Expansive Poetry & Music Online Review

Edge City Review
a journal of the arts
10912 Harpers Square Court
Reston, VA 20191
T.L. Ponick, Editor & Publisher
$5.50 per copy
$16.00 three issues
Arthur Mortensen

Ten years ago a walk through New York's Gotham Book Mart's back room, where journals were stacked like license applications in the old Department of Motor Vehicles and about as interesting, you could count few to attract your attention past the masthead.  Kenyon Review, Quarterly Review of Literature, Cumberland Review, Poetry, Paris Review, Sparrow, The Lyric, Georgia Review, Boulevard, Hudson Review, The Formalist (if you could find it) and fewer than half a dozen others, depending on the editor, were about all you could find where the contents weren't comprised entirely of short, confessional, free-verse lyrics.  Most of the named journals contain criticism, whether omnibus reviews of the latest or a survey of one author, occasionally have short stories,  and even stray into other arts and even into social commentary.   Yet, though those listed and others, particularly several edited by X.J. Kennedy and by Dick Allen, were richer than any of the other 2,500 journals in the Gotham's back room, it was a rare journal that tried to emulate them.  There are more now.  One is Edge City Review, started in about 1990 by publisher T.L. Ponick in Reston, Virginia.

Unlike virtually all of the titles named above, Ponick's journal is an independent production.  It lacks either institutional subsidies or the underwriting of a trust.  The tradeoffs are easy to list.  To save costs, an independent works in-house, from typesetting to layout to distribution.  Distribution through national chains is difficult for a noncommercial journal and requires substantial additional costs, not the least of which is waiting for payment (one major distributor is a notorious non-payer when the publisher can't afford a factor to collect).  The flash of Boulevard's four-color cover and the Hudson's sewn binding are unthinkable.  Payment of authors, always desirable, is possible but usually at the expense of something else, if only better paper and more copies.  Consideration by reviewers is next to impossible.  The game in journals is tilted toward the subsidized and the wealthy.  However, it is fair to say that the same thing is true of slick magazines, which are subsidized by advertising rates.  In a time of much higher postal and other costs, magazines don't survive on the cover price.  All of this business stuff leads to a point.  Despite these drawbacks, editors at Ponick's Edge City Review don't have to wait on the patron's table, serving up what a committee wants instead of what an editor thinks is good.

This has obvious payoffs.  For one, except for Henry Taylor and Joseph Awad, two fine Virginia poets, one a Pulitzer winner some years back, and the other Poet Laureate of Virginia, you won't find poetic brand names here (though one hopes they will become so).  While this might shock someone who didn't know about the American poetry scene, the brand names don't sell magazines except to other poets, and most have no other readership.  The "big" names in poetry, with obvious exceptions such as Seamus Heaney, Richard Wilbur, a few Beat poets, or a dozen recent Nobelists, tend to be unknown outside university.  Why this is so has been discussed here often.  If you don't write about anything beyond yourself, or choose a style incomprehensible beyond those who read the accompanying essays, and scorn the audience as well, who cares?  Poets outside America, however, still seem to find an audience a compelling reason to write and perform.  That might be why their chances are greater than an American's for the big Swedish prize.   The Beat poets's raison d'etre was to restore poetry to the public, so it's not surprising people have heard of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti.   But the scene for the vast majority of poets is dim.  Even at the top, the Pulitzer Prize has come to have the same reputation as the Prix Goncourt in France, i.e., an award for a favorite of some advisor.  With the appearance of a rigged game, as well as the almost official scorn of audience, it's not surprising that book sales outside university stick to brand names from the past, whether Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Penn Warren, Louise Bogan, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, or a hundred others.

Taking a cue from this, perhaps, Edge City Review has made a serious effort to join with a few other journals, such as Sparrow, Pivot, Dark Horse, The Formalist and The Lyric in providing a forum for the kind of work that virtually all other journals would turn down.  Whether narrative, such as a remarkable work by Jarad Carter (Edge City #11), or satirical, such as poems from Joseph S. Salemi, Richard Moore, or Henry George Fischer, or the formal lyrics of Rhina Espaillat or Thomas Carper, Edge City's poetry editor (C.G. Annis) has consistently sided with the notion from the Expansive movement that writers ought to use the whole art, and not accept restrictions by political hysteria or creative boredom.   Affording space for more than a tiny lyric is also unusual;  Pivot is one of the two or three others, and only in its last three issues.  The reception for poems of wit, particularly of witty satire, has not always been friendly however.  On the CAP-L distribution list, a circle of several hundred poetic scholars, the remarks directed against a recent poem by Richard Moore printed in Edge City Review suggested that satire can have wonderfully heavy feet.

