Literary MagNet

Kevin Larimer

The manifesto with which the editors of Wag's Revue introduce their new online literary magazine is remarkable for a couple of reasons. A solid entry in what is fast becoming a genre unto itself—perhaps best described as the "post-print proclamation"—it offers in two pages the now-familiar lament of the decline of print ("The old empires of printed media are undergoing a greater crisis than ever before, one from which they will never fully recover") as well as an acknowledgment that some online journals suffer under editors who have trouble focusing a discerning eye in this spacious medium ("Readers end up with entire cows' asses on their plates, rather than the succulent, butterflied filets they were hoping for"). All of which establishes, of course, the foundation on which Sandra Allen, Dave Eichler, Will Guzzardi, and Will Litton make the case for their new journal: "We wish to create something entirely of the Internet, never printed and never meant to be printed, but with all the editorial and aesthetic controls that entice people to read and trust the finest printed media," they write. "We will reconceptualize the printed page online, and we will explore its space, cultivate its aesthetics. Presentation will be sleek, clean, and controlled." In other words, they mean to offer a carefully vetted and edited page on the screen. The first issue of Wag's Revue, which features poems by Tina Celona and Alexa Dilworth, a story by Brian Evenson, and interviews with Dave Eggers and Wells Tower, among other gems, looks like a digital edition of a print magazine. Ever "click to look inside" a book on Amazon? That's the gist of the layout of this "Web magazine" (or "Wag," get it?). But what's really clean and controlled here is the editors' pledge to avoid inundating vaguely interested readers with promotional e-mails just because the virtual space in which they exist lends itself to repeated contact. "We promise to treat your personal information with the utmost respect and care," reads a note on the Contact Us page. Without naming names—another word for story, nine letters, begins with an N—some editors could take a page (er, pixel) from their book (screen) and practice such restraint.

Five years is not a very long time when applied to the life of a literary magazine. After all, it's merely a blip in the history of a journal like Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller's Poet Lore, the poetry magazine that was established in 1889, making it the same age as the Wall Street Journal, the Eiffel Tower, and van Gogh's Starry Night. Looked at another way, however, half a decade is an eternity. Consider all the journals pumping out issues five years ago that no longer exist today. Even among just those magazines discussed in this column in 2004, there are plenty that have folded like a cold concertina. A moment of silence for the Glut, Portrait, Argosy, can we have our ball back?, DoubleTake, Midnight Mind Magazine, Mot Juste, and Cue. So maybe five years is a long time—tick, tock—and Black Clock, the semiannual magazine published by the California Institute of the Arts, really deserves a nod for celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. Plenty of big-name authors certainly think so, including Jonathan Lethem ("a journal to drive the collectors of the future into acquisitive frenzies"), Don DeLillo ("Black Clock measures the temper of the turning world"), Rick Moody ("one of the literary magazines I can't wait to see when it arrives in the mail"), and Susan Straight ("provides a much needed fix of experimental fiction and adventurous writing"). The tenth, noir-themed issue of Black Clock, which was published in March, features the work of Brian Evenson, David Lehman, Anthony Miller, Dana Spiotta, T. Towles, and the magazine's editor, Steve Erickson, whose own books of fiction feature noir-ish themes, including his second novel, which is titled—it can be no coincidence—Tours of the Black Clock (Poseidon Press, 1989).

Kevin Larimer is the deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.