"Doesn't it seem as if, of the three, Whitman would be the surest bet for having an e-mail address?"

More Perihelion:

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

Issue 5: Phoenix

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews

Need to Know



A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Julia Connor

Ruth Daigon

David Humphreys

Walt Mcdonald

Jo McDougall

Kathleen Lynch

Extending the Text:
A Conversation With
Joan Houlihan

                  Interview by 
                  Susan Kelly DeWitt

Joan Houlihan is a poet, columnist, and former teacher of creative writing and literature at Pima College in Tucson, Arizona. Her provocative and popular column, The Boston Comment, focuses on controversial issues in contemporary poetry and appears regularly on Web del Sol. She is the Senior Poetry Editor of Del Sol Review and incoming Editor-in-Chief of Perihelion magazine. Her own work has appeared or is forthcoming in: The Gettysburg Review, Fine Madness, Larcom Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Poetry International, Black Warrior Review and The Marlboro Review, among others.

Joan, you have work in print journals as well as a presence on the web as a poet, editor, and columnist. What are the major differences between these two mediums for you?

Other than the obvious ones that have already been talked to death--page vs. screen, distribution, copyrights, type of readership, etc.--the major difference is in the relationship between reader and author. In print, the reader and author are separate, wholly imagined entities to one another. The relationship formed between the writer and author is primarily one of projection and imagination. In contrast, as a web columnist, I have received over 300 e-mails from readers eager to discuss the thoughts my columns provoked. This medium makes possible for the first time an immediate dialog between reader and author.

Is it possible for you to respond to all of these readers?

No. In fact, in this case, I set up a discussion forum so that these readers can continue the discussion provoked by the columns with each other and with me, when I can. This is something totally new, as far as I can tell: first, the immediate contact of text to reader, then reader to author, then the contact of reader to reader.

But this seems to place more emphasis on the author rather than the work.

Actually, I think it places more emphasis on the work. It adds a dimension to the work, gives the reader a chance to extend their involvement with the text.

Why do you feel the reader must connect with the author? We can't e-mail Whitman or Akhmatova or Neruda.

Ah! If only! Doesn't it seem as if, of the three, Whitman would be the surest bet for having an e-mail address? Actually, I don't think the reader must connect with the author. My point is only that it is possible and immediate on the web. The author may choose not to add their e-mail address, the reader may choose not to write. It's just that these choices now exist. I recently completed an article on Web del Sol for Poets & Writers magazine called "Literature Without Borders" and in the course of writing it, interviewed Pulitzer Prize winner, Robert Olen Butler. Here is an excerpt:

Butler, one of the first writers asked to do an electronic chapbook for Web del Sol, says that it is through his chapbook that his e-mail address is accessible, thus enabling "lovely communications from readers" and even "a few speaking gigs." As Butler points out, "Implicit in the soul of any artist is the impulse to reach out to the world... to give to any stranger coming to this object he's created, a sense of who he is, of order and meaning. [Web del Sol] provides a format from which people all over the world can be in the presence of a writer, can connect with him or her through their work in a way a book can never do."

There are still many writers who resist the internet.

Yes. I still hear of poets who are afraid that the internet will do something to them--see into their private lives, steal their work, whatever. There are also those who snub it out of ignorance, after searching under "poetry" for example, seeing lots of drek, people's personal web pages, and so on, and deciding, rightly, that's low quality stuff. What they don't understand is the immensity of the internet, that it's all here: low quality, medium quality and high quality--just as in the print world. The analogy is to a huge bookstore that carries every conceivable kind of reading material. As for the technically "challenged", the simpler it becomes to get online, the more these writers, like everyone else, will hop on since a lot of writerly business is now getting done on the internet--publishing, announcements, networking, and so on. Two decades ago, some writers held onto their typewriters for a long time but finally, the ease of using a word processor converted us all. This is a much bigger leap, to be sure, but the parallel in increased efficiency holds true for both.

Though, for all the talk, the internet is essentially elitist--most people in the world do not have computer access. I do not envision that changing on worldwide scale very soon.

I'm not sure elitist is the right word. For example, most people in the world never heard of the journal Poetry, and certainly most poets never get published there. Another example, The New Yorker, is the essence of elitism due to its minisucle acceptance vs submission rate. These, and other print publications, are elitist by definition: the doors are firmly closed to most writers for their entire lifetime. On the other hand, the internet is not available to most people in the world just as television, and new cars, and other technological advances are not widely available to many people, but I wouldn't term having a television or a car "elitist." That's relative affluence, not elitism. And, while I don't see poverty changing on a worldwide scale very soon either, having computer access immediately gives one an entree into many types of literature from all over the world. As a tool, it is one of the most non-elitist I can imagine.

Do you see any trends in poetry published on the web vs. print?

I can't speak for the web as a whole, but the main trend I see at Web del Sol is a concentration on the work vs. the name. I know that's what every poetry editor claims--we only care about the quality of the work--but in a relatively new medium like this, where the political lines aren't completely drawn yet, the work simply has to count for more. It is also an opportunity for editors to focus on what they like best, regardless of name. We are not trying to build circulation, garner subscriptions, or pay for distribution. Of course, the prestige factor comes into play, and online journals like The Cortland Review present themselves as a mirror image of the print world, building the same kind of world on the web. But if people want to read the same old poetry club, they can get it anywhere in print--why do it all over again on the web? The publications of Web del Sol are after something different--quality and new names. I've been doing this at Del Sol Review for two years now, and intend to carry the same philosophy into my editorship of Perihelion.

I don't necessarily agree on the "poetry club" comment, although I recognize an element of that in print publishing. I think the internet is a great venue--I have enjoyed getting to know it--but I am still in love with a book which is an intimate relationship with the written (and recited/spoken) word, on a train, a bus, in a cave or tent, in sickness and in health.

Yes, the portability of a book and its look, feel, even smell will never be replaced by a clunky monitor, that's for sure. A book is a sensory experience, not simply a vehicle for words, and I believe without reservation that books will always be with us. I don't agree at all with those who say books will be replaced by internet publication. It's a completely different entity, a book, and one I also love and treasure. I see a peaceful co-existence, not an either/or.

What are your plans for Perihelion?

Right now I'm building a great staff---a poetry editor, book reviewer and translation editor have already signed on. The translation editor will run a separate section of the magazine, dedicated to poetry in translation, which is a new feature of Perihelion. I'm also pleased that you, Susan, will continue on as contributing editor, bringing in more of those fabulous and informative features. I also intend to continue the interviews. My overall philosophy will be the same as the one I have as poetry editor at Del Sol Review--quality of work above all.