Friday, October 9, 2015

Quote-card: Postman on typography

A quote from Neil Postman, pertinent to DIY, POD, and other species of publication (and relating generally to the topic of how changes in media technology lead to social change), from the essay "Media as Epistemology"in Amusing Ourselves to Death:

"Typography fostered the modern idea of individuality . . . but it destroyed the medieval sense of community and integration."

On Pinterest and Instagram as Pen & Anvil Quote-Card #47.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

PotD: Passages from The City Builder

The prose George-Konrád's The City Builder is piled heavily upon itself, less like rows of bricks than like the buildings of new Troy built upon the layered ruins of earlier Troys.

The narrator, a city planner in an unnamed European town, has lived through both World War II and the communist takeover. His musings and observations are at times journalistic, and other times dream-like. The book compares favorable to noticing attitudes of Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project and to the associative imagination of Finnegans Wake.

The following selection is characteristic, and appears on pages 22-24 of the Dalkey Archive edition, published in 2007, translated by Ivan Sanders:
For me, this city is a challenge, a parable, an interrogation frozen in space, the messages of my fellow citizens dead and alive, a system of disappearing and regenerating worlds to come, the horizontal delineation of societies replacing one another by sperm, gunfire, senility; a fossilized tug of war, an Eastern European showcase of devastation and reconstruction . . . Because by virtue of my practiced clichés I have become one of its shareholders; though beyond the tenuous links of my existence and surroundings, beyond my father's overdecorated gravestone and the haunting shadow of a cremated woman, beyond my hardened and irremediable blueprints, my myopic utopias, and the procession of figures out of an ever-darkening past, I could well ask: what have I to do with this East-Central European city whose every shame I know so well. A city situated between the middle and the end of most scales, its reality far too realthe victim of partitionings, bankruptcies, punitive campaigns, extortions, bombings, burnings; a buffer city, a shelter-belt city, a protective-zone city. It can welcome the enemy with salt and bread, and, having taken crash courses in the art of survival, it can change its greeting signs, statues, scapegoatsits history. 
A tent city on the ruins of a Roman circus; ancient cats, crows, lizards scurry over the cracked skulls of legionnaires killed in rear-guard actions. For centuries a sun-faced god on a winged horse led his arrow-shooting nomads and their half-tamed studs from barren plains to vast forests, in search of grass and water, and at last reached this dead city of abandoned Roman watchtowers and water mains, where in the felt tents of their winter quarters they bowed their long, brown heads before the Prince Jesus and built a cathedral for Him from the stones of the old circus. In the undamaged crypts embalmed kings smile with curled-up gums; before their metal caskets tourist-wives stand in awe as flash guns pop and the guide tells them the sad tale of the Tartar invasion. They came from all directions with their battering rams and catapults, their poisoned spears, long, bone-tipped arrows, goatskin tubes, and scaling ladders; their root-eating horses, their cattle trained to screech, their straw dummies strapped to riderless horses and prisoners pulled on chains. They came on windswept, fear-soaked roads aswarm with terrible news. Pouring across the wooden barricades, they slashed the throats of kneeling supplicants. Smoke from scorched villages, burning churches, and the smell of dead bodies floating in the water and blooming in the rye fields trailed intheir wake. Up ahead a wall of arrow-absorbing prisoners subsist on sheep guts. A castellan is stretched out between two planks, and on the planks horses pass. Town elders are roasted alive like pigs; citizens are impaled or tied to the wheel, or become lamenting targets in the entryways of their houses. The cathedral, packed with preachers and feuding worshipers, is going up in flames; a rainstorm and human fat put out the glowing embers. But the hordes are already on their war, tracking down the survivors in tree hollows, empty riverbeds, swamps. The murderer cannot rest; whomever he spares will kill him. The city disappears under a sea of weeds, though a few starvelings are already searching under the blackened stones for buried meats and gold coins.
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cover letter #1: "I am a bowl of fruit."

We get a few dozen submissions a day across the various Pen & Anvil in-house publications: Clarion, Pusteblume, Decameron, and so on. Over the years, that means our staff members have read tens of thousands of cover letters. And given our house policy of responding individually to each and any submission, we actually pay attention to those letters. Though it’s an ungodly expense of time, doing so means we’re able to make connections with a vastly greater number of writers, readers, and lovers of literature than we might if we only skimmed subs and dispatched them with standard boilerplate notes of rejection or acceptance.

