The Indie Press Encountered Tom Hartman Zine-O-Rama

import_contacts The Indie Press Encountered

reviewed by Tom Hartman

Published in Issue No. 49 ~ June, 2001

For the 2001 edition of its annual conference, held April 19-21st in Palm Springs, The Associated Writing Programs (the organization of US Creative Writing departments) unveiled its first annual “Web Fair,” a conference-within-a-conference sponsored by Webdelsol highlighting online lit mags. While the majority of participating zines were drawn from the considerable Web Del Solar-system (most notable among non-WDS zines was Doug Lawson’s The Blue Moon Review), the Web Fair’s significance shouldn’t be discounted: the very fact of its existence suggests that the academic literary establishment is finally ready to give much-deserved props to publications that are delivered in bytes rather than on paper. In addition to “click-through” demonstrations of their zines by various editors, the Web Fair featured panel discussions on topics like “The Logistics of Running an Online Magazine” and “The New Model,” which described the efforts of established print mags to leverage the Web to harvest new readers.

A second conference held over the same weekend, E-POETRY, 2001, sponsored by The Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo, focused on theoretical and technological issues surrounding poetics in the Digital Age. From April 18th – 21st, an international cast of poets and theoreticians, that included Charles Bernstein, Jennifer Ley, and Philippe Castellin, gathered at the Buffalo-Niagra Marriot to read poems and deliver papers on topics like “”Words in Three Dimensions – New Literary Devices” and “SCRIPT LANGUAGE=’POETRY’: the Poetic Potential of JavaScript and DHTML.”

Ethan Paquin’s Slope has always been one of the sleekest zine’s on the Web, but with issue no. 9, Steve Palmer (of Ottawa-based 76 Design) truly raised the bar. You’ll need a Flash plug-in to enjoy Palmer’s insistently sunny landscape of verdant hills, newly-sprung flowers and perpetually blue skies, but it’s worth the download hassle. The Flash wizardry accompanies some noteworthy poetry, too, including new translations of Mallarme, Verlain and Yves Bonnefoy, and new poems by Louis Armand, Sean Singer and Forrest Gander, among others. Slope 10, which highlights a number of excellent Croation poets and introduces Peter Johnson of The Prose Poem as Slope‘s new contributing editor, just debuted, so look for no. 9 in Slope‘s “Past Issues” section.

The current issue of Jack Kimball’s East Village Poetry Web is a special edition titled “Funny Business.” There’s indeed some funny stuff here, like Kristen Prevallet’s prose poem, a thank-you note of sorts to, among others, Hurricane Floyd (“Thanks for cleaning the windows.”), Uncle Bud (“Thanks for socking me in the arm, and for mispronouncing Chablis”) and Andre Breton (“thanks for the dream imagery … When I dream I see surrealism”). See also Kent Johnson’s “Letter from Jack Spicer,” in which the resolutely eccentric poet, writing from beyond the grave (just as Lorca did in his “intro” to one of Spicer’s books), suggests that “All fucking by Poets takes place in Hell” and that “The whole problem began, in a sense, with The Beatles.”

Despite its “hey-ma-I-just-built-a-webpage!” look and feel, Narrativity, a new zine produced by folks at San Francisco State University, gives plenty of good read. Selections range from more traditional (if fragmented) narratives like Daniel Nester’s often hilarious “God Save My Queen,” a series of fragments in homage to Freddie Mercury and company, to more unapologetically theory-based pieces, like Lawrence Upton’s “Tran.” Issue 2 just landed on the cyber doorstoop.

Reading a design zine can feel something like crashing an ultra-hip party where no one speaks English. Design Is Kinky, however, the labor-of-love from Aussies Jade Palmer and Andrew Johnstone, is both a stunning site and an engrossing forum for web and graphic design-related issues. Even if you have only a passing interest in pixel-manipulation, you’ll enjoy much of the content here. Particularly worth noting is DIK’s regular “Theory” section, in which selected designers face off on web design-related issues, like “Is Usability Dead?” (The verdict? No. But striking graphic design and usability are not mutually exclusive. Read: usability guru Jakob Nielsen is a Nazi).

Never a publication to shy away from politically-charged content, the Evergreen Review, revived as a zine by longstanding editor Barney Rosset, devotes its latest issue to politics south of the border. ER is specifically interested in recent efforts by the Zapatistas, the spiritual/political heirs of General Emiliano Zapata, on behalf of Mexico’s indigenous people, who, while comprising a large percentage of the population remain woefully underepresented in recent Mexican governments. Titled (perhaps inevitably) “Viva Zapata,” ER 104 includes reportage of a recent Zapatista ride through Mexico City along with videos of several marches/rallies from 2000 and 2001. Provocative stuff, if not for the right-leaning.

Finally, put Taverner’s Koans on your radar. This “one-room schoolhouse of experimental poetics” is part zine, part workshop, and part anthology of “Underrated Poets”. Readers will find a wide variety of poems here – surrealist-influenced stuff, language-y experimentations – the bulk of which are worth seeking out, like “Tiny Little Shrimp” by Lisa Jarnot (whose work also appears in the current East Village Poetry Web):

Up out out of the despair of night
the blue shrimp swaying to the
sound of drums, the blue night
swaying to the shrimp light guns,
the gun shrimp hunting in the
village fens, the village fens of
floating shrimp, the foliage of
smoking tides, the shrimp boats
amber in the glow, the work boots
suited with the boats, the shrimp
boats hollow filled with fish,
elastic glowing in the mist and
dressed in bins of shrimp.

In the “Under-rated Poets” section (click “Poets” on the main page), readers will find poems accompanied by running commentary from editor Alan DeNiro, by John Clare, Stephen Crane, Tomasz Salamun and, most notably, perhaps, by Finland’s Paavo Haavikko and Russia’s Velimir Khlebnikov, two poets whose work has yet to reach a wide audience in America. Kudos to DeNiro for championing them here.

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Tom Hartman has been a regular contributor to Pif since 1999. He lives in Philadelphia.