Rachel Nix: Hayden’s Ferry Review is an internationally respected journal, which opts to promote up and coming writers and allows them to share ranks with more established voices, a practice that is fairly uncommon in the literary community where there tends to be a divide. Being an avid reader who prefers the grit of unknown indie writers, I’d argue that this sort of publishing lends a societal relevance to HFR that isn’t always accomplished in the literary world. As the editor of the journal, what’s your take on pushing newer voices into the spotlight?
Dustin Pearson: I love it. I love that Hayden’s Ferry Review has a reputation for creating that kind of space. I think it can be so easy to autopilot a performance of marveling at the well-established and long-established voices. I’m of a mind that if someone has given us a masterwork, the relevance of that work should be remembered, that there shouldn’t be any particular pressure for that person to give us another masterwork (I think that kind of pressure often discourages other masterworks both on the side of the reader and writer), and perhaps that person might always be regarded in light of that work, but I also think it’s productive to take steps to ensure that our engagement with literature and the larger literary world remains passionate, critical, and otherwise active, subjective as it may be. I think putting newer voices alongside more seasoned voices is one huge way to make sure we continue reckoning with literature and ourselves as living and free thinking human beings.
RN: To go a bit further: there isn’t a clear aesthetic that Hayden’s Ferry Review tends to portray, yet there’s a cohesiveness issue to issue that never seems compromised; what, if anything particularly, does the editorial team look for in submissions to offer such balance among issues?
DP: Our editorial team tends to be comprised of very powerful personalities with very specific ideas of what makes good writing. I think that’s generally tempered with a willingness to have our ideas revised a bit or be taught otherwise in the editorial process. We also build up our issues around what we first or most definitely like from the submission pool, so I think all of those factors contribute to our signature eclectic cohesiveness.
RN: Since this is a decidedly angry issue of cahoodaloodaling, let’s talk pet peeves. I’m the fussy editor on our staff who’ll immediately ax any submission which dares to mention crimson anything, or stardust—and unnecessary formatting stirs a fire in my glare that no one ought to brave. What sort of overused wording or writing gimmicks makes you want to print a submission out just to tear it to bits?
DP: I typically don’t like seeing the word “undulate” or “kudzu” in writing, especially if they’re used metaphorically or otherwise in poetry. I’m sure there are more. I was talking to a friend recently about how I don’t like when a piece of writing hinges on a world created by another artist. I think an example would be if someone wrote a poem that was based on a specific video game, a television series, or perhaps even mythology, though I tend to be more tolerant of poems based in mythology and religion. I think it’s almost impossible to control how much the “bottom line” in a piece of writing shows, or tell how much a “bottom line (known or otherwise)” is obscured by the borrowed world you place it in. If I’m looking to explore something inside a world-scale metaphor, I’d much rather create my own. I think creating my own world forces me to make that world completely robust and immersive. That way the world exists for no other reason than the fulfillment of my bottom line or lines, and anything peripheral that renders becomes a treat or a gem of my subconscious toward any goal I aspire toward in my writing.
RN: With our quarterly issues being themed, we get our fixes by the boatload, but we’re always curious what other editors want to read. Is there a poem, fiction piece, or essay you’re dying to read—a piece no one’s submitted yet, but you’re waiting to get your hands on?
DP: In general I like moody writing—writing that contributes turbulence to the (arguably already turbulent) ambivalence but somehow retains a mellowness (not an ironic and artificial coolness) as if always having to be aware that any other presentation could present a danger to others when it only seeks to find a means toward being the most open and loving self it can be under the circumstances. I want to read a piece whose narrator or speaker trains upward to callousness or monstrosity to survive but then must somehow cultivate or perhaps preserve tenderness in something fragile and against the ever evolving dangers of the world.
RN: Speaking of that, we’re always on the hunt for publications to dig into and are curious where other editors’ attention goes. Which magazines, online or print, do you admire and follow regularly?
DP: I don’t know if I hate that this is true, but I tend not to follow literary magazines very closely, at least not consistently. I think literary journals (especially print journals) are forced to curate work in a very specific way. There are so many constraints, and I think a lot of the writing I tend to admire has trended away from print journals. I often admire online journals that don’t have a print component for that reason. The range of what’s possible and the character of the space that might take shape in those journals is radically different than print journals. All that said, I still couldn’t answer the question. If I see a piece in a literary journal I like, I’ll try and follow it back to the larger world it was taken from, but there’s no guarantee I’ll get to that point (of both liking and following because it’s expensive and exhausting), and I wouldn’t necessarily put pressure on a literary journal to provide that for me, and so I guess I don’t put pressure on myself to be faithful to a literary journal in any way for similar reasons. I think it’s true that I have a particular taste, but I haven’t found a particular journal to consistently cater to it. I do this funny thing now (and I imagine a lot of writers do) where I read the literary journals I’m published in looking for some kind of camaraderie, and I guess in a similar way to how writers read the works of earlier writers to find out more about their work and who they are artistically and otherwise.
