The Nature of Poetry: Velene Campbell, editor of Abalone Moon
pd: What motivated you to start your own online poetry publication? Why online as opposed to print? What is the biggest advantage? The biggest disadvantage?
VC: First let me say that I think this will be enjoyable--for me it kind of breaks me out of my isolation as an editor. I like the idea of communicating with editors of other magazines.
I started Abalone Moon when I first got a computer about a year and a half ago. A friend of mine had an extra computer that someone had given him, and he gave it to me. It was a mysterious creature. I had been fascinated by the idea of the Internet, and although at the time I knew nothing about it, I loved the idea of being able to share poetry with people on a global level.
There's so much good work out there, and poetry reaches out to us on such primal levels. I wanted to read and publish poetry I love. That was my original idea, and it hasn't changed. I've been a poet for decades, graduated from Cal State with a degree in English Literature/ Creative Writing, and in the late 1970's and early 1980's I was involved in both giving and organizing readings. To me it's a continuing spiritual task.
I'm fairly eclectic in my tastes. I choose poetry that I personally respond to--that I react to in both a visceral and intellectual way. This next year I'm planning on doing a print anthology of the poems published in Abalone Moon. Although I like print magazines, to publish three times a year would be impossible because the cost is prohibitive. Also I think that the Internet reaches a larger audience.
pd: What criteria do you use for submissions?
VC: At first I had no idea about the amount of work it would take to do an online magazine. Though I'm still fairly computer illiterate, I now have a love-hate relationship with the computer. Today people interface so much with screens, and I think it shuts out the intimate. But I love doing Abalone Moon. So it's complex.
That's why I don't take submissions. I do Abalone Moon for a month, and then turn off the computer for three. I don't want to keep writers waiting for an answer, so rather than take submissions, I find poets I like and contact them. I find that to be a fairer thing to do. Also the other editors--Erika Horn, Steve Goldman, Carmine Giordano and Howard Bilow--recommend people. So we work together. The editors are all accomplished poets who've been involved in poetry for over thirty years. Erika has her Masters in Creative Writing from San Francisco State where she studied with Stan Rice at the Poetry Center. Carmine was a Fulbright scholar (Classics Studies, Rome, Italy). Steve Goldman, who is an L.A. poet, has been organizing poetry readings for over twenty-five years. Howard Bilow, who will be our new art editor starting in December, is both an artist and poet from L.A. who has won awards for his design.
pd: What are your favorite poetry publications, whether online or print? Do you take any inspiration from these publications in your own?
VC: I've seen so many great online magazines, and I really don't have any favorites. I find that what I respond to is a particular poem in a magazine I happen to find while browsing the Internet, and that reading the work is really an inspiration. It's like a world dialogue that's going on. It has the possibility of changing things. The way I find online work is akin to casting the I Ching, but with a search engine. I never know where I'll land, or what I'll find. The work that the editors of Abalone Moon respond to is work that addresses serious issues with clarity of language and intent.
pd: You obviously invest a great deal of time in your role as an editor. How does that affect your writing, considering the volume of work you are exposed to on a daily basis?
VC: Well, as I said before, I don't take submissions for that reason. It would be overwhelming to have to read the number of submissions received, and I couldn't get back to the poets in a timely fashion. I'm not always involved in editing the magazine. It comes out two to three times a year, and that's more than enough work for me to keep up with. I'll do an issue obsessively for six weeks, and then back away from the computer for a number of months. I love doing it. It's exciting to see poetry that's good. I always value that, and find that the poetry is something that inspires me. Abalone Moon's issue for December has been done since June. But when I'm doing an issue, it does take away from my writing schedule, so that's why I limit the number of issues, and why I don't take submissions.
pd: How did you come up with the name Abalone Moon?
VC: I read a poem by a Native American woman who was studying at UCLA in the 1980's. I don't remember her name, but she had an image in one of her poems that's always stuck with me. It was something like "the clouds at night… abalone circles around the moon." I'm not sure of the exact wording, but it was a true and beautiful image. I had a long relationship with a guitar maker. He also used the term abalone moon for some of his abalone inlays, so between the two, that's how the name came about.
pd: Do you consider yourself a naturalist? How do you come up with the themes for each issue of Abalone Moon? They seem to be organically inspired.
VC: I don't see how we can view ourselves as separate from nature. It's hubris for us to do so, especially at this point in history. There are so many different possibilities available to us, and we ultimately choose which realities will make up the world, and are involved everyday in creating that future in the choices we make, so the themes in Abalone Moon reflect that idea. The poems reflect those themes, as well as the major concerns we hold in common as human beings. Certainly an ecological consciousness is a necessity in today's world if we want a future. I don't believe that technology will necessarily save us. The number of nuclear weapons attests to that. As part of Abalone Moon I included an action page which links to various ecological, animal, and human rights groups, as well as a page with links to poetry and art websites. I like those pages, and hold them dear. So if you'd like, please use them.
pd: How do you feel about the slam poetry movement? How do you view the growth of slam and do you feel it can/should be included as a part of the modern poetry scene, or should it be considered it's own separate genre? If so, why?
VC: I think slam has a great energy. It's like rap in a way. Fresh and raw. I love the Bardic tradition. Each thing has its place. The written word, and the spoken word. I've always loved multi-media, Events. Slam is like an event. It's immediate and usually uncensored. I like that. There can be electric moments with flawless art, and also a lot of bad stuff. It's the same with written work. The written poem is not as transitory. In art you have the Tibetan sand mandala, a performance piece, and the temporary environment, that's like slam--it's of the moment. The written is more like a painting or sculpture meant to last. As far as being good--well, it all depends on the individual work.
pd: In what direction do you see the Los Angeles poetry scene heading? In five years? In ten years? Do you think print publications will be absorbed by webzines like ours; in the same way the electronic media (TV, Internet, journalism) has taken over print media (newsprint, magazine)?
VC: As for print disappearing, I doubt it; both the Internet and print have their place. Both are enjoyable. I think that it's exhausting to read a lot of poetry online at one sitting. It's the harshness of the screen. It's not conducive to reading, but there's so much available. As for print, it's more intimate. The feel of the paper when turning the page. I love that. Print also travels with you. It's relaxing. It's easier to study. I like both, and I think both are important.
As for Los Angeles, because it's a large city, I think that there will always be venues for poetry that are very accessible to many people. It's the nature of the cosmopolitan. I think that to predict what will happen in the future is futile. Poetry grows out of our lives, and who can really say how things will be, especially when looking at the tremendous changes just since the last half of the Twentieth Century. But I do think that the deeper themes in poetry will remain, because they reflect our connection to ourselves and to the world. I've always loved a statement by the poet Eugene Ruggles. He said, "Poetry is one of our oldest arts--it's as old as religion, perhaps even older. It will never die out, it's part of the human psychic experience, and it's a testament and a witness to all the tragedy and all the triumphs that surround us."
Velene Campbell is the editor of Abalone Moon. She organized one of the first multicultural reading series in Los Angeles and was a member of Mother Art-five women artists who hung up artwork along with their laundry in laundromats around L.A.