Friday, February 2, 2018

Six Questions for Vincent L. Byrnes, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Structural Damage

Structural Damage publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, visual art, essays, interviews, and reviews. We live for art that is bold, iconoclastic, and intimate. Read the complete guidelines here, and see what we have previously published.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Vincent L. Byrnes: Hannah Jade and I intended to start the magazine in early 2016. We almost had our first issue ready to go, including these totally adorable pocket issues, but due to an unseen “incident” it had to be put off, then put off again while traveling. We continued to plug the idea to artists and writers we met along the way, and once settling in Hanoi, buying a computer, and getting our lovely friend Jake Edgar on board as an editor, we were able to actually roll.

Its original incarnation in Portland was as a middle ground between zine and pro/literary journal. The goal was to feature the local creatives and give them a constant place to publish their work. We were going to keep cost low by essentially printing everything on one sheet of paper, which would allow us the wide release of a successful magazine.

We love the journal and zine scene in Portland, and other cities across the US, but just wanted it to be easier for people to acquire, follow, and assimilate. Too often those releases feel like you are in a club, which is only awesome if you are a part of the exclusivity. We were hoping to expose people who, at most, absolutely detest art and poetry, to our magazine. Our club, which I suppose it still is, then becomes entirely accessible in a tangible and ethereal form. We also like to think of SD as a cooperative venture. We wanted to start this to give the writers and artists a voice in what we do here. We are open to opinions and referrals and because the magazine is still so new, we rely heavily on the contributors support. Journals need to be something artists can push, jaw, critic, and adore. By having a less stern approach, we hopefully portray SD as something everyone created in one way or another, which I think separates us from the inbred facelessness of some magazines. (Harsh.)

While travelling, the ability to have global contributors and readers was presented as well, which is something increasingly desirable.

All the editors are writers or artists in many forms. After the harrowing experience that is seeking publication, we wanted to extend one more outlet to people, by simply creating a magazine that we would want to be published in.

Important to mention though - SD was also created with the intent to become an indie-press in the future. Because of my own writing, I completely understand how some poems inherently cannot be published alone, even as an excerpt. So this was created with long-term goals of being able to publish long collections, novellas, even novels. We want to be able to publish people who cannot get published elsewhere, not because they are bad, but because there is something so strange about it, or unfortunately they don’t know the right people. You know us. We are the right people.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

VLB: I want writing that is simply different in one way or another – either through subject or form or voice. The piece doesn’t need to be shipped to me in a puzzle box or anything I guess because I am not as progressive as I should be, but I look for the distinctive and iconoclastic. Work shouldn’t be able to be repeated, or be a repetition unto itself.

Range is something I value immensely in someone’s work as well. If a poet sends in five poems, I hope that they are able to touch as many subjects or tones as possible. I look at a submission as five separate pieces, not as a Part 1-5 – which is totally fine but would be better suited for a collection, rather than print/online publishing among other pieces. So the work should be occupy a zigzagging spectrum or different dimensions.

Lastly, I simply look if the work is advancing, or halting, the growth of the form. Art is at a fucking precarious place in the techno-pomo is dead-end of the world mentality. And I’m not sure what ought to be next or if that thinking is already reductive (probably is) but I feel like we have a grasp of what should be in the future canon. Part of that comes from my own writing and the contemporary writers I love. It’s easy to say we are starting a revolution – but like, we are starting a revolution here. Manifesto to come. Dig it.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

VLB: I’ll start with the actual email portion of the process. Emails that do not include a bio or a pic destroy me a little inside, but I ultimately get it – I am a stranger and you don’t want me to know your life or what you look like. It just means if I like your work I have to type another sentence in an acceptance letter asking for them. Cool, whatever, but it means you probably didn’t look on our site at previously published works, nor our submission guidelines, so I am already not thrilled before looking at the work, which in turn saddens me even more. What are worse are the emails that almost look like spam. If I think I might get a virus from your submission I am going to be unhappy. This means the email address looks more like a cypher than an actual person’s account, a few links to websites I’ve never heard of, or a .doc that’s simply titled Submission, and “Check this out” as the body of the message. You obviously don’t need to explain in detail what you sent, but some context would be awesome.

In terms of the actual writing, clichés are absolutely forbidden unless used expertly. They completely remove me from the piece and halt any growth the writer has made throughout the piece. It’s like sticking dynamite in the middle of a building. Fucking boom. Writing that makes me painfully aware it is a poem also turns me off. The blood just stops flowing. If your piece reads too earnest, sober, or staid, I think it is boring. Works of art like that are too passive and borderline pitiful, which is the exact opposite way we think art should be created, and certainly not the way it is approached. Artists are still trying to get over that stereotype.

SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

VLB: I have utterly boring answers for this one. 3 AM is probably my favorite, and Paris Review. I have mad respect for Agni, Five Points, Granta, Tin House, n+1. Also shout out to the “alt” newspaper Willamette Week, but not the L.A. Weekly anymore (boycott.) Hanoi has this amazing journal called Ajar that publishes in both Vietnamese and English. They deserve a lot more support.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

VLB: We had a really interesting piece submitted the other day. It had an absolutely wonderful message, and was technically strong, but it used a religious figure as its tragic heroine. I am not opposed to the respectful borrowing of religious idols, presented in an interesting way, like Angels in America, or Jesus’ supporting role in Journal of Albion Moonlight or Swedenborg, but if the work is wholly (ha) based on that denominational tradition or ideal it is nigh impossible to publish for me. Even if Angels in America landed on my desk, having previously not been staged, I probably would pass on it.

Prose that is full-on fantasy is tough for me too. That dis-includes sci-fi though I guess because it’s futuristic, not “of yore,” and also omitted is magical realism, as the fantastical element is not the “point.” I know there are a lot of very successful critical respected fantasy authors, but I can’t get into it. I understand it’s great within it’s genre, but but but. While horror movies are my favorite type of cinema, straight horror fiction gets tiring.

What it boils down to is if it can be considered a genre piece or not.

More erotica might be the key to a devoted reader-base. Thanks.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

VLB: If Structural Damage gave me a mixtape, what would be on it?

  • Propagandhi - Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes
  • Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  • My Bloody Valentine - When You Sleep
  • Bikini Kill – I Like Fucking
  • VU - Lady Godiva’s Operation
  • Sonic Youth - Karen Revisited
  • Jorja Smith – On My Mind
  • Modern Lovers - Hospital
  • Mogwai - Take Me Somewhere Nice
  • The Olivia Tremor Control - I Have Been Floated
  • The Antlers - Sylvia
  • Vince Staples - BagBak
  • Brian Eno - An Ascent
  • Jawbreaker - Boxcar
  • Daniel Johnston - Walking the Cow
  • Cat Power - Enough

Thank you, Vincent. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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