Friday, January 31, 2014

Dryad Magazine and Dryad Press

Dryad magazine and Dryad Press -- Merrill Leffler

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
    In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
                --John Keats

I have before me Dryad #1, Winter 1968. I don’t think of myself as a nostalgist but I can almost call up the uncontainable excitement I felt the afternoon I drove to the printer in Virginia and held the new 40-page issue and its scent of pressroom ink in my hands. I mailed this first sentence to Neil Lehrman and asked what he remembered. “Oh, that afternoon holding copies of Dryad in my office,” he said, “and the emotion I felt at what we had birthed. Off I went to show our accomplishment to my work friends, none of who had any interest in poetry. Still, I did force them to subscribe!”
Aerobee launch in Fort Churchill
            Neil and I were an unlikely pair to start a poetry magazine – not just because of our work lives. He was a newly-minted CPA and had returned to Washington – he grew up in Silver Spring – to work as a financial analyst for the Securities and Exchange Commission. I arrived in Washington in 1963 with a physics degree and a position at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight as an aerospace engineer – all of a sudden in my early 20s I was coordinating scientists, engineers, and technicians for launching scientific experiments aboard a two-stage rocket, the Aerobee, designed to reach orbital altitudes. I was on the road regularly to oversee launchings at White Sands Missile Range, Wallops Island, and a Canadian Army Base in Fort Churchill, Canada, midway up the Hudson Bay. Heady – at least for a time.
            It’s not that one’s work life is incompatible with one’s poetry life – I think of the Yiddish poet Mani Leib and the last lines of his Whitman-like “I Am,” wonderfully translated by John Hollander. To all but his literary friends, Leib was a shoemaker – know this, he wrote, “I am not a shoemaker who makes poems/ But I am a poet who makes shoes.”

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mapping Literary DC

Mapping Literary DC

Literary mapping projects in Washington, DC bring together several of my obsessions in one place: my love of maps as beautiful graphic objects, my interest in the built environment (architecture, parks, roads, etc.) and how it changes over time, the history of DC in particular, writing that emphasizes setting, and the lives of writers. 

It has been my honor to have been involved in several DC mapping projects, which I’ll enumerate here.

DC Writers’ Homes
This project, which I co-edit with Dan Vera, was inaugurated in November 2011 and we’ve been adding to it ever since.  But our obsession started about five years prior to that, as we began to research the private homes, most unmarked, of writers we admire.  The web exhibit, now covering over 225 locations, photo documents the former homes of novelists, poets, playwrights and memoirists from the greater DC area.  We’ve tried hard to include authors from the full range of the city’s history, from the founding to the present.  We only include authors who have passed away, but whose houses still stand.  (As I usually say to school groups, the writers must be dead but their houses must be alive.)  The site includes a map, a bio on each author, photos of houses (masterfully taken by Dan), and an elaborate cross-reference system that encourages browsing.  Readers can search by neighborhood, a writers’ race or ethnicity, the time period in which they were active, their jobs (other than writing) and other affiliations.

Beltway Poetry Quarterly, “Mapping the City” Issues
I have published two issues of place poems in the journal I edit—that is, poems that mention by name specific streets, neighborhoods, parks, monuments, or businesses in DC.  The first of the two, co-edited with Andrea Carter Brown, was published in Summer 2006, the second (which I edited alone) in Fall 2010.  They are linked together by a single map, designed by Emery Pager.  On the map, readers can click on push-pins to read the poems associated with each location.  Together, the 92 poems provide a unique tour of the city.

DC By the Book
Sponsored by the DC Public Library, this web site shows where books of fiction take place in DC.  Readers can search by neighborhood or theme—and are encouraged to add more excerpts from their favorite books.  I was one of two subject matter experts, along with Michon Boston, for the project’s inaugural year.