Interview with Editors of The Lumberyard:
Jen Woods and Eric Woods
Jen Woods joyfully serves as Associate Editor for Sarabande Books, an independent literary press in Louisville, KY, where she resides with her two magic dobermans, Henri and Taylor. Additionally she is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Lumberyard magazine: www.lumberyardmagazine.com.
Eric Woods is the founder of The Firecracker Press, a design studio and letterpress shop located in the heart of historic St. Louis. The Firecracker Press combines the use of centuries old printing methods with the latest modern design techniques to create unique objects that people enjoy and love. His website is: www.firecrackerpress.com.
Luna Park: First off, I want to mention how excited we were at Luna Park—we being our managing editor and myself—when we received the first issue of Lumberyard in the mail this past January. It arrived the day before we were to depart for the AWP conference in New York, so I grabbed it, along with ten or so other literary magazines, for the plane ride. I never got to the other magazines. During the flight, I reread Lumberyard at least twice, even reading some poems aloud every so often. Already impressed by the letterpress production quality of Lumberyard when I first saw it, I was additionally pleased with the energetic, playful, and moving selection of poems inside—and more, how well they seemed to coincide with the overall design. What led you, along with your brother, to bring about Lumberyard? Why did you think (thankfully, I might add) that another literary magazine needed to be added to the mix?
Jen Woods: Wow, thanks for such a complimentary first question Naturally, we couldn’t be happier to hear people have such a reaction. This may sound a little corny, but I feel like Lumberyard was inevitable. Or maybe I should say that a long series of events led up to the moment when the concept came to mind and I instantly knew we had to do it. Now that Lumberyard exists, it feels like an old friend. My brother and I are very close in age, only 15 months apart, and we’ve been collaborating in some way our whole lives. His visual artistry has always caused me to gasp, as if someone crawled in my head and drew a picture of what it is that goes on up there, so I was fascinated by how our two art forms might work together. We didn’t really consider how many other magazines might be already doing similar things—we just went with it. It was the only time in my life I let my intuition completely guide the process, and the night I got the email containing the proofs of the first issue, I nearly passed out. It hit the bull’s eye and I knew it didn’t matter if anyone else liked the thing—I was more content than I had ever been.
LP: It feels that the design of the magazine complements, or somehow matches, the poetry you publish in it. For example, the rhythms and emotions of Matthew Lippman’s opening poem “Moses”—which begins “Mike Goldstein is a bitch,” devolving then into a both tragic and touching description of, of all things, a bagel shop—seems to grow out of the surrounding page, where things seem perfectly haphazard, everything in a constant state of revision: organized chaos. Do you see a similar merging of the poetry and design of Lumberyard? Is this part of your larger project for the magazine?
JW: One of our main goals was to make the text and the design seamless, which we found out, is no simple task. We wanted both art forms to complement one another in the highest way. It was important that one didn’t overshadow the other but instead created a perfect union, making both all the better for having been paired. In other words, everything they tell you about the ideal marriage would also apply to our project.
LP: Could you describe briefly what Lumberyard is looking for in writing. What is the general aesthetic, if there is one? It seems you are looking to publish poetry that feels alive, unafraid to take risks.
JW: This is a tough question. Although I personally have a very distinct aesthetic, I try not to let my own taste rule the roost. I imagine different types of people I know and then think, “What would it take to get X interested in reading a poem?” Then we start looking through the submissions to see if there are any strong pieces matching said criteria. Next, I rope a few friends in to reading the initial picks, and these are all people who don’t read poetry on a normal basis, so their opinions are very meaningful to our mission. Overall, I would say we’re looking for work that is trapped in the world of “things.” We like honest, we like poems rich with smell and sound and touch, dirty, stinky poems, poems that sing, and poems that make you laugh out loud are always welcome! And, of course, we have to consider how a poem will work when combined with design. Longer poems are usually not feasible, but then again, we are always open to a new challenge or a new way of putting things together, so if we really like a piece, we’ll find a way. In the first issue, I fell in love with the “letter never sent” written by K. Curtis Lyle. It was too long, but we had to have it, so we just decided to honor it for what it was, and the result was the letter inserted in the middle, printed on regular paper, like a guerilla attempt to get a correspondence to President Lincoln. It was one of my favorite moments.
LP: In a letter you enclosed with your first issue you wrote that “we hope to bring some of the ridiculously good poets working today to the attention of the general public.” Why do you think that such poets are out there not getting their work published? It seems there are almost more literary magazines than writers today (or that every writer has their own literary magazine). Is it just the nature of publishing for there to always be good writing not getting a voice?
