JOURNAL SPOTLIGHT: EZEKIEL BLACK & PISMIRE
Ezekiel Black, Editor of PISMIRE, interviewed (and prefaced below) by iO Editor Kyle McCord.
When poets consider submitting work, they often think about how a piece will visually appear to an audience. But, what about how a poem will literally sound to an audience? In the burgeoning landscape of electronic poetry journals, emerging publications are beginning to utilize a range of technologies to allow readers to simultaneously read and hear work from their authors.
Pismire Poetry, run by editor Ezekiel Black, is one of the journals blazing this trail. But unlike many other journals of its kind, Pismire’s mission is starkly particular—to publish poems which “cannot be read aloud,” poems which don’t suggest, but actually demand direct delivery by the author. Using Google Voice, Pismire allows the reader to experience a unique breed of poetry in a novel way.
Ezekiel shared some of his thoughts about the journal, poetry, and the new age poetic manifesto during a recent interview.
How did you originally come up with the idea for Pismire? Did you have any models that guided how the journal should look and feel?
EB: The idea for Pismire came from a poem that I wrote. This poem, “The Logic Hammer” to be precise, consists of symbolic logic and binary code, and when I would submit poems to journals, “The Logic Hammer” would always be a troublesome poem. I never knew where to send it, so it sat in my creative writing folder for years. Frustrated, I thought that I couldn’t be the only writer with a poem so idiosyncratic, so divergent that it was, ostensibly, unpublishable. That said, I founded Pismire because I wanted to publish the troublesome poems of other poets. In fact, I chose the title of the journal to capture this desire: Pismire is the Middle English word for a piss ant, which, I think, is a perfect description for “The Logic Hammer” and its brethren: piss ant poems, those poems that bother either the poet or the editor.
Regarding a model for the journal, I took a cue from Weird Deer. Like Weird Deer, I wanted to be an audio journal, but more importantly, I thought the audio might help the poet connect with the reader. When a reader sees, for example, symbolic logic or binary code, the reader might not know how to read it, but with the recording, a once forbidding poem becomes more reader friendly. Also, to further tailor the site to suit those piss ant poems, I choose the stark red and black layout, i.e. the colors of ants. Along with the gritty audio, this layout makes visitors feel as if they have fallen into a dark nest of poetry.
On the website, you have a listed manifesto for the journal. This isn’t something that you see with many publications in circulation. What inspired you to craft a manifesto? Do you have other poetic manifestos that interest you?
EB: My favorite time period in poetry is around the 1920s. This was when Modernism hit full stride. Along with the poetry, I love the posturing of this time period, the grand announcements of a new epoch. How audacious to claim that X or Y is the poetry of the future! Given that I wanted to publish the poems that poets would never think to submit, which, to me, is a novel idea, I thought Pismire would benefit from a manifesto. On a utilitarian level, the manifesto would illustrate which poems compliment Pismire’s aesthetic; however, as an artist, I wanted to combat the idea that some poems, especially the ones that my journal prefers, are unreadable. I thought the idea of unreadability was a nonissue until I read a passage in a literature anthology. Yes, some of E.E. Cummings’s poems are difficult to read, but the anthology was referencing an approachable poem, “l(a.” I’ll stop there because the manifesto goes into full detail.
In general, the task of outlining an artistic movement interests me, but if I had to choose a favorite manifesto, I would choose “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste” by Ezra Pound. When I wrote my manifesto, I didn’t refer to a specific manifesto, but I kept the directness of this manifesto in mind.
What is the most crucial thing you’re looking and listening for when you consider a submission?
EB: Aside from the poem following Pismire’s manifesto (That is, the poem must be read aloud to reach its full potential), the poem must make me smile. Although this might seem insignificant, it’s a clear test of the poem’s success. Essentially, if the poem is able coax a smile from me, be it through experimentation, sound play, an earnest voice, etc., then the work should reproduce that effect for a reader. To be considered for Pismire, the poem must elicit a physical reaction from the reader.
After listening to the many of the flights, it seems like the common thread among the work found there (perhaps ironically) is its diversity. The way poets approach the prompt Pismire offers isn’t uniform at all. Is that something you anticipated? What was your initial vision of what the journal might look and sound like, and has that changed?
EB: I said earlier that I appreciate poems that are “unreadable,” but when I envisioned the journal, I also wanted to publish poems that used the auditory form to strengthen the poem’s effect. While some poems on the site don’t fit the pattern of “The Logic Hammer” and its brethren, they are nonetheless appropriate because of their performance or use of language. That said, my initial vision for the journal is still intact and hasn’t changed. The poems in Pismire simply fit into the category of entertaining sounds, which is all that I listen for on a basic level.
How has editing Pismire changed your own writing?
EB: When I wrote the manifesto, I considered several poems to demonstrate the importance of audio accompaniment; however, I choose “l(a” because I wanted to discuss the “unreadable” remark in the literary anthology. As I researched E.E. Cummings for the manifesto, his other work piqued my interest, and I began to read his collected poems, which, I must say, is a very large collection. Consequently, the poems that I wrote started to mirror his style, especially his unconventional line breaks. This produced a manuscript titled Colossus of Constantine, which is a marriage of E.E. Cummings’s and Dadaist technique, another key Modernist movement. Basically, all of the ideas that swirl around Pismire swirl around Colossus of Constantine.
Many poets think of poetry as an exploration. Do you think Pismire is involved in a new frontier in poetry? If so, how do you see that frontier evolving?
EB: Although I would like to think that I’m at the forefront of poetry, Pismire really borrows old technology. I use new services, such as Google Voice, but an answering machine is an answering machine. Likewise, there are already several audio poetry journals. In the beginning, Pismire’s home was on blogspot, and on that site, I listed other audio poetry journals. In the beginning, I thought I was an original, but I soon found that audio journals abound. Instead of losing hope, I took solace in my mission: a platform for piss ant poems.
What do you think an audience member might discover while reading Pismire?
EB: When I read another journal, I read the poems and the biographical notes, but ultimately, I just have a collection of names, of authors I don’t know. I hope readers of Pismire create a connection with the poem and its author. When readers hear the author’s voice, they can intuit the author’s personality, his or her concerns, fears. I hope readers hear the humanity in the author’s voice. These are not simply words on a page; instead, these are the author’s ideas laid bear for the world. How brave do these authors need to be to expose themselves in this manner? That is what I hope readers realize.
[You can check out some of the amazing things going on at Pismire and find guidelines to submit your own work at www.pismirepoetry.org]
Ezekiel Black, editor of Pismire, teaches composition at Gainesville State College. Before this position, he attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he received an MFA in Creative Writing. His poetry and reviews have appeared in Verse, Sonora Review, GlitterPony, Skein, Invisible Ear, Tomfoolery Review, Tarpaulin Sky, InDigest, Drunken Boat, CutBank, iO, Four and Twenty, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakwood, Georgia.