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Interview: Charles Jensen

Five poems from Charles Jensen’s manuscript-in-progress, Nanopedia: The Smallest American Reference appear in the first issue of The Collagist, published August 15, 2009. Jensen is the author of four collections of poetry, including The First Risk, is forthcoming in September 2009 from Lethe Press. A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, The Journal, New England Review, spork, and West Branch. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine Locuspoint, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis. He serves as director of The Writer's Center, one of the nation's largest independent literary centers.

Here, he speaks to The Collagist’s Lauren Walbridge about the origins of Nanopedia, as well as his upcoming collection, The First Risk.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for this selection from Nanopedia: The Smallest American Reference? What was on your mind while you were writing these poems?

Nanopedia has grown out of a writing prompt I gave myself a few years ago.  For a long time, those pieces were all individual prose poems, but I began to see that they had similar concerns, themes, and images.  “The moon watches you through her veil of thin clouds” and “He brings the night into the house like a long thread of smoke” are from a clustering of other pieces that draw from horror films, while the moon piece and “When I heard sixty-three birds…” to me are both sad love poems.  It’s as much about sex and violence as it is about transformation, love and shopping, I guess—all of which, to me, are decidedly American pursuits, especially together.

2. How do these poems fit into the larger work as a whole?

This has been an interesting work for me because I write so often in sequence, but I understand Nanopedia to be a book that could be read, for example, unbound.  A series of leaflets.  The order doesn’t matter.  Instead of focusing on the sequence of them, I’m really using that word “cluster” to describe this kind of work.  And like I describe above, there are threads—there’s another piece that uses the language of economics to discuss the practice of cruising for anonymous sex, while in another an elderly man commits an act of euthanasia for his wife, and in a third, John Dillinger is reborn as the branches of a lime tree.

3. Your collection, The First Risk, will be published by Lethe Press in September.  How does it feel to have your first full-length book coming out soon?

It’s exciting and nerve-wracking and also very final in a way I didn’t expect it to be.  I’ve published chapbooks, but this is different because I think there’s a sense with chapbooks that they “expire,” or at least many of them go out of print quickly enough.  The First Risk is a book I’m still excited about; I just hope other people don’t think it’s too dark or too strange, although it really is both of those things.

4. You received your poetry MFA from Arizona State University, and you’re currently pursuing an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management.  Could you talk a little bit about how you see these two degrees working together?

Well, they work together perfectly in my current job.  I’m the director of The Writer’s Center, a nonprofit arts & humanities organization in the DC metropolitan area.  We provide writing workshops, give free public events, sell books and literary magazines, and generally support writers at all stages of their careers.  As the director, I manage the day-to-day operations, overseeing everything from programs to budgeting to strategic plan implementation.  Some organizations can have an artistic director and an executive director, but with my background, I can fill both roles confidently.  I understand what the needs of the artists in our community are, and I understand the needs of the organization as a business as well.  It’s a good fit and it balances a lot of my interests nicely.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I’ve been working off-and-on on a novel called Musical Theatre in Hell, about a college theatrical production that goes horribly (and laughably) awry, and I have a stalled sequence of poems in progress.  The poems explore faith from the perspectives of Dorothy Eady (one of the leading examples of reincarnation in the last century), Joseph Smith (who founded the Mormon church), and Dorothy Gale (from The Wizard of Oz).

6. What great books have you read recently? Also, are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading a lot of short stories—collections by Mary Gaitskill, Antonya Nelson, and Amy Hempel. I like their brevity, and all three collections are very distinct from each other in style.  And for a while before that, I was making steady progress through the Gossip Girl series (which is a lot better than you’d think). I have an enormous stack of new books I’ve been trying to get to—new poetry from Matthew Frank, Brent Goodman, Brian Teare—and honestly, my to-read shelf is getting embarrassingly overfull!  I wish everyone would take a one-year hiatus from publishing books so I could catch up on all my reading in the meantime.

Thank You!

