Interview with Heavy Feather Review
Interview by Kallie Falandays
This his issue starts with a story by Dan Mancilla called “Lucha Libre.” What about that story made you want to put it first in issue 3.2?
There was never any doubt that “Lucha” was going to be first in the issue. As soon as we had confirmed its acceptance with Dan, we fell in love with the idea. Such risk and reward wrapped up neatly in one package.
With each issue at HFR, we always try to push it to be better or very different than the last issue, to make it hard to pin down, regarding aesthetic, region, or otherwise, and I have a hard time counting on one hand the number of journals willing to publish something that hefty: thirty-eight pages, 20,000 words.
We’ve read a lot of long stories over the years, but none have held our attention raptly like “Lucha”—the breadth of characters and development, a confident mix of missing girl mystery, adolescent messiah complex, professional wrestling, and secret nudie mag stashes—had us shouting hosannas back and forth upon notification.
I love how the images in HFR kind of relate to the stories and poems in the issue. Is this intentional? Am I reading into it too much? Is it just a happy coincidence?
Most of the art this issue came to us by chance, and continues to come to us this way.
I am pretty active on Tumblr, the cloak of anonymity it gives to me to reblog many choice art posts, but our cover by Cristina Troufa was selected indirectly and early on in the process. I had seen Troufa’s art on one of the blogs, but I was unaware of the series, “A paixão tem um fado,” from which we used numbers one and two, and I had only found it after some hours surfing a Google translation of her very active blog. Or maybe it was Saatchi Online. Either way, our first work accepted for 3.2 was Ben Segal’s “Mouth Light,” closely followed by Jen Michalski’s “Everything Is Good Here, Too,” and the series just seemed to toy beautifully with both. But we did not choose it because Eric in Ben’s story is lost in his own way, or because Jen’s narrator is something else. Nothing is that simple.
Interior art happened this way, as well: Ron Rege, Jr.’s drawing was a poster for something lost in the grind, and it being our first issue of the year, we figured it fitting to feature his zodiac; Erin Case’s art was actually being considered for a cover down the road, before she submitted to us via Submittable; and Jennifer Davis’ paper shooting targets were found similarly to Cristina—different art of hers on another blog, inviting me to her website—and we thought the series was great and asked her if it was okay to publish some of them.
It seems like a lot of these poems—Aaron Apps’ poem and Cynthia Maria Hoffman's poem, "After the operation, my sister needs help"—are about struggling with very real disorders or medical ailments. In addition, both poems talk extensively about eyes. Coincidence?
Completely. We have not operated with a theme thus far (our upcoming summer 2014 double-issue, “Vacancies,” is the first venture of the sort), and I have seen it happen—(he shudders to think)—in workshop, some larger-than-life-geomagnetic-creative principle, where a writer does one thing, and another work similarly like it, by a different writer altogether, ebbs and flows alongside it and the smug instructor suspects plagiarism or inbreeding.
Maybe we all tap into a collective consciousness somewhere, telepathically: the sky is not only blue but sometimes red- or orange-looking because it is light refracted through clouds. I don’t know.
What drew you to these particular poems?
I think with Aaron’s poem it is the line breaks, their expert arrangement. Especially those first lines’ alluring rhythms and repetitions: “All of the obese bodies mimic strange / Animals that mimic strange animals …” I’d love to hear this poem or a series of them out loud, at a reading or elsewhere. Please, Aaron, come to Ohio!
Cynthia’s poem was sent to us as four, and the way the titles were punctuated lent more air than their prose form would suggest upon cursory glance. Of course, punctuation cannot be the only criterion for which we accepted the poem(s); I was familiar with her work from my days at Mid-American Review, when I read poetry there, and we had published an internal chapbook of hers in my first issue on staff. Her poetry did not fail to meet that standard I had established when reading her work back then, so it was a slam dunk to take the poem series.
The play/poem/prose piece that you published by Austin Bunn is unlike anything I've ever read, although it does have a touch of Breton's "If You Please." I love the way that this becomes part memory study, part encyclopedic-seeming diatribe, part reconstruction of past events, and part poetry. What were your favorite moments from this play?
Ha! I remember Breton, and I remember the playfulness that play exuded on the page (we did a reading in my early morning ENG 1100 course as an undergraduate at Bowling Green).