JW: What I meant by that statement was not to say good poets aren’t getting published—many are, and I have to give props to my day job at Sarabande, where I work with a wonderful gang of folks dedicated to just that. However, the everyday people I know, or the people in my life who aren’t “in the biz” aren’t buying these books, aren’t reading this work. Poetry is a genre the general public has lost affection for, in my humble opinion, because they don’t think poetry is for them. There’s a prevailing attitude that it’s not accessible to most people, which I think is totally untrue. We hope the format for Lumberyard will help warm people up to the idea of poetry again, the way it once was the song of the masses. For example, maybe you pick Lumberyard up because your eye is drawn to the imagery and discover a poem inside does speak to you, does make sense, and most certainly has something to offer. And maybe it’s the first time you’ve read a poem since your high school English class. Our dream is to have every mom and pop hardware store in America carrying our magazine. If we achieved anything close to this, I think I would feel our real mission was realized.
LP: On a more pragmatic note, what did it take to put the first issue together? The issue is gorgeous, but also seems simple in its construction—is this just the deception of good design? Also, as you and Eric live in different cities, how do you work together in deciding how the issue is going to end up? Plus, you two each seem to have full-time careers—Eric as owner of The Firecracker Press and you as an Associate Editor at Sarabande Books. In other words: When do you two sleep?
JW: Ha! My current line when asked the last question about when I sleep is that I’m saving up for retirement. In all seriousness, putting the mag together takes a good deal of elbow grease. Both my brother and I are drawn to getting our hands dirty, and his design and letterpress business is the epitome of this. Every technique used in construction is as old school as we could get, every page has a very human touch. I hope that comes across when you pick up the magazine. There is a good deal of back and forth travel between our two cities, but it helps to work with a sibling. We often don’t need to communicate as much as you might with, say, coworkers, because we’ve been sharing creative thoughts for three decades now. There is an innate trust and respect that makes creating the magazine more like pure joy and less like work.
LP: Are you or Eric big readers of literary magazines? Which are your favorites at the moment?
JW: Me more so than my brother, but one of the cool things that has come about from his bookmaking jobs at Firecracker is that he’s discovering poetry for the first time, and, I think, we are slowly winning him over. I have to throw some attention at the fine folks at Forklift, Ohio, and Diagram. Oh—and I can’t forget Born Magazine. I recently discovered Agriculture Reader much to my delight. And thanks to a former professor of mine, I’m enjoying reading vintage issues of kayak, which are a total kick.
LP: Do either of you feel you are working off of any publishing influences in creating Lumberyard? Lumberyard has the feel of some of the modernist literary magazines, like Blast or Egoist, combined with the DIY style design elements of a zine. Or, are you working off of other publishing/design influences outside the literary magazine world, such as rock show posters or graffiti?
JW: If I had to say, it would be more the latter. As I mentioned earlier, when we started we actually did the opposite of research, cutting ourselves off for the most part as to what was going on in the lit mag world, so as to not be unduly influenced. What does influence us—and this is a relatively new realization for me—is our childhood. The Firecracker Press does a lot of rock show posters inspired by everyday images from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, before design became the chi-chi practice we know now. Those are the images from our 1970s childhood. And for me, I’m always looking to recreate the magic I felt as a kid when I would open a book at the local library. The fascination came equally from the text and the images, and I have memories from as early as four years old, in the library, seeking out books with Caldecott Medals on them. Of course, I had no idea it was an award for an illustrator. Back then I just knew the medal equaled good and that books were a portal into a much larger world I couldn’t see from rural Missouri. There’s no reason why adults can’t enjoy the same kind of experience when they read. Why should kids have all the fun?
LP: Are there any writers you would—say—give up a kidney for to get some work from them for an issue of Lumberyard?
JW: Man, I don’t know; I’m pretty partial to my kidney! Honestly, we’ve been lucky so far with the poets who have agreed to work with us—it’s hard to imagine wanting for more. I’m sure I could give you a list of people, but they would all be pretty a-typical, and maybe some of them don’t even write poetry in their spare time the way I imagine they do. My aunt, for one, who I’m pretty certain has a secret collection of poems she’s written and never shown anyone. Next would have to be David Bowie (if you’re reading this, Mr. Bowie, we’ll do it under a pen name and no one will ever have to know but me). And this young woman, Rachel, who was in my creative writing class in college and one day just disappeared. She used to write the most beautiful, gut-wrenching poems I ever remember reading. All the time I wonder what happened to her and her talent.
LP: Finally, what can you tell us about your upcoming summer issue? And, more, do you have any long-term plans? Such as, in its first issue, Tin House published a satiric ten-year plan or something, mapping out the future of the magazine. What do you see down the road for Lumberyard?
JW: Of course, I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure the next issue is going to be one heck of a great time. We got tons of submissions about love and sex (I think it was because it was February when they came in), so I predict a sprinkle or two of scandalous behavior. A few more laughs can be expected, I suppose. If you’re looking for names, I won’t tell. Some you’ll recognize, some you won’t. Since we’re in the process of creation at this very moment, all I can say for certain is that I’m very excited about this next evolution of Lumberyard. As for the future, that’s up to the public. We’ll keep working to get the word out about our project, and, as long as there is a demand, we’re dedicated to continuing, hopefully getting better each time. We have lots of wish-list ideas up our sleeve, but I don’t want to jinx any of them by shooting off about it prematurely. Right now we’re just staying in this wonderful moment, enjoying the fact that we get to do something we love.