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the origins of Pea River Journal

21 Jul

So many of you have asked about our hiatus, the many whys, that I’ve decided to respond by explaining why I launched in the first place, what my expectations and hopes were back in 2012, the particular joys and sometimes confusing realities of running a small, independent literary journal, why I chose to go on hiatus, and why we are leaving the door open to some sort of future for PRJ that’s still undefined as I write this.

So this is just one part of all that explaining, an explaining that I hope will help me better understand what I’ve done and why.

I conceived Pea River Journal in a funk of have-not-ness. I’d subscribed to various lit mags over the years, followed and read many online mags, and studied the online presences that served as a complement to the print versions of established magazines. So many magazines are publishing so much really strong, really beautiful work. And, sometimes, I would find a story or poem that really resonated with me. However, what I more frequently found out there missed my particular spot. And when I say resonated, I should clarify and say shattered me, or echoed details or the spirit of details or moments imprinted and unforgettable, or created new memories and associations, or brought me to a new experience. Work that resonates gives us a new lens. Sometimes it’s a lens we have forgotten, lost, a lens that escaped. Resonant work returns the escapee lens to us. A gift. A new thing. A new way to see our own hearts.

Reading lit magazines had become a (frustrating) treasure hunt. I was an IT consultant at the time, traveling to a new city and a new set of faces almost every week. Literature was solace. I’d left tenure and comfort behind to chase a new lens. And while dislocation and new experiences gave me new things to notice, I’d mistaken noticing for seeing, the voyeurism of toy-shop goggles for an authentic lens.

The lens is within us, the collection of recorded experiences that trained our filters, the emotional responses that added color and music to our filters until we started confusing what we see with how we see it. The lens is within us. The lens is both trigger and receptor, the how for seeing and response.

And one day, in the middle of a city in the middle of the desert, parched past the bone to the soul that whispers in every dry fissure, I realized this. I was thirsty for resonance. How wonderful would it be to find a lit journal that curated only the resonant work, I thought. Not witty poems, not obscenely violent or pointless stories, not one more meditation on last night’s one night stand or a grandmother’s jonquils, lovely as those things can be. I wanted a lit journal that curated new work so resonant that it would be almost too much to read everything in a single sitting. Something unskimmable. Not sad, really. Not devastating in the usual or popular ways. And I could not find that sweet spot out there. So I started my own journal.

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