My favorite moments from “Storage Failure,” since I can claim more than one, are like you, when it blurs boundaries of genre and convention, most notably at the “Evidence” sections, or when Austin the playwright addresses the audience about Young Austin’s actions, effectively dismantling the fourth wall (this is something I do not love in film). I love the “encyclopedic-seeming diatribe” and think this is what saved it for me, from me reading it as singularly memoir and being dumbly turned off to it.
Austin co-wrote the movie Kill Your Darlings with John Krokidas and has another great play, “Rust,” working with Working Group Theatre, which is being staged a few places last I read. He’s a great talent. I am happy we got the chance to publish this piece. Also, here’s a fun fact: “Storage Failure” is the first “drama” work we have ever published.
My favorite line from HFR 3.2 is from Matt Sailor's "Crisis on Infinite Earths": "I am talking to my brother, Max // There is a man floating in space." What are some of your favorite lines from this issue?
In no particular order, some examples:
- “Made of meat. The eyes roll into the skull, / Flutter, and everything is oily porcelain. / A matter of pork porking sex fluid around / Rocks, and stones, and horrific trees.” —Aaron Apps, from Queer Fat
- “Life continues to die at a healthy rate.” —Timmy Reed, from “Minutes from the Meeting of Afterdeath Board of Directors”
- “Then she fell—turning slowly, her head and arms outstretched as if to embrace the river—and fell—edging closer to the white water—and fell—into the churning foam at the foot of the dam.” —Dan Mancilla, from “Lucha Libre”
- “Every consumer moment of your lives, after your father left, has been preserved, as if the presence of these things provides clues, as if their presence convinces your mom there will never again be loss.” —Jen Michalski, from “Everything Is Good Here, Too”
This issue of HFR is interesting because it blends dark subject matter with experimental forms and, after reading through it, I felt both upset and excited. What do you feel when you read through this issue?
I am instinctively drawn to dark subject matter and I tend to find a lot of it funny or liberating, where others do not. So I guess you can say I feel funny.
Many of the pieces in this issue share common denominators: Earth, death, eyes, memory, and so on. When you set out to create this issue, did you have a particular idea in mind? How did this issue fall together? Can you talk a bit about what you accepted first and what came last?
No ideas, to begin with. This issue is the beginning of an organic process for us, more than previous issues have ever been. I think we really hit our stride, so to speak, with 3.2, gained some sort of swagger in our mission as editors.
We have coy, pet names for each issue we never publicize—some I don’t even share with Nathan. And here, you are eerily spot-on: this issue’s codename became “MEMORY” after I had some time to fully contemplate it. Next issue, 3.3, is “NATURE.” But these are not themes or ideas going in. 2.2 is “STRATEGIES,” 3.1 is “APOCALYPSES,” and 3.4 is obviously “VACANCIES,” the first of these project names we have made available to the public. I have not thought of one for 4.1, as all we have confirmed is the cover.
Before 2.2 we didn’t take such leaps. We weren’t even on a quarterly schedule of publishing!
The timeline for the issue, more or less, went like this: Ben Segal >>> Jen Michalski >>> Cristina Troufa >>> Dan Mancilla >>> Rob Cook >>> Sarah Elizabeth Colona >>> Timmy Reed >>> Austin Bunn >>> Matt Sailor >>> Phillip Gregory Spotswood >>> Jennifer Davis >>> Cynthia Marie Hoffman >>> Jeremy Griffin >>> Jeff Pearson >>> Erin Case >>> Miles Klee >>> Aaron Apps >>> Jim Redmond >>> Ron Rege, Jr.
In this issue, you feature a chapbook by Jim Redmond. This chapbook has the same Louise Gluck quote that Austin Bunn's play does. Coincidence?
This went proudly unchecked during editing. I had noticed it and was bemused, thought about cutting Jim’s usage in Shirts or Skins, and then decided that was a bad move. Part of its repetition lends to 3.2’s unofficial “MEMORY” motif. Truly, I am sore that some other work did not use this quote. Noah Eli Gordon is responsible for selecting Jim’s chapbook as winner. He had no intimate knowledge of the issue and therefore did not know that Austin’s play used it.
