Nicki Williams talked to Zoe Dzunko, co-editor at Powder Keg magazine.
Thanks so much Zoe for talking to us at TSR! Powder Keg is one of our favourite indy magazines, and a go-to place to discover new poetry. Thanks for your hard work and for taking the time today.
Tell us a little about Powder Keg – what is it for our readers who haven’t yet discovered you, and how did it come into being?
Powder Keg is an online poetry quarterly that focuses on publishing smaller and thoughtfully curated issues. Our goal is to create a space where readers can meaningfully engage with the work, and particularly with the poets themselves, by limiting the content to an ingestible amount and by showcasing a number of poems from each writer. Our primary consideration, when starting a magazine in an already saturated publishing landscape, was to think about ways of reading that are pleasurable and those that can feel overwhelming or fractured. This notion guided us in our attempt to cultivate a platform which encouraged fuller attention from the reader by minimising distractions and reducing the volume of work in such a way that each poem would receive the time and attention it deserved. There is so much to read and a lot gets lost in the noise, so this was our driving principle in the beginning: smaller, slower, richer issues and thus larger, more profoundly felt exchanges between the reader and the poems.
The magazine grew out of mine and Sarah Jean’s friendship, and was born in September 2014. We had only very recently met at a conference in the US and Powder Keg, like our relationship, happened quickly and with a force of its own. Later, Rebecca joined the team and it is still just us happy three.
What is your mission as a magazine, and what drives your selection process? What are you looking for?
We are three people and we each have different aims, tastes and interests. Where these intersect is in our mutual desire to see work that tangibly engages with the world—and does so openly and often explicitly—given a space to breathe. I suppose our name speaks to this desire to provide a platform for poems that are aware of their own urgency, that feel keenly their necessity and thereby impress such a demand upon the reader.
What are the stand-out poems that you have published at Powder Keg? What was your reaction when you first read them/it? Is there anyone you are particularly proud to have given a platform to?
This is almost an impossible question to answer because we have been so very lucky to publish many many poets we already, or have later come to, admire. Pressed to name names, I’m not sure any of us could or would want to, but certainly poets such as Tommy Pico, Kam Hilliard, Dorothea Lasky, Joyelle McSweeney, Melissa Broder, Niina Pollari, Chelsea Hodson, Sophie Collins, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Morgan Parker, Natalie Eilbert, Paige Taggart are a small number of those we’ve been truly blessed to include over the course of two years, and some of the most extraordinary writers of our moment. We’ve been very fortunate.
Powder Keg is run by three women, and I believe friends, living on different continents. How do you manage this, and do you think this (all of this – being women, friends, apart) impacts your editorial and curatorial process?
We manage this through a heavy reliance upon email, Google docs and Skype—the way most teams at the mercy of geography navigate collaborative processes. And for sure, this manner of operating is pivotal to our way of thinking, that is: dialogue through and about the exigencies of daily life; connection and support despite the difficulty of maintaining a sense of both in this world; and the necessity of intimate female relationships and creative partnerships. The significance of bridging connections across even the most remote landscapes seems to me, too, a good analogy for the work poetry can do, the way it can be a hand outstretched from another place, or can connect you with communities and individuals you haven’t met, and perhaps never will, but whose lives feel entwined with your own.
Run from opposite ends of the planet, Powder Keg hopes to ‘close the distance’—is this ambition true in more than a geographical sense?
I may have touched on this previously, but this ambition is very much philosophical. I think PK grew out of a mutual desire to see a burgeoning friendship develop along new lines, to feed something only just beginning to ripen. But what has become clear to me is how vividly we can partake in artistic communities that exist on the other side of the planet, and for this reason it might be possible to allay the very real isolation that can accompany the experience of being a writer. The idea that any person feeling alone, unheard, or unrepresented in their physical location might forge a sense of camaraderie with other poets via an online magazine, or might see their own experiences animated by another writer by virtue of the fact that technologies can broker these connections—these windows onto other lives—is amazing and important to me, and to heart of the magazine I think. We always talk about the sense of alienation that technology creates, the way it degrades interpersonal communication, and sure, that’s a thing. But more important to me is the fact that somebody so fucking lonely might find a way to soften that hurt through a virtual community of poets/writers. That’s the real gift.
Much of the poetry published on Powder Keg are overtly engaged in the political. Does poetry have a role to play in a political climate such as today’s? Does the independent literary journal too?
100% on both counts. Forever. Poems are political, they always were, they always will be. Especially now.
Zoe Dzunko is the author of SELFLESS (TAR, 2016) and three other chapbooks. Recent poems appear in Sixth Finch, Guernica, The Age, H_NGM_N, Prelude, Australian Book Review, Two Serious Ladies, Tin House (The Open Bar), The Fanzine, et al. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at Deakin University and Co-Editor of The Lifted Brow.
Sarah Jean Grimm is the author of Soft Focus, winner of the 2016 Metatron Prize, forthcoming in Spring 2017. She lives in Brooklyn and works as a publicist at Penguin Random House. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Magazine, The Lifted Brow, Sixth Finch, Washington Square, and elsewhere. She tweets at @sarahjgrimm.
Rebecca Bates is a writer living in New York. Her poems have appeared in the Believer, Gigantic, Gulf Coast, LIT, No, Dear, and elsewhere. She has also written for Vice, The Paris Review Daily, The New Inquiry, NYLON, and other publications. She is a senior editor at Sweet. She tweets at @rebecca_bates.