Poetry with a punch

Brett Ortler and Jeremy Halinen talk about the first issue of Knockout Literary Magazine.

;”Poetry should have punch. It should jab, it should undercut, clinch in the corners and consider in hard times the head butt.”

Knockout Literary Magazine Release Party

WHEN: March 15, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis

Knockout Literary Magazine
Prints: Biannual
Price: $10

Those words are by Marvin Bell, an excerpt from “Knockout Poem,” which he wrote specifically for the inaugural issue of the Knockout Literary Magazine.

When choosing a name for their literary magazine, founders Jeremy Halinen and Brett Ortler envisioned exactly that – poetry with punch.

Ortler also added, half jokingly, “We like punching things.”

Half-jokingly, because this sentiment is reiterated on their Web page, asking for submissions of only four to six poems, as is proper poetry submitting etiquette. To emphasize this point, they wrote, “more and we’ll punch you in the face if we see you.”

In reality, these guys are two recent M.F.A. graduates, and aren’t all about the violence. Rather they have created a literary magazine for the challenge of it and the experience.

Both worked on the Willow Springs Literary Magazine at Eastern Washington University, where they were completing their M.F.A.s. They loved the work, but there, the poems were chosen by committee, and simply because more brains have more opinions, it was harder to get the poems they liked through the process and into the magazine. With Knockout, the decisions are made by Ortler and Halinen alone, so decisions can be faster and easier.

“When you work with a large committee, it’s hard sometimes to get the work you really want in the magazine,” Halinen said. “It’s easier to work with the two of us.”

Knockout boasts a magazine with nearly half of its submissions coming from queer writers, a conscious decision made by Ortler and Halinen.

“It’s something that I don’t see a lot of other magazines doing,” Halinen said, having a diverse group of writers, working to “bring them all under one cover.”

With literary magazines, Ortler added, it’s either all work by the GLBT community or very little work by that community, and nothing in between.

“I think that it’s important,” he said, “to be a voice that everybody’s going to read.”

As well as having queer and non-queer writers under the same cover, Knockout is unusual in that it invites all kinds of poetry, be it short form, prose and even translation.

The spring 2008 issue is entirely poetry, but Ortler and Halinen said they plan to expand into fiction, non-fiction and interviews with poets, artists and musicians in upcoming issues. The next one is scheduled to come out in June.

The first issue includes work by 40 contributors, including Robert Bly, Minnesota’s first and current Poet Laureate.

The issue came out in November, but Ortler will be the host for a release party at independent bookstore Magers & Quinn on Saturday.

“I usually put on a pretty good show,” he said, and promises to keep the reading short and lively. Ortler lives and works in Minnesota, but Halinen is based out of Washington, and won’t make it to this release party.

An issue costs $10, and half of the proceeds are going to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, a charity organization that seeks to help those affected by the civil war in Sudan. The foundation was named for a Sudanese refugee who told his story to Dave Eggars, founder of McSweeney’s publishing house, in the book “What is the What.” Deng decided to use the funds made from the book to start a charity to help those people still in Sudan.

For their part, Ortler, who also does a little work for McSweeney’s, and Halinen wanted to make a contribution of their own.

“It was a little masochistic,” Ortler said, “making it harder to pay for the second issue.” But they decided it could actually work financially. “We can do something good with it,” he said.

“We are hoping to inspire others to give,” Halinen said, “and find ways for them to give.”