Editor Andrew Wessels Explains The Offending Adam Journal

The Offending Adam—what is it? How is this journal different from other online journals?

Well, to list all online journals as a single entity is difficult.  Each online journal has its own tactic and strategy.  What we saw, overall at least, is that many online journals tend to be digital copies of the print-journal model.  Once, twice, or four times a year, a large bulk of material gets plopped on a website, which then sits otherwise dormant until the next group of material is published.  This is a necessity for print journals just because of the economics of the situation.  The online world, though, we thought was exactly set up for this to not need to happen.  By publishing regularly, in our case a new issue each week, we give each piece of content its own standalone time as the center of attention.  And this idea of attention and consideration is a driving force behind all of our decisions.  We want our readers to be encouraged to spend time with our contributions, not feel the need to breeze through as many as possible.  It is the difference between trying to see the entire National Gallery in London in 30 minutes and sitting down in front of Paolo Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon for an afternoon to truly come to an understanding of the painting.

Where did the idea for The Offending Adam come from? And the name, it’s great! Where did you find such a provocative and witty title for a journal?

I certainly did not come up with the title of the journal.  Last summer Cody and I decided, once and for all, we were going to start a journal.  We focused primarily on what we wanted to do with the journal and what our purposes and aims were before really looking at the title.  Once we started discussing titles, we went through a number of names with varying degrees of like and dislike, primarily dislike, until Cody just out of the blue mentioned the quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Consideration, like an angel, came / and whipped the offending Adam out of him” as something that had stuck with him.  From there we quickly jumped on the name The Offending Adam.  As we discussed what that quote and title meant to us, it became ever more apparent how the title really conversed well with our reasons and intentions for starting the journal.

The Offending Adam has set out to be “a bridge between writer and reader.” What is that bridge made of? Where will these “bridges” enable a writer / reader to go?

Hopefully the bridge is made of reinforced concrete and steel beams and whatever else goes into current high-end bridge-building these days.  To go back to your first question, when we thought of other journals, there seemed to be a disconnect between the three participants – author, reader, journal.  There is no indication of any relationship between the author and the journal, and any relationship between the reader and the journal is made difficult by the lack of communication between the two (hence our editorial introductions) as well as the mass of work that is offered all at once.  Questions I ask myself when I pick up a journal are “Where do I start?” “Why is it in this order?” “Does the order mean anything?” and “Why did they pick this?”  That last question is vitally important I think.  We have to remember that for most journals the editor(s) read a number of poems from each submission, yet more often than not pick just one poem out of the batch.  That editor is at a huge advantage as they have seen a mini-ouvre that has helped to inform that poem that was selected.  What happens when that poem exists in isolation surrounded by a number of other disparate poems in isolation?  We can’t always sense why something is included or how it really works.

By providing the bridge of the editorial introduction, as well as publishing almost exclusively multiple poems from each contributor, we believe that there will be a greater connection in understanding between the author/contribution and the reader.  Instead of reading the selections with an “oh, ok” perspective, we believe our readers will dig into the poems and interact with them on a more personal level.  Poetry, for myself at least, gets more and more interesting and exciting the deeper one is involved with it, the more one learns and experiences from it.  We designed a journal, as represented by this bridge image, that explicitly pushes readers to do this.

What makes a poem catch your editorial eye?

This is a very difficult question.  First, perhaps, a quick overview of how we go through our editing process.  We run an editing work-process that is single level.  Submissions don’t get “passed up” to the above editor.  Submissions don’t have to get 4 check marks from readers then a check mark from an assistant editor and then and only then be shown to the head editor.  That process seems to discourage the unique and singular work, because it’s best chance of survival is by not-offending.  For us, if an editor likes your submission and wants to take it as their submission to curate and introduce, then it is accepted.  There are a number of submissions that we do discuss as a group, if somebody likes it but isn’t quite sure.  So, that being said, I can only attempt to answer this question for myself.

