by M. Bui
What happens when you put 12 publications, an array of zines and merch, and a bunch of lovers of literature all together in a cozy space with a bar and a stage? You get a room full of like-minded creatives and a festive feast of literature, complete with readings, drinks, and wonderful company with those who share in your love for language art and books. At least, that’s what I felt as I immersed myself in the scene at Meet the Mags Volume 2 in the heart of Denver a few weekends ago (yes, the specific evening happening to align with 4/20).
Never before had I felt so inclined to indulge myself in a literary world with many other like-minded people. The Meet the Mags event rounded up and featured 12 of Denver’s hottest independent lit mags at Syntax Physic Opera, offering an inviting space to chat, share, read, and listen to readings from the various publication there. Our very own Inverted Syntax was here featuring our latest print issue and later with a reading by none other than Kathy Fish (published in our print issue). This was the event to be at especially if you’ve been looking for a sampling of the literary scene here in Denver or simply to learn more about this hidden but rumbling culture of independently published literature.
The quaint and charming space of Syntax Physic Opera, found right along 554th and Broadway is the perfect spot for such an event. The warm lighting, artistic architecture, classy decor, and friendly bar with a vast selection cocktails and dishes helped make the music venue an enchanting literary haven. But it was those who filled the space that brought it to life: readers, writers, artists, lit lovers, fashion designers, coffee enthusiasts, and so much more, all with our loaded arsenal of zines, mags, merch, and more. From our numerous, varied backgrounds, everyone here came together to share in our common love of the literary culture.
I spent most of my time perusing each publication and thoroughly enjoying meeting with the people behind the scenes, learning about each publication and about the editors themselves. We chatted about everything from our magazines’ visions to the peculiar printing presses we use to the day jobs we find ourselves in when we’re not creating art. Typically, when we read published work, we sometimes forget about the hard work involved in the process of putting out a print issue; we may forget that there are minds and hearts behind those words and art, so it was a refreshing opportunity for me to be able to interact with other people behind the scenes of independent publications.
Attending this event was a wonderful way to wrap up my semester long internship at Inverted Syntax. The community, creativity, and passion that filled the venue that 4/20 evening was truly a treasure for any resident of the literary world--I’m already looking forward to Volume 3 of Meet the Mags. I left the venue with an armful of zines, cards, and merch, and a brain full of artistic inspiration.
All previous photos by M. Bui
When the editorial staff (Jesica Carson Davis, Melanie Merle and Allissa Hertz) and I were first identifying themes for our print and online issues, we didn’t realize we were also building our language—a way for you to read us. We didn’t realize that when we separated works into print and online, we were making decisions not only about theme, but also about urgency— about what we believed needed to be ever-present in our digital, always on, always free, always available format; we didn’t realize that the language collection we were curating from submissions was not only of words and images, but that which when placed together presented a collection that spilled outside prescribed lines, in disquieting and exhilarating form and content, re-forming language.
We didn’t ask for pieces about borders and refugees, place and displacement, but that is what we received. From the political to the personal, these works invariably had something interwoven about isolation and loss. The work we present to you in our inaugural issue is made by artists in a variety of media: painters, photographers, poets, fiction and nonfiction writers— many of whom are working to blend genre into something new, yet who may still write or create art traditionally in order to break with tradition. And throughout, pairing visual arts with written works, we’ve blended in a layer that shadows or echoes the other.
While the English language has long been a symbol of imperialistic power, used to create hierarchies and division, we also recognize that this language can be reformed. We persist with the language we have, revolting against it to arrive at what and how we want to communicate, because as Adrienne Rich says, while writers cannot refuse the language they have been dealt, writers “can re-fuse the language given to him or her, bend and torque it into an instrument for connection instead of dominance and apartheid: toward what Edouard Glissant has wonderfully called ‘the poetics of relation’.”
It is apt that the issue begins with Metres’ and Kalfopoulou’s pieces around the relationship that exists between language and suffering— about human beings in displacement. The collection progresses between a consciousness of self, whether in relation to geography, physical or literal, to the conscious attempts to fracture and reconfigure language. At the heart of our collection is the complexity of familial relationships, straddling elements of discord and the need for acceptance.
