If I begin by saying that Phoebe changed my life, will I lose all credibility? I intend no hyperbole; Phoebe exposed me to a multiplicity of writers and writing I admire. I’m not referring to my tenure as Editor. I mean to say that simply reading the magazine gave me a jump-start on being able to think critically about my aesthetic preferences. And I can’t really overstate how important that has been.
As an undergraduate studying poetry, I first encountered Phoebe in 2004. I was pretty under-educated about literature in the latter half of the twentieth century, and completely un-educated about my potential colleagues in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, I was intimidated to learn much more. It appeared to me that there was a raging war being fought by two scary, rigid camps: Conventional Writers, and Experimental Writers. I found both poles completely alienating, and without a vocabulary to navigate that discourse, I felt locked out of the conversation.
Enter an accidental copy of Phoebe on the free-book shelf of a coffeeshop near my apartment in Chicago. Phoebe has, for decades, published original work by writers who tend to coexist somewhere between extremes. In recent years, we’re proud to have published work by such notable writers as Forrest Gander, Charles Bernstein, Joe Meno, Noah Eli Gordon, Caitlin Horrocks, and John Gallaher, among many, many others. Reading the innovative and often hard to classify poets and fiction writers in Phoebe gave me a stance from which to get my bearings in the landscape of contemporary literature.
I understand now, of course, that many writers have always lived somewhere in the middle of the conventional/experimental continuum, but when it came to contemporary lit, Phoebe was my entry point to that conversation. I think it’s fair to say that the editors of Phoebe have worked hard to keep the magazine relevant to the cultural moment. And of course, this has been the direction in which 21st Century writing has moved – as Cole Swenson says in her introduction to the 2009 Norton Anthology of New Poetry: American Hybrid, boundaries between traditional and experimental writing are much more permeable than ever before.
This is also true with regard to genre, as verse novels and prose poetry continue to be omnipresent as genre-bending forms, and the “lyric essay” pushes the edge between essay and poetry. At Phoebe, we’re thinking a lot about the blurry lines that define genre. The upcoming Fall 2011 print issue of Phoebe includes creative nonfiction for the first time. After forty years, we’re now faced with figuring out what constitutes, to quote our own mission, “a vigorous appeal to the senses, intellect, and emotions” in nonfiction writing.
This is a task the fine editors of Phoebe will continue without me; as I’ve finished my MFA here at George Mason, I’m handing my position over to esteemed Assistant Editor Bryan Koen. But as ever, I am excited by the prospect of reading future issues of Phoebe, of watching the magazine navigate the landscape of innovative writing. It’s been an honor to participate in the production of something that has meant so much to me. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, judges, editors, motley associates and friends.
Kathy Goodkin is the departing editor of Phoebe.