Monday 13 July 2009

The International Literary Quarterly editor interviewed

The prestigious webzine The International Literary Quarterly has only published seven issues but has already established itself as a leading literary journal. It was founded by editor Peter Robertson and has a dazzling panel of consulting editors. Contributors have included Meena Alexander, George Szirtes, Irina Ratushinskaya, Gao Xingjian, W.N. Herbert, Mimi Khalvati and Marina Warner. Each issue features a guest artist, among these the fabulous Tom Phillips. Peter generously published five of my poems from What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo in Issue 6 .

Peter Robertson was born in Glasgow and lives in London and Buenos Aires, having spent more than ten years in Latin America. He has published fiction, literary translation of Spanish and French authors, and critical articles. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2007, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 2008. He launched The International Literary Quarterly in November 2007. Here he answers some questions about this exciting new publication and the context from which it has sprung.

Why did you start The International Literary Quarterly?

All of my decisions are dictated by instinct. I wanted to create an international review, a literary broad church that would shun any idea of ethnocentricity, that would carry both creative writing and more academic writing, that would break down distinctions I consider to be artificial, for example by bringing literature and the plastic arts closer together, and that would be a vehicle that would eventually publish literature in many different languages.

What did you edit before and why?

Before I founded Interlitq, I was an Associate Editor of Mad Hatters’ Review, a New-York based webzine. In that capacity, I conceived and edited two features for MHR: “Viva Caledonia”, a feature that showcased work by many Scottish writers alongside artwork by Calum Colvin; and the first part of “Eclectic England”. I had planned to do a second part for EE but, for a number of reasons, I decided to branch out alone and start my own literary review. Having pulled off the two features I mentioned, I believed I could be successful in such a venture. I had a clear vision of what I wanted a literary review to be and set about making it become a reality.

Why did you decide to edit an online magazine?

Because the Internet is not the future but is, in fact, the present. Its massive reach is such an advantage. Potentially, the review could come to be read by vast numbers. One of our priorities as I speak is to build up our readership which is increasing every day. My overriding objective is to ensure that the best literature is made available to an ever greater percentage of the reading public all over the world. It is heartening to know that, if we publish, say, a story in the review, it could be read by many thousands while, in many paper publications, it would only be read by hundreds. I know that there are those dissenting voices who still find Internet publication anathema but it seems to me that such a position is more and more out of touch.

How did Interlitq get so high quality and so international so quickly?

Thank you for your kind words, Pascale. I have worked very hard and continue to do so. As I mentioned before, the review’s particular brief was to be international and I approached authors, who might prove to be potential contributors, from many different continents. Also, once Issue 8 comes out in August, the review will have over sixty distinguished Consulting Editors and, once again, these editors reflect a rich diversity of different cultures. With regard to quality, that is what I have always aimed for and, I assure you, our standard will not go down.

What are you after in submissions?

Fluid, intelligent, original and trenchant writing, whether this be prose, poetry or literary criticism.

What is life like in Buenos Aires and can you tell me more about the literary life there?

After ten years here I doubt I can be objective as I guess I’m quite “Argentinized”. It’s a process that’s bound to happen whether one wants it to or not. For all his remorseless intelligence, and limpid yet strenuous prose, I think that Naipaul is slightly severe when he says, with regard to Argentina, in his essay “The Return of Eva Peron”, “if you can live there you can live anywhere”. Mind you, I can see what he is getting at as this country is very far from being stable, either in political or economic terms, and there is still a tendency to authoritarianism and machismo. I believe that anyone spending a significant amount of time here will see beyond the decadent facades of the once-elegant avenues and perceive that this is not a diluted European culture but essentially a Latin American country. On this note, and taking certain of these considerations into account, Huntington, in his magisterial book, “The Clash of Civilizations”, does not consider Argentina to be “the West”.

With regard to literary life here, while I do know some Argentine writers, it is strangely the case that my links with Chile happen to be much stronger. I visit Chile, a country I feel passionately about, whenever I can, and I will in fact be back there soon, and, as I say, I know a great many writers and publishers there. As it happens, I have been working as the Translations Editor on an anthology of Chilean literature, to be edited by Marjorie Agosín, and which I expect will be published sometime in 2010. I would hazard that, at least as far as prose is concerned, in general terms Chilean writing is more precise and concrete, less concerned with abstraction and the labyrinthine. I wonder if this is due to the fact that, in cultural terms, English influence is stronger in Chile whereas in Argentina French aesthetic models are held up as the ideal.