"The Realms of Language and Art are Boundless." A Chat With Kathleen Fitzpatrick and W.F. Lantry, Editors of Peacock Journal
Peacock Journal began its creative journey in August 2016. In a short span of time it has caught the attention of the literati. More than 300 contributors have exhibited their excellence. Helming the endeavor is a polished couple: Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Managing Editor) and W.F. Lantry (Editor). K.F. in her other role is a gifted coloratura soprano while W.F.L. is a celebrated poet, respected for his layered compositions.
Peacock Journal treats the text with extraordinary care. The layout is aesthetic with a visual accentuating the wordings. No wonder this journal is on the list of most contributors searching a home for their creative endeavors. Over to the gentle and gracious couple. Their quiet humor will keep you hooked.
Interview by Sanjeev Sethi
The impetus to start Peacock Journal?
W.F. Lantry: So there I was, minding my own business, driving down the road with the joy of my existence and the fire of my art riding beside in the passenger seat. And she turns to me and says, "We should start a journal."
"Nope. I'm not gonna start a journal, and you can't make me. Why would we do that?"
"Puisque je te le dis!"
Yikes. We all know how that story ends!
Kate Fitzpatrick: An apocryphal story! Whenever I want to get him to do something, Bill has a fondness for accusing me of brandishing a cast iron frying pan, à la Snuffy Smith. I can only get him to do the things that he actually wants to do. You can lead a lazy mule to water…
I suggested we start a journal, and he acquiesced stubbornly. We let the thought simmer for more than a year before we actualized it. Our friend, poet Ed Shacklee, encouraged us, offering backing and moral support. Bill's publisher at Little Red Tree, Michael Linnard, jumped at the idea, as well, hoping to bring out a companion print edition.
Why is it named so?
W.F.L.: When we first met, Kate took me to the Peacock Room at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery. Most people have their first date at a nightclub or a honkytonk, but that's not how Kate rolls. I quickly realized I'd stumbled into a different world. On the spot, I promised to make her a peacock room. Which I did, in my rented house. My landlady was not amused. So now we have our own house, with a few peacock paintings here and there. I keep threatening to get real peacocks for the backyard, but so far we've got nothing but chickens out there. Fourteen chickens. No peacocks. Yet!
K.F.: The peacock is my totem animal. I've always loved them. Many cultures revere them for their beauty, dignity and grace. It's the perfect metaphor for the beauty we wish to showcase on our site.
How has the response been?
W.F.L.: We try not to talk about such things. So I won't mention we've had fifty thousand visitors from over seventy countries. Those are just numbers. And I guess at some point I should count up the number of countries we've received submissions from, and published. It must be dozens. We want to be a world journal.
But our real focus is on the writing and the art. I talk about Beauty, Kate talks about "life-affirming art." They're nearly the same thing. We wanted to build a place where the work of the authors and artists would be treated with the respect it deserves, and where readers and viewers would find a place to dwell. A garden of forking paths where people can walk in beauty. It's gratifying so many people like to wander around in the space we've built.
K.F: We've had not only a marvelous response from readers, but also from contributors. We receive lovely feedback from many of them. Bill takes a great deal of care to find just the right image to go along with the written words, and to take advantage of the electronic medium to display the work well. We often get notes of gratitude.
Contributors are asked to submit a meditation on beauty? Why this?
W.F.: That was Kate's idea. She said, "We get artist's statements from the painters, maybe we should ask the writers for their thoughts." It was a brilliant plan: they come up with some amazing things. In college, I sought out courses on aesthetics, but I had to get special permission to take them. It should be easier: the response shows there's a real interest in the subject. People have so much to say, once they get asked!
K.F.: Years ago I read an article in which some researcher said reading modern poetry causes migraines. Those words frequently come to mind when I read literary journals which often present intentionally discordant and jarring work. I prefer to highlight what is beautiful. We hope to inspire our contributors and readers to think about their ideas on beauty. Articulating their notions of aesthetics may lead to more consciously beautiful creative work.
Are you restricting yourself to the net or are there other plans?
W.F.: I'm a net guy: I spent many years as a director of academic technology at a research university. I love the freedom and flexibility coding makes possible, and the reach the web allows. When I was young, I read every book of poetry I could get my hands on, but that mostly meant old second hand anthologies. I like to imagine a young poet now, say a fifteen year old woman living in Dera Ismail Khan. Where can she find the contemporary poetry she's looking for, which will feed her soul, delight her spirit, and invigorate her mind? We hope it's a places like Peacock Journal which she can read in stolen moments on her cell phone.
K.F.: As I mentioned, from the start Michael Linnard of Little Red Tree Publishing wished to collaborate with us on the journal. He'd be thrilled to come out with a print version four times a year. We just put together an anthology of our favorite selections from work that appeared this last Fall. Maybe now that we've produced the first volume, we can continue bringing them out regularly.
In its short run Peacock Journal has a catalog of more than 300 contributors. What are your observations about the manner in which contemporary writing is moving?
