The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 21, 2009

Q & A With Tanya Chernov, Translation Editor Of The LA Review

As part of our ongoing interview series, Ryan Chapman spoke with Tanya Chernov, translation editor of the LA Review.

FSG: What do you do, and how did you come to work at the LA Review?

Tanya Chernov: I’m the translation editor and poetry co-editor for the LA Review.

In all seriousness, I am fortunate to work with a group of my fellow grads from the Whidbey Writers Workshop at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on this fine and well-established literary magazine. With their hands full at Red Hen Press, Kate Gale and her husband, Mark E. Cull, have brought on a gaggle of us Whidbey folk to breathe some overzealous post-MFA energy into the LA Review.

FSG: Who are some of the recent poets you've been enjoying?

TC: Diana O'Hehir—a recommendation from my co-editor, Kelly DavioNick LairdJack Gilbert (a consistent favorite with special admiration for Monolithos and The Great Fires)…Robert Bly—always…Kim Addonizio, who is having quite a moment and is a badass harmonica player…Marvin Bell, who completely embarrassed me in front of my whole program during a class last summer (but it was worth it)…Wallace Stevens, for his handling of snow…Russell Edson—what a weirdo.

FSG: Do you think poetry has changed in form, audience, or accessibility with respect to changes online in recent years?

TC: Certainly the poetry genre has broadened its audience with the newfound accessibility offered through online mediums. Though many online publications may have initially carried a “less than” stigma, there are many fine electronic publications now able to surpass the burgeoning obstacles presented by the economic crisis, under which so many wonderful small presses and literary magazines have crumbled. With many literary magazines accepting less than one percent of the submissions they receive, online submission managers and e-publications can really help a writer feel somewhat in control of their literary destiny.

With more and more people internet-stumbling upon things they would never normally be into, surely some will occasionally find scraps of poetry here and there. I mean, statistically there must be someone out there who does a Google search for “Nudes” and ends up with a copy of "Bonnard’s Nudes," and decides that reading this well-published poem written by the Pacific Northwest’s homeboy and short story writer Ray Carver is much more worthwhile than looking at porn. This is good.

In addition to growing accessibility, poetry has been unavoidably influenced by a rapidly mutating web-vernacular, constantly creeping into the diction and format of many contemporary writers. In my opinion, this is bad. It is neither fresh nor futuristic—just lame. Call me a purist, but having a poem hop all across the page willy-nilly does not add anything enhance its meaning. None of us will supersede e.e cummings’ abilities here, so let’s all just stop trying. It's tacky.

FSG: Where do you think poetry will go, or how will it change in the coming year(s)?

TC: Look, poetry will never again be as widely accepted and well-loved as it was in the Islamic Golden Age, but let’s not dwell on the past—there is much to look forward to. Though it isn’t really my thing, performance and slam poetry is quickly gaining momentum among the young urbans, the pouty hipsters, and the angsty après-emo music crowd. Like I said, my theater days have long been finished, but I don’t mind slam poetry taking the limelight for a while if it means that we traditional poets can share the side stage for a while.

Poetry continues to be obscure even in literary circles, but much is changing in the poetry world. Boundaries bend and snap, forms rise to the surface and sink back interchangeably, subject matter grows ever-more daring. People no longer balk at Elizabeth Bishop’s thinly veiled reminiscences on her lesbian lifestyle, Anne Sexton’s candid tours through mental illness, or Robert Lowell’s rejection of a privileged, upper-class lifestyle. Confessional poetry sure has taken on new meaning these days. Now we’re talking about things like dead babies, transgendered journeys into the fashion underworld, and monkey-born hemorrhoid epidemics. Nothing is shocking anymore, so poetry must work to be remarkable in more craft-based ways, making it infinitely more challenging and interesting. What will remain constant as poets find new ways to reach the world with their artfully crafted messages is that poets posses a well-honed ability to condense, infuse, and create with mathematic precision and foresight.

FSG: Um, wait—I was told there would be no math.

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