Friday, November 4, 2016

Six Questions for W.F. Lantry, Editor, and Kate Fitzpatrick, Managing Editor, Peacock Journal

Peacock Journal looks for beauty.

(Ceased publication)

Have you ever been so attracted to something, you just wanted to be close to it? You just wanted to exist within the same space? Or have you ever seen something so beautiful you thought it might be a door to another world? And all you desired, with the entirety of your being, was to pass through that door, into that other place, and just exist there for a little while? It’s not a separate reality, it’s a heightened, more intense reality, fuller and more complete. Write that and send it to us. It’s really difficult. It’s far easier to write gritty and pedestrian. But try it. Send us something about water and wind and light and the interplay of harmonies between them.

Peacock Journal publishes poetry of up to 60 lines, fiction and creative nonfiction of 500 to 2,000 words, translations, photography & art, and audio works. 

SQF: What was the impetus to start Peacock Journal?

Peacock Journal: Kate’s a singer. Actually, she’s not just any singer, she’s a coloratura soprano. If you could sit and listen to her, even for a few moments, you’d be amazed. Literally stunned. Or, as William Carlos Williams said, “Shaken by her beauty.” Not merely the physical, the beauty of her voice. And there are many other beautiful experiences in the world. Far too many to count. A single candle in a dark room, azure wings flitting from one branch to another in Boquete, Panama. Think of your own experience. You have thousands of beautiful moments. Can you write about one of them with clarity and gravity and purity? Can you experience the beauty fully, without shame, without turning your face away? We want a journal filled with those moments. There’s nothing like that out there. So we started one.

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

PJ: It goes without saying we look for beauty. Apart from that: clarity, dignity and brevity. For clarity, we mean not letting too many shadows intrude. James Wright talked about “the pure clear word.” I still think that was his way of coming at Flaubert’s “le mot juste.” It’s incredibly difficult to be clear and exploratory at the same time. But since the focus must remain on the reader, clarity is the first consideration. Dignity, in this case, means not veering off course. People like to jump off the pathway into the curbside gutter, but we’re so accustomed to that now, we wonder if there aren’t other means of exploration. Much as we love to splash in mud puddles, perhaps it distracts us from more invigorating things. Brevity is the most eternal of qualities: many things in few words. We are the laziest of editors because we have the laziest readers. We want everything you’ve got on one screen. Give us your diamonds and sapphires, not vast expanses of dry desert waste.

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

PJ: We’ve tried to keep the guidelines to an essential minimum, specific but open. But sometimes contributors don’t read even those. Sometimes they don’t put their full name in the form, or include a real bio. Sometimes they even forget to attach their work. But the worst, the absolute worst, is crazy formatting within the pieces. Everything has to be translated into HTML. There are some things you can do with a word processor that you cannot do with web code. Kate was downstairs minding her own business when she heard W.F. shouting at his screen, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Last week he spent 3 hours trying to format one writer’s work. He got as close as he could, and sent out the proof page with apologies. The author wrote back and said, “Don’t worry about it. I just get a little over passionate with the tab key.” So, to paraphrase Edna from The Incredibles, “No Tabs!”

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

PJ: There are several categories. Some things we have to decline with the nicest possible words. It takes time and courage to submit to a journal. We don’t want to diminish anyone. In other cases, the writing or art is perfectly wonderful, but the themes will be wildly inappropriate for the journal. In those cases, we try to enter into a dialog with the contributor. And we’ve found that often they end up sending us work that harmonizes with our vision. And there’s another category, where the piece is perfectly lovely but there’s just a misstep or two. Those times we’ll simply ask the contributor to reconsider that particular part of the path. Were William to receive such a message, there would be howls of rage and dismay. But most contributors are more reasonable, and have come up with their own changes, which are often better than anything we could have suggested.

SQF: Based on your experience as editors, what have you learned about writing?

From Nabakov’s Paris Review interview, “The Art of Fiction #40”:

INTERVIEWER: What have you learned from Joyce?
NABOKOV: Nothing.

It’s amazing how easily people go astray. How they’ll have a perfectly fine impulse, and for one reason or another, often as a result of self-focus, they’ll insert something which diminishes the flow. Maybe one of their friends told them their main character needs motivation. Or maybe someone in a workshop told them they needed to add a little grit. Don’t listen to those people. Key changes are one thing, but going out of tune is quite another.

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

PJ: Why do you do this?

The first answer to your question is: ‘We do what we do.’  Or, maybe, ‘We do this because it is what we do,’ which is slightly different. It’s like Sisyphus with the rock. The rock is his thing, and he’s happiest when he’s doing it. All that simply to say, it gives us a great deal of joy bringing this thing into the world. Not just the having done it, but the doing of it each day. The daily activity of creating beauty. And there’s joy in it even though it’s a tremendous amount of work. Frustrating, real, difficult work. So we ask ourselves the same question, “Why are we doing this?”

But there’s also this other thing. We have built connections with people we never imagined we would meet. These connections inform and enrich our lives in meaningful ways. And contributors meet and interact with each other through the journal. It’s as if we’ve cultivated a garden which has drawn other gardeners, and they find a place for conversation and interaction around the central fountain.

Thank you. W. F. and Kate. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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