notes on origins, curating, editing, and process

28 Jul

This is not really an essay but a continuation of an idea, another loop in a story I’m telling about origins and wishes and how they mutate when we enact them.
I wanted to gather resonant work. Would it be limited to my particular taste? Of course. That’s what curation is: a gathering and sifting of work according to a single aesthetic formed by both personal taste and long genre experience. And maybe the first flaw, or the first advantage, at Pea River was this: I was, am, a curator rather than an editor. I gathered work from an appreciation locus. I didn’t position myself as a judge after the fact but instead the keeper of the resonance threshold. It either fit my aesthetic and resonated or it didn’t. So my “editing” was never a worthy/unworthy, good/bad judgment as much as a gut-driven call on fit. It’s that simple.
So for the Burden of Home issue, for instance, the included work recreated and extended a set of burdens that mattered to me, whether I’d experienced them before the work arrived as a trigger or whether the work itself created those experiences and memories for me as I read them for the first time. As the work arrived, it attached to other pieces in unexpected places, in sometimes startling ways. The design for the print BoH issue was a sort of gallery I created for that collection of work. A context. Visual, aural, everything but the table in the corner with wilting noshes and plastic glasses for cheap wine. I never thought of the print issue as a book or as a literary journal like other journals, even earlier iterations of Pea River. It was its own thing, something created in response to the curated work. The issue as gallery on opening night, the issue as display case, the issue as alt experience. Something to resonate.
So when I’ve talked with editors who say they take accepted work and just roll it into their template and update the issue number, it’s helped me realize I’m not a journal editor. I’m a curator, and it just happens that our “show” is a bound print journal. I love editors and traditional literary journals; don’t get me wrong. But I’d thought I was an editor, and pretended to be as long as I believed it, and had to pause once I realized I might be unintentionally misrepresenting my larger project. If Pea River ends its hiatus, it will be because I’ve come to terms with it as a not-journal that calls itself a journal, and I’ll make that distinction clear to potential future contributors. I could not make that clear before because I did not realize what I was up to. (And what a beautiful moment when we finally realize what we are up to.)
When we hold a print artifact, we open it, admire it, read it. And maybe the process and backstory for the artifact won’t matter to most people. But for me, process is everything. The design of the theme. Reading the submitted work. The dialogue with contributors. The arranging of the selected pieces, like redesigning an animal that has somehow become dissembled in transit. The tugging on friends who can create a little image or music to make it cohere. The artifact design. The release. The release. A private thing.

This was supposed to be a meditation on hope and expectations and origins, but it turned the way all meditations turn. More, another installment, later.

2 Responses to “notes on origins, curating, editing, and process”

  1. Anthony Martin July 28, 2015 at 17:04 #

    Burden of Home did feel different.

    • Patricia July 28, 2015 at 18:03 #

      Thank you for being part of it.

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