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Best Garage-Looking Literary Journal

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Fell Swoop, the literary journal edited in New Orleans by poet Joel Dailey, just celebrated its 20th anniversary. The 71st issue passed its 20th year without a brass band, a city proclamation or a symposium. Yet all such recognitions would have been earned. Over the years, Fell Swoop has published wonderful poetry being written in the United States today, while maintaining a high-toned whimsy.

The monthly, or sometimes quarterly, is purposefully garage-looking, having used Xerox to mimic the great mimeo journals of the 1960s, such as Adventures in Poetry, The World, C Magazine and so on. In that time, the cheap mimeograph was an attempt by younger poets in New York and California to publish quickly, distribute widely and cheaply, and thumb their noses at the well-bound but dead mainstream quarterlies. The journals of the '60s succeeded well and many of their contributors ended up well-bound and respected by the mainstream in the coming decades. Those journals had brief life spans; none of them lasted more than five years. Fell Swoop professes some of the same qualities of defiance, speed and efficiency, but that is only a "look," a critical postmodern laugh at the expense of culture.

Many of the writers who began publishing in the famous mimeos of the '60s now publish in Fell Swoop, some of them playfully aware that they are playing with their not-so-innocent beginnings. At the same time, the longevity of the journal -- and the high-brow editorial spirit behind the deliberately low-brow production -- point to a unique publication in the literary landscape. Joel Dailey's Fell Swoop has (almost invisibly) elaborated a poetics and established an institution that does honor to New Orleans.

Our city is often astonished by the wide acclaim received by some of its citizens beyond its (imprecise) borders. The 20th anniversary issue of Fell Swoop is "handwritten by the authors and published unedited and indiscriminately," as the editor's typically amusing note tells us. Indeed. Here, in their own writing, are poets Ted Berrigan, Maureen Owen, Anselm Hollo, Aram Saroyan and Elizabeth Thomas, and New Orleans' own Bill Lavender, Dave Brinks and yours truly. Seeing an original poem in the poet's own writing hand is a pleasure of the first order. There were many such "special issues," organized around the editor's inspired ideas, such as "postcard issues," where postcards (another nostalgic but cannily modern form) from writers were faithfully reproduced. Fell Swoop elaborated its poetics for two decades without preaching or polemic, and its whimsy and humor have combined with a genuine love of poetry.

In addition to being a remarkable poet himself, Joel Dailey is uncharacteristically modest about his accomplishment. He teaches poetry at Delgado Community College; I'm wondering if his students know just how lucky they are. "I know: for Dante Alighieri told me so," said Ted Berrigan in Fell Swoop No. 71.

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