April 8, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Guerilla Publishing

Late last Saturday night I get this email:

Dear Poets & Friends,

It is 10:15 pm in Rock Creek, Montana.

Three Montana-based poets are putting together an online journal of contemporary poetry to be published in the next four hours. By sun-up, on Sunday morning, April 6th, a new, one-off, journal will be born: LEFT FACING BIRD.

We are appealing to all of you to send poems (and/or fragments, sketches, short-shorts, prose poems, notes, etc.) as soon as you are able, in order to satisfy the dawn deadline.

If you are interested, please send poems (any number, any length). If your poem is published, we will send you a link to the finished product.

We greatly appreciate anything that you might send — and look forward to it all.

Thank you very much, and goodnight,


Lucas Farrell
Greg Hill Jr.
Brandon Shimoda

A couple of things strike me: first, it must have been a boring night in Rock Creek, Montana. Secondly, this is a really good idea. To me it felt like the closest I had come to being part of a “happening” in poetry, which were so prevalent in the 1960s and 70s in the Lower East Side. Over one hundred poets submitted work over the course of six hours. The website went up 24 hours later. The end result is here.

Publishing is a notoriously slow process. At least for me, by the time a poem of mine appears in a journal, whether it’s online or in print, the exhilaration of getting something accepted is long gone. Seeing it out in the world is almost an afterthought. I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way. (I’m not accusing anyone of dragging their feet intentionally: publishing any magazine, for many reasons, simply takes a long time. What would the Kenyon Review look like if it was put together overnight? Maybe they could pull it off, but I’d hate to see the wreckage that would be Managing Editor Tyler Meier the next day“) The delay not only takes a bit of the shine off of the thrill of victory, but it also makes it so that every poem or story you see (in a print journal anyway) is at least six months old, and is probably much older than that. With this spontaneous style of publication, you actually get to peak at what poems are on these poets’ minds right now, as these poems have pretty much moved directly from the poet’s hard drives to the internet.

It also gives the poets an opportunity to publish something that they might hold back from sending to a more conventional venue. Those quirky, one-off poems that we usually don’t get to lay eyes on unless the poet is very famous and their editors include them in the back of their collected poems are the perfect for a journal like this. I’m only guessing, but I think Noah Eli Gordon’s “Gwawdodyn Hi,” Paul Hoover’s “Derrida: The Movie” and Richard Greenfield’s “Notes from a Dock [“]” could fall into this category.

I don’t know if there have been similarly impromptu publication projects in the recent past (anyone know of any?), but I think there should be more, not only for the reasons I’ve already talked about, but also because of this: it puts some fun back into publishing. The fetishization of publishing that we writers frequently fall into, combined with the astronomically small odds of getting one’s work accepted, can make sending work out tedious and dreary. As a reader, Left-Facing Bird excites me as well, not just because there are many poets whose work I like in the journal, but because of the image of one hundred poets all clicking the Send button at approximately the same time. I don’t know if this journal is more representative of this poetic moment than others simply because the poems were sent in the same night, but it does show what poems sprang into the minds of one hundred poets on one night in early April 2008, which in the future might be revelatory in some way. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, it is a great read. So kudos to the Left-Facing Bird boys and let’s see some more guerilla publishing.