Thanks so much to everyone who came and read The The Collagist's debut over the weekend! I wanted to take some time and thank some of the people who helped spread the word in these first few post-launch days. The Collagist received over 2000 unique visitors in the first 48 hours it was available, and that wouldn't have been possible without your help.

To begin, here's a sampling of what was said about the magazine so far:
The Collagist features plenty of big hitters right out of the dugout, including Chris Bachelder, Kim Chinquee, and Kevin Wilson... [covering] everything from router anxiety to sinkhole champions; from snowman-inspired carnality to Eastern Oregon; from thoughtful video reviews to thoughtful verbal reviews (including a review of Brian Evenson’s Fugue State by our own Ryan Call); from an essay about being in some dude’s workshop by David McLendon to a story by the dude who ran that workshop, some dude named Gordon Lish, this Lish dude, dude Lish, Gordotron, named a story, ran a shop, worked... There is also, of course, the clean-as-a-jeweler’s-glasses presentation that we’ve come to expect from DZANC.

--Mike Young, HTML GIANT

Editor Matt Bell, in his welcome letter, explains “Dzanc was created to publish and promote literary writing, and, to me, The Collagist is in some ways a recognition of the fact that while their book publishing arm necessarily deals in full manuscripts, there is still a calling for Dzanc to find ways to publish and promote individual pieces by a wider population of emerging and established writers.” I think this speaks well to online literature in general–it’s not the bastard stepchild of print journals, as some traditionalists still believe, but rather gives literature a wider berth, a louder voice with which to reach a more diverse and widespread audience.

--Jill D'Urso, Fringe Magazine

The Collagist opened today, and it looks great and has great writing (I particularly liked the particular poem Autumn Scene as Lullaby, by Oliver de la Paz), which is all well and good.

--Cami Park, Mungo

I’m really looking forward to reading Dzanc’s newly launched online literary magazine this weekend... I’m especially interested in the inclusion of a novel excerpt, acknowledged as such; this issue’s extract comes from Laird Hunt’s fourth novel Ray of the Star (forthcoming this September from Coffee House Press).

--Anne Stameshkin, Fiction Writer's Review

We’ll actually be running eleven reviews in our September issue... and hope to continue to see a wide spread in terms of type and style, with concentration on independent publishers... This month’s reviews include books published by Rager Media, Beacon Press, Dalkey Archive, and Coffee House Press.  Next month’s will have been published by:  Press 53, Two Dollar Radio, Raw Dog Screaming Press, Fairy Tale Press, Grove, New Directions, Soft Skull, Dalkey Archive and the University of Nebraska Press.

--Dan Wickett, talking to Jane Ciabattari, Critical Mass

I love the proliferation of lit journals – online, in print, handmade, etc. But I feel like there’s something a little more special about the debut of The Collagist.

--John Dermot Woods

The people over at Dzanc always put together amazing projects and this is no exception.

--Jensen Beach

Been chewing on The Collagist. What an issue! But what else would you expect from Dzanc? I will blog more later as I digest but what an argument for quality... Here we have a mag simply barreling out of the gate.

--Sean Lovelace

Dzanc Books, who I think should receive an award for being the "most everywhere" new indie publisher, has yet another endeavor to entice readers and writers: The Collagist online literary journal... Really you guys, what's next? Why am I envisioning something in outer space?

--Denise Hill, NewPages

I'd also like to thank all the other blogs that linked to us in their posts over the weekend. It means a lot to us to have had so many writers and bloggers support our launch, including Largehearted Boy, Perpetual Folly, CondalmoA Salted, Mark Woods, Andrew Roe, Ravi Mangla, Hannah Pass, Nicolle Elizabeth, Hungry Like the Woolf, Katrina Denza, J.A. Tyler, Linera Lucas, Gabe Durham, Motown Writers Network, The Mark on the Wall, DOGZPLOT, Audri Sousa, and I'm sure more that I've missed here but am no less thankful for. (If I have missed you, please let me know and I'll add you to this post ASAP.)