Edge City Review's prose sections comprise most of the journal, however.  And they are probably why it is developing a strong following.  As one would expect of a journal of the arts, as opposed to a journal for one's friends in poetic circles, Ponick's critics cover not only books of poetry but fiction and performances of symphonies, operas and plays.  Ponick, himself a critic for The Washington Times, frequently reviews musical performances from the major outlets for Edge City Review.   His reviews are pungent, straightforward and clearly aimed at a potential audience; one never gets the sense that he's trying to impress a Postmodern music theorist.  This is not surprising, as he stands stoutly in opposition to the critical delirium that has damaged so much of teaching and of criticism of the arts at university.  (A benefit of that is that he occasionally gets to interview such luminaries as Placido Domingo  -- on the current Edge City Web site).  Ponick's reviews are also informed by a wide-ranging knowledge of and enjoyment of opera, symphony and theater.

Interviews play a large part in Edge City Review.  Conducted either by a contributor, such as LindaAnn Loschavio's with Farrar, Strauss and Giroux editor Jonathan Galassi, in Edge City #12, or by one of the editor's, such as C.G. Annis's recent interview of New York Poet Frederick Feirstein,  they offer something this writer remembers from very old Paris Reviews, a look inside the working habits, interests and thinking of contemporary writers and musicians.

Like The Hudson, Edge City Review offers a collection of book and journal reviews each issue,  including Ponick's own "Periodical Review," a look at journals across the country not only in print but online.  With such a large number of forgettable items out there, it's good to have someone taking a look.  Ponick's coverage of journals beyond the arts, such as satirical review The Onion, or of a magazine guaranteed to irritate many of his own readers such as Heterodoxy, isn't the usual stroke-your-friends stuff that marks many similar surveys.  Ponick is also happy to reprint work he likes, including Joseph S. Salemi's penetrating look at After New Formalism, a recent critical anthology from Story Line Press, and Dana Gioia's look at a new biography of Frost.  .

T.L. Ponick should be particularly proud of the prose fiction he publishes.  Academic journals, when they do publish prose fiction, probably shouldn't.  Much of it is by students, or by writers appealing to students; and, frankly, most is of little interest for someone beyond the age of 20.  Ponick, in recent issues, has put in more fiction, including a fine story in #11 (The Wall) and a large section of  The Second Coming, a new novel by Paul Lake with a mordant weirdness that would probably terrify the editor of Yale Review.

It is sad to think that such a journal, seventy years ago, such as Mencken's Smart Set or American Mercury, might have enjoyed monthly publication and a newsstand audience of eighty thousand.  It is a measure of several changes that this is no longer true. Certainly, television and a thousand special interest magazines draw their millions, as do video, computer games, and the Internet.  But, do these cut in on the literary audience?  Sales of trade and genre fiction, as well as of past writers in poetry, suggest that they don't.  It seems likely however that the open hostility in university and other critical circles to the public this kind of publication is trying to reach has been even more damaging to its wider circulation. After all, a general attitude in poetry journals for decades has been hostile to all aspects of American culture except that narrow band their poets fill. Audiences can only be kicked in the teeth so long before they turn away, perhaps forever.

Despite this difficulty, Edge City Review, as few others, seems actively interested in an educated audience outside university, hoping to offer something to read for people who don't make a living reading and critiquing it.  This is regarded as Philistine by some, and as political heresy by those devoted to the notion that a normal American life is a) not worth living, and b) a suitable target for largely uninformed scorn.  Such attitudes in music led to the virtual sequestering of orchestral composers inside music schools until the recent, and remarkable, outbursts from a range from Arvo Part to Stefania De Kennessey and Alva Henderson.  But the future of the arts that Edge City Review covers, and provides a forum for,  lies not with tenure committees and political cabals, but with an audience whose only interest in opera, fiction or poetry is that it moves them, reveals an artist's view of the time they live in, is executed with a deep care for communicating to an audience, and may even take them somewhere they have been unable to reach on their own.

                                Arthur Mortensen

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