"We Like Good Writing and We Like Life": Christopher Crawford on International Lit Mag B O D Y
B O D Y is an online literary journal based in the Czech Republic. Here we speak with Christopher Crawford, founding editor.
Interview by Courtney Howell
I’d like to start with something simple that I am quite curious about. When you say the name of your online publication, do you say it as a word, “body”? Or do you spell it out, as the spaces may imply, “b-o-d-y”? Where did the title B O D Y come from?
We say it as the word “body.” B O D Y can be understood however you want to understand it and the same with the spaces.
The name itself came from a vivid dream I had one night in Phnom Penh. I woke up and knew we would create something called “Body.”
I immediately cofounded a reading series of the same name in Cambodia and when I returned to Europe, Joshua, Stephan and I started planning the magazine.
Is there any particular reason you chose an illustration of a dress form as your logo (apart from the fact that it resembles the shape of a body)?
Simply, we liked it and felt it fit intuitively with some of what the name B O D Y means for us in addition to a certain style and elegance.
In the “A B O U T B O D Y” section, you say, “B O D Y publishes on a rolling basis. We like it, we accept it, we publish it.” Can you give us a short list of shared qualities found in every piece of work B O D Y has ever published?
D) DELIGHT/ DISTURBANCE
- Christopher Crawford/Stephan Delbos
As one of the founding editors, what is your day-to-day role with the journal? How many people are working on it at any given time? How collaborative is the team?
I work with the magazine on a daily basis. I’d characterize my main duties as being: overseeing the whole working process and vision of the magazine, engaging with and soliciting work from writers and publishers, making web pages, utilizing social media, selecting content (especially poetry), liaising with the other editors over whisky.
Since “poetry” is the first word in your three-word description (“poetry. prose. word.”), and since it’s also the first tab on your website, I want to kick off our first content-related question by asking about the poetry of B O D Y. It looks like most of the editors have a solid history with poetry, both in the academic and in the literary world. You yourself have been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, and combined with your colleagues, the editors of B O D Y have quite a publishing history. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of B O D Y and how all of your poetry backgrounds played into that?
The three founding editors, Joshua Mensch, Stephan Delbos and I have been friends for years. We knew we wanted to create a magazine with a sense of style, community and filled with the kind of excellent work we love. After we decided to found B O D Y, the rest was easy. We have extensive contacts in the literary world and many, many writer friends—this was essential to the way B O D Y hit the ground running.
In this same vein, there is a popular leaning toward the idea that poetry isn’t as accessible as prose, especially poetry found in a literary magazine. Do you see it as a risk to put your poetry front and center, when it might possibly alienate uninitiated visitors?
No. While we value readership numbers, we value the intrinsic worth of poetry more. Our readership numbers are quite phenomenal at this moment. We have in excess of 6000 individual readers every month and it is growing.
Just out of curiosity, who are some of your favorite poets? And what are some of your favorite works?
A) James Tate
B) S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders
C) Dr. Seuss
D) Vitezslav Nezval
F) Ornette Coleman
G) Frederick Seidel
H) James Wright, The Branch Will Not Break
I) Anthony Madrid
J) Valery Ronshin
K) Georg Trakl
L) Roald Dahl, Switch Bitch
M) Laura Kasischke
N) Matthew Olzmann, Mezzanines
O) francine j. harris
P) Tadeusz Dabrowski
Q) Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, An Unchanging Blue
The next tab on your site is “Fiction.” Quite a few of the selections are excerpts from Eastern European novels which have been translated. This is quite a unique facet of your publication. Did B O D Y always want to emphasize this niche or has it slid into that naturally? How did Michael Stein—the curator of your Saturday European Fiction series—get involved, and how did his involvement shape this aspect?
Michael came to interview us for a Czech literary website. We met for drinks in the same restaurant where we founded B O D Y. After that, we took him to a literary party and got him...well lubricated. His specialization is in Central and Eastern European fiction and it seemed to us that that was just what we needed to bring B O D Y to the next level. After all, we’re based in Prague. We also brought in our Performance Text Editor: Ben Williams, and Art Editors: Jessica Mensch and (later) Graeme Langdon. This has absolutely widened B O D Y’s scope.
