PF detail from Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Beach Scene, Guernsey (Children by the Sea in Guernsey) - 1883;

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1942-2067

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Last updated:
May 2009

 

A Conversation with The Argotist Online’s  Jeffrey Side

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PF- Mr. Side, it is a pleasure to have you with us for this interview. We are especially interested in hearing some insights from the “other side of the fence!” Please tell us about your work as a poet and as an editor. 

JS - Thanks for inviting me. I’m honoured you asked.  

I like to write poetry that’s heavily connotative, so that readers can make their own minds up about what a particular image or phrase means. I don’t like poetry that tells you everything, or spells things out for you. I think this is because I came to poetry from having a love of song. Song is largely connotative.  

Because I didn’t read any poetry at the time, I was quite naïve about it, and assumed that it would be as connotative as song was. It was quite a disappointment to find out that this wasn’t the case. But in my naiveté, I didn’t realise that the sort of poetry I was reading wasn’t really representative of poetry in general. It was only when I discovered older poetry, the sort written by William Blake or Thomas Wyatt, that I saw that poetry could be as good as song. This is because the older the poem, the closer it is to the song or ballad tradition. As you know, song predates poetry—or rather songs became poems once they were written down and read privately. After examining the older poetry, I saw that it was its tendency to generalise and avoid descriptive elements that made it “song-like”. Poetry up until around the time of William Wordsworth tended to generalise, after Wordsworth (and largely because of his influence) poetry became more novelistic and descriptive.

The editing came about because I wanted to promote the sort of poetry that used generalisation (which made it closest to the song tradition) and which was being ignored by mainstream poetry because of this. So I started The Argotist Online, to act as a platform for such poetry. The name for the site was taken from a journal I deputy edited from 1996-2000: The Argotist. This had national sales in the UK, being sold through Blackwell’s bookshop chain. It had poetry in it but it was mainly an arts review with articles and interviews on a range of art topics. Our big coup was getting an interview with Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky. I also edited an issue of an undergraduate journal called Off-the-Cuff while I was at Liverpool University.  

PF- What qualifications do you think are necessary to become a literary editor? What type of decisions and responsibilities does an editor face? 

JS-  I think the main qualification you have to have is enthusiasm based on a reason why you’re doing it. In my case, the reason for The Argotist Online was to promote a certain sort of poetry I felt was being underrepresented. Other editors will have other reasons. But you have to have a motivation, otherwise you’ll lose interest.  

Regarding what types of decisions and responsibilities you face, I suppose that depends on the nature of the journal. Because The Argotist Online is aimed at people who are mainly sympathetic to non-mainstream poetics, I tend to choose articles, interviewees and poetry that would interest them. But I’m also aware that people can’t be pigeonholed and so there’s a lot of content on the site that would appeal to a broader audience, such as the series of song writing interviews with singer/song writers.  

The main responsibility outside of deciding what to publish, is making sure that once you decide what to publish, it gets published. I don’t like to let people down, so if I ask them for an article or to be interviewed I make sure that it goes ahead and appears on the site.

PF-  Do you think it is a good idea for a journal to have a guest editor every so often? 

JS-  Yes. I see no reason why not. If a journal wants to devote an issue to a certain theme or topic then a guest editor knowledgeable in that area would be a good idea.

PF- What is the difference between a print and online journal, if any, in your opinion? 

JS-  The most noticeable difference is that with an on-line journal you don’t have to do a print run, find a distribution network, find retail outlets and find the funding for all of this.

An on-line journal is always “present” and accessible in a way a print journal isn’t. By that I mean that surfers are always, every second, coming across an on-line journal by accident, whereas once a print journal has been sold and bought, and is in someone’s home, there’s less chance for that publication to be “discovered” by thousands of people simultaneously. 

PF-  Tell us a bit about your reviewing process, Mr. Side. What are the different components that go into writing a good review of a poem or book of poetry? 

JS- For me, there are three useful components for writing a good review. The first is to do a close reading. A close reading allows for an evaluation of the different elements of a poem’s design, such as its formal properties, imagery, metaphor, simile etc. The second is to examine the ways in which a poem is effective or ineffective in using language to convey plural meanings. For me, this is the yardstick for all poetry criticism. The third is to have some grasp of the history and evolution of poetry because this prevents writing about a poem as if it existed independently of an aesthetic and intellectual context. 

PF-  Many poets wonder why their submitted work was not accepted, when clearly, some of the work chosen, in their opinion, was not superior to theirs. What insights can you share about the selection process of a poetry magazine? 

JS-  I suppose many poems are rejected simply because they’re not the sort that the journal they’re  sent to publishes. This is why it’s important for poets to read the journal’s submission guidelines. The majority of poems I’ve rejected have fallen into this category. But given this, selection is always a matter of personal preference, and poetry evokes different responses in different people. I can only select poems I like, even if others would disagree. To use a cliché: There’s no accounting for personal taste.  

PF- What can you tell poets whose work is rejected? What advice can you give to submitting poets who are just starting out? 

JS-  The only advice I can give is to say to them that they should read the submission guidelines of every journal they submit to. Another thing they should think about when they’re starting to write poetry is to decide early on what style they’ll concentrates on, be it formalist, experimental, open form etc. This is important because most journals have a preference for one style or another, and the poet new to submitting has a better chance of their work being accepted if they bear this in mind.

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Poetry 

When Mr. Side is not actively writing poetry, like all writers, he keeps a stash of poems fragments and ideas to draw on as needed. Beside the poem below, examples of his work can be found in the Current Issue.”

