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“Poetry is not important. That’s why it matters." On the San Antonio Review

Designing and sustaining a poetry and arts-focused journal

Published onJul 20, 2022
“Poetry is not important. That’s why it matters." On the San Antonio Review
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The [San Antonio Review] Editorial Collective is an experiment1 in the prefigurative politics of constructive, everyday resistance.2 That is, SAR is trying to create a publishing organization today that reflects the world as it might be; that proves an alternative is possible and things may be otherwise.

William O. Pate II
Founding Editor & Publisher of San Antonio Review

About San Antonio Review

What is your community? Who is involved? Why did you start it?

San Antonio Review is a nonprofit international literary, arts and ideas journal. Our active editorial collective membership has recently shrunk — it’s currently only myself and Ash Lange, who joined as prose editor just after the pandemic’s onset. I’ve addressed the impetus for starting SAR previously in more detail, but suffice to say I was dissatisfied with the existing media landscape3 and thought it might be possible to create a new venue for thoughtful alternate voices. Core contributors have included — beyond the two of us maintaining — Gianna Sannipoli, Misty Cripps, Paul Peterson, Peter Berard, Chris Manno, Brianna Keeper, Harold Whit Williams and Alex Z. Salinas.

What would you say was the main focus or goal of the community?

Pretending there was/is any overriding goal would ascribe far too much forethought, consistency and coherence to the various machinations of SAR. If we’ve accomplished anything resembling a goal, it’s merely proving once again that journal and book publishing doesn’t require the institutions usually associated with producing such items as products.

Why is your work important? What are you trying to do? What's meaningful about your work right now?

Charles Bernstein, among others, says, “Poetry is not important. That’s why it matters.” At the same time, there’s plenty of research proclaiming the value of the arts — and reading, specifically — for the development of empathy. I think the same likely applies here. In the scheme of things, SAR isn’t important. But we hope something we share might one day matter to someone — beyond ourselves and the creator(s). And given the current media landscape, if we can provide folks a few images or stories or songs or videos that present the world we share in all its complexity and garishness and vulnerability in a way that moves them to empathize and positively engage — I’ll take that.

(How) has the community changed over time?

Influences change as the membership of the editorial collective changes. In our earlier days, we published a lot of poetry by virtue of there being so many poets out there seeking venues. When we fall between poetry editors or add a cartoonist to the collective, our content shifts. As individuals, how our interests change and who happens to be the most active members at the time exert tremendous influence on what's being published, undoubtedly.

On a personal level, the change has been more fundamental. I started just by wanting to put together a digital journal with a print issue here and there. But it started to grow for me when I started contemplating a bit more what the point of it was if I were only attempting to replicate the same publishing processes we currently have. Who am I to say it’s just our judgment that’s better than other editors’/gatekeepers’? If it isn’t just a matter of our having poor authorities, what is it I can do to ensure what we do stays fresh and worthwhile? This led me to believe organizational form may have something to do with it. That’s why we’re a collective.

Because I did think at one point that maybe the world doesn’t need another journal run by a cis white guy from the so-called Global North: Well, I could just donate the amount spent monthly on San Antonio Review to antiracist organizations and let them decide how to best do the work. But it’s all of our work to do. And I discovered that once you start a thing like this, people make it hard for you to stop.

(How) has publishing openly changed your organization/model?

I never had any intention of charging for access to our work. I’ve also never expected SAR to provide a livelihood, as desirable as that might be. We’ve even tried to be transparent with our finances since our early days. Even our print editions — only the second issue of which we distributed for free — present tensions in that independent booksellers desire high-priced titles with deep discounts (55 percent, in general). The book-length works we’ve released via our imprint have run into this obstacle. By trying to keep our work affordable for readers, we actually lose venues that could introduce our work to new readers. So far, various membership models haven’t really worked for us since we’re committed to releasing everything free in some form or another. We also don’t really hold rights to much of anything.

So, I guess, in a way, SAR is a form of praxis for me that’s increasingly informed by what I see others doing, my outside reading and research, and life in general and the few flashes of insight I get while drifting off into a nap. It’s my own version of auto-theory, if you will.

