The Editors on Paperbag
When did you start Paperbag, and why?
Levi Rubeck: There are rumors that one of our editors needed a way to stay in the country, and thus Paperbag was born. I remember Petro Moysaenko and Kat McGoldrick's kitchen table, hushed messages, delicious food, and promises that were kept only by sheer force of will (Margarita's to be precise). If the first issue came out in the summer of 2010, then we must have gotten together a year before that, since it takes a while for us to make decisions.
Margarita Delcheva: Yes, the kitchen table with delicious homemade truffles and poetry friends. To me this image really says it all—a sense of camaraderie that we wanted to extend virtually to include more people. Throw in inter-genre experiment, visual art. We have built a small stage and invite others to try their act on it. We have read poems on rooftops, in tiny apartments, on midnight walks in the Village. It is exactly as romantic as it sounds while you are in an MFA program. When school ended, we wanted to keep this sense of community, despite our growing responsibilities. Okay, maybe it's harder to recite verse down Sixth Avenue in the middle of the night, but we can post a great interview with a Paperbag contributor from the other side of the country.
Cathy Linh Che: My friends and co-editors Levi Rubeck, Michael Vizsolyi, and I were part of egocircus, a collaboration course at NYU led by Anne Carson and Robert Currie. People were doing such beautiful cross-genre and collaborative work. We thought, why can't more people see work like this? That class was all about possibility and experimentation, and we wanted to create a journal that celebrated folks going out on a limb and trying something new.
Petro Moysaenko: If memory serves, the conception and development of Paperbag also had something to do with a mandate issued by the universe.
Kathleen McGoldrick: I was actually a latecomer to Paperbag. Levi Rubeck designed and built Issue No. 1. These crazy kids brought me on for Issue No. 2 to code all of their wildest dreams.
What makes Paperbag different from other places to read poetry on the internet?
Levi Rubeck: That's the question we asked ourselves at first, and in many ways, what we still struggle with today. So many other incredible journals exist online that we knew we had to carve ourselves a cozy little niche if we wanted to be, or stay, relevant. That said, despite the myriad of wondrous digital media tech opportunities the internet provides, our primary focus is poetry. Even the visual and audio media we've posted, I feel at least, are cross-genre interpretations of poetic impulses. Translating the untranslatable.
But if we're talking details, what really separates Paperbag is that we're looking to use the internet to showcase authors whose work is greater than a single poem. Long poems, groups of poems or paintings, slightly more substantial bodies of work that showcase a writer or author rather than a single "good" piece or poem. We're greedy, and it feels bad sometimes to ask for so much from people we solicit or who may be interested in submitting, but Paperbag isn't about publishing someone's one good poem. We want the lifers.
Margarita Delcheva: I love our simple, uncomplicated layout and the "recycle" function! I go back to it often myself. It brings me to a random contributor I haven't read or seen in a while. It's a way to give life to the older issues because, to us, those works are still just as relevant.
Petro Moysaenko: It's very handsome. And smart. Just the right mix of moxie and modesty. Head in the stars, feet on the ground. The neighborhood sprites are always dropping by to ask if it can come out and play.
M.A. Vizsolyi: Showcasing multiple/longer pieces by our contributors is something of a foundation for this journal, as Levi mentioned. When we sat down to decide how to begin this journal, we were thinking also of the advantages of an online journal for the poetry itself. One of those advantages is that there are no page limits. We can publish a poem that is 30 pages long, if we think it's great, and not have to worry about "making it fit." Something else fairly unique to our journal is that we feature music/sound experiments.
Cathy Linh Che: Poetry comics, poem films, poem essays, long poems, serial poems, erasures, paintings, pencil drawings, handmade art books, plus the aforementioned sound experiments: These are central to what we do at Paperbag. We don't feature an occasional folio or include just one or other element, but strive to encompass all of them. I see Paperbag as a grab bag of experimentation.
What is something that you have recently published that really excited you, and why?
Levi Rubeck: It's hard to choose from amongst your children. How dare you make us choose! But, if pressed, I have to say that it was great to see Nettie Farris' work come to life on the screen, and to have inspired Paul Hlava to push his work into the realm of video for one of our readings.
Margarita Delcheva: All of our poets are so great, but I was also floored by Eric Kuhn's music, its cinematographic poetry.
