Lit Mag Spotlight: PANK
by Treehouse Editors
Founded in the mid aughts, PANK is one of the most visually pleasing and narratively interesting places out there. (They’re also offering a one-year subscription and a t-shirt for the winner of our contest.) Earlier this week, founding editor M. Bartley Seigel talked to our poetry editor, M.G. Hammond, about literary risks, literary invasions, and blowing open the careerist literary scene.
Q: The PANK “About” page states that you publish “the brightest and most promising writers for the most adventurous readers.” How would you define an adventurous reader?
A: When you read a lot of lit mags, you’ll seldom find mistakes, but you’ll likewise seldom find either surprise or awe. In any issue of PANK you may never know what you’re going to get. Much of it may even miss the mark. We’re human. We take chances. We make mistakes. But in every issue there’s something that’ll blow the back of your head off, too. Many can’t promise that thing. We’re searching for that thing, not the safe bet, and we want readers who are in it for the ride and the chance, who are willing to endure for the sake of adventure and discovery.
Q: The PANK collective takes advantage of most mediums for distributing its literary content—you publish an online and a print journal, facilitate a blog, publish books, and do a live reading series around the country. What are some of the difficulties in organizing so many circulations, and how do you feel each medium is unique as far as its reach and audience?
A: Some writing is right for print and wrong online. Other things work well on a tablet or phone. Other things work well on stage, but not on the page. Performance is a different experience than reading than is listening to an audio recording. Different audiences come to different writing at different times and in different ways. We’re just trying to take advantage of the fullest spectrum we are able to as writers, editors, publishers, and literary provocateurs. Likewise, the challenges and responsibilities shift. We’re all shape shifters and opportunists at PANK. It’s good fun.
Q: Speaking of the reading series, tell us about Invasions. How do you choose what cities you visit, and what excites you most about these events?
A: Our staff and contributors are all over the map and our editors travel a lot. If I’m in the twin cities, etc., on other business or to give a reading or something, I’ll organize an invasion. I love the chance to hear a writer perform their own work, hear it in their own voice, and connect real people to writing I’ve spent so much time with. And because PANK is so kind of placeless, it gives us a real opportunity to connect with our readers.
Q: As an editor, what do you think is the most important aspect of the collective nature of PANK, and what is beneficial about being so versatile regarding distribution?
A: In a word, diversity. Individually, we’re pretty good. But together, in our difference, we’re unstoppable. It’s unhinged chaos most days, but that’s where the magic is born. We’re mobile. We’re flexible. We’re open to change. We adapt and we evolve. These are our strengths. We see opportunity where others bitch about want. In terms of distribution, it simply allows us to capture the largest audience for the least amount of expenditure.
Q: Why do you feel it is important to be publishing work that is relatively experimental and unusual, and what role do you think that plays in today’s larger literary atmosphere?
A: There are a lot of literary magazines, but not a lot of differences between them. Many, if not most, publish the same kinds of safe stories and poems from the same kinds of careerist writers fretting over their MFA credentials, tenure packages, Pushcart nominations, and applications to Bread Loaf. That’s great, I guess, but as that niche is already so nicely filled, we may as well do something else, something others can’t or won’t. We’re loosely affiliated institutionally, aren’t tied to an English or MFA program, and we’re mostly reader funded. In other words, we have a lot of freedom to take chances on writers and writing that others can’t or won’t. The value to the literary atmosphere? Maybe, in our own small way, we can encourage the literary community to stop talking only to itself, stop taking itself so damn seriously, get it moving again, maybe even get it to dance a little. Dance, monkeys, dance!