For Some Of Us, It's Personal
“For some of us it’s personal, but discourse about war is important to everyone.”
In which George Kovach tells The Review Review how an MFA project led to the founding of CONSEQUENCE, a journal about war and its consequences, and about traveling the world to find art illuminating the subject.
Interview by Jeremy Hauck
CONSEQUENCE magazine is pointed at “the culture of war in America,” and looks for pieces that are “primarily focused on the culture and consequences of war.” Can you describe what you see when you view this culture of war in America?
In the current issue of CONSEQUENCE and on our website we say that “readers will discover a nuanced approach to the culture and consequences of war.” Our focus has a large depth of field that penetrates, but also sharpens the edges of what we see. By “culture of war” we mean the assumptions, actions, policies, beliefs, and practices resulting in armed conflict. Through literature and the arts we look at how people behave before, during, and after war.
We’re passionately concerned with the devastating impact of violence on those who fight, suffer, witness, or endure the consequences. Usually this involves an underpinning of social injustice, abuse of power, and arrogance of leaders whether autocratic, democratic or tribal. Many accomplished writers and artists address these concerns.
CONSEQUENCE exists to bring their work to an interested, sensitive readership. The magazine’s perspective includes wide-ranging opinions about the causes of war, and what, if any, justification exists. Every day we see images of war from around the world, broadcast by media in sound bites, usually with a political agenda. To understand the true nature and consequences of war we need to go deeper than the glibness of pundits, the superficiality of most journalism, and the considered approach of bloggers, even when they appear informed or sophisticated. This depth is something literature and art can convey to an open mind. And by including translations of foreign writers and poets, CONSEQUENCE offers an international point of view missing from most dialogues about war.
How do you and your staff hope to impact this culture through the work you publish in CONSEQUENCE magazine?
I was in Budapest recently, meeting authors and editors to introduce CONSEQUENCE. The editor of one of the literary publishing houses told me that, in his country, literature “no longer has the influence it had during the Cold War,” when people read novels to decipher “coded” accounts of abuses and horrors. My response, and the belief of my fellow editors, is more hopeful. By publishing exceptional writing and visual art that appeals emotionally as well as intellectually, we penetrate the gloss of mainstream media, and do our best to dismantle the lies and deceptions plaguing a postmodern world. Ours isn’t the only society too easily led into war or inured to it as a tool of foreign policy. We’re working to place CONSEQUENCE in university and public libraries, and to have it chosen as a text for academic and institutional programs that focus on war and peace, and civil society. Our mission is to advance the dialogue, through literature and visual art, that all nations must have to avoid war.
CONSEQUENCE magazine is also identified as an international literary magazine, for which its editors “search for the deeply rooted causes and far ranging impact of violence around the globe.” How do you reconcile this global search with the magazine’s focus on the culture of war in America?
In its infancy, the first two issues of CONSEQUENCE spoke of our mission in those terms. As our publication evolves and grows, as it reaches more readers, and moves through adolescence to maturity, our mission also grows. I don’t think there’s a need to reconcile what are elements of the same concern.
CONSEQUENCE magazine is independent of any university. You are a Vietnam War veteran, and have led poetry workshops for some time at the Brockton Vet Center, outside Boston. How did the magazine come into existence?
CONSEQUENCE is an independent, nonprofit magazine, and a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Our funding comes primarily from individual donations. We also receive generous help from the William Joiner Center, the cultural research and humanitarian exchange institute at UMass Boston. We sell our magazine for what it costs to print and distribute. None of our staff is compensated for their many hours devoted to creating and distributing it. We all believe in its mission.
I’m a combat veteran of the American War in Vietnam. I know something about war, and I’ve seen some of its consequences, including the effects of Agent Orange on some Vietnamese children born after the war.
Eight years ago I retired for health reasons from a high-pressure career. That’s when I started to write about my war experiences, and in time I was able to enter the MFA program at UMass Boston. There I discovered a strong interest in the intersection of war and literature. As a direct result of academic interests and personal experience, I started CONSEQUENCE with two fellow grad students, and the support of family, friends and colleagues. A number of faculty members I had worked with were instrumental in making the first issue possible. It was eighty pages long, and contained fiction, poetry, memoir, an essay, and visual art. Some of the pieces had been previously published. The success of that first issue enabled us to attract new work for the next issue from both established and younger writers. With rare exceptions, we now take only previously unpublished work.
In addition to publishing the magazine, we sponsor writing workshops for war veterans, poetry contests, and free, public events that include readings and panel discussions on important topics related to our mission.
How did you find the people (Gene Kwak, John Lewis, Judith S. Mitiguy, and Catherine Parnell) who make up CONSEQUENCE magazine’s editorial staff? Is everyone based in the Boston/Massachusetts Bay area? Do you or any of your editorial staff members have other jobs?
I’ve been fortunate to meet very talented, highly qualified literary professionals. The vibrant literary community in Boston has always been a source of exceptional literature and art. As CONSEQUENCE evolved and became known locally, I asked Cat, Judith, and Gene to join us. Their generous donation of time and expertise enabled the magazine to grow, and attract a large number of submissions. Gene recently moved back to Omaha; the others are here in the Boston area. Each of them has a “real” job in a profession that actually pays money, but they are also published writers. Cat and Gene are the fiction editors, Judith handles nonfiction, I do poetry, and John, with the help of his daughter Megan, manages layout and our website. I’m looking for a second poetry editor, an art editor and a review editor. Right now, three of us share the workload of handling submissions and selecting the work we’ll publish. Every piece we receive is read by at least one of us.
