My Cordite Top Eleven!

As some of you no doubt know by now, I’ve formally stepped down as Managing Editor of Cordite Poetry Review to make way for a new editor, Kent MacCarter. In this post, I look back on my years as editor, and pick my top eleven choicest moments from what has been a thrilling, exhausting and ultimately life-affirming rollercoaster ride of love and passion. Or something.

*wipes away tears*

1. Cordite 29.1: Haikunaut

I first met Haikunaut co-editors David G. Lanoue and Keiji Minato at a conference of the World Haiku Association in Ten’ri, Japan in 2004. We really hit it off and it was also a delight to meet up again in Sofia, Bulgaria the following year. Fast-forward to 2009 and the need for a Haiku-themed issue of Cordite became clear. What started out as a mini-feature blossomed into a collection of over one hundred haiku in English, Japanese and Bulgarian. Haikunaut was our first issue to feature poetry in non-Western scripts, and it remains one of my favourite Cordite issues of all time, not least because it has embedded the word ‘haikunaut’ in the English language – also (hopefully) for all time.

2. Cordite 31.1: Post-Epic

From the shortest of forms to the longest – Cordite is nothing if not consistent. Or binary. Or both. After guest-editor Ali Alizadeh slayed all comers with his selections in the Epic issue, we decided to switch things up, with a selection of Post-Epic poems written, a line at a time, by our readers. It didn’t take long for the resident Cordite commentariat to latch on to the idea and, within a short space of time, over one thousand lines of poetry had been written. Just wow.

3. Cordite 21.1: Robo

Okay so this one’s a little obscure; in 2005, Nick Whittock came up with the idea of a Robo-poetry competition as part of his job at the St. Kilda library. He and I acted as judges, and we published the winners as Cordite 21.1: Robo. As Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know that.” In any case, I think it’s a very cute little collection of poems.

4. Cordite 16: Search

This one is also going back a bit in time; I think it must have been 2002 or 2003 when I was a member of the Poetry Espresso online poetry mailing list. List moderator Cassie Lewis invited me to be poetry editor for a month, and I invited list members to send me poems ‘composed’ using search engines. The result was Cordite 16: Search. While I’d like to think this issue came out long before Flarf was even thought of, the truth is rather more prosaic. Still, I think it’s a really cool issue, with some amazing pieces, including Carlie Lazar‘s stone-cold classic, ‘A Prank Call to John Howard’.

5. Cordite 23 & 34: Children of Malley I & II

We knew we were onto something when in December 2005, just after the release of Children of Malley, we received an email from Jen Jewel Brown, one of the contributors to the issue, in which she said: “May I say that, fun aside, these poems respresent an enormous mind-fuck of the first degree? That is to say, they really really get me off. Poetic excitement continues, courtesy of all Malleys and their intellectual whirlpools, and the brilliance of Cordite for dreaming this up and editing it.” It’s probably the most fitting testament I can think of to the editorial genius of Liam Ferney, who originally suggested the idea and then went on to select some awe-inspiring poems. Of course, the fun didn’t end there, with a protracted series of revelations as to the identities of the poets in the issue, who had chosen noms de Malley such as Flannery O’Malley, Sylvia Malley, Ouyang Malley and my personal favourite, Ern Malley’s Cat. Five years later, Liam reprised his role as Chief Malley Expert with Children of Malley II. This time around, the speculation as to the true identities of the Children of Malley was even more fierce. Stay tuned for Children of Malley III in 2015!


Image: the cover shot for Children of Malley (2005) by Flannery O’Malley (aka Adrian Wiggins)

6. Haikunaut Island Renga & Zombie Haikunaut Renga

Around the time of our Haikunaut issue, something very strange and wonderful happened. Co-editor Keiji Minato posted a series of essays on haiku and other short forms including renga, and then suggested a special Haikunaut Renga with himself as moderator. Just as would happen in the Post-Epic issue, we invited readers to leave their comments on the post and Keiji would hand-choose each of the thirty-six verses required to make the renga. We were completely overwhelmed by the response: over 1200 comments were posted, and the resulting Haikunaut Island Renga remains a staggering testament to crowd-sourced poetry. While the follow-up Zombie Haikunaut Renga, with Ashley Capes at the helm, only attracted some 600 comments, that’s still six hundred comments. Come on!

