Poetry News

Republished Douglas Messerli Interview on Green Integer Blog

By Harriet Staff


Douglas Messerli, the editor and publisher of  Green Integer Books, has posted a 1984 interview with Gretchen Johnsen and Richard Peabody of Gargoyle magazine to the Green Integer Blog. The interview offers insight into the history of Sun & Moon, his first magazine and press. Messerli is a well-known supporter of innovative poetry and literature, both nationally and internationally, so it's no surprise to see that reflected in the piece. In reading the interview, though, we're especially struck by two things: The thoroughly interdisciplinary nature of Sun & Moon and the way both press and magazine served as a forum to connect writers from different geographies and generations. Messerli writes:

Instead of publishing a magazine expressing the ideas and writings of a particular group of poets and artists, we decided to open it up to a somewhat broader base of contributors and readers; rather than publishing only that work to which, as a poet, I was most committed (as, say, James Sherry was doing in Roof), I attempted to create in the magazine a sense of a forum for advanced poetry, fiction, and art. My model shifted, accordingly, from The Floating Bear to John Ashbery'Art and Literature; hence, the subtitle: A journal of Literature & Art.

That decision certainly has had its advantages. I think over the years we have served as a kind of forum, as a connecting link, of sorts, between younger writers and artists and those who have established careers. And that has meant that even a beginning writer whose work appeared in the pages of Sun & Moon has had a broad base of readers. If individuals and libraries bought the magazine in order to read the works of writers such as Paul Bowles or Walter Abish or a critic such as Charles Altieri, they also had set before them new poems by Charles Bernstein or Bruce Andrews or -- to use examples of poets first published in our pages -- Jim Wine or Rafael Lorenzo. Its handsome, almost "academic" format also meant that Sun & Moon could generally count on NEA and CCLM grants.

Later in the dialog, Messerli describes his relationship to form and influence in a way that feels very contemporary

I'm not interested in exploring where I'm coming from out of some intellectual desire to purge or revel in my spiritual antecedents, but because I want everybody to join in my performance of the poem, to participate in the process of my writing it. I think, in the end, that lends the poem a kind of honesty. And it's that kind of honesty which allows me to put myself on the line (perhaps I should say in the line), to let my stomach hang out, so to speak. So, when I want to use a corn-porn pun or a ridiculously archaic word or I want to rhyme, I don't have to worry about what the reader might think. I let the reader in on the game at the very beginning: this isn't a poem about me, or let's say, this isn't a poem about me alone, but about you and me working with words. That isn't to say that I don't manipulate the reader or make fun of him or her when they refuse to keep up. But I am fair to them in asking for their participation. I keep them abreast of what I know as we move along together in language.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Originally Published: January 2nd, 2013