Last Friday, a crowd of the Bay Area’s finest literary minds gathered together at Casa Bonampak for IPLSF’s LitCrawl reading event, aptly named Poets Who Edit. Arrayed by the rainbow skulls of el día de los muertos, IPLSF’s poet-editors read from their own work as well as from the publications they edit. The six readers for the night included: Sally Ashton, the current (and first) poet-laureate of Santa Clara County as well as the editor-in-chief of DMQ Review; Stephen Kessler, a poet, translator, essayist and novelist, who is the sole editor for the renowned and free literary newspaper, The Redwood Coast Review; Diane Frank, an award-winning poet and author and the Director of the online poetry workshop, Blue Light Press; Hugh Behm-Steinberg, an East Bay poet and writing teacher at California College of the Arts, who also edits the college’s literary magazine, Eleven Eleven; Ken Weisner, a poet and teacher from Santa Cruz who currently edits Red Wheelbarrow through De Anza Community College; and last but definitely not least: Jay Rubin, a poet and writing instructor at The College of Alameda and the editor of the well-known, all-poetry online journal Alehouse.
Jay Rubin started the night out with a lively first set of poems, bravely reading a poem he had never read out-loud to a crowd before, and beginning a reading trend that continued throughout the night. Rubin also noted that working as an editor had indeed informed and helped his work. In fact, he stated that his publication rate has gone up since he started editing Alehouse, which is good news for poetry fans, who wouldn’t want to miss out on such mesmerizing lines as:
“On the day that I die,
consonants and vowels spelling my name
will separate like atoms in steam,
each floating off alone to find
a new vocabulary.”
(“Obituary”, from Blue Earth Review; http://internationalpsychoanalysis.net/2010/05/03/poetry-monday-may-3-2010-jay-rubin/)
Next up was Hugh Behm-Steinberg, who began his reading with the opening piece from the latest edition of CCA’s print journal Eleven Eleven, which he edits. Behm-Steinberg’s enthusiasm for the journal as well as for the book-object came through clearly, as did his wit and his ability to bend language in such a way that the words enact the mind: “thinking is like meeting your French teacher in the parking lot of the grocery store,” he writes, “and you speak to him in English because what else would you do?”
Behm-Steinberg was followed by Santa Clara County’s Poet Laureate Sally Ashton, the editor of DMQ Review, who focused her reading on the middle ground between editing and writing poetry: rejection. Ashton illustrated the poet’s struggle with rejection by reading a hilarious and brilliantly crafted Stein-inspired piece about the process of submitting work to journals, which, despite its theme, was recently published by DMQ. “We reject and are rejected,” Ashton reminded us, “this is the life of the author.”
Following Ashton was Ken Weisner, who told us that; in addition to the catch-22 of being both a rejecting editor and a rejected wrier, editing also provides the rare chance to work collaboratively with other writers. “Poetry is a solo sport, but editing is a team sport,” Weisner stated, likening magazines to communities. In the community spirit, Weisner also read a crowd-pleasing ghazal, whose repeating end-words, “Dick Cheney” was meant to “test of our gag-reflex.” Needless to say, the poem was hilarious. Even the cardboard cutout of Obama, standing quietly among the audience, was caught smirking.
Diane Frank had the difficult task of reading after Weisner, and she delivered wonderfully. Described by her friends as “a harem of seven women in one body,” Frank displayed her ability to imbue the poetic with the spiritual, and reminded us that poetry is much more than writing on the page.
Poet, essayist, teacher, and translator Stephen Kessler closed the night out, beginning his reading with a couple of “classical knock-offs” written by a contributor to his literary newspaper, The Redwood Coast Review. He then went on to read a few poems “inspired by his work as an editor,” and ended with the beautiful and fitting piece, “View From the Editor’s Desk.” Despite the title of the poem, Kessler took us to a place beyond the editor-poet dyad, beyond the glory of seeing one’s own work on the page. “It’s an accomplishment to be alive,” Kessler read, and left us all with a sense of triumph, no matter how many rejection letters we had filed away.