Editor R.V. Branham finds pestering name authors pays off
Issue 1 of editor R.V. Branham's new literary magazine, Gobshite Quarterly, might not be sitting in the British Museum in 2,200 years' time, but at least he's brought together writers and readers who are normally quarantined by the English language.
'It's the Rosetta stone of the new world order,' Branham says of his chunky local magazine. 'We're aiming for a readership that reads: people who'll think, 'Hey, wasn't that that big stone tablet that was in several languages?''
The debut issue includes poems in English alongside the original French by Venus Khoury-Ghata, who is Lebanese, as well as parallel texts from Czech writer Ivan Klima and Laura Esquivel of Mexico. Of these, only Esquivel, of 'Like Water for Chocolate' fame, is a name, even in bookish Portland.
Branham wants to introduce the isolated American to new voices. Another part of the game is attracting marquee writers. Hence a story by slick Brit Frederic Raphael, a shorter one by hard-boiled feminist Andrea Dworkin and the name Kathy Acker on the cover. (It turns out the only thing relating to Acker is a tiny but amusing memoir by Kevin Killian, who makes her out to be a prima donna.)
Branham seems to have had good luck pestering Raphael, who told him which two of his four homes he should send his begging letters to. Likewise, Dworkin: 'I wrote to her and got a really strange letter from her agent Ñ 'Explain yourselves!' ' he says, laughing.
'So I explained myself in a 12-page e-mail. Three months later I got a manuscript from Andrea Dworkin with an apologetic letter saying she would have gotten back to us sooner, but she was sick.'
It was a short story from 1996 that she couldn't sell.
'The reaction from friends is usually, 'She's a real psycho!' And I go, 'Your point?' I think it's a terrific story.'
The name Gobshite comes from a vulgar Irish term for talking nonsense. The magazine will have a print run of 30,000, and needs to sell 'about 15,000 to 20,000 copies to be all right,' according to Branham's business partner, Rick Johnson.
Both nonfiction and fiction are represented in the $5 quarterly, which is available at local bookstores and on the Web. The paper is rough, the ink soy-based, the design basic. This is bathroom reading for the global village.
Esquivel's essay is about agribusiness and genetically modified foods.
'It starts as a mythopoeic deconstruction of Aztec mythology, but it's also asking real questions about what's going to happen to the culture,' Branham says. 'These are being asked in Portland, Vermont, Massachusetts and parts of Canada, but in lots of towns they're not, because they don't know, and they don't care.'
The politics of the magazine is the default antiwar, anti-Republicanism of the intelligentsia. (The cover depicts a groundhog seeing the shadow of a peace sign.) Branham says he was at a party in August 2001 when a friend told him to put up or shut up.
A former editor at Paperback Jukebox, a defunct Northwest music paper, Branham turned his do-it-yourself mentality on the literary world: 'Cajolery, flattery, e-mail, mail, I do a lot of research, write to them wherever I can.' He says one in five writers get back to him. Susan Sontag softened up and is now warily supportive. Portland's Chuck Palahniuk gave an interview.
Local writers are welcome, too. 'Poet Doug Spangle submitted a whole bunch of stuff,' he says. 'One was too long, another was too bleak, the third was just right.'
Poetry is used sparingly, to season the prose. 'I like poems, I hate poetry. Meaning the industry,' Branham says. He's proud to have Australian poet Les Murray on board. 'He's arguably the finest living poet in the English language, it's between him and Seamus Heaney at the moment.'
Other authors he likes are Denis Johnson, Dennis Cooper, Paul Krassner and Bill Shields, who is 'funky and gritty, living at the edge.' Branham also tips an unknown fiction writer for great things, Julianne Ortale, who will be in Issue 2. 'You read her and go, 'Did that happen? Did I just read what I read?''
As well as his music rag background, Branham has something else that makes him a literary outsider: He and Johnson, a wine importer, first met at a science fiction and fantasy writing workshop in 1981.
The pair want to get away from the tweedy world of the little magazine, as literary journals are often called, while avoiding the amateur Arthur C. Clarke and Tom Clancy clones.
'I said we're open to even sci-fi, mystery and fantasy if it's really well done. É As a result É we've been flooded with tons and tons of really awful manuscripts, really awful, awful stuff,' Branham says.
Branham's father taught English in Calexico, Calif:
'As a child I didn't have 'The Wind in the Willows' read to me, I had Pound's 'Cantos,' 'Finnegan's Wake' and speeches from Shakespeare. My dad read everything from William Burroughs to Louis L'Amour.'
The boy then worked his way through fiction alphabetically. 'By the time I got the M's, they had to be pretty damn good.'