Posts Tagged ‘the idiom’

You know the idiom. The running gag is that it’s the most literary table leg leveler ever, the muck on the towel after drying the dog from its romp through a muddy yard during a summer storm, the piece of toilet paper scraped from the sole of a shoe before leaving the bathroom to avoid being embarrassed while returning to the table at the center of the restaurant, the…well, you get the idea. Truth is, however, that this underground literary magazine is an (sub)urban legend and a gateway through which many up and coming authors can get their first taste of seeing their name and toil on inked-up paper that didn’t come from any printer of theirs.

Printed at the publisher’s own expense and distributed gratis anywhere within the wake of its editors’ travels, the idiom became a New Jersey literary staple for those seeking accessible, affective poetry from fresh voices. Its infamy was born out of controversy stemming back to one fateful day on Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus, wherefrom it was banned for perpetuity on the basis of being “pornography” (though an incident involving a paper mâché volcano might have also been involved). While this attempt at name sullying was an affirmation for a few, that same act proved to be an aphrodisiac for the many.

Under the magazine’s mantra of forgoing pretence “to focus on the simplicity and entertainment of the written word,” the idiom‘s editors have spent years building a readership base that has its bulk in the tri-state area but can be found all across the USA and even internationally. Now that the groundwork’s been laid and so many years of toil have netted continued interest and increasingly impressive submissions from amateur and professional writers alike, the idiom is coming up from the underground* and getting into the market-at-large. May god help us all and have mercy on our souls.

I once had an economics professor who proposed that it is impossible to get people to pay for that which they’ve already been getting for free. But the idiom‘s already proved that theory wrong with not one but two anthologies! And it’s not like one can’t see the struggle between love of sharing and desire to legitimize the rag; just look at the blog page that announces the paid subscriptions while also offering a link to a free PDF download and Flash-based, in-browser version! It is not clear whether or not the magazine will only be available in trade for greenbacks from here on in, if free vs. pay will be on a case-by-case basis, or if subscriptions are the only option to be priced, but I truly believe this could work. The editors have worked hard to establish the literary rag, most recently appearing (officially) at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and are working even harder now to make it, if not reputable, a pornographic literary force with which to be reckoned.

(Cover to Idiom Vol. 8 Issue 1, by Nicole Greenwood)

*Title and phrase taken from a song of the same name by Firewater

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I was invited to accompany Piscataway House Publications (PHP) to NYC for the Brooklyn Book Festival, and I’m glad to have gone for so many reasons.  Sitting at table 173 was a blast. Although it was in a corner on the outer edge of the festivities, the table was located directly behind the North Stage. This made trips to see whomever was presenting there effortless. Speaking of which, the only full presentation I managed to see was the 11:00 am “New Works: Poetry Reading.”


Kwame Dawes (book: Duppy Conqueror), whom I first heard at the GRD Poetry Festival, is always amazing to listen to, and his new poems were every bit as lovely as those nesting in my bookshelf. Cathy Park Hong (book: Engine Empire), had a great presentation and good concepts, but ultimately I enjoyed her stage presence more than her actual words (this might change upon reading her, but first impressions are what they are). Idra Novey (book: Exit, Civilian) floored me. Presentation, words, concept…all, the complete package. Her concepts and writing style reminded me of Matthea Harvey with their wit and humor on serious and introspective observations and topics. Patrick Rosal (book: Boneshepherds), playing up a bit of a rock star angle by delivering poems by memory, earned my purchase of his book with a sly (ultimately unintentional) reference to Whitman’s line “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Lastly was Stephen Motika (book: Western Practice), who seemed to have captured something in his writing that embodies West Coast living…have I mention I loathe the West Coast mentality?

That was the only morning/afternoon presentation I ended up attending, because I was happily folding issue after issue of The Idiom for PHP. While the table was located in a back corner and saw little flow before noon, the post 12:00 pm crowd was an entirely different story. We could barely keep Idioms on the table. Everyone there took turns folding, stapling, and handing out the free literary magazine. Dogmatic was even painting with them and drew several admirers while doing so. By 3:00 pm or so, the table had run dry of all 800 copies the independent publisher brought! After the free goodies were gone, efforts were made to sell the other books offered by the independent publisher to modest success. We even put on an impromptu haiku reading to promote “5, 7, then 5 / we must tell a whole story / in just three short lines.”  Pictured to the right are Keith and Erin Baird, hard at work on The Idiom assembly line at table 173.

Since there were no more Idioms to prepare or hand out, I took my leave to check out the most interesting sounding panel of the day, “Enduring Unlikable Women.” Even the wait in line was enjoyable. Aside from hearing everyone around me talk all literary-like, passersby would constantly ask what we were all queued for, to which they’d get the inevitably abbreviated “Unlikable women.”  You could hear the entire line ripple with a low chuckle each and every time.  While the panel was comprised of authors I’d never heard of, the title and description were more than enough reasons to attend. Elissa Schappell (book: Blue Print), Gilbert Hernandez (book: Love and Rockets), and Dana Spiotta (book: Stone Arabia), according to the panel description, were accused of writing “difficult, complex female characters.” This translated to female characters who lived in life’s grey areas or in empowered positions that drew criticisms from certain factions of readers. The authors read from and discussed their works as both authors and readers.

For some Brooklyn Book Festival visuals, check out PHP’s pics here and my own pics here.

Hope to see you there next year!

I’ve been lazy with the audibles, I know. Luckily, there’s this:

It’s rare these days to see analytical podcasts for contemporary poetry, despite how desperately they’re needed. So along come Mark Brunetti and Keith Baird, editors of NJ’s largest underground literary rag, The Idiom, to rip apart poems before your very eyes ears. Just so happens that the inaugural podcast very adeptly analyzes 4 of my poems: “Glow” (since retitled “At Both Ends”), “Advice to Vanity,” “Again in my monster’s mouth,” and XVI. Take a listen and gain some insight or confirm your own suspicions! And be sure to check out all their future podcasts!

The Idiom Volumes 3 & 4

The Idiom (Volumes 3 and 4) (buy via Amazon)
Eds. Keith Baird, Mark Brunetti, Chris McIntyre

The Idiom, a New Jersey-based, underground literary journal, first appeared some 6 years ago and has been rolling along – gathering no moss, but submissions – ever since. Printed on a whim, at will, and when finances allow, the freely distributed, photocopied rag was founded on the humble credo that poems should offer memorable imagery via accessible language. “Submit to The Idiom…just don’t read it” is the self-deprecating mantra of the magazine, so it is not surprising that the release party for The Idiom Volumes 3 and 4 – the rag’s second formal collection of former printings (October 2007 to July 2009) – featured more music and party than self-celebrating poetry.



The poetry that defines The Idiom was far from absent, however. A slew of bands – Intense Men, Xylophone of Wrench, Accidental Seabirds, and others – played the night through, punctuated periodically by poets reading pieces from the recent publication. This was beautiful for two reasons: 1) set changes between bands (i.e. when the poets read) were filled with sound and emotion instead of mindless chatter of an impatient crowd, and 2) the crowd got to drink themselves silly and be social from 9 pm to 1:30 am…which is what poets do best. And what place better to hold a book release party for post-beat poets than the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ, which regularly supports poetry via open mics and booze amidst an atmosphere of rock.

This event was a testament to the party which is poetry and a celebration in honour of those who fight to make a place for it to thrive within an entertainment culture that is increasingly indifferent and even aggressively disinterested in poetics. The determination of The Idiom’s publisher rang true with his nervous pacing, and the love for the homegrown magazine itself was heard in every one of the heartfelt readings from the contributors who took the stage (see above video).