These are the works joining Manet at the ‘Salon des Refusés’, works that are brilliant and necessary, always uplifting and mercurial, speaking from the future — a medley of ‘re-fused’ works, for us, the Inverted camp celebrating those members of the Refusés. The works in Inverted Syntax inaugural online issue, including The Art of the Postcard series, are a meditation on what Ada Limón asks, about how we live, how we live in the world, amongst inevitable loss and suffering. Each piece, a fearless creation ubiquitously resisting conformity and complacency, takes memorable, haunting approaches to art and language that turn us inside out and convey novel insights into the human experience. Once you let yourself enter this space, your senses start reaching outside the imposed language lines and you start allowing yourself to experience language, including art, viscerally, on your terms.
Read online issue 1.
by Jesica Carson Davis
The urge to create is fundamentally human, whether we write poems, sing songs, or paint pictures. Creation is a form of record keeping, one way of saying I was here, this happened. In an attempt to capture some of the magic I got to experience as Editorial Assistant at Inverted Syntax’s first staff retreat, I present here a record of what it was like to be at the beginning stages of an exciting project, meeting the other editors, finding our own way together. Inverted is a journal about exploring hybrid forms, finding out what happens when we go outside the given lines.
Our Founder/Editor-In-Chief, Nawal Nader-French, had planned a full agenda in which the primary purpose was to work on Inverted’s first online and print editions. However, the retreat weekend up in Boulder County was balanced out by fun, creative events, such as a poetry workshop, meditation time, a painting session, video calls with other editors and writers, and of course, writing. There wasn’t anything on the agenda specifically about team-building and camaraderie, but those were some of the best outcomes of the weekend.
The other Inverted editors knew each other from Regis University’s Mile-High MFA program, but I’d never met any of them in person (though we’d had plenty of communication over email and Submittable--the digital platform we use to track submissions). This could have been nerve-wracking, but immediately upon arrival, Nawal made me feel beyond welcome in her gorgeous home with thoughtful gift-filled tote bags and conversations about poets we both admire. The other Editorial Assistants, Melanie and Allissa, greeted me with warm hugs, and soon enough we were all bonding over wine and a massive welcome dinner. Melanie, a nonfiction writer, drove in from Oklahoma, and Allissa, a poet, had driven in from south of Denver, so we all appreciated the decompression.
Friday evening we attended a local poetry workshop at the Firehouse Art Center in downtown Longmont. Getting there became an impromptu team-building adventure after we discovered someone’s notebook had been left on the car’s rooftop and we had to work together to retrace our path, joining forces to find it. Luckily, it was recovered and still intact; the tire treadmarks gave it extra character. The workshop itself was a quietly meditative experience in which attendees got a prompt (write 10 lines about “Home” and then edit them based on a series of suggestions), followed by everyone reading their work and giving each other feedback.
Though we knew that Saturday would be starting early and packed with activities, we all stayed up past midnight talking about life, getting to know each other better, playing with Nawal’s adorable beagles, and sometimes even discussing writing.
Saturday morning began with a guided meditation led by Melanie, who teaches yoga and has a perfect voice for leading such an exercise. I’d thought the meditation lasted about 15 minutes, and was stunned when she told us that it was closer to 50. A focus on the creative chakras and Melanie’s guidance put us in an open mindframe and made us more receptive to creativity, ready to read, organize, and assemble upcoming issues.
Nawal opened up the day’s editorial duties by proclaiming that “We are rewriting the rules,” setting a tone of freedom without expectations, which we ran with. Since Inverted Syntax is a new journal, there isn’t an inherited, existing framework to adhere to; we can make new decisions as we go.
The next 30 hours passed in a blur of reading, conversation, and good times: When we began assembling the online and print magazines, Nawal encouraged us to look for themes, such as boundaries, disruption, and relationships.
A video call with Andrea Rexilius, a poet and Program Coordinator for Regis’s Mile-High MFA, confirmed this approach: consider the journal’s layout like you would organize a manuscript. Stay open to a narrative arc, or consider folios (chapters within the journal), which will be subconsciously informed by our aesthetic and the pieces we’d already selected for publication.
