Monday, August 10, 2009
Interview with Morgan Lucas Schuldt on CUE
Christopher Nelson: For those who may be unfamiliar with CUE: A Journal of Prose Poetry, what is its history?
Morgan Lucas Schuldt: CUE was conceived while my friend Mark Horosky and I were making our way through the MFA program at the University of Arizona. Mark had edited a small journal, Elm, back in New Haven, Connecticut, and it was his enthusiasm for that project that got me interested in doing something here in Tucson. We kicked around the idea of starting an indie journal dedicated to the prose poem, a form we were both enamored with and writing in at the time. We graduated in 2002 from Arizona, but I believe it wasn’t until 2004 that we put out our first issue, which featured Tucson poets almost exclusively. It was small (around 40 pages, as all of our issues would be), but the design and production qualities were high. Mark moved to Brooklyn about a year after the first issue came out, and I took full control over the journal, running it for six more issues. While it lasted in print we received nothing but positive feedback. In fact two years in a row work from CUE appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, a coup for such a small journal, but one that I think speaks to the quality of the writers we’ve chosen to publish over the years—John Ashbery, James Tate, Michael Palmer, Karen Volkman, Lisa Jarnot, Ron Silliman, Matthea Harvey, among many, many others.
Nelson: Now you have transitioned to an exclusively online journal. Why the shift? And where do you see online publishing taking CUE?
Schuldt: One word—costs. Outsourced production, professional printing (at a run of 500), mailing and distribution. The project was unsustainable, and I think we knew that after the first few issues. Even after grant money, subscriptions, and private donations, the costs became just too prohibitive. To be honest, I’m surprised we lasted even seven issues. After a year of ambivalence on my part, considering if I wanted to take CUE online, the journal finally made the shift to the web, doing so knowing that our readers would miss the physical aspects of the journal much like we would. One thing that was great about the print version was its size and brevity; each issue was designed specifically to be read in one sitting, like a chapbook. That intimacy and the physical satisfaction that went with it have been sacrificed, but I hope for the right reasons, namely a much wider audience. Subscriptions to the print journal topped out around 100 which, when you compare it to the reach of the Internet, is a pittance. Within a week of the new CUE website going up we reached over 400 unique visitors online. I know that doesn’t compare to more established online journals like Octopus or Coconut or Diagram (also based here in Tucson) but I take comfort in knowing there’s a huge audience for poetry out there that we now have the opportunity to reach.
Nelson: Will CUE remain focused on the prose poem, or have you broadened its scope?
Schuldt: Though the inaugural online issue might suggest otherwise (it’s all prose poems), we are moving away from the exclusive publication of prose poetry. The bulk of the work in the first online issue was solicited by Mark as part of a special guest-edited issue for what was to be Issue 8 of the print journal. Thankfully, when we decided to shift our operation online, everyone who had already contributed work to the print issue (including Mark, who put together a terrific line up and who I was thrilled to include as part of a second launch) was cool about having it appear online. But to get back to your question, yes, the journal is widening its scope. As my own writing has evolved, I’ve become less convinced that there’s a need for a journal dedicated specifically to the form. When Mark and I started CUE, I think our feeling at the time was that the “prose poem” was under-represented in the journals we were reading. This was clearly a proprietary concern on our part; we were, after all, in graduate school, writing prose poems almost exclusively. I think we both felt excited by and protective of the form. I was writing in prose what felt like real breakthrough poems for me, and if memory serves, Mark even took his entire MFA manuscript of lined poems and made it over into a book of prose poems. Looking back now, such protectionism seems limiting to me, if not completely silly. Most journals worth reading make room for prose poems. Even Poetry has started publishing them. And that’s why CUE is revamping. The shift to a new format offers us the chance to re-set the aesthetic mission of the journal, which now is to showcase work concerned with the more material aspects of language in whatever form or function that may take. Prose poems will continue to appear, yes, but so will lineated work, so long as it skews toward the linguistically playful. To back ourselves out of the niche we’ve existed in for the past several years and to join the larger conversation that’s going on as to what poetry should be—that’s the new mission.
Nelson: Over the years you’ve been joined by a few contributing editors—namely Barbara Cully, Boyer Rickel, and Stephanie Balzer. How has their presence shaped CUE? Will they continue to be part of the project now that you’re online?