Petro Moysaenko: I am going to sneakily sidestep that question and say that I am superbly excited about the work we will publish, the adventure onward, the manner in which the new shall pay homage to and amplify the incorruptible thrill of all that has come before. But, if I must name a name, I will add that Joshua Marie Wilkinson's serial poems, from the most recent issue, sing to my nerves with nerve.
M.A. Vizsolyi: Everything, of course! I agree with Levi Rubeck about Nettie Farris' poems. She was someone whose work we discovered through submissions, and I remember pushing for the poems pretty hard. Also, I'm always impressed with our visual artists, in particular, from our last issue, Paul O'Connor.
Cathy Linh Che: I love what we publish so much, but since you've asked about one specific something, I will say Mike Lala's "Self-Interrogation (Kill Team)". It's a long poem that engages with a troubling series of events and complicates—rather than simplifies—my own feelings on the matter.
Kathleen McGoldrick: I agree with Margarita about Eric Kuhn's music. I was listening to those three songs on a constant loop while I was finishing building the site.
What should someone submitting new work to Paperbag know about the site?
Levi Rubeck: Our selection process is punishing in that we want all editors to agree on what we publish. It makes things really hard for us because we all have different tastes as well, but when one editor passionately defends a submission we are often convinced. But such passion usually only arises in defense of work that is bold, daring, unafraid to take risk or even better, fail, in service of something large and unwieldy. That is probably the least helpful paragraph ever written.
Margarita Delcheva: Don't submit outside the reading period. We can be quite tough on submissions, but know that we have a complex aesthetic, in which there is room for different textures. Every editor brings his or her own palate to the tasting party. We all come from very different places, poetically. This makes for great conversations, in which our readers make us discover a lot about ourselves, too.
Petro Moysaenko: Know that you love Paperbag. Know that you want nothing—not prestigious awards, not obscenely large sums of money, not peace of mind, not comfortable yet stylish shoes, not pizza—more than you want to make great work and show it to us. Boring art is worse than bad advertising.
M.A. Vizsolyi: If you're considering submitting to Paperbag, first, please do. I am always hoping to find something amazing in our inbox. But please please please read our guidelines. Often, we get submissions of small batches of poems, and simply cannot use them because they are not long enough. When this is the case, it also becomes obvious to us that we were just one of many many journals that received this batch. We like things that seem made for us, for this journal, and that the poet considered this when sending his/her poems.
What other literary journals, online or print, are your favorites?
Levi Rubeck: You would have us commend our enemies?!?! JK. I really like THEthe, not just because I occasionally do reviews for them, but because I think they're a well-rounded site with reviews, interviews, poems of the week, voices far flung through space and age, all of which converging on an appreciation of this strange thing that is hard to tell our families about.
Margarita Delcheva: A shout out to Ugly Duckling Presse's 6x6. Those guys also have several poetry editors, love experiment, and offer longer selections from every contributor. They were definitely an inspiration for us.
Petro Moysaenko: I suspect The Volta is going to get huge. BOMB is consistently jam-packed with galvanic art and literature. Sixth Finch and Octopus are stunning creatures. Also, I'd like to doff my cap to the failed sports magazines of bygone eras. I imagine there must have been something intrinsically poetic about all of them.
Cathy Linh Che: I admire the range of Drunken Boat and the collaborative spirit of Born Magazine. My friend Cate Peebles edits Fou Magazine, and I think that's definitely one worth checking out.
M.A. Vizsolyi: Absinthe is inspiring, no pun intended. I'd like to see more translations come our way.
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Levi Rubeck is a poet and critic from Wyoming via New York now working at MIT Press in Cambridge. Check his website and know that he would love to start a band with you.
Margarita Delcheva's recent poems have appeared in Sixth Finch, Fugue, Ep;phany, and Tuesday: An Art Project. She is the author of The Eight-Finger Concerto, a poetry collection in Bulgarian, published in Sofia, Bulgaria. She currently resides in Brooklyn and teaches college writing.
M.A. Vizsolyi's first book of poems, The Lamp with Wings: Love Sonnets (HarperCollins) was winner of the National Poetry Series. He is also the author of the chapbooks Notes on Melancholia (Monk Books) and The Case of Jane: A Verse Play (500places Press).
Petro Moysaenko is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, home of American Greetings. He is currently studying at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James Books, 2014). She is the recipient of fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebrook, and Poets House. Originally from Los Angeles, she currently lives in Brooklyn.
Kat McGoldrick is currently living in Brooklyn. In addition to designing Paperbag, she works as a video editor for Sundance Channel.