Interview with Chris Stella of Void Magazine

Interview by Magdalena Ball

How did you get involved with Void?

I met Chris Steib in college and we have been friends for the last 5+ years. We spent many nights sitting up talking about literature and writing. Post grad, he worked in the book industry and I in academic publishing. Chris came to me with the idea of starting an online literary magazine, and I was thrilled. We have similar ideas regarding literature and its overwhelming relevance in our lives, so we knew that working together would go over very well. He asked me to head up the editing staff, as I’ve had the most professional experience as an editor, and the rest is (recent) history.

Tell me about your role there and how you fit in with the other editors. 

The editors at Void Magazine wear a number of hats. Chris and I work closely finalizing the content for each monthly issue. Leading up to it, I’m in a constant dialogue with the other editors, not only discussing incoming submissions, but also what they can do to generate more content. But we overlap when necessary to be sure that everything comes together at the beginning of each month. But being a small staff, we each get a chance play the roles of editor, publisher, marketing manager, gopher, scapegoat and numerous others.

What are your own big ambitions for Void Magazine? (eg where would you like to see it in 5 years?)

In print on the newsstand next to (and slightly overlapping) Poets & Writers. As not only a generator of fresh, monthly literary content, but as the primary informational resource for amateur as well as established writers; articles and essays on the publishing industry, interviews with literary agents. I want to know that the big names in the industry read our publication to find new talent; I want the site/publication to serve as a forum. I want to see our contributors exchanging each other’s work independently of the site; I want a series of workshops and open dialogues as a result of the site. I want to see our writers with contracts, and “The Best of Void Magazine: 5 Year Anniversary Edition” on the shelves of independent and corporate book sellers alike. The possibilities are endless, and, with the work ethic of Void Magazine’s staff, absolutely attainable. We’re ambitious, we think big. I think it’s one of our biggest assets.

Does the bigger umbrella of Void Media have other projects in the works? 

Chris and I have been throwing around some ideas. If I told you, I’d have to… well, not sure what I’d have to do but they’re currently under wraps. We’re still a new publication (6 months old) so it’s in our best interest right now to concentrate our efforts on Void Magazine. We all have “real” jobs and write on our own, which spreads our time pretty thin, so serious focus on a side project would do nothing more than draw us away from improving the magazine, which should be our primary objective for now. But keep checking the site, any new projects/developments will appear there. We have so much up our sleeves at this point they’re bursting at the seams.

The big paradox with poetry is that so many people write it and so few buy it. Why do you think that is? 

Most people begin writing poetry because it is their way of expressing their innermost feelings/experiences to the external world. Not being trained in story writing (or, quite often, verse either), they see poetry as the simplest, shortest means of doing so. Many people think of poetry as simply “not prose.” Therefore, they think that if they write in a short, non-standard format, they’ve written a poem. It’s a quick fix. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing (though there are plenty of poor poems out there); as long as people are writing and they hold the written word in high regard, it’s flattering to the medium.

As far as reading and purchasing poetry, I’ve had many a discussion about this. There is still – unfortunately – a serious stigma attached to published poetry. In high school, everyone studied poems to decipher them, to find the “hidden meaning.” The emphasis is taken off how a poem can deeply affect an individual; rather, it is placed on some deeper, non-obvious meaning. Frankly, this intimidates a lot of people. I’ve had a number of people tell me they’re “not smart enough for poetry.” They don’t think it is something to be enjoyed: they think it’s something to “get” or “figure out.” They talk about it like it’s a Rubik’s cube. And, frankly, that’s bullshit.

An individual’s interaction with a text is existential and varies depending on what he/she brings to the table. No two people are going to see any given poem or story in exactly the same way, based on prior experiences, influences, etc. If people believed this, thought poems were to be enjoyed as much as any paperback novel, it would sell more.

