Interview With Pismire Magazine
Author: Ezekiel Black
The seeds of Pismire were planted several years ago when I was an undergraduate. In one of my Creative Writing workshops, we read Bin Ramke’s Matter, and the poem “Reading a Line by Leyb Goldin” contained a chemical formula: “C42H50N6O4S2×C4H4O4 / is the visible name of a drug.” Initially, the line was intriguing because I had never seen a chemical formula in a poem before, but afterward, I began to wonder how Ramke would read the line. Would he read the chemical symbols and their subscripts, or would he simply say the chemical name? It was such a simple question, but it stays with me even today. In fact, I heard Ramke read later that same semester, but because he didn’t read that particular poem, the question remains unanswered. On Pismire’s website, the manifesto specifically welcomes poems with chemical formulas. This is a vestige of my experience with “Reading a Line by Leyb Goldin.” To the second question, an audio journal is not unique nowadays, but Pismire attempts to answer that question I had about Ramke’s poem: how would he read that line? Basically, Pismire publishes poems whose recitations are not readily accessible to the reader. For example, Kelly Morse, in the Sixth Flight, sings her poem “Lullaby,” which is based on a wordless Vietnamese lullaby. Aside from including a musical score, assuming the ability to read music, how could the reader properly experience the poem without an audio file? This conundrum is what makes Pismire unique. One can listen to poetry at several online journals, but one visits Pismire to hear troublesome, pissant poems, hence the journal’s name.
How did you begin to gather materials for the first flight of Pismire Poetry? How did you go about the process of solicitation and advertising the journal?
In the beginning, Pismire was housed at blogspot.com and published poems on a rolling basis, so the First Flight is actually the first six blog posts, stitched together over four months. Actually, the first four flights were stitched together poem by poem—even after the launch of pismirepoetry.org. To solicit the initial poems, I asked friends from my MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After that, I relied on social media, especially facebook, and an email campaign, consisting of administrative assistants at MFA programs forwarding calls for submissions to students. Overall, I’ve been impressed with the response. Submissions range from the University of Montana and the University of Iowa to Singapore and Israel.
What reader do you hope will happen upon Pismire Poetry? What do you hope they’ll find there?
Because several audio journals and archives now exist, I imagine that a new reader is beginning to emerge, a reader who specifically seeks multimedia poetry. Like any journal, especially ones that specialize in a certain form or subject matter, Pismire hopes to attract an audience that appreciates its mission—the new reader described above. Another potential reader of Pismire is the teacher. In my classroom, I’ve used From the Fishhouse and PennSound to introduce contemporary poetry to composition students, and perhaps other teachers could employ Pismire similarly; indeed, the manifesto begins with a quotation from The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Eighth Edition, which says, “the poem cannot be read aloud,” referring to E.E. Cummings’ poem “l(a.” That, in and of itself, could be the foundation of a lesson. Once the new reader and the teacher visit Pismire, they’ll find a collection of audio poetry that reaches its telos when read aloud, poetry that demands to be read aloud.
What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing?
While I accept a wide variety of poems, I tend to bill Pismire as “an audio journal for experimental poetry.” That said, poems that surprise me often earn a seat in a flight. For example, “Shameful Worship” by Lonnie Monka and “Magician” by Ryan Stetchler are divided into a left and right hemistich with a swath of white space between the two, a common technique in Old English poetry; however, instead of reading the poems left to right, top to bottom, Monka and Stechler read each line of the left hemistich, then each line of the right hemistich, and then read across the entire line, like one reads Beowulf. Needless to say, this surprised me, and I wanted to share it with Pismire listeners. For each poem that I accept, there is a similar moment: some poems delight with novel experimentation, while others instruct the listener how to read the poem. Overall, any poem that attempts to maximize the multimedia aspect of Pismire garners my attention.
What is the next exciting thing happening at Pismire Poetry?
At this point, Pismire is still in its infancy, I think. Although I’m accepting poems for the Seventh Flight, I would like to reach a larger audience, but most journals have the same desire. Once Pismire does have more exposure, I would like to coordinate a reading series, which seems like a natural extension of an audio journal. Also, after several more flights, I would like to create a Pismire retrospective, perhaps a CD anthology. To answer the question, though, a reading series is around the corner.