seven ways to make a lit mag

a couple of the hand-bound issues of birkensnake 6

a couple of the hand-bound issues of birkensnake 6 – only 150 copies of each were made.

issue 6 of birkensnake can be a bit tough to get your hands around.  figuratively, and, as it turns out, literally, speaking.  the magazine’s editors wanted to try something different for issue 6—and they decided to create seven different versions of it.  not like when tv guide features “ncis” or x-men releases a first issue, and you get seven different covers for the exact same issue inside.  but rather seven completely different versions, with each version put together by a different pair of editors who had never met each other previously.  it was a convoluted process to say the least, but also a fascinating experiment in collaboration… which didn’t stop at its publication.

in the main editors’ own words, birkensnake 6 was about “strangers working together toward diverse yet uniformly glorious ends.”  that was true not only of the issue’s genesis, but also its distribution.  last week i attended the chicago stop of the birkensnake 6 “tour,” because readers couldn’t simply order copies of the issue from the publisher, nor could they walk into a store & buy one.  because they weren’t for sale.  to obtain a copy, you had to attend an event, peruse the various versions of the issue, find a piece that somehow spoke to you, and read it in front of your fellow audiences members.

this was, in theory, perhaps the greatest idea i’ve ever heard of for distributing (not to mention compiling) a lit mag.  everything about this issue revolved around bringing total strangers together.  literature—possibly the most solitary of all the arts, in both it’s creation & consumption—had become a means of communion.  i say “in theory,” however, because the chicago event (at the excellent uncharted books) maybe did not live up to the main editors’ fantastic ambition.  it was a sparsely attended event, and not only were there less than a dozen people, but it seemed as if everyone else who was there already knew each other.  equally disappointing: the number of attendees who were reluctant to get up & read something from the magazine, despite apparently being there with just their friends (and, well, me).

but from those who did participate, there were some truly interesting pieces.  local author james tadd adcox “read” his own work, “a history of the infinity room” (by handing out copies of the story & explaining that it would be up to us to follow along with the footnotes & appendix, which he would not be reading outloud).  i liked what the guy running the shop read: “mutants” by cory aycock.  and i was also pretty fond of the piece i read, “utopia #3: i will be everything except god because god is not everything (that is why he had jesus)” by sylvain verstricht.  and i’d be remiss to not mention the excellent piece from a writer known to many bark readers: “a nearby planet” by marianne salina.

though print editions of birkensnake 6 are increasingly hard to come by (there’s only one more event planned on the tour: in denver at some point in february), all of the versions have their content available online, and in multiple formats (most can be read in PDF, EPUB, and HTML).  i recommend reading one.  or seven.  and sharing with a total stranger.



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