Issue #168 — February 12, 2013
For this week’s feature, Sapling talked to William D. Waltz, Editor of Conduit
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Sapling: Conduit has been “risking annihilation” since 1993 – you’re now entering your 20th year of publication. For an independent (i.e. not university sponsored) literary journal, that’s rare, and a true accomplishment. Can you tell us a little about Conduit’s origin story, and how you’ve avoided annihilation to date?
William D. Waltz: Yes, despite commonsense we have persisted. Twenty years ago, I was graduating from high school…I mean grad school. It might make me sound like an old geezer, but, in 1993, the literary landscape was much different. Of course, there was no Internet, no online journals, and substantially fewer print magazines…and few of them spoke to me. I suppose that shouldn’t have surprised me because my background was slightly messier than that of the traditional English-major to grad-school fellow and included a profound love for punk in all its forms. Anyway, I loved Exquisite Corpse for its sass andPoetry East for its many amazing poets in translation. There were others but not many. Then my epiphany: instead of submitting to journals that my fellow students and I felt little connection to, one of us should start a magazine that offered that connection. Being a hardworking, somewhat naïve Ohioan, I took up the challenge. Lucky for me, I was surrounded by a troop of talented poets who were ready and willing to contribute.
S: You have 23 issues out, and are at work on issue 24. What about the journal has changed since the early days, and what has remained consistent? Looking ahead, anything exciting on the horizon that you can share with us?
WDW: Well, the first two issues were assembled by hand at Kinkos. Remember Kinkos, once the epicenter of the DIY movement, way back when young provocateurs cut and pasted with paper-cutters and glue. Well, then we bought a computer and our production values began a long, sustained upward trend. Later, we added a color signature or two, and, yes, color was addicting, so now color can be found throughout our pages. Color allowed us to add more artwork, by both famous and unknown artists, and to play with the design even more. From the very first issue, design has been a concern of ours and that, I think, has become one of our trademarks. Our art directors are and have been amazing and that sure helps. Conduit started out as a tall, skinny magazine, and it remains tall and skinny. One of our quirkiest traits is our pagination method. We don’t use numbers, we use words. That’s how we did issue 1, and it’s how we’re doing issue 24. We’ve expanded our prose portfolio, and although we’ve been doing them for some time, we didn’t always include interviews. As for the future, there’s a lot we’d like to do, including expanding our website’s audio library, starting a reading series, and then there’s the lure of book publishing. We’re also looking for a benefactor.
S: Your issues’ themes are quirky and sometimes tongue-in-cheek. What comes first – the theme, or the content? How do you go about crafting an issue editorially?
WDW: The themes arise from somewhere deep in the primordial ooze of my imagination. Yuck. No really, most of the themes, even the absurd ones, track a recent interest, passion, or obsession of mine that I think dovetails with poetry and the curiosity of our readers. So, first there’s the theme—and, as you noted, we’re not above playing with the idea of a theme—and then we assemble the contents. This may surprise you, but whether or not a poem speaks to the theme is not a consideration. We select poems that we like and admire. If a poem speaks to the theme, 99 times out of a 100, it’s a coincidence, a happy accident. Although we don’t ask the poems to conform to the theme, they do speak to one another and inevitably a number of common threads develop, which always delights me. On the other hand, we pick and choose the interviews and the artwork, so they do the heavy work of stamping the theme to the issue.
S: As the Editor of Conduit, what would you say is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
WDW: Well, the business part is always the hardest part. It’s an uphill battle on all fronts: distribution, subscriptions, printing…just trying to break even can crush you. Like most editors, I didn’t sign-on to this project to manage the dollars and cents of it but to make a publication to be proud of. I’ll stop there, before I begin whining.
I really love putting the issue together, gathering the pieces together and arranging them. It can feel like writing a kickass poem. And, then there are all the opportunities to meet super cool people via correspondence or in person. Poets, writers, artists, ethnobotanists,astronauts! But best of all is working with my friends, my co-conspirators, working together to make something unique and beautiful.
S: In addition to the standard wisdom of reading back issues of Conduit and following the submission guidelines, what advice would you give to writers who are interested in submitting?
WDW: Delete the long list of accomplishments and publication credits, impressive or not, from their cover letters. We’re just not interested. Besides, we prefer coming to a piece when it’s unencumbered by the author’s credentials. We rather they’d send us a joke, a drawing, or a personal anecdote about how he or she hooked up with a beautiful stranger because of Conduit. It’s happened…and it was a very proud moment for us.
S: What one or two journals deserve major props in the eyes of Conduit, and why should more people be checking them out?
WDW: I have eclectic tastes, and, of course, I have a soft spot for eccentric journals that are the product of a few inspired people. There a lot of those that I admire and enjoy. But I’d like to champion a couple of bigger productions. One being jubilat. It’s such a beautiful thing. I like that it has a clean, cool, smooth appearance, yet, cover-to-cover, it exudes a warm intelligence. I also admire Denver Quarterly, which somehow manages to put out four issues of exciting work a year. I almost always find work by poets that I love and work by poets that are a welcome revelation to me. I like being surprised.
S: Just for fun (because we like fun), if Conduit had a brain, what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?
WDW: Only three. How about tools, dub, and electricity.
To check out Conduit online, visit: http://www.conduit.org
William D. Waltz is the author of Zoo Music (Slope Editions, 2004) and the chapbook,Confluence of Mysterious Origins (Factory Hollow Press, 2013). He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota and is the founder and editor of Conduit magazine.