Friday, October 17, 2008
JOHN AMEN: PUTTING HIS LITERARY MAGAZINE ON A “PEDESTAL”
By Doug Holder
John Amen is the founder of the well-regarded online magazine “Pedestal” that was launched in 2000. His most recent poetry collection is titled: “More of Me Disappears” that was praised by the prominent American poet Thomas Lux . I talked with Amen on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: Why did you start an online literary magazine like Pedestal. Are online lit. mags as important today as print journals?
John Amen: In terms of starting the magazine I guess I have always been interesting in doing something like this. I always thought it would be a print publication. Around 1998 or 9, I started to explore the Internet more. I noticed that there were a few literary magazines online like: PIFF, THREE CANDLES, etc… I noticed a few science fiction online zines as well. When I encountered this it seemed like a very interesting way to go. But there was, and still is, some prejudice against online publishing.
DH: Yeah, but some say Pedestal is as good or better than most print magazines.
JA: Yeah. I think so. I think we have come a long way. We have been around for eight years. We have managed to create something that is well regarded. It is gratifying to see how things evolved. We have brought together the tradition of poetry magazines with the technology of the time. I think we have traditional literary values in a modern setting.
DH: Are you a nonprofit?
JA: Yes. Going nonprofit helped us a lot. The first time we went nonprofit I would open letters and see checks from readers, and it was kind of mind blowing. It was a mark of approval, validation.
DH: How are you going to adjust for the economic straits the country is in?
JA: October is usually our fund raising month. We held off sending emails to readers. I thought that this would be the worst time to ask readers for money. Fortunately we got a grant. We do pay writers. Right now we are going to publish the same amount. But we would modify it if need be.
DH: In an interview with poet Gloria Mindock, you said that you like being an editor because they are on: “ …the firing line of creative endeavor.” Can you expand on that?
JA: I am exposed to a lot of poetry, manuscripts. You see such diverse work, and you get a sense of what’s going on. What are the collective mindsets? Are the timeless themes still there? etc… You can see how things evolve…you have a sense of connection.
DH: Do you think you have seen more of your own work published because you are the editor of a well-known magazine?
JA: I think it helps more with speaking and reading engagements. I see it primarily in that area, but it may be true in publishing.
DH: I notice you publish such well-known small press poets as Jared Smith, A.D. Winans, and Eric Greinke. What do you look for in a poem?
JA: Jared’s work has evolved and changed…I like his work a lot.
The poem has to have that intangible magic that grabs you buy the balls. Of all the poems you’ve read, what poem do you remember? And after all the things you read only a few things really stick.
At Pedestal we are open to a lot of work that others might not be. There are a lot of poets I have connected with that I am not sure other editors have. I am not afraid to go with them.
DH: Does the buck stop with you?
JA: It varies. Sometimes I am more involved. If my editor is given full judgment over the work—then I usually sit back.
DH: In your poems there is mention of time in NYC and drug abuse. Is this autobiographical?
JA: Loosely. I did live in New York for a while. I have experience with ”substances.” The details are modified.
DH: There are a lot of late night diners too.
JA: I always loved diners. Diners at 2AM, with bad coffee.
DH: I had a disagreement with Rebecca Wolff the founder of Fence Magazine. I had asked her if any of her books were Print-On-Demand. She told me that she would never use Print -On-Demand…she never saw one that looked like a real book. Do you feel there is an elitist attitude toward POD? How do you feel about POD as a method for publishing books?
JA: I emailed somebody, and asked him : “What does it matter if something is POD? He said the potential problem is that people put out these books but they are not invested in them, so there is a surplus of books with no backing.
However most people I know who are involved in the business of publishing poetry are pretty invested in poetry.
DH: I mean the publisher has to buy the books from the online printer, he has to edit them, select the poet, design the book, etc…That’s an investment.
JA: Financially it seems that it would be to the advantage of the publisher to be invested in his project.
DH: Do you have an MFA?
JA: No. I majored in English and Philosophy as an undergrad. I took creative writing classes as part of the degree and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the space to explore and interact. I suppose, a lot of people go to an MFA to get a teaching job and to get published.
DH: Do you teach?
JA: I tutor high school age kids. I have taught four-day workshops at Colleges, etc…
DH: What would you tell the readers about submitting to Pedestal?
JA: Send us your work. We are always open. Pedestal is doing well and we are going to be around.