Follow Harriet on Twitter
Editor Spotlight: Iris Law
1) Why did you start Lantern Review? What are the goals/mission of the journal?
Lantern Review was born out of a desire to fill a gap. As far as I know, we are the only US-based magazine out there that focuses exclusively on Asian American poetry. When I first began to think about the idea for LR, there were a few magazines that were interested in a multiple-genre approach to Asian American writing and/or writing about Asia, but in a way, I felt that poetry was its own kind of animal, and deserved to be given its own space. Specifically, I was dissatisfied with some of the methods I’d seen for laying out poetry online. Often, long lines get broken in weird places as a result of HTML’s automatic text-wrapping and it’s necessary to scroll down through poems instead of being able to take in a whole page at a time as one might in a physical book. Furthermore, because it’s difficult to guarantee that unusual tabbing will be preserved if you’re laying out a poem in straight HTML, many online magazines or web sites tend towards poems that fit the traditional, left-margin-hugging, short-lined, neatly stanza’d look. I think this is a bit of a shame, since the visual aspect of poetry — the way it looks on the page — is extremely important to our experience of it (especially so for many experimental poets who intentionally engage typography and white space as a part of their poetic). One of the goals of the magazine, therefore, is to make full use of available technology to present poetry in a manner that can accomodate both traditional and unusual formatting. As a result of this, our magazine will make use of CSS positioning to more precisely accommodate non-traditional formats, and will follow what we call a spread-formatted layout: i.e., the content will be presented in sets of two facing pages at a time, and poems may span multiple pages or spreads. We are also attempting to size our pages so that they fit within an average-sized laptop monitor without the need for scrolling. (A preview of our magazine’s “look” is available on our web site).
Equally important to me, though, was the desire to create a space to showcase great Asian American poetry and to discuss what’s going on in the vibrant Asian American poetry community. Prior to November, when we launched our web site, there was already a fair amount of conversation about Asian American poetry happening online — but it was scattered across blogs and listserv’s. There weren’t a whole lot of online spaces to centralize and show off some of the wonderful work being done by Asian American poets — and that is where we hoped that we would fit in. I hoped that between the magazine and the LR blog, we would be able to create a new kind of virtual community for readers and writers of Asian American poetry. As an undergraduate at Stanford, I started a workshop community for Asian American students who were interested in creative writing (called Oceanic Tongues) and the experience was wonderfully affirming. It was the first space in which I felt safe discussing questions about craft as it related to the complexities of ethnic identity, and in which I was able to receive feedback from other writers of color who had shared similar experiences. When I moved to Indiana for graduate school, I missed that community a lot, and it was largely from that place of loneliness that the idea for LR began to emerge. I began to do some research about conversations that were happening online regarding Asian American poetry, and eventually I asked my close friend Mia — who is currently an M.F.A. student in poetry at the University of Washington — to come on board as Associate Editor. Mia has been a wonderful collaborator, and her input on editorial and aesthetic decisions has been absolutely invaluable; I trust her judgment completely. She and I developed the name of the magazine together, and it was her idea to devote a portion of each issue to work created by communities of artists (our first issue will feature collaborative poetry by Kundiman fellows). We chose a lantern as our emblem because it is a cross-cultural symbol of enlightenment, hope, and discovery that has historically been a prominent feature of community celebrations. As we say on our web site, “we hope to reflect our desire that Lantern Review would help to shed light on the multifaceted, ever-evolving creature that is ‘Asian American poetry,’ as well as to be a stage on which the question, ‘What is contemporary Asian American poetry and where is it headed?’ can be played out.”
2) Why do you find it important to have a blog connected to the journal? What is the role of the blog in relation to the journal?
The role of the LR Blog is very specific: it is a space in which to develop community and conversation around Asian American poetry, whereas the magazine is designed to be a space specifically devoted to showcasing poems. The blog is also our way of continuing to engage with the Asian American literary community outside of each issue of the magazine. It’s always been a little disappointing to me that the conversation about poetry in many journals is limited to the curatorial space of each issue. The internet is a wonderful venue for creating dynamic dialogue, and it is important to us that our literary contribution extend beyond the content that we choose for the magazine itself. Hence, our team of bloggers — who provide non-editorial perspectives — and our interest in posting guest blog entries and interviews. The blog also serves as a way for us to connect with readers. We share information about what’s going on in the literary community (we keep a monthly calendar of Asian American literary arts events and other goings-on that we think will be of interest to our readers), we promote other work being done in the literary sphere (we post monthly book reviews and updates about other magazines and presses), and share ideas relevant to craft, criticism, and the work of teaching. We hope that our blog posts will provoke further conversations about Asian American poetry in other online spaces, too.
