Monday, December 23, 2013

Interview with Ruben Quesada, founding editor of Codex Journal

Ruben Quesada, founding editor of Codex Journal

Ruben Quesada grew up in South Central Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Long Beach. He is an Assistant Professor at Eastern Illinois University where he teaches poetry. He is the author of Next Extinct Mammal (Greenhouse Review Press, 2011) and translator of Luis Cernuda: Exiled from the Throne of Night (Aureole Press, 2008). His writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The California Journal of Poetics, Guernica, Cimarron Review, Southern California Review, Third Coast, The Rumpus, and Rattle.

Quesada is founding editor of Codex Journal, poetry editor at The Cossack Review, and co-founder of Stories & Queer. He has been a fellow and resident at CantoMundo, Napa Valley Writers' Conference, Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Santa Fe Art Institute, Lambda Literary Foundation Writer's Retreat, and Idyllwild Arts Program.

Despite a very busy schedule including putting the finishing touches on the upcoming special Queer & People of Color Issue of Codex Journal (out on December 24), Quesada agreed to sit down and have a virtual chat with La Bloga about the journal, editing, writing, and other literary matters.

DANIEL OLIVAS: Codex Journal is described as a "quarterly publication of poetry & digital storytelling for your mobile device." Why was the journal founded with the mobile device as its pathway to readers (as opposed to an online or print journal)?

RUBEN QUESADA: The mission of Codex has always been to offer readers mobile content that is a blend of aesthetic and contemporary technological innovation. The QR code has been around since the mid-1990s and its format offers an opportunity to create a visual representation of the work itself. The reader must interact with the technology in the same way they would seek out a print publication, a book, and open it to access poetry. Readers must open the QR code to access the poetry in this journal.

In the early 2000s, many literary journals began to transition to an online format. This new digital space opened up a space to publish more writers at a lower cost. There are many born-digital or digitized journals that publish a copious amount of contributors. So many people are writing these days, but not everything written should make its way into a literary journal. There should be a level of selectivity in what's published online as it is in print. Having access to publishing poetry doesn't mean that everything written is poetry, although it can be. Fortunately we have blogs for the general publication of people's thoughts and ideas. As a publisher of poetry, I liken poetry writing to an art form. I'm reminded of painting. We can agree that painting is a form of art. A painter, like a poet, uses images and the world around her to make art. The individual who uses their tools and the images of the world best is the best. Both art forms have endured for millennia and I like to treat poetry as an art. 

The transition of literary journals to an online medium or born-digital journal like Codex must find a way to make their digital presence as much of an experience as a book. For Codex, the mobile device ensures that a reader will carry Codex content with them wherever they go. 

DO: Is there a Codex aesthetic?

RQ: The aesthetic of Codex has changed over the years. Our first issue was a reprint of Marjorie Perloff's essay on Digital Poetics. This was our way to set a tone for the forthcoming year. The affect of the work during the first two years was to provide readers with innovative content, which introduced readers to new ways of seeing and understanding poetry. As our readership grew we sought poetry that spoke to the human experience while also challenging means of communication visually. The work of Stephanie Strickland, Nico Vassilakis, and Kate Durbin are a testament to this type of writing.

This past year Codex has found ways to introduce our readers to contemporary poets whose writing paints a picture of their experience. We've published work by Maureen Alsop, T.R. Hummer, and Oliver de la Paz.  And of course, the final issue of this year is new to us and to most contemporary literary journals.

Our first annual Queer & People of Color issue is one we're especially proud of. We've included writing by people of color and queer writers. We were interested in writing from those whose voice isn't always the focus of an issue. There are opportunities for people of color and for queer writers, but to feature them in this way is a celebration of voices that don't get enough attention. 

DO: Has becoming an editor of a journal informed your approach to writing?

RQ: Becoming an editor has informed my understanding of writing with an audience in mind and this isn't always a good thing for a creative writer. My approach to writing hasn't changed as much as my approach to publishing. I write about concerns that can't be addressed by stepping away from my computer. I would rather do something about issues surrounding race, sexism, and homophobia; issues important to my way of life and those I care about. If I want to make a difference as a human being I'll go into my local community and make a difference by speaking about change, by creating a literary reading series that features underrepresented voices.

Like I said earlier, so many people are writing and publishing that makes it necessary to publish work that says something meaningful about the human experience. For instance, using race, misogyny, sexism, pedophilia, or homophobia just for the sake of affect or entertainment isn't interesting to me; it can be irresponsible. Don't get me wrong I know I don't have to read that work or I can choose to ignore it. If I wanted to encounter those issues for the sake of entertainment I would watch SVU or tune into the local news. But it can also be done artfully. Writers like Tim Parrish, Roger Reeves, Ryan Van Meter, and Steve Davenport are a few writers who are doing this well.    

In terms of publishing my work I give greater thought to who is publishing it. I want to know the journal's aesthetic and I want to know why they've chosen whom they're publishing. This is important to me as an editor and it's important to me as a writer.

DO: Mil gracias, Ruben, for spending time with La Bloga and we look forward to the new issue of Codex Journal.


Poetry Reading featuring Danny Romero: Danny Romero grew up in the Florence area and worked at Florence Library during the late 1970s. Now he teaches writing and literature at Sacramento City College. He just published a book of poetry and will be reading here at Florence Library. His poetry and short fiction have been published in many journals and anthologies. So come enjoy an afternoon of poetry from our very own local author Danny Romero. Ages 10 and up.

Danny Romero

WHEN: Saturday, December 28, 2013
TIME: 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Florence Library, 1610 E. Florence Ave., Los Angeles, 90001
CONTACT: 323-581-8028

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