Some cover letters stand out, by virtue of audacity, originality, sheer force of self-celebration, or, in some unfortunate cases, their contempt for editors. (We’ll post some of these in the last category in coming blog updates, not to embarrass their authors—alright, not just to embarrass their authors—but by way of opening the shop doors to let folks see how murky it can get in the back of the house.)

Some cover letters simply charm. The example below certainly did. It came to us through our online submission portal from a guy named Joe Nicholas: “an experimenter, experiencer, and editor of The Screaming Sheep.” He writes:
Imagine for a moment that you are a bowl of fruit. All you want to do is share your fruit with everyone, but you can’t. You are only a bowl of fruit. You do not have the technology for such a feat. So instead you write poems about your fruit, hoping that someone will be stirred to crave the real thing. Now imagine I am a bowl of fruit. I am a bowl of fruit. 
I hope you enjoy. 
Joe Nicholas
See? Charming! If only they were all so...

Setting aside the pleasant manner of his cover letter in favor of principled iron-bound editorial objectivity, we reviewed Joe’s attached submissions, and accepted two of his excellent pieces. You can find “Kid Icarus” and “A Love Poem” in the current Spring/Summer issue of Clarion.

Other examples of Joe’s work can be found or is forthcoming in BOAAT, Chiron Review, Found Poetry Review, Fruita Pulp, Weave, and other magazines. His online roost is

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hanson on Vendler

From a most excellent review essay concerning Helen Vendler, appearing in Open Letters Monthly and authored by our Issue 18 contributor Jack Hanson:
Against such emotional, psychological, and spiritual power, what worth have the various over-politicized theories of literature? Many have come and gone in Vendler’s time, and were from time to time the source of insults against her and other “formalist” critics. But she herself never internalized such distinctions, and, apart from her continued engagement in what might be called post-modern literature, she even recalls auditing Paul de Man’s courses at Cornell and gaining immensely from them.
Find Jack on Twitter (not to mention Clarion! and OLM!) or click here to see a listing of his other pieces for Open Letters Monthly. His poems "Maternal" and "To the Daughters..." can be found on the issue page for Clarion 18.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clive James on books in overabundance

On both sides of the Atlantic, and in Australia, the creative writing schools churned forth slim volumes by the thousand, all of them supposedly full of poetry but few of them with even a single real poem in them.
-- Clive James, from his book of essays Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, as quoted in a review of the book by Jason Guriel.

* * *

In the same review, Guriel characterizes James' "true objection of devotion" -- what the authors calls "the choppily well-separated thing" -- in a manner we thought worth quoting:
He means a poem with internal integrity, its every word pertinent and poised—a product that has come to be a curio in our age of overproduction.
Hear, hear! We find this trio very agreeable: poise, pertinence, and production in proportion to need. Ah, but saying so, we are mindful of the need also for waste, slackness, confusion, and indecorum, the mineral nutrients that nourish art-making. Whether one inclines toward order or chaos, work or play, poetry may come out of it; one just has to be wary of celebrating one's preferred methods to the point of denigrating the methods others work with. Which isn't to say self-celebration isn't allowed! Just that it is best expressed alongside equanimity and openness, lest preferences evolve into prejudices. (A principle especially applicable to the work of appreciation and celebration that is the stock-in-trade of the editor, the critic, and the reviewer.)

* * *

Jason Guriel is the author of The Pigheaded Soul: Essays and Reviews on Poetry and Culture (2013).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PotD: Passages from Balthazar

