Jul/Aug 2006  •   Reviews & Interviews

Five Quick and Dirty Lit Site Reviews

Interview by Scott Malby


Traditional printing techniques are inelastic. They can't provide what internet publication can. Innovative artists of the electronic ether are madly rushing toward a creative syntheses of interactive word, image and sound. Within a few years creative literary journals will reflect this fusion in undreamed of ways, taking us further afield in an exploration of the incredible possibilities of this revolutionary medium. Obviously, we aren't there yet. While the world wide web has a voracious appetite, it is also fickle, extravagant, and indiscriminate. Literary work evaporates. There have been attempts to catalog and preserve creative material. This type of activity is most often undertaken by institutions such as universities. The rules and criteria used for archival storage are understandably vague. There is no standard formula. One exciting attempt at preserving audio and video interactions can be found at Pennsound: Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. Among those involved in the project are Charles Bernstein, The Electronic Poetry Center, and the Annenberg Rare Book and Ms. Collection. A sizable and ever increasing audio library of the spoken word is provided that is compatible with mp3 players and hard drives. The program was started in 2005. Ever wondered what Spicer, Ginsberg, Charles Olsen, or James Tate sounded like? Want to hear David Wallace reading Chaucer? Check it out.

The Paris Review: DNA of Literature

Where can you find Edward Albee, T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, Burroughs, Aiken, and Dorothy Parker together, exposing themselves? They as well as many other master heavyweights were interviewed by the Paris Review. George Plimpton's magazine set the tone and style for literary interviews that influenced more than one generation. Thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities, an archive of Paris Review interviews has found a home on the internet. Musicians, playwrights, poets, and novelists are massed together for a virtual intellectual feast you can partake of at your leisure. This site is tremendous. It is organized alphabetically and by decades. It is unrivaled as a site for literary meandering and serendipitous discovery.

Poetry International

No longer are we restricted by dated anthologies and translations regarding access to important literary resources and individuals whose native voice is different from our own. Poetry International provides English translations with original language versions of hundreds of important and contemporary poets from around the world. As of this writing, twenty editors from twenty different countries contribute individual mini sites. Reviews, essays, and interviews are also included. This is a journal that is updated monthly. There is nothing like it in terms of its international focus and contemporaneity. It appears to have grown out of the annual Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam. It is both fresh and fascinating.

The Atlantic Online

If one were on the search for excellent archival literary material for the internet, what better place than one of the grand old mags such as The Atlantic Monthly? The Atlantic began in 1857. It championed literary America and its place in the world in the form of remarkable essays, short stories, and poetry. Mark Twain was a contributor, as were numerous others of international fame. The Atlantic is very much alive, as its web site demonstrates. Unfortunately, the site promises to turn you on by its great organizational graphics and titles, but instead turns ugly and shows itself to be a brazen and unmitigated tease. A great deal of the material is cleverly designed to steer you straight toward the subscription department. Gallingly, you never know when this is going to happen. A paragraph or two into the reading material and you often get an obnoxious box stating that the article is viewable only by subscription. As so often happens in America, the promise unfulfilled soon leads to tedium and disgust.

Arts and Letters Daily

How would you define an essay? If your definition leans toward a fairly short, informative but diverting take on almost anything in particular, that makes you a prime candidate for one of the best contemporary and informational sites on the web. Arts and Letters Daily prowls other web sites, searching for the most entertaining articles of note, book reviews, and opinions. It updates its material six times a week. This site has everything except short stories and novels. It acts as a portal, providing you with a literate analysis of the major cultural and political issues of the day. It's fun, informative and stylistically varied. Be warned: it could become an obsession. Arts and Letters Daily should also be available in the form of standard emergency provisions in case of ship-wreck. I can't imagine doing without it.