San Antonio Review & PubPub

Why did you choose PubPub? What other platforms did you try?

We started on WordPress. I cobbled together various plugins and extensions and connected them to services like JotForm to enable a submission workflow of sorts. It required a lot of backend maintenance just to keep everything operational. I happened upon PubPub while reading one day (I remember clicking on the animated CSS “Published with PubPub” at the bottom of an article) during the period I was searching for open-source alternatives to WordPress. Open Journal Systems just required too much technical expertise for my admittedly limited abilities. I’m extremely happy to not have the backend headaches to worry myself with now that Gabe and the rest of the PubPub team are handling our infrastructure. It allows us to focus on the work submitted rather than technical matters.

What elements have you experimented with? How have you made your community your own? (layout/design/custom stuff)

I like to think we’ve experimented fairly thoroughly with the customization options provided by PubPub. We’ve never had a designer or developer as an official editorial collective member, so most of the customizations (our fonts and colors and stuff) and designs are things I’ve thrown together rather ad hoc and repurposed when found I needed art to fill in missing spots. I also try to incorporate editorial collective members’ creations and our contributors’ works in our overall design to add a little more promotion to their works.

What kind of features would you like to see?

Ultimately, I’d like to be able to select the pieces I want in an issue of SAR, throw them in a collection, complete the metadata and issue and page-layout customizations, hit export and have a print-ready PDF waiting to be uploaded to our printer’s site. That would complete the submission-review-publication-print production cycle that PubPub has largely grown to cover over the last couple of years — especially with the launch of the submissions workflows. The consolidation of that process in a single platform is one of the reasons we moved to PubPub. For an all-volunteer organization, reducing the number of platforms an unpaid reviewer or editor has to register for and consult to successfully move a piece toward publication is high on my list of necessities. Any stumbling blocks are easy dissuaders to potential contributors.

What communities/work inspires yours?

PubPub’s various communities are all doing interesting work.

I’m inspired by pirate philosophies, theindierockplaylist.com, Gary Hall’s work, common infrastructures, b-ok.cc, Monoskop, Margaret Randall, HAU, genealogies,

Connections
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Comments
6
Samuel Klein:

Fascinating and important. I’d like to hear more about this tension.

Jeff Jeff:

When you refer to a figure like Charles Bernstein…are you ever concerned that your editorial policy is caught up in another poetics? Is there a balance of influences that comes into play?

William O. Pate II:

I should be clear I barely even know who Charles Bernstein is and probably couldn’t identify his work or poetics. The quote comes from a fairly recent interview with him in another of my favorite journals, boundary 2. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m not informed about poetry or necessarily the best judge of it, which is why I quickly recruited submitters/volunteers to provide greater input on the poetry side of things. I can’t speak to balance too much as it all depends on what we’re receiving as much as what we think is ready for publication/wider release. And we’re not perfect in any of these areas. There are far too many good poems, stories, essays, photographs, paintings, what-have-you being produced that we’re always going to miss something — and far more than we could ever manage to publish.

Jeff Jeff:

(Woof; woof.) What are the benefits (perils?) of working with personal connection or *friendship* as a motor to creative/editorial output? How can you maintain high standards without jeopardizing people’s feelings—and their willingness to collaborate?

Jeff Jeff:

…and does it have anything to do with location? I guess this question is easier to ask with a context: the early Poetry Magazine both did and did not have something to do with Chicago. On the publishing landscape of the 2010s/20s, does choosing a name linked to location have a degree of irony that pushes you into a cosmopolitan/global perspective? Or how does the local connect to the global. (Sorry; this is a pretty diffuse question.)

Jeff Jeff:

It seems like one of the invisible levers that drives this production is another kind of capital: cultural capital! What would you say was most instrumental to developing that?

William O. Pate II:

I think any cultural capital we’ve developed has largely been an accumulation of coattails upon which to ride. Publishing organizations are ultimately defined by what they publish. The work of our contributors is what gives us credibility. We give them a platform — in the old-fashioned sense using newer tools. Beyond that, I think persistence — sticking with it.

NF
Natalie Foreman:

I enjoyed reading this interesting and informative behind-the-scenes snapshot of the San Antonio Review. Thank you