Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Introduction

Hello there, gang. This is post number one on what will soon be a very busy blog, and it feels long overdue. I've been preparing for this trip since February, and things are finally falling together. I recently finished my final ("final") travel itinerary, and after a lot of juggling and rearranging it looks like I'll be leaving on July 19 and returning September 17.

But I should back up a bit and explain my project. At the beginning of this year, John Tranter, editor of the online poetry magazine Jacket, made the decision to retire after completing his fortieth issue. He's been running the site almost single-handedly since 1997, and with each issue stretching to hundreds of pages, the labor required has become too much for him to handle. Rather than simply shut down operations, John offered to hand over the magazine to Al Filreis at the University of Pennsylvania, to be maintained by the literary infrastructure surrounding PennSound and the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. A team of editors was assembled, and the offer was accepted. The new iteration of the magazine was dubbed Jacket2, and given a launch date of January 2011. You can read Al and John's official statement on the matter here.

As a longtime PennSound contributor and audio editor for Al's podcast, I was brought on as the media editor of Jacket2, meaning that I'll be in charge of the site's podcasts and video content. To kick things off with a batch of new material, Al hatched the idea of sending me on the road this summer with a mic and a knapsack to interview as many poets as possible. It turns out Greyhound sells unlimited bus tickets for their network of U.S. and Canadian routes, so I'll be setting off with a 60-day pass and couch surfing my way across the continent. I've lived out of a backpack before, for five weeks in Europe, so I know what I'm getting myself into. Nonetheless, with three or more interviews scheduled on some days, it'll be a real mental and physical marathon. For the last four months I've been working on putting this thing together: collecting recommendations, tracking down email addresses, and doing research on the poets involved.

In short, my plan is this: 30 cities or bust. 90 poets or bust. 60 days or I'm stuck buying a plane ticket home.

The title of this blog, "The American Scene," is lifted from Henry James's travelogue of the same name. I'll be making posts as I finish preparing over the next month, and then I'll send updates from the road. Expect a lot of photos and the occasional audio clip. So add my feed to your aggregator, and leave some comments if you think of it. I'll also be upping things to my Flickr account and posting as usual on Twitter. So I'll be in touch.

Your soon-to-be-roving correspondent,

Steve McLaughlin