Interview With Cant Journal

CANT Journal logo

Authors: Jonathan Barrett and Jason Bradford

How did you come up with the idea for the magazine? What makes cant journal a unique part of the publishing community?

The founding editor, Aaron McNally, who is no longer involved with cant journal, got the concept for cant back in 2002 when a professor at the University of Northern Iowa gave him a copy of Ballast Quarterly Review, which was 4 ¼ x 11. He loved the simple yet beautiful design. Around the same time, the Oxford English Dictionary revealed that one four-letter word could literally have hundreds of meanings. Thus, Aaron had the design and name for the journal. Cant journal issue #1 debuted in 2004, and then went on hiatus a for 7 years before being resurrected after a few beers with the assistance of myself, Jonathan Barrett, in 2010 with issue #2 appearing in 2011, and issue #3 in 2012. The forthcoming issue will be the first issue without Aaron McNally at the helm as editor, who stepped aside in November 2012, so issue #4 will be a cant journal re-launch of sorts with myself and Jason Bradford as the new editors.

There are three things that make cant journal unique, but by no means “new” or “original.” They are design, dialogue, and diversity. There are not a lot of lit journals with a 4 ¼ x 11 design. We’re switching to 5 x 11 starting with issue #4 but it’s still what we like to call a “tall and skinny” design. We also appreciate generating a healthy amount of dialogue with poets and about poetry, which is why we have two interview series—Five Questions and Through the Wall—which appear both in print and on our blog. In addition, we strive to represent a wide array of poets who are stylistically diverse, which I’ll touch on later.

How did you begin to gather materials for the first issue of cant journal? How did you go about the process of solicitation and advertising the journal?

Since our first issue was technically in 2004, and our forthcoming issue, for us, is considered a re-launch of sorts for cant journal, we really have two “gathering” stories, but I’ll focus on the 2004 issue. Our founding editor reviewed Noah Eli Gordon’s book, The Frequencies, back in 2004 for Cream City Review. He was a friend of Nick Moudry’s who was at University of Massachusettes-Amherst at the time. Aaron asked a bunch of Nick’s friends at Amherst, along with poets he knew in Milwaukee and Iowa to send work. The first issue included Eric Baus, Noah Eli Gordon, Nick Moudry, Lisa Samuels, Laura Solomon, and others. They launched the issue with a reading at the Sahifi gallery in Amherst.

What reader do you hope will happen upon cant journal? What do you hope they’ll find there?

We welcome any reader who wants to experience a wide-range of styles and voices. Thus, the reader we hope happens upon cant journal is one who is both a fan of poetry and who has a diverse appreciation of the contemporary poetic landscape, which is to say, they’re cool with reading poems influenced by a diverse range of movements and schools. We are really quite eclectic both in our personal reading habits and in what we want to see in cant journal as editors.

We also publish essays on poetry, interviews, and reviews of poetry books so readers can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the current world of poetry and as a means to promote poetry and the work of poets who have appeared in cant journal. We hope that readers will find poems that make them want to write, to submit, and participate in the poetry community.

What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing?

We don’t adhere to a specific aesthetic or label, established or emerging. We want to read work with strong voice(s), images, sounds, rhythms, language, and at times complexity and difficulty. The poem should assert itself as wanting to be read, which doesn’t always mean it’s going to be easy. We don’t necessarily ascribe to the idea that there’s anything “new” in poetry since all poets, in one way or another, are playing off of their predecessors, but we do want to read poetry that takes risks, is innovative and fresh, which can happen with formalism, lyric, narrative or experimental poetry.

It’s also important to note that we only publish one issue of cant per year, and we only have so much room in each issue. Great poems are going to be turned down. Not because we dislike the work, but because we don’t want to sit on a piece when it could be taken elsewhere.

That said, submit work to us that we cant pass up!

What is the next exciting thing happening at cant journal?

Issue #4 and reading for issue #5. Follow us at!

Cant is an annual journal that appears each April. The journal publishes excellent work poetry, short prose, book reviews, essays alongside exciting interviews. Check out their website to see all sorts of news about the poetry community. You can be sure to be impressed! – LitBridge