Hats off to Shel Silverstein. He’s a great example; adults will forever buy his work for their children (and love reading it to them) because it’s enjoyable, fun, and they’re not looking for a deeper, philosophical meaning in “Hug of War.”

I’m not knocking the difficult, multi-layered stuff (I love it to a fault), but I feel that poets and new readers need to find some middle ground.

Is there anything that magazines like Void can do to get people to shell out and support poetry, or do we just have to accept that poetry “survives/In the valley of its making where executives/Would never want to tamper”? 

Absolutely! Magazines need to publish a broad range of poetry. Not only that of the brilliant new word-artists, but poems that are accessible to the general public; those who claim they are intimidated by the medium. If people read something that they can relate to, that touches them, they’ll want to read more. Why do 75% of college students know Bukowski but not James Merrill? (I certainly prefer Merrill, but I think you get what I’m saying.) That’s what we try to do. A few months ago, we published “Ode to My Car” by Faye Rapoport, and it’s one of my favorite poems on the site, mostly because we at The Void see it as something any car owner can read and smile about. Really, what it all comes down to is enjoyment. The works of literature that are lasting are the ones that truly affect the individual, that people think are, well, beautiful. Literary debates aside, I’ll bet that you would find a lot more American households with volumes of Frost than you will volumes of Pound.

Tell me about your own work–what are you in the midst of working on right now? 

Right now I’m working on keeping my head on straight with long hours at my “real” job and keeping up on my Void duties. But if you’re referring to my own writing, I’m finally making a serious attempt at assembling a full, cohesive, volume of poems. Unfortunately, as I am an editor in every sense of the word, no poem is ever really done. I try to save a copy of every draft, even if the slightest changes have been made between the last and the most recent. Even for a 10 line poem, I often have 25-30 pages of different versions. Everything has to be just right.

That’s the beauty of a well-written poem. Nothing is superfluous; every word is on that page for a reason. So I’m taking my time, and would like to partake in a few more workshops.

Why do you think that the early 20th Century was the apex of literary achievement (and what do you feel is stopping writers from achieving work likeUlysses, The Sound and the Fury, or Labyrinths now?)

That’s the most difficult question I’ve been asked in a long time. First, I would like to say that what is stated in my Void bio is an exaggeration. I let Chris (Steib) write it for me and he’s a smartass. Big time. I certainly do not completely dislike modern literature; I just prefer to pick up the classics.

In my opinion, literature is great when it shocks you out of the way you normally think. Like a good metaphor, it breaks the common, cliché associations between words and ideas. Joyce, Faulkner, Pound and their contemporaries mastered that. Sure, there has been some great stuff published in the last few years, like Marc Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It was original, the combination of sketches, word-art etc. But really that’s just throwing in some special effects. I like words, and when we find someone new who is as ground-breaking as Joyce, I’ll be delighted. But so much of this post-post modern stuff that everyone thinks is fresh, it is really just a return to the first modern novels. I wish everyone would put down Foer for a month and go back and read Last Night  by James Salter and absolutely loved it. The new Marquez is being released in October; I feel like I’m six and counting down till Christmas day.

What’s the one project/collaboration (doesn’t have to be literary) that you would most love to do?

That’s even more difficult than the previous question. I want to write, direct, and star in a film, Vincent Gallo style (pre Brown Bunny). Though it’d be a romantic comedy starring me and Monica Bellucci. Realistically, I would love to collaborate with some short film directors and, with the approval of our contributors, do visual interpretations of their poems, and short films out of their short stories.

What do you love most about Void Magazine?

The paycheck (just kidding). I like being at a Void sponsored event and seeing our writers interact with one another. I love seeing how excited they are when their work is published. I like seeing the work of someone who seems initially shy about publishing his/her work, and being able to honestly tell them that it’s good and we want publish it on Void Magazine. Most of all, I love being able to work with a great group of guys; discuss our next issue over a few pints at Paddy Reilly’s; and change literature, one work at a time.