Schuldt: I think it’s my personality to want to recruit others into my enthusiasms, to share them with friends and poets whose work I believe in, and that’s what bringing someone on as a contributing editor means. It’s a way to build and grow community, something every writer needs, or at least needs to feel. It’s also a great way to set oneself up for future favors. All of the contributing editors are first and foremost dear friends. I like to think of Boyer as my consigliere; there’s no decision big or small I make with the journal that I don’t run by him first. As anyone who’s ever been Boyer’s friend or student knows, there’s a shrewdness to his thinking that’s always dead-on, and I’m not above harnessing that in the name of the journal’s continued growth and success. Stephanie has been fantastic with managing the more practical aspects of running a journal, the stuff I’ve never been very good at and have little patience for—applying for grants, filing paperwork, acting as a liaison between the journal and more bureaucratic circles. CUE wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has if it weren’t for her dedication and her patience with my own shortcomings. Barbara? She is perhaps the wisest person I know; she keeps me focused on the big picture, asking the big questions.
Nelson: In addition to the journal CUE, you also created and edit CUE Editions. Tell us about that project and some of the works you’ve published.
Schuldt: When I was considering either shutting the magazine down or moving it online, Boyer had the idea that we adopt a more hybrid model. We always wanted CUE to showcase a large number of poems by a relatively small number of writers, so the side step to chapbooking seemed like a natural development in the growth of CUE. The idea is to save overhead by moving online, use a fraction of the previous print budget to publish one-of-a-kind chapbooks, and then to turn around and use our wider web presence to create a readership for the chapbooks, which, hopefully, will begin to pay for their own production. It’s not an original model for expansion, but it’s one that I think allows us to keep one foot in the print world. While we haven’t gotten production completely off the ground, when we do the hope is to put out 3–4 chapbooks a year.
Nelson: Mark Horosky’s Let It Be Nearby is a recent chapbook you’ve designed and published. I love not only the poems but the presentation of them: it comes packaged like a vinyl forty-five record, and the poems are printed on unbound cards—an innovative design that encourages a variety of reading experiences. Talk about your aspirations as a designer and publisher.
Schuldt: That’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought of myself as having aspirations as a designer. What I want most from the chapbook series is the chance to collaborate with writers on what they imagine and what design I think will best highlight the strengths of their particular work and then realize that together. Let It Be Nearby is an example of that kind of collaboration, but it’s also a special case. Mark’s one of my closest friends, so Boyer and I spared no expense in putting together his chap. And it took long enough—nearly a year and a half, I think, from conception to production. We were riding the subway in Brooklyn when I described to Mark an idea I had for a series of his prose poems on A and B-sided cards that would slide inside the paper sleeve of a forty-five record. He was totally blown away by the concept and had the idea to include the work of his friend, the Brooklyn-based artist Aime Robinson, on the cover(s). Mark’s one of those music savants who knows more about bands than I’ll ever know about anything, and that shows in his work too, so it made sense to me to honor that aspect of his poetry. Mark’s also into more avant-garde work, especially the work of Language and Post-Language poets, and so I think the design appealed to him on that level as well. I didn’t realize it until after the fact, but his chapbook, while not exactly the same in design, is related to Robert Grenier’s project Sentences, which is a series of 500 poems on 5x8 index cards in a box. That participatory aspect of LIBN’s design was something we both liked, I think.
Nelson: What exciting things are in the works at CUE Editions that we should watch for?
Schuldt: For now, CUE Editions will be publishing only solicited manuscripts from friends, though I’m hoping to expand the press and open up submissions in the next year or two. Next up is Stephanie Balzer’s chapbook, faster, faster. As I did with Mark, I’ve wanted to be able to help Stephanie find a wider audience for her work. The print journal served that purpose for a while, but when she read for the Poetry Center last February, the audience (which was huge) alternated between enraptured silence and outright laughter. I’ve been to a lot of poetry readings, but I’ve rarely experienced anything like that. I also know that people left disappointed for not having her work to take home with them, which is why I think it’s about time there’s something of hers out in the world. I’m hoping we can get faster, faster out by October, in time for several readings she’ll be doing around town in the fall. As for the more distant future, I’m still getting the hang of chapbook publishing, so it may be slow going for some time. After Steph’s chap I have a few projects tentatively lined up, including something by the inimitable Sommer Browning.
Nelson: And what about your own poetry? Parlor Press published your collection Verge in 2007. What directions are you exploring in your poems now?
Schuldt: God, I wish I knew. It’s been slow going, this next book. I recently published a second chapbook online with Scantily Class Press called L=u=N=G==U=A=G=E, which includes about 20 poems that seem to be extending the work I started in Verge (though I hope more ambitiously) and which I hope will become the core of a new manuscript, erros. I’m not a “project” poet. I’ve never had some over-arching concept I wanted to work out in the pages of a book. For now I’m content writing one poem at a time and just hoping for the best.
Nelson: Thank you, Morgan, not only for the interview but for the wonderful contributions you’ve made to the literary community.
Schuldt: Thank you, Chris.
Posted by Christopher Nelson at 6:16 PM