Making An Impression
Thoughts from KR Editor, David Lynn
Over the past few years I’ve spent a fair bit of time musing about the direction and future of literary printing. Even the word itself as a verb suggests the quandary. To print, to stamp, to transfer ink, to leave an impression. What kind of trace remains when the printing is virtual (another word, a notion, that leaves me queasy), a matter of 1’s and 0’s and pixels on a screen, electronic pulses that may come to be stored in, well, a cloud.
But of course, queasy or not, this is exactly the trajectory we are riding. And as I’ve argued there’s very much good to come from electronic dissemination. Instant and international reach. Lower costs. All but infinite capacity. And so on.
As part of a significant internal review led by our trustees some years ago, The Kenyon Review chose to recast its mission and, among other challenges, stake a place at the forefront of electronic innovation—asking tough questions, suggesting some possible answers. KROnline has been a hit, of course, as a complement to The Kenyon Review in print. So has our daily blog, our online book discussions, our complete electronic archive in collaboration with JSTOR, and plenty of other projects still being developed.
It surely would have been easier simply to continue printing the journal four times a year and leave it at that. But I’m convinced that sooner or later such isolated publications will come to seem anachronisms, curiosities, not vibrant players in the literary community, if they survive at all. Just recently, distinguished magazines such as Triquarterly and Shenandoah have announced that they are abandoning print for electronic publishing entirely.
And yet, whatever praises are to be sung about the Internet, there’s something inescapably marvelous about the thinginess of the printed text, isn’t there? As magical in its way as any image a computer can conjur.
But it’s a magic that most of us take for granted. One needs a little imagination, a little stepping back to glimpse the wonder.
Most students still lug about textbooks, even as they read more and more on a computer screen. They’re used to print on paper. They just don’t think about it very much. When an essay is due, they type it and watch as the strokes are translated into characters appearing on a screen (as I’m doing this very moment), and punch a key to print it out. They don’t have to wrestle with tangled typebars or white-out or, lord help us, carbon copies.
Just as alien to most students is the mechanism of a letterpress, the instrument that brought printed texts to most of humanity since Guttenberg. Presses came (and still come) in many sizes, and developed many layers of their own technological developments. But they all involve that transfer of ink, that striking of the paper to leave an impression. That’s also what I’m always trying to do as a teacher: leave an impression, a mark.
It’s with that in mind, as well as a sense of our own historical traditions, that this spring The Kenyon Review has set up a small letterpress in the basement of Finn House, our new home. With the guidance and expertise of a number of collaborators, we’ve begun a new program to instruct our own Associates and Interns in the art and skills of printing.
Even as we develop literary media for the future, I believe it’s our responsibility to keep a link to the old technologies, teaching our associates where all the current publishing structures originated. Letting them get their hands dirty. Not all of them will be interested, of course, and it won’t be required. After all, printing requires a lot of patience, tremendous attention to detail. Just setting type letter by letter can take forever. Not to mention getting the ink on the rollers just right. It’s not to everyone’s taste. But I’m willing to bet a pretty fair share of these students will be excited.
In April, we’ll be passing out limited edition miniside give-aways hand-printed on our new letterpress from the KR table at Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. We also plan to introduce some letterpress printing opportunities into our summer programs. Over time—there’s no hurry, no rush—the program will surely grow to include other Kenyon students. Eventually there may be classes. We expect that KR will start producing some small-volume broadsheets and even chapbooks, just for the fun of it.
I love the fun of it, to be rediscovering and imparting the basic mechanisms of print for our students just as these mechanisms are disappearing elsewhere. Just as KR is also steadily reaching out across the Internet as well. It’s a lovely balance.
The moon is half: an emergency
I am: the madeleine in shadow
invoked but not enveloped: born
with blue eyes my color
redoubled: a guessed-at form with
an opal in her throat. I was
told the scratch would close but
on the cliff of this tongue
opening on knowing: scores rise
to one corona. But were
mountain flowers still inside me
spitting filigree: were these
holes fact and not space between:
a chain of annotations for
spark and finish: the line of salt
a diary: I need no pale word
KROnline is the online complement of The Kenyon Review. New fiction, essays, poetry, and reviews are published on a biweekly basis. Check back often to read some of the most cutting edge material you’ll find anywhere on the web. Click here to see our latest offering.
Nancy Zafris, the longtime fiction editor of The Kenyon Review, joins us every summer to teach a fiction workshop at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. This piece first appeared in KR Spring 1999, Vol. XXI, No. 2.
Stealing the Llama Farm
There came a day when I stole the llama farm from Amy Boyd. I was in love with Amy Boyd and once long ago I had saved her father’s life and felt the sun charge through my body. I think almost everyone would say I was not the kind of person who would steal someone’s llama farm right out from under them, but whatever made me do it must have been waiting there inside me.
Amy Boyd was the first smart woman I’d ever met, at least to my knowledge, which didn’t kick in until twenty years had passed. When it finally did it was like all the desire from the lower half of my body moved upwards to my head. I wanted to express to her what this felt like but the words could not be found in the tangle of my brain, the jungle in there having been tended all these years by the many dumb women, starting with my mother, who had set about watering it. Not that I lay my troubles on these women, but they didn’t help.
Besides running the llama farm Amy Boyd wrote stories, and all her stories had llamas in them: llamas giving birth to other llamas, llamas passing on the wisdom of llamas, llamas wondering what to do with themselves, biorhythmic llamas, llamas practicing euthanasia on other llamas. I said “Amy, put some people in these stories” and Amy Boyd didn’t like hearing that. But, for example, you don’t see movies with venetian blinds as the main characters, two venetian blinds trying to adopt a tiny solid-white blind for their little baby window in the bathroom. You don’t see that in the movies — maybe there’s a reason.