Adapted from WP: "Balthazar, published in 1958, is the second volume in The Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell. Set in Alexandria, Egypt around WWII, the four novels tell essentially the same story from different points of view." The excerpt we've chosen to share with you comes from the opening of Chapter 12, the beginning of Part Four:
Despite the season the seafront of the city was gay with light - the long sloping lines of the Grande Corniche curving away to a low horizon; a thousand lighted panels of glass in which, like glorious tropical fish, the inhabitants of the European city sat at glittering tables stocked with glasses of mastic, aniseed or brandy. Watching them (I had eaten little lunch) my hunger overcame me, and as there was some time in hand before my meeting with Justine, I turned into the glittering doors of the Diamond Sutra and ordered a ham sandwich and a glass of whisky. Once again, as always when the drama of external events altered the emotional pattern of things, I began to see the city through new eyes - to examine the shapes and contours made by human beings with the detachment of an entomologist studying a hitherto unknown species of insect. Here it was, the race, each member of it absorbed in the solution of individual preoccupations, loves, hates and fears. A woman counting money on to a glass table, an old man feeding a dog, an Arab in a red flowerpot drawing a curtain. 
Aromatic smoke poured from the small sailor taverns along the seafront where the iron spits loaded with a freight of entrails and spices turned monotonously back and forth, or bellied from under the lids of shining copper cauldrons, giving off hot gusts of squid, cuttlefish and pigeon. Here one drank from the blue cans and ate with one's fingers as they do in the Cyclades even today. 
I picked up a decrepit horse-cab and jogged along by die sighing sea towards the Aurore, drinking in the lighted darkness with regrets and fears so fugitive as to be beyond analysis; but underneath (like a toad under a cool stone, the surface airs of night) I still felt the stirrings of horror at the thought that Justine herself might be endangered by the love which ‘we bore one another'. I turned the thought this way and that in my mind, like a prisoner pressing with all his weight upon doors which denied him an exit from an intolerable bondage, trying to devise an issue from a situation which, it seemed, might as well end in her death as in mine. 
The great car was waiting, drawn up off the road in the darkness under the pepper-trees. She opened the door for me silently and I got in, spellbound by my fears.
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to

Monday, March 2, 2015

PotD: "The Colonel"

In the audio recording of "The Colonel" on the Poetry Foundation website, Carolyn Forché identifies her piece as a"documentary poem"; we think it is just as accurate to refer to it as a piece of documentary fiction, or a prose poem of discomforting truth. From The Country Between Us, published in 1981:
WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
                                                                                     May 1978
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tearing it up

Pictured: Proof pages of a forthcoming poetry collection proof,
torn in half this morning when we finished working with them.

One of the ways we avoid drowning in a sea of hard-copy mss and tss in our editorial operations is making sure to discard what we don't need. When we've marked up a proof, we scan the pages to PDF (for the benefit of future bibliographers) and then do what we need to with the paper. In the case of the pages pictured, we needed to transfer corrections from hard copy to the electronic file. When all of the instructions on any single sheet of paper have been followed, we rip the page in half. That way, there's no risk of coming across the paper again in some other context and finding ourselves uncertain whether we need to do something with it, or if its ready to be tossed.

When you measure the magnitude of your week's work obligations in terms of the height of the stacks of paper piled around your work desk, as editors do, there are few things more satisfying that being able to tear a sheet in half and know that you have banished its demands forever. [P&A]

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Extracts from our author correspondence

Over the course of our working with an author to bring a text to a publishable state of completion, it is par for the course to see many dozens of emails and letters exchanged. It seems a shame at times that the attention, appreciation and rapport on display in this correspondence can't also be shared in the book, alongside and around the text which was its cause for being. There is much in this halo of text-around-the-text that would charm or illuminate the reader. By way of example:

One of our Press authors (an actor, professionally) not long ago wrote to us regarding her novel in progress. Her reflection on novel-writing is a valuable insight into her self-knowledge as a writer:
I find I cannot write but inch-by-inch, word-by-word, like a poet does. Somehow I cannot make the large picture into a motor. The intricate specificity of a chain of moments: this is the province of an actor. I am not a terrible director, but my chief talent is for another type of thought; but I hope maybe someday to come up with not-a-terrible novel. 
And now for a bit of charm. In this excerpt from our correspondence with the same author, she responds to our editor's suggestions for the revision of a line of text. Of the two alternatives proposed, she writes:
The first is clearly lovelier, though you know I liked the image of being on "stilts in a sea of jelly." I'm such a sucker for an unusual metaphor and a clear image. . . I have never cared for poems that play hard to get. I have no time for it in personal relationships, either. A smiler, not smirker. That's my goal. Some would argue this was to my detriment in both cases.
(Emphasis added). The phrase "stilts on a sea of jelly" just begs for focused attention on its playful image, doesn't it? Well: we keep scrupulous records here in the office, so perhaps there will be a time when we produce a 'social text' edition of one of our books. It's a project we shall have to see done someday...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why Clarion loves interviews

Here at the Clarion desk in the the Pen & Anvil offices (overlooking Boston's beautiful Central Park...), we take special pleasure in interviews with authors and other literary workers: translators, editors, publishers. We love the text, of course, but love as well the way a good interview pulls the curtain back, permitting a peek at the thrill and throng behind the proscenium.