After reading Redmond's chapbook, I am struck by the lines "At night I can hear my mother's spoon scrape the bottom of a bowl / The world is that empty." What is your favorite moment in Redmond's chapbook?
My favorite moment is perhaps in Part II, when Jim’s poem “Sleeping Jesus” rears its important head. I am a big fan of that poem, and I think it offers a lot as to the collected power of the whole manuscript, a meaning or true reading if you desire, above all, one (though I suspect many readers do not).
When we moved to a quarterly format we decided to run open chapbook contests each quarter, each contest alternating between fiction and poetry, and they have been a lot of fun to organize, judges so far being Amber Sparks, Noah, and Lucy Corin (current). I love the opportunities chapbook publishing presents and I am very happy we have had two excellent winners in Ryder Collins and Jim Redmond.
I am always happy to hear about other favorite moments, like yours above. They contribute to my evolving reasoning for publishing, or figuring out why I publish certain works. Thank you.
What is so interesting about this issue is that it almost seems like it could be a book written by one person. I love when literary journals are able to create a cohesive body of work, whether they relate based on tone, style, or subject matter. Do you go into each issue with an idea about the specifics of what you want?
Where cohesiveness is concerned, we are rudimentary. I may enter into an issue where I have been reading one author a bunch, geeking about their work, but as far as an intended result, we don’t purposefully read for aesthetic or style and love the various, combustive reactions this can incite each outing.
This issue ends with a story by Ben Segal called "Mouth Light," which starts with the lines "The shape of his teeth formed a border …" Why did you choose this piece to end 3.2?
It ends 3.2 because of its ending: “Eric was happy enough until morning.” When we order the issue (some editors spend days to months on this process) we always look for that poignant moment on which to exit our shared experience with the reader. This was it, it always was.
How did Heavy Feather Review start?
Unimpressively: in college, on the way home from a bar. Nathan and I, having met as MAR interns, had discussed starting a journal in our time between classes, and I had proposed a horrible nickname. It didn’t sit well and the stumble back to somebody’s house was deathly silent, until I started scrambling words in my head to get the same effect the horrible nickname had stirred in my synapses initially. Eventually I became fixated on Heavy Feather. It stuck.
But origin stories stink. It began biannually, as MAR published this way, and we were unsure how to deviate—plus, it made the most sense with school being semesters. We quickly became restless in the layover between issues, though, and now it is quarterly.
I guess I can say HFR’s impetus was in Washington, D.C. at our first AWP. Sitting at a table for a journal and answering questions is habit-forming. All the books. The readings. We were inspired, for lack of a better word, to support and contribute to the indie-lit community.
More and more, over the years, HFR has become the product we want to present to our readers: a slim volume that delivers punches, packed with great work that challenges us as writers, editors, and readers. This is why we took so long to deliver on a theme issue. We didn’t know what HFR was starting out and had to piece it together, stitch by stitch. There is a time we didn’t even consider print an option!
We wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for the plentiful examples, advice, and critiques offered by Michael Czyzniejewski, Matt Bell, and Karen Craigo. They are responsible for fanning the flames of this thing, for better or for worse. Another enabler: Paul Arrand Rodgers, who has probably put up with too many of my pitches, a consequence of keeping in touch with me after school. Everyone who has asked me about this. They are all culpable.
Where do you see your magazine in five years?
I want to make a city our home. Start a reading series. We have operated thusly without a central hub and it is frustrating. HFR will continue, though. I do not want to phase it out just as it has got rolling. I think it is rolling. We have a lot of plans for it. We want to expand the Baby Eat Books brand into full-length books; we want to find more staff. We try not to think too hard about the future, but what we can achieve in the present.
If you could publish any living poet/fiction writer/playwright/artist, who would you pick and why?
This is just one, correct? Easy. Stephen Dixon. Do you know him? He is arguably one of the most prolific writers I have ever read, outside of Stephen Graham Jones. Everything I read by Stephen Dixon seems well-intentioned. He is very accessible, but then the next minute he is all fuss. He offers one of the most expansive back catalogs, and his literary energy seems unparalleled, except maybe by Bob Hicok or Lucy Corin, who I also love. Rusell Edson. There, one.
If you had to describe this issue in one sentence, what would that sentence sound like?
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