W.F.: The literary and artistic world is vast and vibrant. It pulses with creative energy, perhaps more now than at any other time in history. I thought I had a good handle on it. I spent many years teaching world literature and world culture, at a dozen universities on two continents. But I get surprised at each moment. Our authors teach me, our readers educate me. I thought this project might expand my horizons—as someone said, 'The limits of my world are the limits of my language.' But I've learned those horizons don't exist, that the realms of language and art are boundless. I discover new things I hadn't dreamed of every day.
What is the first thing that strikes you while reading a submission?
W.F.: Formatting. Web coding ain't easy. Yes, I could scatter words all over the screen, like a type-setter who's taken one too many hashish breaks. But just because it looks good on my screen doesn't mean it'll look good on yours. Remember that young woman in Dera Ismail Khan? Do you have any idea what browser she's using? Neither do I! We had an old colleague who sent us something with words scattered everywhere. I wrote to him "We'd like to publish this, but..." He said, "Don't trouble yourself, I just go a little crazy on the tab key sometimes." We left-justified everything, and all was good.
K.F.: We use an online submission page on the journal site to receive contributions. Because of the way it is configured, a submission can be sent without attaching any creative work. So first, I make sure there is an attachment of poetry, prose, art or photography. Would you be surprised to hear at least 10% of the time there isn't, even though we warn about it right on the submission page?
The striking thing about submissions, and I'm afraid editors say this all the time, it's true: potential contributors often don't read the guidelines. But we always give submitters a second chance to get it right. If we like the artist's style, but the content or themes don't align with our approach, we remind them of our Alice’s Restaurant Rule and encourage them to resubmit.
What is it that gets a green signal?
W.F.: Original use of language. Stunning phrases. Something that expands our definition of what art is, and what it can do. But that's just a baseline. Let me try to tell you something real: about once a week, Kate makes me sit down and go through the submissions. She'll be on her laptop, and I'll be next to her on my tablet. She'll be telling me things about the contributors, and I'll be looking at the submissions. And I'll say "No. No. Yes, these three poems. No." And then I'll get quiet, and she won't hear anything from me for a few minutes. And she'll say, "What?" And I'll say, "Oh my goodness!"
It happened just the other day with the work of a woman from the west coast. I'd never heard of her, you've never heard of her. But her work was so stunning - I mean that literally - so aesthetically bouleversant, it was impossible to continue. It was as if someone had grabbed my notions of art and shaken them, as if the fabric of my spirit had been rent and restitched. And now I want to share her work with everyone who will listen!
Any pet peeves? A list potential contributors need to know?
W.F.: Unsharpened language. Phrases past their expiration date. Think of Auden's poem about Yeats: "Time ... worships language and forgives / everyone by whom it lives." Why would time itself worship your language? Is there something both eternal and unsung in the phrase you just wrote? Is there passion in your syntax? There's no list, except the list of every phrase that's ever been used in the history of humankind. If I've ever heard that phrase before, it's gonna get bounced.
K.F.: I have been Bill's literary correspondent for several years, and have made over 1500 submissions of his work, so I am well acquainted with everything on the other side of the curtain. That's probably why we have few guidelines, and are forgiving of mistakes. But there are several things I find irritating. Titles in capital letters. Double spaces after periods. Not including an author photo—we enjoy seeing what our contributors look like—and lo-res photos that are unusable.
Do you have definite job functions or does it fluctuate?
W.F.: There's an absolute separation of tasks. I'm only good at one or two things, and I try to never, ever stray onto Kate's territory. So I do selection, layout, and that's it. She does the formatting, she does the correspondence and all the communication. Anything involving organization is hers. And she makes sure I do what I need to do. If it weren't for her, I'd spend my life wandering among the lotus blossoms in an ecstatic daze.
K.F.: Once a contributor sent us some words on beauty that were not really appropriate for us. I must have been having a busy week, so instead of waiting for me to send a delicately worded reply, Bill decided to respond himself. The result was not pretty. The raw feelings generated required all my skills at detente to assuage Bill’s poor wounded victim. I apologized to the writer, adding, "Now you see why we encourage him to stay in his bear cave."
Moving forward, any other plans for Peacock Journal?
W.F.: I don't know. What did you have in mind?
K.F.: It costs us so little to bring so much joy to so many people, even though it's a lot of work. So the plan is to keep moving forward each day. We’re not expected to complete the task, nor are we permitted to lay it down.
Sanjeev Sethi is the author of three well-received books of poetry. His most recent collection is This Summer and That Summer (Bloomsbury, 2015). His poems are in venues around the world: The Tower Journal, Rasputin, Red Fez, The Penwood Review, Easy Street, Novelmasters, 3:AM Magazine, Morphrog 14, Bindwind Magazine, Your One Phone Call, Poetry Pacific, The Ofi Press Literary Magazine, Transnational Literature, Postcolonial Text, Meniscus, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.