Poetry Is Alive and Well in Popshot

Yohji Yamamoto is an avid writer of short fiction, Rick Owens curates his own in-store library, and somewhere Lauren Weisberger is tirelessly flogging a dead horse. Clearly, poetry doesn’t have to be about fashion in order to be fashionable, and its fanbase shouldn’t be relegated to stuffed-shirted septuagenarians. Popshot is a UK-based literary biannual that also boasts illustrations by internationally renowned artists with “the equivalent street credentials of your grandma.”

Established in 2008, Popshot has enjoyed the kind of overnight success last approximated by a 16-year-old Britney Spears, catapulting out of the bookish town of Oxford to become the first British poetry magazine to gain distribution outside of the UK. By phone we caught up with Jacob Denno, Popshot’s enterprising (and enviably young) editor, who gives us his two cents on typefaces, W.H. Auden, and the hopeful future that awaits iambic pentameter.

Who is this speaking?
My name is Jacob Denno and I am the editor of the painfully mainstream poetry and illustration title Popshot. I’m 24 years old and have a memory like a sieve.

Starting a magazine from scratch is sort of like birthing a child without epidural drugs. How did the idea for Popshot come about and how did it blossom from a shy, skinny, Xeroxed ‘zine into a comely and voluptuous 50-page glossy?
I actually skipped the hand-stapled zine section and went straight to the voluptuous bit. Poetry has had a horrific reputation for far too long and although that’s partly due to publishers publishing overly challenging poetry, which tends to put newcomers off, it’s also largely down to the way it’s presented. The idea first struck me when I was browsing the poetry section in the now-defunct Borders, trying my hardest to make my way through some of the poetry magazines. Almost every magazine was a sea of Times New Roman and I thought it could be done so much better.

Poetry and graphic art, what is it about these two forms that work especially well together?
In short, poetry needs it! It’s really strange because we grow up reading, or being read, nursery rhymes and children’s poems, which we love. Then somewhere along the line, poetry starts to become fusty, dronesome and for most people, it loses much of its energy. Popshot is an attempt to get that original approach to poetry back and I felt illustration could play a massive part in making that happen. The two forms complement each other so well because of their ambiguity. Short stories and novels are generally more informative and less open to interpretation, whereas poetry is left open to interpretation most of the time. That allows the illustration to bring in its own vision of what the poem means and give it some visual support, which poetry needs.

Who are some of the more famous names to have graced the pages of Popshot?
We’ve interviewed Paul Farley, Luke Wright, Murray Lachlan Young and Polarbear, who are pretty big names in the poetry/spoken word scenes, but when it comes to the poetry itself, we prefer to leave it open to everyone. For one of the early issues I commissioned a pretty well-known poet to write some stuff for us but what he came back with was utterly horrific. Since then, it’s been submissions only so that poems are chosen based on their quality rather than the name of the person who wrote it. In terms of illustrators, we’ve had some amazing ones on board. Mr Bingo, Peepshow Collective (whose clients include Nike, Diesel, and Wieden + Kennedy), David Foldvari, Hello Von, James Dawe, Holly Wales, Joe Wilson, Sam Green, Mydeadpony and the list goes on.

Popshot is well-known for being one of the more stylish, energetic literary magazines in the UK. For one, its team comprises mostly of under-30s, and it doesn’t contain the word “Review” in its title.
I hope more lit magazines adopt this route. I think magazines tend to represent or be the face of an industry or a discipline, so if that face looks good, people will want to be involved. I’ve noticed a few more appealing literary magazines coming out recently and a lot more independent magazines incorporating poetry into their remit, which is brilliant. In terms of how it’s worked out for us, I reckon it’s the main reason why we got international distribution a couple of issues ago. The magazine now sits on the shelves of 200 Barnes & Noble stores in the USA [incidentally, home to the iconic Paris Review, Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and Yale Review].

Poetry receives comparatively less coverage than say, short stories or novels, particularly where in-store sales and literary awards are concerned. Why do you think this is so? Does the problem of accessibility lie with the poet or the reader, and how do Popshot’s contributors try to address this issue, if at all?
I think it harks back to what I mentioned earlier about ambiguity. Most of the time, I don’t think people want to re-read a poem 14 times to work out its hidden meaning. Poems are much more complex in form and much more dense in visuals. It’s harder work. Part of the problem of accessibility is down to the poets themselves. Many of them completely ignore rhythm and from the thousands of submissions we receive each issue, a lot of it is a display of flowery linguistic skills that don’t hold any weight. At Popshot we prefer to publish more accessible poetry, stuff that is beautifully written but actually has something to say at the same time. I’m a fan of the concise and the succinct, which is why all of the poems in Popshot are 25 lines or less.

Name one of the lines from your favorite poem, and another from a song you like.
Wow, tough one. I’ll actually go for W.H. Auden’s powerful last stanza in Funeral Blues:

The stars are not wanted now, put out every onePack up the moon and dismantle the sun
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

In terms of song lyrics, I would go for something from Salvador by Jamie T. The man is poetic gold.

Popshot Issue 5 (S/S ’11), The Childhood Issue, is currently in stores.

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