Thanks to AWP’s annual conference and the bargain rates many publishers offer there for subscriptions, I now receive several new ones, such as the journal whose first issue arrived this week. Among the poetry by women remembering their pregnancies (again?) and English teachers frustrated that their students have paved over good lit with mass market sentimentality (which I can certainly appreciate), were several pieces I just didn’t get.
Since editors at literary journals need never explain their publishing decisions (this is called the Doctrine of If We Had To Explain Ourselves To Our Contributors We’d Never Get Another Issue Done), I can only speculate as to the degree of arbitrariness that enters into their deliberations.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with an excerpt from “Seinfeld.” In one episode, Elaine wanted to know what was so funny about one of The New Yorker’s occasionally perplexing cartoons. She wheedled a meeting with the Cartoon Editor. With thanks to http://seinfeldscripts.com…
Mr. Elinoff: Yes… That’s a rather clever jab at inter office politics don’t you think?
Elaine: Yeah… but, why is it that the animals enjoy reading the email?
Mr. Elinoff: Well Miss Benes, cartoons are like gossamer, and one doesn’t dissect gossamer.
Elaine; Well you don’t have to dissect it if you can just tell me. Why this is supposed to be funny?
Mr. Elinoff: It’s merely a commentary on contemporary mores. (Slides the magazine to her.)
Elaine: But, what is the comment? (She slides the magazine back to him.)
Mr. Elinoff: It’s a slice of life.
Elaine: No it isn’t.
Mr. Elinoff: Pun?
Elaine: I don’t think so.
Mr Elinoff: Vorshtein?
Elaine: That’s not a word… You have no idea what this means, do you?
Mr Elinoff: No.
Elaine: Then why did you print it?
Mr. Elinoff: I liked the kitty.
Please excuse me for trying to dissect gossamer.