PIF: A Stay of Execution for an Online Literary Treasure Thomas E. Kennedy Essay

person_pin PIF: A Stay of Execution for an Online Literary Treasure

by Thomas E. Kennedy

Published in Issue No. 106 ~ March, 2006

What is a PIF?

A PIF is many things – inter alia, a French comic book hero, an
abbreviation for Process Interchange Format (which, we are told cryptically,
is critical in business process re-engineering or enterprise integration) as
well as for the Pacific Island Forum (representing, we are informed, heads
of government of all independent and self-governing Pacific
Island countries.) Piffing fine with us!

It is also a fragment of a Danish children’s nonsense rhyme that goes
like this (in

Ocker gocker

Gummy clocker

Earla pearla

Pif paf puf !

The Danes also use pif paf puf as their translation of “snap crackle
and pop” to advertise the sound that milk makes as it pours onto a certain
breakfast cereal. Thus, “pif,” in this context, stands for “snap.” And
snappy it is. As well as (s) piffy.

Richard Luck, the founder of PIF Magazine, defines the word by not
putting too fine a point on it: PIF means, he says, whatever you want it
to. An abbreviation of epiphany, a
foreign object that penetrates the brain, or masturbation in Czech (piffing
off perhaps – though certainly not “piffing” off).

Regardless of definition, well-informed citizens of the world will
know PIF as an online literary treasure founded in 1995 and, at this
writing, in its eleventh year – publishing fiction, poetry, art,
interviews, essays, reviews, strong material that might have been lost
without a PIF to house it – though that house has recently found itself on
a razor’s edge between existence and perdition.

Mr. Luck started the enterprise because he wearied of the fact that
what he perceived to be those weakest poems and stories were the ones being
accepted for publication in the mainstream periodicals, while his more
artfully raggedy work was being consistently rejected. He wanted to create
a place where work whose edges were perceived as
being too ragged or too rugged or too sharp for the smooth and purring
mainstream could be lodged and read.

And he did that. And, for reasons best known to Mr. Luck (one rumor
is that it was born of a typo that pleased his eye), he called it PIF.

In the years that followed, PIF has published outstanding work by and
interviews with a series of outstanding writers, many of whom need little or
no introduction: William H. Gass, Rick Moody, Bruce Jay Friedman, Dan
Wakefield, Rene Steinke, Clark Blaise, Thomas
Fleming, Steve Heller, Gordon Weaver, Naomi Shihab Nye. Denise Duhamel, and
most recently Duff Brenna and Gladys Swan.

The above names and half a hundred others are among those who have been
interviewed by one of PIF’s mainstays – a fellow named Derek Alger who
appeared in my life seemingly out of, well, the ether. One day I got an
email from Mr. Alger suggesting that he interview me for an on-line magazine
with the unlikely name PIF. Derek Alger. Immediately I liked that name.
It sounds like a writer’s name. He had been referred to me by a man I count
among my best friends and senior colleagues – Walter Cummins, who edited
The Literary Review for decades. I googled PIF and was impressed with what
I saw. We did the interview and my email association with Alger – now
Derek – continued and deepened. Since I live in Copenhagen we didn’t have
much occasion to meet, but next time I was in New York City, we did get
together for dinner – in fact it was on the eve
of the last great northeast coast blackout; I’m not suggesting that the
electricity of our brainstorming short-circuited the system, but it was a
productive meeting.

Derek had also, at my suggestion, interviewed Gordon Weaver, whose
many volumes of fiction I had just proposed as the subject of a panel
discussion for an Associated Writing Programs annual conference. Since
Derek had, in preparation for his interview, read virtually every word
Weaver had ever written, he seemed a more than qualified candidate for a
spot on the six-man Weaver panel. I invited him, he agreed, and our circle
of mutual literary connections continued to expand. I was in fact in the
process of gathering material for a book of criticism about Weaver’s fiction
– a book which, due to the press of other projects, I needed help with.
Derek was the man, is the man. The book, which I’d had to put aside, was
once again in progress.

Suddenly, Derek Alger and I had common interests, joint projects. An
email acquaintance had quite rapidly become a three-dimensional cooperation
and the single point joining all of these occurrences and connections, was,
to get back to the point, Richard Luck’s outstanding online journal PIF.

Thus it was with alarm and sadness that I learned recently that PIF
was on the threshold of pulling up the virtual stakes of its electronic
foundation and becoming history. And it was with relief and joy that I
learned the very next day that Derek Alger, with Richard Luck’s blessing,
would save the venture from execution, would continue its continuing.

Thus, when an invitation came for me to write a brief introduction to
the new inaugural edition of the newly-saved, re-imagined, re-invented,
re-inaugerated PIF, I accepted the honor with joy and with pleasure.

Which is why I am here: To pay tribute to those who have kept PIF
alive over its first incarnation, and to express thanks to Richard Luck and
Rachel Sage, and, not least, Derek Alger for their selfless efforts to see
to it that PIF did not die, that this first edition of the new PIF is here
for the delectation of the thousands upon thousands of readers and lovers of
literature who have only to key in three small letters on their server: PIF.

And puff! You’re reading great stuff.

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Thomas E. Kennedy is the author of many books, including Realism & Other Illusions: Essays on the Craft of Fiction, The Literary Traveler with Walter Cummins, and the recent COPENHAGEN QUARTET, a quartet of novels written in four different styles about the four seasons of the Danish capital, all published by Wynkin de Worde.