We're especially mindful this week of interviews, as the Clarion staff are working diligently to put Number 18, to bed -- the pair of interviews, with crime writers Eamon Loingsigh and James A. Ring, conducted by editor Jon Maniscalco.

While we look forward to the appearance of those new pieces on the webpage, here are a few other interviews, recommended by the editors, to satisfy your appetite for conversations with creators.

  1. Musician Jack White interviewed by Conan O'Brien (Serious Jibber-Jabber, 2013)
  2. Author R.A. Salvatore interviewed by Sto Austin (15)
  3. Writer E. B. White interviewed by George Plimpton & Frank H. Crowther (The Paris Review, 1969)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

PotD: "A making day? A mending day?"

From The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, published in 2014:
Laying in the dark, she wondered what the day would bring. Some days were trumpet-proud. They heralded like thunder. Some were courteous, careful as a lettered card upon a silver plate.

But some days were shy. They did not name themselves. They waited for a careful girl to find them.

This was such a day. A day too shy to knock upon her door. Was it a calling day? A sending day? A making day? A mending day?

She could not tell. 
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On slow submissions

This stock rejection form from the Essanay Film Management Company of Chicago back in the day has been making the rounds in the literary blogosphere for a few years, popping up on blogs like Literary Rejections on Display. We laughed out loud when we first saw it; it's a gas! Then we 'shopped it up nice and sharp and framed it for our press office wall.

Authors have a lot of time on their hands around the holidays, when the business of their workaday jobs slows down, and many shops turn out their employees for seasonal time off. This means that the pace of correspondence in a literary press picks up, since authors have the time to follow-up on submissions, and check in on projects that have been hanging fire, and buzz the tower about forgotten commitments.

PotD: "He lurks by turns in the garret..."

From The Cares of a Family Man by Franz Kafka, written between 1914 and 1917, and appearing first in the collection A Country Doctor in 1919:
At first glance it looks like a flat star-shaped spool for thread, and indeed it does seem to have thread wound upon it; to be sure, they are only old, broken-off bits of thread, knotted and tangled together, of the most varied sorts and colors. But it is not only a spool, for a small wooden crossbar sticks out of the middle of the star, and another small rod is joined to that at a right angle. By means of this latter rod on one side and one of the points of the star on the other, the whole thing can stand upright as if on two legs. 
One is tempted to believe that the creature once had some sort of intelligible shape and is now only a broken-down remnant. Yet this does not seem to be the case; at least there is no sign of it; nowhere is there an unfinished or unbroken surface to suggest anything of the kind; the whole thing looks senseless enough, but in its own way perfectly finished. In any case, closer scrutiny is impossible, since Odradek is extraordinary nimble and can never be laid hold of. 
He lurks by turns in the garret, the stairway, the lobbies, the entrance hall. Often for months on end he is not to be seen; then he has presumably moved into other houses; but he always comes faithfully back to our house again. Many a time when you go out of the door and he happens just to be leaning directly beneath you against the banisters you feel inclines to speak to him. Of course, you put no difficult questions to him, you treat him--he is so diminutive that you cannot help it--rather like a child. "well, what's your name?" you ask him. "Odradek," he says. "And where do you live?" "No fixed abode," he says and laughs; but it is only the kind of laughter that has no lungs behind it. It sounds rather like the rustling of fallen leaves. And that is usually the end of the conversation. Even these answers are not always forthcoming; often he stays mute for a long time, as wooden as his appearance. 
I ask myself, to no purpose, what is likely to happen to him? Can he possibly die? Anything that dies has had some kind of aim in life, some kind of activity, which has worn out; but that does not apply to Odradek. Am I to suppose, then, that he will always be rolling down the stairs, with ends of thread trailing after him, right before the feet of my children, and my children's children? He does no harm to anyone that one can see; but the idea that he is likely to survive me I find almost painful.
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to

More recommendations for quite short fiction

Following-up on our previous post listing magazines and sites devoted to publishing flash-, micro-, or quite-short-fiction, here is another batch of outlets you might want to check out:
From our own side of things, we're glad to report that the long-awaited first edition of Decameron is with our printer. We'll be mailing copies to contributors, reviewers, and that very special group of people, our subscribers, this month! An excellent way to kick off the new year.