questions are unusual, clever, fun, provocative and Aitken’s answers (and I did believe him) seem honest or, at least more interesting, than the trying-to-impress sorts of responses that many interviews elicit. Here’s a little taste:
Working in a non-academic, non-writing job puts you out there in a world full of interesting people (or at least boring people with interesting friends). The other great benefit that comes from working in the ‘real world’ is the way in which your view of the world becomes distinctly colored by the type of work you have been doing. As a programmer, I became more and more interested in how things fit together and how they could be taken apart.
The “Canon Interview” is a clever, if bizarre little feature. Here again, it’s the editor’s humor and originality that make the whole endeavor worthwhile. “Your lives are very difficult, plumbing aside,” says (the imaginary) Jane Austen.