Thanks also to everyone who posted on Twitter about the issue. Lots of good people to follow, if you're not already: @swinglet, @almostdorothy, @fictionaut, @offendingadam, @barrelhouse, @lunaparkreview, @potash, @keyholemag, @SamRasnake, @Orangealert, @mmechevrolet, @3ammagazine, @vpnychon, @RobertSwartwood, @fourteenletters, @todd_keisling, @nanoed, @pankmagazine, @kaolinfire, @TeresaHoule, @SScushing, @FredRamey, @teresesaplys, @janeciab, @cindywathen, @fadetheory, @sylviahubbard1, @BiblioFilmes, @caketrainpress, @bookfox, @Lvandenberg, @readandbreathe, @StacyBierlin, @berlingfish, @htmlgiant, and @13stitches. The word really got out about the issue via Twitter, and these are some of the people who made it possible. Once again, if I've missed you, please let me know.

More than anything I just want to again express my gratitude to everyone who helped make this launch into such a special event, whether it was through a blog post or a friendly Facebook message or e-mail, or just by stopping by and enjoying one of the included works. We've got a lot more great content coming your way through the next month, including interviews and podcasts, the latter beginning with Wednesday's Apostrophecast episode (featuring Kevin Wilson, Kim Chinquee, and Charles Jensen) before continuing here at this blog. Be sure to tune in Wednesday night, and be sure to keep coming back here for more new content supporting our first issue!

Interview: Ander Monson

Ander Monson's essay "Assembloir: That Which is True of Others Is True of Me" appears in the first issue of The Collagist, published August 15, 2009.  He is the author of a host of paraphernalia including a decoder wheel, several chapbooks and limited edition letterpress collaborations, a website, and three books: Neck Deep and Other Predicaments, Other Electricities, and Vacationland. In 2010 Sarabande Books will publish The Available World, a poetry collection, and Graywolf Books will publish a nonfiction project, Vanishing Point. The assembloir in this issue is from the accompanying website for that book. He edits the magazine DIAGRAM and the New Michigan Press.

Here, he speaks to The Collagist's Lauren Walbridge about the assembly of this piece, as well as his forthcoming books, The Available World and Vanishing Point.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for "Assembloir: That Which Is True of Others Is True of Me"? What was on your mind while you were writing this essay?

This assembloir is one of several that I wrote—or perhaps assembled, though I’m not always sure there’s a difference between the two—for the forthcoming book Vanishing Point (April 2010). I ended up cutting a couple from the book-artifact, but they’ll be included with the web extension of the book. The book has a bunch of terms that bear a small glyph. When you see one of the terms, you can go on the website and type in the term, and it’ll bring up a bunch of bonus content. I think of it as a way to keep essaying and thinking about these ideas past the limitations of the book as physical object.

2. How did you go about choosing the memoirs, and their quotes?

With the help of Dolly Laninga, a writer I contracted to help out with this project, I read (or she and I read, or in some cases she read) something like 300 memoirs. Mainly we just looked for anything interesting that we could find. Really any memoir would do. We’d go through and copy down interesting quotes, or quotes that fit in one of a bunch of categories: “That’s when I learned” quotes, disclaimers about the nature of nonfiction, ending scenes, quotes that talked about significance, and so on. Then I picked through and chose quotes for hilarity, wackness, continuity, or whatever. Those represented in this assembloir are things that are true of me, that tell my story. Really our stories are all not so different, though the particular events of our lives are.

3. Why the decision to repeat certain lines? Did they come up in multiple memoirs, or did they start to take on a significance of their own?

They act as refrains, and give a little bit of structure to the mess. They came up a few times in the same memoir, or in multiples, and I thought that must mean something.

4. You have two books forthcoming: The Available World, a poetry collection from Sarabande Books, and Vanishing Point, a nonfiction project from Graywolf Press.  What can we expect from these books?