The Kenyon Review @ AWP
Visit us April 7th–10th at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Denver, Colorado. On Saturday, April 10th, the bookfair, with over 500 tables, will be open to the public. KR will be in Exhibit Hall A, Table C23.
We’ll have an outrageous subscription discount offer, copies of the Winter 2010 special issue guest-edited by Simon Ortiz and featuring a host of indigenous writers, and limited edition miniside give-aways handmade on the brand new KR letterpress. Come see us!
We’ll also feature author signings at the KR table:
- Friday April 9th, 10am-noon: Holly Goddard Jones will be signing copies of her new book, Girl Trouble. Holly will be giving away 40 free copies of Girl Trouble, one with each discount KR subscription purchased, while supplies last. Don’t miss it!
- Friday, April 9th, 1-3pm: G.C. Waldrep will be signing copies of Archicembalo, Disclamor, and Goldbeater’s Skin. Bring your copies!
- Saturday, April 10th, 10am-noon: KR poetry editor David Baker will be signing copies of Never-Ending Birds, his latest collection of poems. Purchase a copy and bring it along.
An Amazing Subscription Offer!
Get past the winter funk by taking us up on our Spring Subscription Offer discount! Subscribe online today and take advantage of the limited time offer of four issues for $20—that’s 30% off the cover price! Good weather + good reading = a great spring. Our non-scientific studies have proven that KR Subscribers statistically experience more cardinals, life-altering sunsets, wood thrushes, fireflies, picturesque rivers, moments of unadulterated joy, profound conversations, and peonies. Especially peonies. Subscribe today!
Apply Now for the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop!
There are a few spaces still left in The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, an intensely creative week-long series of writing workshops held June 19-26, 2010 on the campus of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop focuses on the generation and revision of new work. Instructors employ challenging exercises and lead the groups in close readings and discussions of participants’ work. In addition, the instructors schedule personal meetings to discuss workshop assignments and other projects. This year’s session includes workshops in fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction. Workshop leaders include David Baker (poetry), Linda Gregerson (poetry), Rebecca McClanahan (literary nonfiction) Dinty W. Moore (literary nonfiction), Ron Carlson (fiction), Tara Ison (fiction), Christopher Tilghman (fiction), and Nancy Zafris (fiction).
Whether you’ve been writing for years, recently graduated from an MFA program, or have just now decided to take the leap out of your private notebooks and into a classroom, you’ll find a workshop here to help you accomplish your literary goals.
KR Reading Series
Are you going to be in Gambier this spring? Join us for KR’s new afternoon reading series in the Cheever Room of Finn House to hear some of the most exciting young writers working today! Our current schedule of readings includes:
The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest, or, What We Want and Why We Want It
February 19th, 2010 —
Lots of poets dream of publishing a poem in The New Yorker. And while I, too, would love for Paul Muldoon to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Yes, Cody, your Obama clerihews have just the right mix of reserve and pathos,” the truth is that I haven’t submitted a poem to the magazine in about ten years. It just hasn’t occurred to me. Whereas every week, or almost every week, I submit a caption to the magazine’s cartoon caption contest. The winning caption: it’s the thing I most want.
At last, this week, I’m a finalist. This means that (a) I have a 33% chance of finally winning the thing, and (b) my entire month is being wiped out. Yes, I’ve been going to work; yes, I’ve been eating (too much, even); but mostly I’ve just been thinking about the contest. It’s gone from something that occupied maybe ten minutes of a typical Sunday to something that haunts my days and chills my dreaming nights.
It wasn’t always thus. I’d probably entered the contest 100, maybe 150 times, before last week; but, looking back on it, what I enjoyed most about all those submissions was sharing my entry with a friend and fellow caption-writer. We’d gripe about losing, sure—but the real object was to amuse each other. (In this way, our captions resembled our poems.) We’d lob questions back and forth—“Do captions ever have semi-colons?”—and we’d laugh extra-hard when our captions were extra-mean. (Again, in this way, our captions resembled our poems.)
Even better, I had used the caption contest as a teaching tool in my college writing courses. First at the University of Washington, and then at the University of Michigan, I ran weekly in-class contests, with prizes awarded to the winners. Writing good essays, I stressed, wasn’t so much about coming up with good ideas; it was about writing good sentences. And what better way to focus on the sentence than to write a caption? I’m serious. The issues that arise when writing a caption—issues of pacing, of word choice, of weight—are the same issues I want my students to consider when writing anything: an essay, an email, a villanelle. It’s excellent practice.
So, who wins the contest, in any given week? Stanford neuroscientist Patrick House won in 2008 and then wrote a smart piece about the experience for Slate. (His much-quoted advice: Don’t be too funny. He also recommends avoiding proper nouns.) Poet and New York Times critic Joel Brouwer has won. Larry Wood, a Chicago-based attorney, has won three times. (He gives away his secrets, here.) Roger Ebert has tried and tried and tried to win. Charles Lavoie should’ve won.
KR Welcomes Two New Bloggers
William Walsh is the author of Questionstruck (Keyhole Press, 2009) and Without Wax (Casperian Books, 2008). His stories and derived texts have appeared in Annalemma, Artifice, Quick Fiction, Caketrain, New York Tyrant, Lit, Juked, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other journals. A collection of stories called Ampersand, Mass. and a book of Joycean derived texts and poems called Unknown Arts are forthcoming from Keyhole Press in 2011.
Nancy Jooyoun Kim lives in Seattle. She is working on a novel.