7. Cordite 22: Editorial Intervention

It may appear by this stage that my top Cordite moments have more to do with my own role as editor than with anyone else’s efforts. While that’s certainly not true – and I’d strongly recommend you check out the full list of Cordite issues to see for yourself the depth and range of talents involved in the journal – when it comes down to it, the job of an editor is a fairly thankless one, and you’ve frankly got to take every opportunity to blow your own trumpet. This was the philosophy behind Cordite 22: Editorial Intervention, which featured a selection of poems by Australian and international poetry journal editors. Because they’re awesome.

8. Cordite 33.1: CC the Remixes

Our thirty-third issue was the first to be issued under a Creative Commons license, which was kind of fitting, as its title was Creative Commons too. We made the poems in the issue available for download and then invited contributors and readers to remix the words in whatever style they liked. Our guest poetry editor for the issue, Alison Croggon, read through all of the remixes before making her selections, the result of which was Cordite 33.1: CC the Remixes. I really enjoyed this issue, although I can’t really explain why now.

9. Cordite 30.0 & 30.1: Custom | Made

I have no trouble explaining why I liked this issue: I was thrilled to bits when joanne burns agreed to edit the issue, and in fact I can reveal that the day this issue was released, Cordite achieved its highest ever number of hits. Cordite 30.0: Custom constituted a stellar assembly of poems and poets, and Cordite 30.1: Made was the icing on the cake, with each of the contributors to the issue re-mixing each other’s works. You can tell I’m into the remix concept, right?

Cordite 32: Zombie 2.0

Including this fabulously weird issue of poems was a real no-braaaaainer, heh heh. Reprising Terry Jaensch‘s original Zombie issue, published way back in 2003, guest poetry editor Ivy Alvarez managed to creep out pretty much everyone who came near Cordite 32: Zombie 2.0. Did I mention braiaaiiinzz?

11. Cordite 35: Oz-Ko

Another no-brainer. Some might say that Cordite 35: Oz-Ko should be at the top of this list but I’m not that into numbers and, besides, life is one big circle anyway. That being said, if there’s one issue of which I am the most proud, it is Ok-Ko. Originally conceived as a straightforward selection of twenty poems in English and Korean, Oz-Ko ballooned into three separate issues featuring over one hundred poems (eighty of which were in both English and Hangul), a series of features and interviews, beautiful images, poets’ tours of Korea and Australia and (hopefully) a long-lasting sense of inspiration and exchange. Ever since first travelling to Seoul as an Asialink resident in 2005, I had harboured a dream of producing such an issue. My second Asialink residency in 2009, during which I met and interviewed Ko Un, only fanned the flames. The fact that we managed to pull off such a feat is down to the hard work of the editors, translators, poets and arts administrators involved in the project. The same can be said for my time as Cordite’s editor. I seriously don’t think I will ever be involved in such an extraordinary adventure again.

*gives up trying to wipe away tears, looks back with pride and amazement instead*

Naturally, with over two thousand posts published on the Cordite site since I became editor in 2001, there is an awful lot of untold content that is not covered by this quite arbitrary Top Eleven. You can check out the Simply the Best: Cordite’s Top Thirty Posts for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. If that’s not enough, why, just click on a random post. What have you got to lose?

Words are bullets. Poetry is code.

Stockholm Calling

Just like a Californian burrito maker, I’ve been preventing myself from spilling the beans by keeping them strictly under wraps (rim-shot!) but now seems as good a moment as any to announce that I will be moving to Stockholm. In ten days.

For the past twelve months I’ve been living and working in Karlskrona, a lovely ex-Naval town in the southern province of Blekinge. It’s certainly been a big change from the three years I spent in the crowded cities of the Netherlands; in fact, the only place I can think of that I can really compare Karlskrona to is Wagga Wagga – although I suspect Wagga has a few more pubs than K-Town, and is probably a little warmer in the winter.

Work-wise, my stint as a post-doctoral researcher as part of the ELMCIP project has challenged my idea of what literature can and should be in a digital context. Despite having been an editor of an online journal for the last eleven years, it wasn’t until I arrived here that I really considered the myriad ways in which electronic literature can engage with readers (players, viewers, users, co-creators).

As a consequence, I consider the most recent issue of Cordite, which features electronic works for the first time, to have been something of a watershed in terms of my own understanding of e-lit. In this context, it was great to be able to interview my colleagues Talan Memmott and Maria Engberg, both of whom have a great deal of knowledge and experience of digital literature and practice.

