Hot, Sexy, Sultry, Sweaty: Conduit
Steven Beeber, associate editor of Conduit, was an MFA student at University of Massachusetts when his friend and classmate, William Waltz, started the literary magazine. “I got involved – doing interviews and reading/soliciting fiction --because I liked what he was doing,” says Beeber. “Then he asked me to come on board.” Beeber’s own fiction (and “a bit of nonfiction”) has appeared in The Paris Review, Bridge, Fiction, Memorious, and The Drum. He also writes about music and popular culture for publications like The New York Times, The Boston Phoenix, MOJO, Spin and Details. Beeber is author of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk and the editor of AWAKE: A Reader for the Sleepless.
Intrerview by Lori Miller Kase
Can you tell me about the origins of Conduit, and comment on its name?
William Waltz started Conduit in 1993 in Western Massachusetts. He said at the time there were few literary magazines he enjoyed or could relate to, so in a sense Conduit was a response—though “response” is probably too narrow of a term—to those old school journals that ruled the land. You have to remember 1993 was like the Stone Ages, before the worldwide web, before desktop publishing, before the explosion of fine literary mags we’ve seen over the last ten years. So, from the beginning Conduit strove to be different without being pretentious.
Those same journals were busy rejecting many of the talented young writers Bill happened to know at the time, and he thought they deserved a place to showcase, so the next step was an easy one… By the way, half of those poets and writers who appeared in the first issue have since published books.
Conduit. Of course, “conduit” delivers electricity and stuff flows through “conduit,” but I think the name is a product of Waltz’s tool and hardware fetish and his desire to make poetry less precious and more real. Poetry’s real, right?
Clearly, Conduit is more quirky and irreverent than other literary magazines. What else would you say distinguishes Conduit from other journals?
Aside from our natural genius for picking like-minded genius, I’d say that we’re possessed of a sense of humor, yet not the jokey, three-guys walk into a bar kind, but rather the funny strange/funny ha ha understanding that life is too important to be taken seriously. Hand in hand with that is a somewhat skewed take on things. Sometimes a pipe is not a pipe even if a cigar is just a cigar and a rose is a rose is a rose.
I’m intrigued by Conduit’s tag line: “Words & Visions for Minds on Fire.” How would you describe the typical Conduit reader?
Hot, sexy, sultry, sweaty. Morally our readers are committed, yet spiritually they’re a bit diffuse. Emotionally they hang onto slights until compliments are forthcoming, and financially they’re ready to give their as yet unearned alms to the poor. Intellectually they forget to put their names on the SAT, yet physically their bodies know the answers to the questions that aren’t asked. In short, the perfect reader for the work you’re yet to write yet know you will one day if you could only write at your best.
To this reader, some of the pieces you publish defy categorization. Is Conduit intentionally attempting to blur the lines between poetry and prose?
No, not intentionally, though we do often find that some of the best work falls into that middle ground where the poetic is prosey and the prose poetic. Ultimately, we’re interested in voices that sound like true voices, not as if they’re parroting some already established name.
Has Conduit always published both a print and online version? Are the print and online versions two separate entities?
No. We launched the website after our tenth, or maybe eleventh, issue. We’re fine with technology, just a bit slow on the update.
While our website is set-up to promote, support and compliment the magazine proper, there is some web-only content that you will never see in print. What remains is a sampling of items from both the current and past issues, all presented in an elegant design, complete with sound effects that will make you gasp, titter, and rapidly shut your browser window should your boss walk by your desk at work. Aside from that, our website is a helluva place to spend money, not only on subscriptions but also books by Conduit editors, and merch like T-shirts.
In the current online issue of Conduit, readers can listen to a reading of Dieter M. Graf’s poetry in German by Graf, or in English by Andrew Shields, who translated the poem; they can also witness the shifting configurations of Oni Buchanan’s “kinetic” poems. Neither would be possible in a print journal. In what way can the Internet enhance the experience of reading a literary journal? Would you say that online journals offer the possibility of engaging more of the reader’s senses? Is anything lost when a literary journal publishes online only?
Clearly the Internet offers opportunities that are unavailable in a print format. The recordings you mention are the most obvious example. But also important are the links that we can provide to other magazines and to related sites, such as The Museum of Jurassic Technology and AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com. Still, we believe that a traditional print journal is important in that it provides a reading experience entirely unavailable via the Internet. How many times have we all taken a copy of a favorite book or magazine with us onto a train, into a café or under the covers, much less placed it behind a dreaded textbook, prayer book or comic book? Besides, bath reading is far less dangerous with paper, the electrical associations of our name regardless.
How do you think the Internet has changed literary journalism? Is Conduit committed to continuing putting out both a print and online version?
The Internet has made it possible for many more literary magazines to see the light of day, much as desktop publishing did before that. While some of these might have been better off never having seen such light, in general, the more the merrier. To help do our bit for maintaining the highest standards both online and in print, Conduit is committed to maintaining both a digital and paper presence.
What do the Conduit editors look for in a submission? In terms of poetry, prose, visual art? What is the worst thing a writer can do when submitting to your journal?
To put it succinctly, we’re looking for quality. While we’re open to less traditional work, we’re not limited to it, not by far. As a result, the worst thing a writer can do is tailor a submission to our “needs.” Almost as bad is not bothering to read us. If you’re asking a journal to support your work, you really should make an effort to read it.
Since you have themed issues, should writers/artists gear their submissions to the future themes listed in the back of each issue? Or do you also encourage general submissions?
Our themes are playful. We select poems and prose we like, pieces that seem akin to the Conduit spirit, the Conduit aesthetic. Whether or not a poem fits the theme or any theme doesn’t matter. The work is judged on its own merit, independent of themes, which are conceived months, even years in advance of publication.
The future issues listed in the back inhabit the primordial ooze of issues to come. Many never crawl forth and thankfully reside only in dreams. The interviews and the art are the only things that really speak or conform to the themes. If a poem or story does or seems to, it’s purely accidental.
Can you describe the submission/review process at Conduit?
They submit, we review.
How does the fact that you are also a writer inform your experience of editing a literary journal? Do writing and editing satisfy you in different ways?
If anything it makes me much more sympathetic to those who submit and much more reluctant to have to turn away often good work. In the same vein, it makes me finally believe what other magazines used to say to me in their form-letter rejections, that is, that my work was indeed of quality, just not right for their particular purposes.
Regarding the satisfaction of writing versus editing, they are indeed different and perhaps most comparable to the similar differences you might have in writing versus editing your own work. Whether I am making actual line edit suggestions or simply determining which work to pick, I feel I am performing much the same task I do with my own work. In other words, I take the work of submitters as seriously as I do my own and hope to see it reach both its maximum potential and ultimate audience.