Thursday, July 07, 2005

A few folks have written to let me know that they were “disappointed” or “hurt” that their ezines were not mentioned as the obvious answer to the comment I made last June 22nd, when I asked “why is it, nearly eight years after John Tranter first introduced Jacket, no other HTML journal does it half so well?” It makes sense, I think, to spell out why I think that Jacket does such a superb job. And to note two important qualifications:

·        Just because Jacket does a great job does not necessarily mean that all other e-journals do poor jobs.

·        One ezine, in fact, does very nearly just as good a job as does Jacket. That publication is How2.

Comparisons of the two journals are, in fact, instructive with regards to what makes not just a great e-zine, but a great journal altogether. Both publications, for example, publish both poetry & critical writing – an absolute necessity to my way of thinking – and both do so from points of view that are partisan, articulate & far-reaching. John Tranter’s vision, as viewed through Jacket, might be said to be the following:

The New American Poetry (NAP) of the 1950s & ‘60s was a phenomenon that touched all avant movements of poetry in the English speaking world. As such, one can use it as a focal point from which to investigate the poetries of the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand & the British Isles, not only going forward from the 1950s to the present, but also in reconstructing their modernist heritages. As such, Jacket is not only interested in the NAP, but it is almost always the point that will enable you to get from poet A in this country to poet B in that one.

How2’s editorial vision is broader & more diverse, a reflection of an evolving and collective / collaborative approach to editing. The journal’s website pegs its role as

Extending HOW(ever)’s original spirit of inquiry into modernist and contemporary writing practices by women.

For good reasons¹, neither HOW(ever) nor How2 have ever focused in the same way on the NAP as does Jacket, but it is worth noting how complementary the two journal’s missions are, otherwise. Each takes on a range of writing that gives them over a century of material on which to focus, a substantial amount of which may be “news” in the most literal sense to readers outside of its original closely held context. Thus an American, turning to Jacket 25 out of an interest in the poetry of Barbara Guest or Kathleen Fraser, or interested perhaps in the memorials to the recently deceased Donald Allen & Carl Rakosi, can find out also about the Bolivian Jaime Saenz, the Brit Peter Robinson or the New Zealand modernist (pre-modernist?) Robin Hyde. Something akin to this process is possible with every single issue of Jacket & How2. They are educations in themselves.

A second feature that both publications share is an understanding of the importance of archives. This is another absolute requirement in my mind for any journal that seeks to be taken seriously. Both are meticulous in presenting everything they have published – Jacket, in addition, has a search capacity and an index that is essentially the table of contents over every issue published on a single page of HTML. Indeed, it is this ability to find material that is the primary advantage Jacket has over How2.

One might argue that neither publication focuses primarily upon the publication of new poetry – but, in fact, both publish large amounts of it, almost always with some sort of context. Indeed, it is precisely that giving context that unites both journals’ vision of the editorial function to the body of work they publish. Contrast this with journals that never publish any critical writing, or do so only in the framework of reviews, or with critical journals – such as Chain – that print some extraordinary work, but which actively resist any editorial perspective beyond the broad topic assignments given to an issue.

So, yes, I will stand behind my original comment with regards to Jacket, even if I will modify it a little to make room for How2. And I note, for what it’s worth, that at the moment both are being edited by Australians – this may be the first moment in history when that continent can claim to be the center of the English-language literary universe, at least in this one regard.

I also note, of course, what seems to me the obvious next step, the journal that so clearly needs to exist that it will feel “inevitable” once it arrives, and that is the one that steps forward to focus in similar manner, but from a contemporary perspective, on the literary scene. The NAP, after all, is a phenomenon of a half century ago & modernism, How2’s unifying framework, is older than that. Where is the journal that steps up to looking at the world with such rigor, but from the framework of poets age 35 & under?


¹ Having to do with the sexism that was rampant & often explicit in the NAP.