Interview with Stephen Danos
Editor of Pinwheel
Interview by Kallie Falandays
Why did you start Pinwheel?
Poetry Editor Dolly Lemke and I started Pinwheel because we wanted to run an inclusive journal that doesn’t subscribe to one school (both of poetics or brick-and-mortar). We wanted to build a diverse journal with attitude that operates on its own terms. Before relocating to Seattle, I co-curated the magnificent-as-ever The Dollhouse Reading Series in Chicago with Dolly. Running that series together taught us to appreciate each other’s poetic tastes, which at times are wildly different. Plus, we’re both Scorpios.
What is the worst part about running a literary journal?
Syncing schedules with our small editorial team. Otherwise, it’s been a nearly ideal experience. From the beginning, there hasn’t really been a sore spot, and I must heap loads of praise on Thomas Patrick Levy’s web mastery, Dolly’s easy-going-yet-direct approach to selecting the poems she loves, and expertise of Pinwheel newcomers Holly Amos and Mike Krutel. When you have a staff that is both professional and passionate, it makes running Pinwheel like having a lifetime supply of those giant Pixy sticks or Pop Ice.
What is the most memorable poem/prose/fiction piece you've published?
The four poems by Mary Ruefle we published from issue 3:
Eric with the Light Brown Hair:
"God has made some pretty weird comments
in his time, about the nature of human
life and all of that, naturally
they are profound"
What Ye Went Out Into May to See?:
"Perhaps the river despises its own philosophy / and would stop if it could."
“The world was designed and built / to overwhelm and astonish.”
The Afternoon According to Saint Matthew: The whole poem.
Making the poems even more memorable was how we acquired them. As editors know, Mary Ruefle submits work through snail mail only, and she was spending time in a cabin in Vermont (with limited cell phone reception). She sent me proof copies of poems from her miraculous Trances of the Blast (Wave 2014). She’s a fortune teller and contemporary mystic. The speaker makes serious moves from line to line, which are philosophical and witty, and we’re OK with that. Her first lines hook us and then we’re along for the ride.
In addition, all of the artwork we’ve featured stays with me. Thanks to Justin Duffus, Chandler Woodfin, Dora Malech, Lucia Znamirowski, Jake Gillespie, for sending us brilliant work.
Where do you see Pinwheel in 5 years?
The new ‘P’ in AWP. But for real, we aim to potentially get into print / chapbooks / full-lengths. Having said that, we’ll need to find the right partners for publishing and printing.
What is a day-in-the-life like for the editors of Pinwheel?
Usually pretty tame. Both Dolly and I work full-time non-academic editorial jobs, which come with their own demands.
What kind of work are you looking to publish?
Poems that elicit the same feeling we get when watching Philip Seymour Hoffman or Michelle Williams in any movie.
What advice do you have for people looking to publish?
READ EVERY JOURNAL YOU CAN.
What are you currently reading?
Since AWP, we’ve read or have started reading:
King Me by Roger Reeves (Copper Canyon)
In Time's Rift by Ernst Meister (Translated by Graham Foust & Samuel Frederick)
You Private Person by Richard Chiem (Scrambler Books)
Demolition of the Promised Land by Erin Keane (Typecast)
Essential Nature by Leora Fridman (The New Megaphone)
Lions, Remonstrance by Shelly Taylor (Coconut Books)
Science by Emily Toder (Coconut Books)
First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather by Sampson Starkweather (Birds LLC)
Chugwater by Mathias Svalina & Julia Cohen (The New Megaphone)
What is your literary background like? What got you interested in starting a literary journal?
I’ve always been interested in starting a journal, ever since the undergrad days at the University of Iowa. It’s what I am supposed to do.
As for background, both Dolly and I worked on the staff of Columbia Poetry Review during grad school. David Trinidad fostered an environment where editors could really own a part of the issue. Additionally, Dolly worked for Switchback Books and I currently assist YesYes Books as its lone Editor-at-Large.
What are your favorite literary journals?
Forklift, Ohio; TYPO, Octopus, Sixth Finch, The Economy, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, Vinyl, H_NGM_N, Transom, Birdfeast, Phantom Limb, Court Green, Black Warrior Review, Jubilat, Star, US Weekly.
If you could only read one literary journal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety. The amount of care and mad-scientist-thought that Eric Appleby, Tricia Suit, and Matt Hart put into every issue is astounding. They have an otherworldly endurance for crafting issues that feature amazing literature and their art object aesthetic is unmatched in the world of independent poetry journals. Their last issue feature images of raw meat...wrapped in butcher’s paper (which served as partial binding)...a sticker indicating the ‘cut’ of meat...tied together with twine. ‘Nuff said.
What is the best way for a small literary journal to get noticed?
Publish diverse writing, and establish coherence. Avoid a binary aesthetic. Publish the publishable and unpublishable.
If you could take over and run any literary journal, which would you take over and why?
The Economy. I see loads of appeal in the journal’s notion/idea of operating with restraint. There are exceptions, but the majority of their issues feature one poet, one fiction writer, and one artist. It’s such a simple yet challenging mode of curation. You need to find three artists that work well together or even better, those who work well against each other. Anthony Opal and crew are unbeatable.
What is the weirdest type of literary advice you’ve ever received?
Who needs advice when you get to work with Dolly Lemke?
If Pinwheel had to go on a date with another literary journal, who would it date and what would it order for dinner?
We’d go on a date with Phantom Limb, a journal and press that staffs some of our dearest friends, which would make it less awkward. Phantom Limb would order a tequila and ginger ale and roasted bone marrow crostinis. Pinwheel would order IPA and a cheese plate from Pastoral.