This year has also been a great one in terms of meeting other researchers and practitioners in the field of electronic literature. I’ve attended conferences in Jyväskylä, Karlskrona, Ljubljana and Amsterdam (where I also gave a paper), and acted as a co-editor of the forthcoming ELMCIP anthology of European electronic literature. I’m also really looking forward to being in Edinburgh for the final ELMCIP conference in November this year.

On a more personal level, it’s been really fun to experience all four distinct seasons here in southern Sweden, from last winter’s extreme snow and blizzards (strangely absent so far this time around), to spring’s slow awakening, summer’s long and glorious days and autumn’s drop-dead multi-spangled beauty. Karlskrona being a town surrounded by water, it’s also been great to see some of the islands in the archipelago, go for walks along deserted rocky beaches and get lost in seemingly endless forests.


Image: Saltö Strand, Karlskrona

Of course, there’s never enough time in life to do everything on one’s personal ‘to-do’ list but I’m glad to say that I have experienced midsummer in all its ‘songs about frogs and drinking snapps’ glory; witnessed the batty antics of graduating high school students riding around town wearing sailor’s caps in the back of trucks; played some awesome games of kubbspel and mini-golf; tried and rejected the taste of sill, glögg and skagentoast; and been a part of the national celebrations when Melodifestivalen winner Eric Saade came third in Eurovision.

Now, as the nation prepares for another crop of Melodifestivalen losers, it’s time for me to move on once more. The good news, however, is that I’ll be moving to Stockholm, the epicentre of Sweden’s bizarre solar system and the home of the Melodifestivalen final. W00t!

In Stockholm I’ll be taking up a position as a research editor with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an organisation which, for those who don’t keep up with these things, has apparently just been ranked second in the 2011 Global Go To Think Tank Index Rankings, just behind the UK’s Chatham House and ahead of Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and any other (non-US) think-tank you’d care to mention.

I’m excited to be starting a new life in Stockholm, and looking forward to sampling the delights of the city’s bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as the multitude of museums, clubs and cultural activities on offer. Nevertheless, while it’s easy to see that Karlskrona lacks most of these things, I will miss being able to look out the window of my house and see the sea; and I’ll miss the laid-back summer days and the picture-perfect islands of Saltö, Dragsö and Langö.

Then again, if I ever win the lotto, I’m pretty sure that the first thing I’ll do with my squillions of kronor is buy a pretty little stuga somewhere on the archipelago, stock it with all manner of food and drink, and then while away my golden years playing kubb, whittling pieces of wood into ornamental pipes and distilling my own mead. Until then, I will take away many happy memories of Karlskrona, and hope to return again.

Hej då.

Cordite 36: Electronica is now online

I’m a bit behind the eight-ball here, but all the same it’s a real thrill to announce that Cordite 36: Electronica is now online!

The issue contains more poetry and poetics than you can poke a stick at. Here’s a run-down:

Cordite 36: Electronica

Guest Poetry Editor: Jill Jones

Contributors: Gemma Mahadeo, Paul Giles, w.m.lewis, michael farrell, Kevin Gillam, Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers, Christopher Brew, Mark O’Flynn, Anne Gorrick, Misbah Khokhar, Angela Gardner, Greg McLaren, Mark Young, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Derek Motion, Jessica Wilkinson, Stuart Cooke, Helen Symonds, Joyce Parkes, Sam Langer, Rory Dufficy, Derek Rawson, Gregory Horne, Jenny Powell, Chris Oakey, Louise Molloy, Jessica Bell, Phillip A. Ellis, Eddie Paterson, Joanne Merriam, Christina Armstrong, Susan Adams, Sean M. Whelan and Isnod, komninos, Philip Norton, Pascalle Burton, Emilie Collyer, Mark William Jackson, Ian Gibbins, Jason Nelson, Konrad McCarthy, Joshua Mei-Ling Dubrau, Benjamin Laird, Maxine Clarke, Gareth Jenkins, Crixus, Jamison C. Lee, Sara Moss, Adam Fieled, Bev Braune, Sally Evans, Tim Wright, Alice Melike Ülgezer, David McCooey and Joseph Baron-Pravda.

I’m also happy to say I’ve got a couple or three pieces in the issue, the first of which is Tiny Steps: the Electr(on)ification of Cordite, a reflection on what it means to be ‘electronic’ or not when it comes to online poetry journals.

In addition, and as a reflection of my time spent this year working as part of the ELMCIP project, I’ve published an interview with Maria Engberg and an interview with Talan Memmott. Maria and Talan are my colleagues at BTH in Karlskrona, and it was great of them to spare some time to chat about all things e-lit.

So, enjoy!