Vanishing Point is a long meander/meditation on a bunch of subjects all related to the I and consciousness: memoir and jury duty, Dungeons & Dragons, the band New Order, the funeral of president Gerald Ford, varieties of Doritos, forgetfulness, solipsism, a particularly lovely youtube clip, and so on. As I mentioned above, the physical book’s only one part of what I consider the book project, which also includes the website. The Available World’s poems are elegies and tragedies, sermons for the age of information and chemical components in our shampoo, and, above all, absolute availability. This book has a web component also.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

Mostly I’m working on the web halves of these books. There’s a lot of original material on there, written specifically for the site. The downside of writing a bunch of web material is that you end up working on the book much longer than the usual gestation period of the book: normally you’d write the book, give it to the editor, and move on to the next project. In this case I just keep working and worrying on it until it comes out, and then even after. So it slows the other projects down. Next up, though, is fiction, which I’ll be concentrating on after Christmas (a couple bits of which are leaking out from various places in the next six months) and before the book tour for the new ones.

6. What great books have you read recently? Also, are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

I just happened on Kathleen Peirce’s poetry collection Ardor, which is absolutely stellar. I rarely have the experience of having a book rewire my brain, but that one absolutely did. I also just finished Lem’s Solaris, which was also its own brand of mindfuck, and Sherry Turkle’s Simulation and its Discontents, which, while related in a way, was only okay, which isn’t really within the purview of the question, but then I’ve never been good at that.

Issue One: August 2009

The first issue of The Collagist is now live!

In this debut issue, we've got new fiction by Chris Bachelder, Kevin Wilson, Kim Chinquee, and Matthew Salesses, plus an excerpt from Laird Hunt's forthcoming novel Ray of the Star. Charles Jensen, Oliver de la Paz, and Christina Kallery each contribute several new poems apiece. In non-fiction, Ander Monson provides an innovative personal essay in the form of an "assembloir," while David McLendon's essay relates his personal experiences with the master teacher, editor, and writer Gordon Lish, exploring the impact of Lish's mentorship on both his own writing and his everyday life. Lish's story "I'm Wide" (which originally appeared in his collection What I Know So Far) is also reprinted in this issue, which I hope you'll consider first as its own unique piece and then again, in tandem with McLendon's essay.

The Collagist's first book review section includes coverage of Terry Galloway's Mean Little Deaf Queer, Michal Ajvaz's The Other City, and Brian Evenson's Fugue State (written by Dawn Raffel, John Madera, and Ryan Call, respectively), as well as a video review of Jonathan Baumbach's You, or the Invention of Memory by Anna Clark.

Thank you for reading, and for doing whatever you can to spread the word about The Collagist. We're very excited to have this first issue to share with you, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

The Collagist Debut Issue to Publish Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dzanc Books is pleased to announce its newest venture: an online journal called The Collagist. Intent on continuing the Dzanc tradition of bringing extraordinary writing to a wide audience, the first issue of The Collagist will be published on August 15th, 2009, and appear subsequently each month at

The Collagist, as edited by Matt Bell with Matthew Olzmann as Poetry Editor, will deliver outstanding new short stories, poems, and essays from both emerging and established writers, as well as an exclusive excerpt from a forthcoming novel. The Collagist will also publish several new book reviews in every issue.

The debut issue includes fiction by Chris Bachelder, Kevin Wilson, Kim Chinquee, Matthew Salesses, and Gordon Lish, plus an excerpt from Laird Hunt's forthcoming novel Ray of the Star. Charles Jensen, Oliver de la Paz, and Christina Kallery each contribute several new poems, and Ander Monson and David McLendon offer two different and unique takes on the personal essay.

The Collagist's first book review section includes coverage of Terry Galloway's Mean Little Deaf Queer, Michal Ajvaz's The Other City, and Brian Evenson's Fugue State, as well as a video review of Jonathan Baumbach's You, or the Invention of Memory.

Each issue will also extend beyond its formal pages onto our blog, which will provide additional material throughout the month, including interviews with contributors and audio and video readings of work found in the issue, all of which will also be available as a podcast through iTunes. The blog can be found at

On August 19th, The Collagist will join forces with the innovative online reading series Apostrophecast to celebrate its launch with readings by Kevin Wilson, Kim Chinquee, and Charles Jensen. Apostrophecast is located at

We thank you in advance for your coverage of this launch, and look forward to continuing to share this exciting new project with you when future issues publish each month.

For more information please email or
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