3) What other online journals inspire you as an editor?
Of course, I look up to the work being done by bigger journals, but there is something especially attractive to me about little magazines. Editorially, I admire the work done by magazines like Cerise Press, Blood Orange Review, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal — especially the way that the latter has been able to build and maintain such a vibrant community of online conversations around their magazine. I recently met Neil Aitken of Boxcar Poetry Review and I am a fan of his work, as well. Technologically, I like how Action Yes makes use of mouseovers with certain translations to create an experience of the slippage between two languages. One of the things we are hoping to do in the future is to make better use of internet technology to allow for things like literal hypertext (linking within/between poems) and embedding multimedia into the layout of the magazine. I’d like to learn Flash someday, too, so that we can make the experience of clicking through the magazine more dynamic and seamless. Kartika Review also deserves acknowledgment here. I like that they provide different formats for viewing their issues (.PDF or .HTML). One can download out the whole issue as a .PDF and read it as one might experience a printed periodical, but because their issues come in .HTML versions as well, each individual poem is also linkable (a strategy that facilitates blogging about particular pieces).
Mia and I also feel that the visual impact of LR is just as important as the quality of the written content it contains, and while designing our web site’s “look,” I was very much inspired by the understated visual aesthetics of Diode and Softblow and the clean, typographically-driven quality of publications like Stirring and Wicked Alice, among other sites.
There’s also a number of print magazines (both literary and non-literary) out there that have done a great job of using their blogs to supplement and expand upon their magazine content, and these were models that we looked to for inspiration in figuring out how to structure the LR blog. Poetry (with Harriet and the Poetry Foundation web site) is one of these sources of inspiration. The Hyphen blog is another. I’m also a bit of a nerdy hobbyist, and so the indie arts & crafts blog Craftzine (which used to be affiliated with a print magazine called Craft) is a third source. Hyphen and Craftzine in particular employ a lot of thematic series on their blogs, and you’ll see that we’ve drawn from their example in our own blog, which is structured around regular “columns” and occasionally features monthly series that center around a particular theme (in March, for example, our theme was “The Page Transformed: Intersections of Poetry & The Visual Arts”).
4) Who are you? Where do you study? What writers currently interest you?
My name is Iris Law and I am a Chinese American poet and the founding editor of the online literary magazine and blog Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry. I was born — and spent my childhood — in South Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia, but have spent the last six years living in other parts of the country: I received my B.A. from Stanford University and will graduate with an M.F.A. from the University of Notre Dame in May.
I finally read Kimiko Hahn’s The Artist’s Daughter in January, and I’m slightly obsessed with it at the moment. I love the beauty of her clean lyric lines, but I’m also blown away by the boldness of her project: she’s unafraid to engage with the visceral or clinically anatomical; the body becomes a deconstructable and ingestible item, and yet it retains an element of the mythic or mysterious that intrigues and pulls the reader forward through the collection. I also read Monica Ferrell’s Beasts for the Chase around the same time, and was impressed by the way she tightly renders image and voice. Another thing that’s really important to me is a poem’s sense of internal music. I recently heard Cornelius Eady and Joyelle McSweeney read together and was struck by how very wonderfully the sonic qualities of their work lend themselves to performance — albeit in distinctly different ways. In my own work, I’m interested in science, anatomy, epistolary forms, questions of historicity, and dramatic monologues. The poetry of Natasha Trethaway, and Barbara Jane Reyes have been influential in this respect, because of the ways that they engage with history and the dramatic address. I’ve also looked to Jill McDonough’s book Habeas Corpus for inspiration; I love how she plays with the traditional form of the sonnet, using found language from historical documents to weave compassionate but unflinching portraits of her subjects. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is another writer who fascinates me; stylistically, my own poetry is much more traditional than any of her work, but I love how she makes language into something tactile and physically manipulable, how she plays with the boundary between historical “fact” and “fiction” and engages with visual and performance art to form a poetic that extends beyond the 2-D page. Less contemporary favorites include Levertov, Bishop, Millay, Hopkins, Coleridge, and Milton. In other genres, I love the vibrant, liquid textures of Kate Chopin’s prose and the simultaneously ferocious and mythic qualities of Zora Neal Hurston’s work, and I am intrigued by the lyric movements of bodies and scoring of breath intrinsic to the performing arts (I am a big fan of theater, especially, and for a long time was deeply influenced by the lyrical movement of bodies in Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of the Metamorphoses).