RN: And who are some of your favorite writers? Whose work can you not get enough of lately?
DP: I love Jack Spicer and the Internet.
RN: In regard to your own writing, you don’t abide to labels very well; by that, I mean you cross lines—from poetry to fiction to essay, and have offered up quite the lot of thoughtful interviews along the way. Is there one form you prefer to work in, or does it come naturally to not linger around in one particular corner?
DP: It’s weird. I wholeheartedly think of myself as a poet, but my thinking in that regard has implications that go beyond the writing of things people might recognize as poems. I tend to feel most exposed when writing poetry and creative nonfiction. I prefer poetry because I always find myself having an incredible amount of thoughts and I think there’s something in poetry that allows more room for the processing of those thoughts, even if they never resolve. Generally speaking, though, I’d say all the genres are useful to me because they enable me to access different subject matter. There’s not always a clear reason for why that is, either. I tend to write poetry with clearer narratives than my fiction, and I realize that’s not necessarily strange save maybe for the people that see narratives and characters in my poetry and immediately ask if I also write fiction. To finally answer your question clearly, however, I suppose it does come naturally to me to blur genres as I move between them. It’s all poetry in my mind, however, even the interviews.
RN: We published a piece of yours titled “Advice” in our Trigger Warning issue, which at the time prompted me to go on a mad hunt to find more of your work. Your writing seems to hinge on accessibility and honesty, even under the umbrella of metaphor. Quite a lot of writers over-decorate their narratives, especially in regard to emotional or traumatic pieces, when sincerity seems to draw more of a reaction. Do you ever find yourself hesitating to speak about such personal dealings with such earnestness?
DP: There are times when I find myself hesitating, though I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I write how I write and continuing to write means that I will continue writing with that earnestness, accessibility and honesty. In one way, I feel like my writing is the only place those three things readily exist in my world. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to be honest in the day-to-day (at least not how I imagine my most honest self), and I think society rarely favors earnestness and honesty, and so, in that way, I feel like my writing (or the world it creates) in the current world is more fantasy than anything else, but I think that I have to keep writing and building up that world so that it continues to exist because I think it would be easy for someone like me to lose sight of it, or at least be encouraged to do my best to lose sight of it, in which case I’m sure I’d disintegrate. Plus, I think it’s an incredible and strange feeling reading something honest and multifacetedly (Word is telling me I’m making this word up) exposing, and I think doubly so when a reader is able to compare reading something like that from someone they know in an everyday capacity, and that’s not to say that everyone is necessarily more true in their writing than they are in their daily lives. I’ve seen a lot of people read things I’ve perceived as honest and true with a kind of vehement denial, and sometimes it breeds anger and all other kinds of intense human emotions.
RN: Let’s pretend this isn’t a super serious interview for a minute. Name a song you hope gets stuck in our readers’ heads. Torture them. They deserve it. (No, really, they’re amazing, but we believe in balancing gifts with terrible gestures of affection.)
RN: Where can we see more of your work? Any recent publications you’d like to link us to?
RN: We ask this in every interview because it seems like each editor has one book that’s defined them in some way. Any genre, and subject: what’s your favorite book? What book matters to you?
DP: You’re catching me at a good time. I usually struggle with this question to the point of being useless, but today I’m not really having a problem answering. I even have a few: Letters to Wendy’s by Joe Wenderoth, America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan, Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee, Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. These books are colossal to me for different reasons, but if I had to say which book is my favorite right now, I’d have to say The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan. If I had to say which book matters to me right now (and for the longest), I’d have to say Letters to Wendy’s by Joe Wenderoth.
RN: Got a question for us? About the publication, the staff, how we, as a tight-knit staff of decidedly odd humans, collectively feel about corduroy pants or solar panels?
DP: What has been your favorite staff outing together? What did you do? I think my staff would say this cookout we had in the desert once, but I’m curious about what I might do as I transition out of my editorship of Hayden’s Ferry Review and into future editorships.
RN: Our staff is scattered all over the world, so we’ve not had a proper meeting as of yet. But Raquel, our lead cahoodaloodler, and I have met pretty improperly a few times now.
I actually just got back from Louisiana where she lives in close proximity to our current guest editor, the alarmingly lovely Hannah Hamilton. We ended up at Snake & Jake’s Christmas Lounge in New Orleans one night, and it was absolutely the best not-a-staff-meeting we’ve had if for no other reason than I like places where I can be shoeless and sit next to the likes of these two.
Dustin Pearson is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University, where he also serves as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. He was awarded the 2015 Katharine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets for his poem “The Black Body Auditions for a Play.” He is the recipient of fellowships from the Watering Hole, Cave Canem, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Born in Charleston, he is from Summerville, SC.