IN OTHER WORDS #8 – Dan Brady
This is the eighth installment of IN OTHER WORDS, a feature we’re running in 2014 in which we interview various editors on the art of editing.
This time, we’re talking to Dan Brady, Poetry Editor of Barrelhouse.
1/You’ve made incredible strides with Barrelhouse. From the journal to stand-alone titles, from a reading series to a podcast to a literary conference—how did Barrelhouse come to have so many arms? What was the original conception for Barrelhouse and when did it start to move toward its current state?
The original concept for Barrelhouse came out of a place of frustration, as many magazines and presses do. The founders—Dave Housley, Joe Killiany, Mike Ingram, and Aaron Pease—are fiction writers and as they were starting out, they had a hard time finding magazines that were publishing the kind of stuff they liked, work that was comfortable with pop culture and engaged in the real world we live in. One night they foolishly decided that they would create a home for that kind of writing. A year after that, I foolishly joined them. And here we are 10 years later.
As far as how we came to have so many metaphorical arms, the answer is that we have many real arms that come with helping hands. In addition to Dave, Joe, Mike, and I (Aaron left the magazine a few years ago), there’s our non-fiction editor Tom McAlister, our online editor Susan Muaddi-Darraj, our assistant editors Laurie Ann Cedilnik, Nick Ekkizogloy, Amy Ellis, Katherine Hill, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk, Matt Perez, and Sarah Strickley, our web manager Becky Barnard, and our book publicist Liz Wyckoff.
We have a lot of trust in each other, so if someone comes up with an idea and wants to do it under the Barrelhouse banner, we support them. That’s exactly how the Book Fight Podcast got started by Mike and Tom and how I started our reading series Barrelhouse Presents. Even the conference was an idea hatched between Dave and Susan. Each project has a lead, but we all pitch in where we can.
2/As the poetry editor, you’re in charge of curating the poetry that winds up in each issue, as well as the volumes of poems published through Barrelhouse Books. Will you tell us a bit about your curatorial process for each?
For the print issues, it’s your standard literary magazine process. I read all the submissions and make all the decisions on poetry. I solicit just a few poets I really love for each issue. Generally we publish about 95% of each issue from the slush pile.
For Barrelhouse Books, we’re still figuring that out. Earlier this year, we published You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored by Justin Marks as our first poetry book. I’ve been a huge fan of his for years and we had published some of Justin’s poems in the magazine. We opened up submissions for fiction full-length collections and Justin queried me if we’d be opening for poetry manuscripts. I told him that we weren’t planning on it just yet, but I’d love to see what he was working on. He sent it and I just knew I wanted to publish it. His poems ring true in way that is pretty rare in contemporary poetry. He’s the real deal. I love that book.
Now I’m faced with what to do next. I’ve gotten a few other queries. I’m checking all those out and I’ve reached out to a few people too, but nothing is definite yet. I suspect that someday we’ll do a round of open submissions for poetry manuscripts. There are a lot of good books out there just waiting to be found.
3/Beyond editing, you also regularly host the Barrelhouse Presents readings, live events that spotlight other small presses. Does that complement your work as an editor, or does it let you flex a different creative muscle?
The reading series is more a reflection of my reading life than my editing life. Since we bring in magazines and small presses we love and present their writers, it’s a chance to showcase some of the really great work being done in the literary community.
It’s connected to editing in that it’s all about discovery. You read a poem or a book and you think, ‘Everyone needs to know about this!’ As an editor, I have the privilege to publish that stuff in Barrelhouse. As a reader though, someone other lucky editor got to it first, but I still want people to know about it, so I try to bring them in for a Barrelhouse Presents.
4/Barrelhouse runs an annual conference, Conversations and Connections, that seems to be the ideal literary festival—writers get to have speed-dating sessions with editors, attendees get free books, small presses and literary journals get plugged left and right, the panels actually sound useful, and it travels! You’ve held them in DC, Philly, and soon, Pittsburgh. Tell us about how the conference started, and where you see it headed.
Like the magazine, the conference started out of frustration (there’s a theme developing here). Dave and Susan were tabling at a conference and were commiserating about how terrible it was. Attendance was low. Sales were non-existent. We had paid to be there. All the panels were boring. It seemed like the participants were all getting ripped off, paying hundreds of dollars to talk to semi-legit agents who would in all likelihood never be interested in their memoir pitch anyway. So Dave and Susan started sketching out what the ideal conference would look like. It’d be cheap to attend. You’d leave with practical, realistic knowledge about both craft issues and getting published. You’d get connected to other writers and editors in your area. And you’d get stuff, in our case a subscription to a participating literary magazine and one of the featured books.