Thus, we spent Saturday morning reading each accepted piece and writing down three or four keywords (like tags or metatdata) for each piece, simple descriptions of themes. Later, when reading the pieces aloud, we compiled a list of the most common keywords that would be used for grouping. It became clear that many of the pieces we’d selected were linked, through tone and imagery, sometimes even subject matter. These links weren’t consciously intended, so it was cool to see them appear as we read.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was sitting in a circle, reading accepted work out loud to each other. We savored favorite lines, sometimes gasping, getting goosebumps and tears from being moved by pieces we’d read before. It was a gorgeous reminder of how art can break against you again and again, like a wave, how delicious it can be to get drenched.
Throughout the weekend, we kept up a lively discussion about the differences between publishing online or in print. We talked about how a piece posted on the internet has a better chance of reaching many more people than one that’s perfect-bound and physically distributed. How some pieces feel more urgent, like witnessing refugee experience, and thus should be published in a way that gives them a chance at the greatest possible audience. How online issues have a spatial advantage over ink: a 25 page piece would take up a quarter of the print version but can unfold at length on a website, without restrictions. How lucky we are to have both routes available to us now.
We skimmed dozens of print and online journals, charting what we liked and didn’t like, to stimulate discussion. We covered everything from the table of contents organization and serif vs. sans-serif fonts to letters from the editors and placement of contributor bios. The exercise made my tech writer brain begin to assemble a style guide to capture the editors’ decisions on pressing issues, like whether to use indentations or line breaks for paragraphs and how capitals would appear in the titles of pieces. Writing our own rules as we go.
It is exciting and a little intimidating to realize that since Inverted Syntax is a new journal, there’s no formula for how to run it; we can collectively decide the best way to do things, find ways to make the form best fit and reflect the content. For example, while some Editors-in-Chief wait until their readers finish going through the slush pile to narrow pieces under consideration, Nawal was in Submittable for hours every day looking for new work. Instead of sticking to one genre, readers were encouraged to provide feedback on submissions in every category. After all, Inverted’s mission centers around hybridity.
As the day grew long, we decided to skip a yoga session in favor of tea time, and to keep working, though a dance party broke out because we needed to reinvigorate. A sense of urgency began to set in: the retreat will end soon and we will disband in the morning, so let’s make the most of our time together.
Soon it was getting dark, and it was time time for a video call with David Hicks, the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Regis Mile-High MFA. After some discussion of the retreat life and what we’d been up to, he generously invited all of us to attend one of his writers’ retreats next spring! As part of the support that Inverted Syntax receives as a journal partly supported through The Mile-High MFA, the retreat invitation included a personal manuscript consultation, for those of us working on our own books. It felt like winning a small fellowship.
Once we hung up, it hit us that we’d been at it for almost 12 hours, and that we were approaching the end of our productivity. It was time to pour wine and take a break. Canvases and paints appeared, Nawal’s Ghanaian-influenced curry released its enticing aroma from the stove, and we finally put our work aside. I’m still thinking about that curry, topped with tomatoes, onion, peanuts, banana.
As we unwound from Saturday by collaging and painting with acrylics, we took turns reading from our own work, pieces that not many others had yet heard. Reading poems-in-progress felt like making proclamations: I am here, I made this. Creating and sharing art as a way of raging against, or embracing, the void.
Sunday morning rolled around, and once again we collectively decided to forgo physical activity (a planned hike) in favor of focusing on the journal. There was still so much to do! By then we were fresh enough to want to keep working but brain-drained enough from the previous day to take a break from the creative side, which meant focusing on marketing and logistics.
We discussed our wish list, dreams for the future: possibilities of a local reading series, the AWP conference, poetry contests, maybe even another retreat someday for other writers. Then we pivoted towards administrative duties and deadlines, playing with design for the online issue and entering pieces onto the draft site in advance of October’s online publication.
Too soon, it was time to go home.
Being at the start of something, being part of an endeavor’s nascent phase, feels exhilarating. There is no rulebook, and we are not writing one so much as recording our choices, creating documentation.
Most writers and artists are compelled to some kind of record-keeping, including sculpture, comics, poems, and songs. To create something is to cheat death a little: this thing you make may outlive you, if only on a bookshelf, or in someone’s memory.
As a record of the retreat weekend, I offer this account. For the future, we will create Inverted Syntax.