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THE DO-IT-YOURSELF JOURNAL
By day, Lee Herrick teaches English at Fresno City College. In his spare time, he gives voice to dozens of Central California poets and writers.
Herrick is the founder of In The Grove, a literary journal that has published both established and emerging writers from the San Joaquin Valley and all over the state for nearly 10 years. The fall 2005 issue is out now, and features Fresno poet DeWayne Rail and nearly 40 other contributors.
Herrick read a lot of Aristotle and Cicero while getting his graduate degree in composition and rhetoric from California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock. But he was also reading influential Valley poets like Philip Levine and Andres Montoya, while working on poetry of his own. It was the diverse and eclectic work of California writers all around him that inspired Herrick to start In The Grove. The current issue boasts offerings from a range of accomplished local writers, including Michael Clifton, Dixie Salazar, Liza Wieland, and Brian Turner.
In an interview, community journalist Jefferson Beavers talked with Herrick about giving first-time scribes a real shot, widening the audience for Valley literature, and writing a publishable poem.
You founded In The Grove in 1996 and have been publisher since its inception. How and why did you decide to start the journal?
When I got my master's degree, I was starting to write, send things out, and look around. Literary magazines that were California-based and open to first-timers were few and far between. There seemed to be even more of a gap for Valley writers. So I got In The Grove together with three or four friends from grad school. From the beginning, it was a small group. I had some really good genre editors, like [current creative nonfiction editor] Josh Daughdrill, but it was still a rudimentary sort of thing. I didn't know any layout programs and there was a lot of learning on the business side. Things have been difficult.
I knew these things tend to have a very short existence. Literary mags have history of going under in the first three or four years. My love of writing and a desire to publish good writers has kept me going despite the challenges.
The journal's goal of publishing emerging writers is ambitious, and it's a goal other journals don't always share. How do you stick with this goal?
I'm interested in the grit of things, going against the grain. But I'm also interested in things that are aware of the larger context. I don't like rebellion for its own sake. So I think the journal is a reflection of the things I value, like quality, diversity, openness, those sorts of things.
That said, right when I think, to hell with this, somebody I don't know will do or say something really meaningful. In the Valley, good independent projects like this are important. It's the drive of the people involved that keep it sustained. This thing is funded up front, out of pocket, all the time, and is always close to not breaking even. But people like [managing editor] Stephen Barile, [layout editor] Mike Cole, and [webmaster] Erik Fritz completely rejuvenate it.
How has the journal been received among those in the Fresno literary community and the wider audience of Central Valley readers?
The thing I hear most frequently is that it's important. I accept that as a good thing. I'm aware that the journal isn't the glossiest looking thing, but it's a nice step up from what I've done. I used to liken In The Grove to an old poetry journal, photocopied and saddle stapled, that sort of thing. We've come a long way.
We had a reading in Barnes and Noble four or five years ago and a middle school student came up to me after the reading and said she was using it for her literature project. I'll never forget that. Writers, of course, keep me going too. Lawson Fusao Inada, Corrinne Hales, and writers like that have plenty of publications, but they still contribute. I'm proud of what we've published. The established writers are always doing good things, as well as the new writers.
The current issue of the journal is all poetry, compared to past journals that also had prose. How do you decide on the lineup and what aesthetic of material are you looking for?
Personally, I like when a poem combines beauty and grit in a lyric. I'm more of a lyric poet, even thought we publish a lot of narrative work. Like other journals, we want something that moves us and is compelling. That's cliche, but those things apply, no matter what the genre. I've had to fight the perception that In The Grove is a nature journal. I love the Fresno school of poetry and everything that that is, and how it has influenced people. But I want to keep the journal open to people other than just Fresno Poets, with capital letters.
I've got some contributing editors now, which is helpful. Some of them solicited work from people they know. I'm friends with Amy Uyematsu, for example. I wrote to Charles Harper Webb, a California poet who I like, and he replied. And then quite a few people just send stuff. We get a fair number of submissions by a little word of mouth. The DIY ethic can definitely apply to this journal.
Your press has also published three books and one chapbook, and has several new works in the pipeline. How does the publishing of those book-length works by individual authors fit in with the mission of the journal?
It's definitely complementary, but it's fairly random. There's no real timeline, contests, or anything. Sometimes a person will just propose something to me. Sterling Warner's book, Without Wheels, is one of those. But because of finances, I usually can't commit. I had been workshopping stuff with Michael Roberts for years before we did his book. Gillian Wegener is one of my favorites, from Modesto. The chapbook I threw together because I was pissed off about September 11. That was a real mix of things, and it went out to a few folks.
As far as reflections of community, they're all central California writers. Some books are used in local high schools. Like Franz Weinschenk's forthcoming essay collection, Homeroom, which tracks former Edison High students and traces their lives.
Each journal seems to have a "featuring" section that includes an interview. Why did you choose that format?
There was no real master plan. I just wanted to change things up a bit. Early on, we would only publish one poem by an author at a time. So our format allows us to see more work from one writer. And the benefit of interview, of course, is that it offers some insights for the developing writer, or the person who's just starting to get serious about Valley literature. One of my favorite things to read is correspondence between writers, like letters. I really love reading those things myself. I hope the audience likes them too.
In reading the interview in the current issue with DeWayne Rail, I was most struck by his comments on the differences between writing a poem and performing it. As a poet yourself, how do you view that difference?
I guess I fall a bit in the more traditional group, when it comes to my own work. I'm interested in the language, the words, and the images. But I have a lot of admiration for poets who add theatrics, movement, and sound that complement the poem. When I'm more interested in the theater than the language, then the interest in the poem wanes for me. For example, when Phil Levine reads, he reads with such a great command, just with his voice. That's something remarkable. It's that blend of the word with the reading.
A poem does not have to be an urban political poem to be effective in performance. One of my favorites, Ishle Yi Park, is the poet laureate of Queens. She's relatively young, a Korean American poet in New York. She has won some nice awards form literary community, but she has also been on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. So when it's done well, performance poetry can be a great thing.
Finally, I understand that the journal accepts submissions year-round. How can local writers get involved with In The Grove? And why don't you accept "greeting card verse"?
My own time is sporadic, so In The Grove might go off people's radar. But now that Stephen and the others are aboard and we're going to two issues a year, hopefully it'll get into people's minds more. If people come with ideas, I'm open to them. Right now I'm really looking for a serious grant writer and distribution people. And writers, please keep sending in your work.
I think it's generally understood in the literary magazine culture that you can't throw something together and just get it into a book. If you use words like soul, agony, love, and so on, and do it in an uninteresting way, that's probably not the stuff we're looking for. Now, I have nothing against the word agony, of course! But breadth, variety, and meaning are what we want.
Visit inthegrove.net for more details on the journal, or pick up a copy of the latest issue at Borders Books & Music, 7722 N. Blackstone Ave., in Fresno.