If a reader of your journal wanted to read any of the Eastern European Series books in English, would this be possible? Where would one find these works? If there is no available translation, is there anything an interested reader could do to help a book get translated?
Yes, we usually have details about where the book can be found in English translation at the top of the page which contains the story. Readers can also email us and query should they need more information about the work.
A lot of the current fiction pieces have political, patriotic, or national identity themes. Since you publish works as you receive them, I’m wondering if you find the fiction section meandering through themes. Do they shift from month to month, whether subconsciously or with intent? Or do you stay pretty focused on the types of pieces you want to publish?
No, but it is true that we like work with feeling. The subjects you mention often mean a lot to people and this comes through in their work. We stick to our core values and these can apply to work covering a vast range of subjects.
Another tab on the site is called “Friday Picks,” which is written mostly by founding editor, Stephen Delbos. These are analytic essays that range in topics from New Year’s predictions, lost memoirs, history lessons about anthology debates, and more. Why is it important to include these essays as part of your journal?
The Friday Picks give our readers a clearer sense of who we are as editors, both in terms of content and style. You’re right to point out that the picks feature a wide variety of subject matters. This is partly because we read widely and partly because we think that unpredictability is one important feature of any journal that’s worth reading. If you already know what you’re going to find when you open a magazine or web page, why bother? That said, one constant at B O D Y is the seriousness we bring to the endeavor. So, whether it’s a book of poems or predictions for the New Year, it’s going to be given its due. At the same time, you’ll notice that stylistically the picks mix high and low culture, dictions, and registers. This is because we hold this truth to be self-evident: literary criticism does not have to be boring, pretentious or inaccessible. In fact, if it is, then it is bad writing. We like good writing and we like life. The porno pop-up ads on your computer screen can inform your reading and interpretation of literature as much as any textbook can.
“B O D Y welcomes letters from our readers, and in a new feature, we’ll be publishing selected letters sent by you.” Any word on when the “L E T T E R S” feature will begin? Right now there is only an email address, but would you be open to receiving physical letters?
We might be open to receiving snail mail letters in the future. Right now we find it easier for us and for our readers to work via email. The “L E T T E R S” feature has already begun and will continue. It’s sporadic because we only print letters which bring something interesting to the conversation that we are creating at B O D Y.
One very awesome property of online journals is that everything you’ve ever published is there for anyone to find whenever they want. Have you and the B O D Y team considered creating a print version or is online always the route you’ll go?
Certainly. There is always that yearning for the beautiful physical object which you can have with a printed journal. Currently, online publication and distribution is working very well for us but keep your ears open, we definitely would like to bring selected B O D Y works into print too.
Any final words you’d like to share about B O D Y? Any advice you’d like to give to writers, poets, and artists who submit work to you? Any hard-earned life lessons you’d like to impart?
This advice is general. Get the name of the magazine right. Spell it right. If the name is in CAPS, write it in CAPS. If the name has spaces, write it with spaces. Write a brief, concise cover letter which is friendly but not disrespectfully familiar or rude. Write a short bio naming the best 4 or 5 magazines that have published your work. Don’t mention your pets. This can seem home-spun and amateurish: why should the magazine care about Snuggles? That’s the equivalent of expecting prospective employers to appreciate all your Facebook baby photos. Make sure your work fits the magazine you are submitting to. Send them poems which have a tone approximating the tone in the work they have already published. Remember that when you buy someone a present, you buy them something you know they’d like, not something that you yourself like. READ THE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Make sure you know who is going to be reading your work. If that is unclear, then Poetry/Fiction/Non-fiction Editor is the best way to address the cover letter. At B O D Y it is myself, Joshua and Stephan who make all the poetry decisions. Every magazine has its own pet peeves, and reading the guidelines makes sure you won’t be one of the fapoons who blows out just because they didn’t read the submission guidelines.
Courtney Leigh lives in Austin, Texas, and works as an editor and social media coordinator for a small publisher. She loves to read and write things. She also makes music with The Villettes. You can find her on twitter at @CourtLeighLov