In addition to a great staff, I’ve been most fortunate to have the active support of accomplished contributing editors: Kevin Bowen, Martha Collins, Fred Marchant, and Askold Melnyczuk. All of them are distinguished writers and poets. Askold is the founding editor and publisher of AGNI, and Martha is Editor-at-Large for FIELD. They’ve been wonderful mentors.
You accept submissions via Submishmash and through the mail. The magazine’s guidelines are simple: no more than 5,000 words for fiction or nonfiction, or up to five poems. What is the process for selecting the pieces you’ll publish in CONSEQUENCE magazine? How many submissions do you expect to receive during the current reading period (which ends November 1)?
The editors read the submissions. We don’t use interns or volunteers to do a first reading. We welcome unsolicited work from June through October. When one of the editors recommends a work, we take a vote. The Editor makes the final decision to accept or decline it. Most submissions get our response within four to six weeks from the time we receive it. For the last issue we received more than four hundred submissions. We expect this to double for the next issue that will come out in the spring. For the first three issues we tracked submissions, most of them sent by email, on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Very time consuming, vulnerable to mistakes, and a pain in the ass. The large volume of material we now deal with absolutely requires a programmed submissions manager linked to our website. This has made us more productive and more responsive. And I sleep better.
It appears from CONSEQUENCE magazine’s submissions page that there are plans to publish content online. What can readers expect to see online in the future?
Currently our website contains information about who we are, how to subscribe, and how to submit work. But the “Contributing Authors” page of the website links each name listed in the table of contents to that author’s biography. I feel strongly that promoting, in this and other ways, the talented writers we publish is an important part of the magazine’s mission.
In the future, we will publish selected pieces from the print magazine that demonstrate the quality and range of our content. CONSEQUENCE has an international perspective, and seeks an international audience. Our readers can expect to see more translations of exceptional work, some in bilingual format, from writers and poets living in countries that have experienced war and social injustice.
You started your own literary journal while you were an MFA student, a member of the first class of students to graduate from UMass Boston’s program (which was established in 2007). What was it like putting this project together while taking classes? What has been the most fun part of the experience for you? The most challenging?
I took Askold Melnyczuk’s seminar on literary editing and publishing. One of the assignments was: “publish a magazine.” I didn’t see this coming; or maybe I hadn’t read the course description, but I honestly think CONSEQUENCE would not exist if I hadn’t taken that course, and Askold hadn’t encouraged me. The idea for this publication came from my personal experience in Vietnam and an abiding interest in literature. Two of my fellow students in the seminar—Jeremy Lakaszcyck in the MFA program, and John Lewis, who’s also a Vietnam vet—were my partners. As we worked to get contributions from writers and artists we knew, I quickly realized that I enjoyed the work, and believed the publication could actually succeed at the mission I envisioned.
The seminar version of CONSEQUENCE, a saddle-stitched, fifty-two-page collection of poems, memoir, stories, and art, got all of us A’s. It also gave us a head of steam to create a real literary magazine. We had a long semester break to send out a call for submissions and complete an expanded layout. I’m very fortunate to know Kevin Bowen, the director of The William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston. He’s also a Vietnam vet. He liked the concept, and offered help from The Joiner Center to pay for a print run of four hundred copies. Without that support we couldn’t have produced our first issue.
Since I had financial support, I’d say the biggest challenge for me in the beginning was finding good writers willing to take a chance with a startup publication. I’m sure the magazine’s focus and mission helped. I approached a few more writers in the Boston/Cambridge literary community who either contributed pieces, or referred me to writers whose work would be a good fit.
Launching in early 2009 and publishing its third issue this spring, CONSEQUENCE is a young journal. You mention Budapest, and on your website you talk about a trip to Vietnam. What other travels and efforts have you made to promote the magazine? What people or institutions have you been targeting as potential subscribers or submitters?
I’m working hard to make CONSEQUENCE an international literary magazine. To the extent that I can afford to travel at my own personal expense, I’ll visit writers, editors and publishers in other countries. This will put us in touch with a broad range of literary communities and potential contributors. I want to go to Palestine and Israel next. In the meantime I take advantage of the wealth of literary and academic communities here in the Boston area, introducing CONSEQUENCE not only to MFA programs, but also to faculty and students at universities with programs that address international concerns. Some of these local contacts are currently enabling us to do features on Afghan and Croatian literature.
At the same time, we’re in the hunt for work from accomplished writers here at home. We have an intern from Lesley University’s MFA program who will identify writers who’ve published work on war or abuse of human rights. Then we’ll write and introduce the magazine to them. My fellow editors, who also teach in graduate writing programs, promote us constantly, and we get some very strong submissions through their efforts. And needless to say, we get invaluable help from our four Contributing Editors who are translators as well as writers and poets.
“War is the biggest story of all” is part of a line in Don North’s essay, “Inappropriate Conduct,” published in the new issue of CONSEQUENCE. What is it about war that keeps you interested in reading and writing about it?
I think Don has it right. In our culture the story goes back to Homer, and we’ve been writing about war ever since. Unfortunately, war is very much a part of who we are. In other cultures, some much older than ours, it’s no different. I’m afraid war is part of the human condition, and some of the world’s most revered, influential literature wrestles with what that means. The struggle to come to terms with war, to understand the beast and try to restrain it, is ongoing. For some of us it’s personal, but discourse about war is important to everyone. CONSEQUENCE exists to promote the many voices, no matter where they are, that need to be heard. Their words are crucial for how we choose to live in a global community.
Jeremy Hauck is an MFA student at Temple University and lives in Philadelphia. He was an editorial assistant for the inaugural issue of Temple University’s new online literary journal, TINGE Magazine, www.tingemagazine.org. He was also a contributor/editor for TAV 3, published this summer.