In the Margins
Letterhead, Vol. 1: Interview
Robert Pomerhn’s name is synonymous with the spoken word in Buffalo. He’s published three poetry collections and has been working the local scene—from Sunday readings at the Screening Room to countless appearances at Café Allegro, EM Tea Coffee Cup Café and Rust Belt Books—for years. This Sunday, January 20, he’s releasing the first issue of Letterhead, a new annual literary arts journal for Buffalo that he’s founded in collaboration with Brian MacMahon, Bradley Lastname, Eric Johnt and Kimberly Tomczak. The release party and reading will start at 7pm at the Lancaster Opera House (21 Central Avenue, Lancaster).
What prompted the founding of Letterhead? I see the Buffalo scene as, basically, separate entities or different small islands, where nobody really has any continuity within the larger scheme of poetry. That’s true not only here but universally and nationally, too. Bradley Lastname, our managing editor, had the vision, since he’s from Buffalo, to put together Letterhead to form a community of artists from Buffalo to create a working partnership and to create a piece of work that the poetry stands up in. Then Buffalo would be the common thread rather than the name of certain smaller poetry groups within the city. There’s the UB poetry scene, there’s the Buff State poetry scene, there’s the spoken word scene, there’s the Rust Belt scene; what we’ve tried to do is be an all-inclusive place where everybody is accepted, or at least we’ve tried to give everybody a certain voice in a place where the work trumps the individual.
Why’d you choose to list author names in the table of contents only, rather than with their work? We want to accept those people and champion those people whose main goal isn’t to be published, but for work to grow and evolve as they grow. That’s something we’re actively pursuing. Another thing that really prompted us is that there are a lot of great spoken word artists out there that really don’t hold on to their work. They throw it out into the atmosphere and they make an impact in the room at that time, and then we don’t hear from them for a long time. A lot of this work is not only spoken word, but also academic. We really just don’t want labels. It’s confessional, it’s rhyming; it’s anything within, but we pretty much try to take the labels off that poetry and put it together to see how it reads. There are a ton of really great spoken word artists in Buffalo who really never pursued print media before, besides the obligatory Artvoice submission and maybe Blinking Eights.
Do you think spoken word poetry loses some its value when it’s written down? I’m hoping to dispel that notion. I’m a spoken word artist and I’m a performance poet. When you speak something out loud, you make an impact. What we’re really trying to do is to have you go back and read that work later, too. There was a time when there were a lot of small, underground presses; a lot of what has survived now are basically online journals. There’s a lot of online computer [media], but there’s nothing that’s really in the print media. A lot of these places that were small runoffs in peoples’ basements were unable to withstand the test of time. We’re trying to put out a high-quality product that people will be proud to be a part of. I think we’re trying to put the stress back on reading, because so many people really aren’t reading. We want to put out something that has some wisdom, some knowledge and understanding rather than just information, because a lot of times information is really just misinformation.
What audience are you hoping to reach? If you’ve ever gone to a poetry reading, usually you’re not sure when to clap, when to sit down, when to speak or when to breathe. We want to take a lot of that angst away. We want to bring poetry to the regular person, to the blue-collar worker, to the university professor, to the construction worker, because Buffalo’s a great place to make art, but it’s just a difficult place to market art. We want to have a readership that extends outside of the small local poetry circles.
Roughly what percent of submissions did you accept? We attempted to accept as much as we could, and we basically didn’t send rejection slips out with people whose work we didn’t accept at that point. Rather we sent out encouragement slips. Maybe there’s something they could do better because for us as their work strengthens and grows. That’s what we want to see in certain people. Those are the people we’re actively seeking out, people who don’t want to sit on their work as though it were the dead limbs of a tree or something, but who look at their works as something that can grow and flourish into something stronger than they ever thought it could be. So that’s something we really try to keep in mind, as well as casting our net to a wider group of Buffalo poets.
Copies of Letterhead: Volume 1 can be purchased at both Talking Leaves locations, Rust Belt Books, or by directly contacting Robert Pomerhn (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bradley Lastname (email@example.com) via email.
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