Poet-in-Residence to Defend Online Literary Journals

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Gregory Donovan thinks online literary journals have helped revitalize the world of words.

But when Donovan started working with the online journal Blackbird, he said, he was often asked why he was involving himself in “the destruction of the book.”

Donovan hopes to counter that notion with his Brown Bag, “The Expanding Universe of Online Journals.” His lecture will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Donovan is the author of multiple poetry collections and currently serves as the senior editor of Blackbird. He’s also the poet-in-residence for Week Four at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.

The reactions Donovan received concerning his work with Blackbird confused him.

“I was always shocked by that question, because I love books, and I love the printed word,” Donovan said. “And what online journals have done — and now this is clearly understood by almost everyone — is that they reached out to a much larger audience. Not only a national audience, but an international audience. They have actually acted to enliven and expand the conversation about the printed word, about books, about writers, about writing.”

In his research on interaction with literary journals, Donovan said he’s found that younger audiences aren’t interacting as much with the old guard of literary criticism as they are with online journals. He said online journals seem to draw younger people because they cover writers and conversations that are more current in the world of literature.

As an editor of Blackbird, Donovan said he gets to participate in that as well and see “absolutely contemporary” work. He said novelty for novelty’s sake can be boring, but the innovations he sees writers making in his work as editor are exciting to him.

“Some of it I love, and some of it I have doubts about, but nevertheless, I’m quite stimulated by it,” Donovan said.

Donovan said one of his poet friends often tells him the world is currently in a poetry renaissance, mostly because there is a greater representation of minority and women writers in the literary conversation. It’s a sentiment Donovan said he agrees with, and he thinks part of it is tied to online journals.

“That’s done nothing but improve the literary conversation and make it a lot more exciting and interesting,” Donovan said. “There’s more controversy, more disturbance, and those are things that are interesting to people. Far from being some moribund thing that just repeats old patterns over and over again, poetry, like all other contemporary genres, has gotten more exciting and much more innovative.”

Donovan wants his audience to come away with a better understanding of the opportunities online journals offer to the world of literature, as well as a reminder that in hectic and cynical times, literature can be a salve.

“There’s a kind of rapid and radical disjunction in our society,” Donovan said. “It’s a ‘you’re with us, or you’re against us’ kind of thing.”

Donovan said that mentality and the stirring up of people’s hatreds and fears leads to violence, but literature offers the opposite.

“Literature is almost never about that,” Donovan said. “It characteristically encourages identification with people different than yourself. It’s one of the things you often discover yourself doing — reading your way into an expanded consciousness.”


The author Ryan Pait

Ryan Pait gets a different haircut every summer to keep the people of Chautauqua guessing. This is his fourth summer at The Chautauquan Daily, so if you’re tired of him, that’s OK. He recently graduated with his master’s degree in literature from Western Kentucky University. Don’t ask him about what he’s doing after this summer, but do ask him about the Nicole Kidman renaissance, the return of “Game of Thrones” and what he’s reading.