Using that blueprint, we started off pretty small in DC, but it worked. We kept selling out year and year, even after moving to a bigger venue at Johns Hopkins University’s DC campus. And people were making real connections. We’ve seen attendees come back and they’ve been publishing. We’ve seen people start magazines and reading series. It’s been amazing. We also heard from a lot of other writers and editors who thought that their city should have something like this. We expanded to Philly, where two of our editors live, and now we’re headed to Pittsburgh on October 18th.
We hope to see the conference grow even more. We joke about franchising it out—Writing Conferences, the Barrelhouse Way! But really people have reached out to us with the need. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see us in a couple other cities across the next few years. Maybe a city near you.
5/While we’re on the subject of Barrelhouse’s additional activities—readings, conferences, podcasts—will you tell us how you see Barrelhouse fitting into the larger conversation about literary community? Because, from where we sit, it seems like Barrelhouse might just be indie lit’s benevolent deity.
Ha! Well, thank you. I think at our core, we want to see good writing and good writers flourish. We’ve been pretty lucky to find an audience and be given a tiny platform from which we can reach readers and to the extent that we can, we want to invite others to stand our platform, too.
We want every writer to find their audience and succeed, however that might look. There’s a kind of life cycle to it and, just by what we’re interested in, it turns out we can be pretty connected to every step. Sometimes people need help getting their footing, improving their writing and learning about the publishing eco-system. We try to offer that through the conferences and online workshops. Then if they’re ready and they fit our particular thing, they might find themselves in the pages of Barrelhouse. Oh, now they have a book out and we really dig it? We’re happy to feature them at Barrelhouse Presents or on Book Fight. Maybe we even find it first and publish it as a Barrelhouse Book.
We do all that stuff because people did it for us as we were starting out. Everyone is just trying to figure out how this whole indie lit community thing might work, right? If we’ve got some notes and can help, we do. We hope you’ll share your notes with us too and we can be weird internet friends.
6/Let’s talk about you as a writer. All of your poems that we’ve read or heard you read might be considered love poems, but with a thoroughly contemporary sensibility. There’s also a formal conceit that you handle really well, involving the repetition of certain lines, and with each repetition comes additional meaning. Clearly, you read a lot of contemporary poetry, but your work seems rooted in an older tradition. Would you talk about your aesthetic as a writer? Subquestion: Does that aesthetic affect your curatorial interests? Is there overlap?
It’s said that all art is about love, sex, or death, but to me it’s all really about some degree or type of love. The most interesting parts of sex and death are really about love, right? At least a question of love? That’s my primary obsession so that’s what I tend to write about. That probably does place me in a long running tradition. Tradition is important because it can create another layer to your work, that you’re responding to or at least conscious of what’s come before. That said you’ve got to do your own thing. Find something new that only you can do or say.
The contemporary poets I admire most write in ways that I don’t. Often that means they’re funny or irreverent or angry or political in ways that are hard for me to access personally. They’ve got attitude. I’m more of a stoic, I think. There is overlap in that I like publishing poems that I like best (obviously), but that means they’re usually not something I’d try to write myself.
However, my favorite poems to read and to write go straight for the heart. They’re about loss and love and what might have been and what might still be. Jack Gilbert is my all time favorite and his work is a great example of that.
7/Name one or two exemplary pieces you’ve published that epitomize Barrelhouse.
For Fiction: “The White Guy’s Guide to Marrying a Black Woman” by Edward Porter and “Sometimes, They Kill Each Other” by Jen Fawkes
For Poetry: “from Naïve Melody” by Justin Marks and “Philadelphia” by Laura Solomon
For Non-fiction: “Irish on Both Sides” by Tom Williams and “All Aboard the Bloated Boat: Arguments in Favor of Barry Bonds” by Lee Klein
8/Is there an editor or publication that you know to regularly publish solid work, i.e., who do you return to again and again, as a reader? (NB: Your answer need not necessarily be small press affiliated.)
Birds LLC, Bloof, Coconut, Publishing Genius, Sixth Finch, and Sink Review are all go-to’s for me.
9/Describe what it’s like to work with you in an editorial capacity, in three words.
Collaborative, responsive, supportive
Dan Brady is the author of two chapbooks, Cabin Fever / Fossil Record (Flying Guillotine Press) and Leroy Sequences (Horse Less Press). He is the poetry editor of Barrelhouse and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and son.