 

Snow Ranges and Fair Woods

Angers and failures:
my lads are not for reconciliation.

I alone drink accurately
on the uncertainty.

I drink for the occasion,
similarly impressed, to brakes, skies,
and ghosts.

Snow ranges and fair woods
have their stint.

Printed feasts of richness.
Thrushes that quote but do not sing.

Racing to the beginning where the
reed’s breath sums up heaven.

And yet the reed speaks of simplicity
while full motion reconciles earthly years.

Dread lurks in the forest.
Candle boys shine the rough men.
Safe are the spheres that are dried
like the shells

The old ships cry fleetingly
under the moonshine.


(First appeared in "Indefinite Space")


Jeffrey Side has also written a long, book length poem, entitled “Carrier of the Seed” for which he has received numerous reviews. Here is an excerpt from Jake Berry's review in Big Bridge:

"In an essay, 'Creative Agnosticism,' Robert Anton Wilson (published in the Journal of Cognitive Liberties in 2001,Vol. II, No. 1) writes:

'Our mode of consciousness seems historically to have been determined by neurological (unconscious) habits. When we become aware of this, and struggle against the inertia of habit, consciousness continually mutates, becomes less particle-like and "fixed," spreads like a flowing wave.'

In his extraordinary new book, Jeffrey Side offers us a poem that is the fluctuating, shimmering, realization of the kind of consciousness Wilson describes. One would hope that it might be a poetry of the future, but it is more likely a poetry outside or beyond time altogether, perpetually new precisely because of its unfixed wave characteristics.

Here are the opening lines:

 

You made Pandora
visit me from
her disruptions across
the sea her
mane was stretched
like Cyprus-flow
and her mind
was as smooth
as causation at
a time I
had reached my
most content you
pointed her up


Pandora was the first woman, wed to Epimethus, brother of Prometheus. Her curiosity regarding the jar she was given and forbidden to open unleashed all manner of evil. In Side's poem she had been summoned by what we might assume to be the muse of the poem, a "you" that appears throughout the work.

Regardless of the validity of the original myth, in Carrier of the Seed Pandora is a manifestation for the behavior of the poem itself. To the degree that any poet chooses his metaphors, Side has chosen Pandora with great care. Her beauty and talents, contributed by all the Olympians, is a perfect vehicle for the disruptions that lie at the heart of the poem. It shifts between layers of time, fields of activity and their mythic interpenetration. It is not content with a single theme or approach, but moves with skilful lyricism through an open form where change is the fuel and the music. In this way Side answers a question that many poets of the last and new century have asked: How does poetry retain its ancient bardic elements in the contemporary world of stock markets and flowcharts, glowing insubstantial screens and titillating trivia?"

He has two poetry volumes available: Carrier of the Seed (Blazevox) and Slimvol (cPress). Jeffrey Side, Carrier of the Seed Buffalo, NY, BlazeVOX, 2007, 69 pp.

Available for free download at http://www.blazevox.org/ebook.htm

Reviews

Jeffrey Side has written various reviews of other poets and their work. Below is an example of a review which happens to be about art and poetry:

                         A Fool in the Pack  by Bariane Louise Rowlands 

"The poems in Bariane Louise Rowlands’s collection of poetry and photographs, A Fool in the Pack, are interesting for the way in which the physical world is transformed into that of the intellectual and emotional:   

In ‘Dreamcatchers’, the problematical nature of meaning in art is broached as two people, one a painter the other a writer, conclude that art that depends on language to facilitate a psychological and emotional intimacy between people is not as effective as art that doesn’t. The extent to which Rowlands as a poet, herself, believes this or not does not impinge upon the fictive element of the poem, which is made to articulate certain concerns that all artists must, at some time or another, have, if only fleetingly, considered. The poem’s speaker addresses the absent other, thus:

 

And yet we had struggled
with translation in word,
but in paint we meet."


He also wrote an excellent review for Aine MacAodha’s poetry collection, Where The Three Rivers Meet.

Literary Articles:

Below is an excerpt from Jeffrey Side’s article about art and poetry. In this section, he speaks of how artists and poets have influenced each other’s ideas:

The transmission of these artistic ideas into poetry was almost certainly due to Picasso’s close friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Apollinaire, as Eduardo Kac says, sought a Cubist approach to poetry. In certain poems he employed fragments of sounds and images among words scattered on the page to convey the perception of a given scene or moment from a variety of perspectives, paralleling the pictorial strategies of his friends Picasso and Braque. In other works he created compositions of concise visual rhythm and rarified semantical density.

This practice also contributed to the narrative innovations that were being seen in modernist poetry. This is articulated by Alan Soldofsky in ‘Bifurcated Narratives in the Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, C. K. Williams, and Denis Johnson’:

In the context of the defining narratives of high modernism—Hart Crane’s The Bridge, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson—poets experimented with narrative structure.

As the twentieth century progressed, this poetic cubism made redundant the need for poetry to describe phenomena the way it once did and marked a diminishment in the expression via poetry of subjective mental states based upon a stable authorial persona. Instead, poetry became verbally inventive and utilised shifts in spatial and temporal perspective, as well as incorporating the fragmented college affects of cubist painting. The sum of these innovations was a hermeneutical plurality that had hitherto not been possible in poetry. This threw open a challenge to readers to become actively engaged in the interpretative process, rather than to be merely passive observers to a work’s perceived biographical, autobiographical or descriptive elements.

Readers interested in further exploring Mr. Side’s article may click this link.