Actually, here is a good way to answer it.  Earlier today an old friend of mine who writes fiction contacted me because she is judging a youth writing contest and suddenly was handed a group of poetry submissions and asked to grade each on a 10 point scale.  I got a frantic text message asking me “how do you judge poetry?”  I kind of danced around a specific answer, giving pointers for specific things to avoid, such as ridiculously bad rhymes i.e. “You have to start / by filling up my heart” or poems that think that old-sounding-language is poetry.  But, basically, I couldn’t figure out a way to give her a decent answer.  Then, about half an hour later, I got the following text message: “Holy shit, I just found a 10. When poetry is good, it is GOOD!”

That is what I look for.

Andrew Wessels, your project “The Compulsive Reader” is fantastic. As a compulsive reader, what do you think the relationship between reading and writing should ideally be?

This has been debated for probably forever.  I wonder if Homer was going to conferences about this issue.  For me and my writing, I absolutely have to read.  I generally tend towards the belief that you have to read well to write well, but I don’t necessarily think that that means you need to read everything.  I enjoy reading a lot and it is good for me, but I also don’t think that you can prescribe an amount.  What I try to do is push myself to that limit where I simply cannot read more without my head exploding, then I try to read a teensy bit more.  At that point I usually can start writing some poems.  More than anything, reading generates an excitement in me.  An excitement for the word, for thinking, for poetry.

It is really easy to badmouth people who write and submit poems without reading journals and without reading books.  For the person who literally does not read at all, yes that is applicable.  But for the typical decently-read poet sending out poems, this doesn’t apply.  As I discussed above, I think the journals hold at least some part of the blame by separating themselves from the reader and creating a canyon that just cannot be traversed.  Many smaller poetry publishing houses seem to be understanding this and creating a real aesthetic vision that again helps the reader connect with the work without the work needing to be dumbed down.

If I could wish for a moment, here is my one wish.  I wish that all poets and aspiring poets would write one book review a month.  Not a little 300-word blurby review.  A 1000+ word review that begins to really deal with what the book is, why it exists, how it works and why someone might want to pick it up.  It would be nice just to have that much conversation about the books that are being published.  And, for each person doing the reviews, I do just absolutely believe that by being forced to consider and think about a poem or book of poems, you cannot help but be more attentive and understanding of your own poetry.

What book should we be reading that we don’t know about?

What one book should everyone read?  Can I name more than one?  I first just want to say that I love what Omnidawn books is doing.  They are perhaps the one publishing house that I have enjoyed every single book of theirs I have read.  That is not to say that there aren’t a lot of other publishers out there I adore, but they especially stand out to me.

Ok, let me see if I can choose one or two books.  Tom Raworth, a wonderful British poet who deserves a lot more attention over here, is a poet who really informed my thoughts and writing last year (I have a couple of his poems reproduced and discussed on my blog if you want to link to those).  I just re-read Donna Stonecipher’s Souvenir de Constantinople and continue to just revel in it.  How about a third?  There is a great translation of Ece Ayhan, my favorite Turkish poet, called Blind Cat Black & Orthodoxies.

Can I name an old&dead poet?  He is generally skipped over in your standard Brit Lit classes and I didn’t first come across until a couple summers ago while reading the Norton Anthology from start to finish.  Thomas Traherne, who is only given 2 poems and a brief excerpt of prose, was the biggest surprise of those many thousands of pages.  His verse stands out as a revolution in many ways compared to what surrounds him, much in the same way that Blake stood out or Christopher Smart or, to use an example from above, Uccello’s paintings stand out.

I could honestly give recommendations all day long.  There is so much wonderful writing out there, I find it absolutely amazing that anyone can even leave their house to do anything except go to the grocery store.


for more information please visit: A Compulsive Reader and / or The Offending Adam (Info.)

or visit The Offending Adam Journal at: The Offending Adam

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