Sunday, March 11, 2012

AWP, Installment the Second: The Exhibits

            When we parted ways at the end of our previous installment of the AWP saga, dear reader, we were, as you may recall, about to blog about the AWP book and journal exhibits.
            No room at the Chicago Hilton was big enough for the several solar systems of exhibits, so you had to move from giant room to giant room through a warren of stairways and halls that kept me wondering whether I’d really found all the rooms. One enormous room of exhibits looks pretty much like another enormous room of exhibits, and one row of exhibits looks pretty much like another row (until you look at the individual tables, of course), so you find yourself accidentally circling back to places you’ve already circled through. But I just flew with the flow, going up and down every row and letting myself wander this way and that way until I felt pretty certain I had joined the crazy few who actually saw the whole thing.
            I loved the exhibits. I focused on looking at journals. Usually, I passed quietly by journals I already know well, even when I subscribe to them. I was looking for journals I didn’t know at all or didn’t know well. It amazes me that people still keep inventing new paper journals. When editors asked “How you doing?” and I said I was having a great time, some of them expressed surprise. I guess some people felt overwhelmed and answered the question with moaning and whining. Maybe the moaners worry about what they see as competition from such a horde of other writers, or maybe they can’t handle crowds, writers or not, but I found the crowds exhilarating. All those people who love reading and writing—how can you beat that? I truly did have a great time, even though, as the journal editors chatted, now and then I had to force myself not to say what I really thought.
            So here’s what I didn’t say. Some of those journals—they’re ugly.
            Some people must think it doesn’t matter what a journal of words looks like, but I love looking at journals as well as reading them. I didn’t see other people (though there must have been some) standing at the booths and actually reading the journals, but that didn’t stop me, and sometimes it was fun to chat with editors about the poems they had published. They work so hard on their magazines that sometimes they seemed to get a kick out of seeing a live reader reading and then hearing what that reader thinks. And it’s just as interesting for me to hear how the editors think.
            Anyway, I’m not alone in thinking that it matters what a journal looks like. Some of them are ugly, but lots of them look great, in all sorts of ways. Since I didn’t see anyone else standing at the booths and reading, that indicates all the more how much difference the look makes, because the look is all you get if you don’t read and until you do read. The reputation of a journal, and even its self-definition, often depend on its visual design more than on the words on the page or screen. Some of the supposedly edgiest journals, both in their self-proclamations and in what others say about them, turn out to read like fairly ordinary or traditional stuff, but they look snarly or cool, artsy or au courant, and that makes their buzz.
            Next installment: how some journals muff their design.

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