There's This Book You've Never Heard of

but if you had heard of it, you'd really enjoy reading it, which is why this unusual book review, Rain Taxi, continues to exist against what truly are the longest of odds

Gradually, Heath and Kuebler both withdrew from the editorial aspects of the journal they'd founded. Heath grew more interested in the design aspects of the magazine, Kuebler in reviewing.

As Lorberer puts it, "We all learned what we liked and what we didn't like about that job. I guess I liked enough of it to continue."

Neither of the original editors left over "creative differences," both are quick to add. Heath still creates the magazine's often abstract and gothic covers, and Kuebler remains a regular contributor. Instead, the balance of power gradually shifted from one set of hands to another. In 2000, Heath and Kuebler moved to New York City together, to further careers in editing and publishing. They still work in publishing: The intensity of working on an underfunded start-up for several years hasn't driven them away from the book world. (Though, for what it's worth, they are no longer a couple.)

"He took a vow of poetry. He's got a vision of literature making the world safe for people": Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer with partner Kelly Everding
Geoffrey P. Kroll
"He took a vow of poetry. He's got a vision of literature making the world safe for people": Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer with partner Kelly Everding

Having lived through its start-up years and become slightly less underfunded, Rain Taxi has actually grown since the transfer of power. In addition to sponsoring a host of literary events, Lorberer and Everding now ship out some 15,000 copies of each issue, both to subscribers and for free distribution at bookstores in 45 states. Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, and West Virginia have yet to be infiltrated.

 

The phrase "literary community" should probably only be employed when the time comes each year to hoodwink generous foundations and their venerable administrators. Yet it is in developing a public presence for the local literary avant-garde that Rain Taxi has thrived in recent seasons. Josie Rawson has warm memories of Rain Taxi's first reading in 1998, given by the Chinese-born poet Arthur Sze. "He gave a reading that was transfixing," she says. "Here was a man who presented his own material in so compelling a way, all you can do was sit there sort of stunned."

More concretely, however, Rawson remembers what happened afterward, when Sze and his listeners converged upon her home. "There were a bunch of writers hanging out in a way that you'd imagine other writers in another time and another place did. We sat on my back porch, talking about poetry and writing for hours, like it mattered. It's the sort of thing I didn't realize was so rare until it actually happened."

Such an idyllic recollection offers a glimpse into the utopian literary community Rain Taxi imagines. Rain Taxi doesn't just stage readings. It brings writers to town--Victor Hernández Cruz, Claudia Keelan, Franz Wright, Clayton Eshleman--sets them up to speak in galleries, and ushers them into a local body of book people (the literary community, if you will).

Lorberer and Everding had initially found such an environment as graduate students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which is where they first met. Then they migrated to Baltimore, where they had a near miss in attempting to open a bookstore. The next stop was Minneapolis. "We threw a dart, basically," says Lorberer. "We'd heard it was a good place to live. But at the time I had no idea there was as substantial a literary community as there actually is."

Oddly enough, a big chunk of that community was composed of people Lorberer and Everding already knew quite well. "There must have been a half dozen people who went to the U Mass grad program who wound up in the Twin Cities," says Bill Waltz. Waltz, who publishes the local poetry zine Conduit was one of those transplants. "There was sort of this mass exodus," he adds with an inadvertent geographical pun.

And key to that collaborative spirit, it would seem, is the muting of individual voices for the sake of the project. "We're trying to give pride of place to the work, and to place personalities second," is how Lorberer describes the reviewing tone he nurtures. "I was talking to the editor of a journal, who should probably remain nameless in light of the story, and they were talking about their Web page. That journal's most accessed page, the guy told me, is the one where they have the pictures of their interns." Rain Taxi has no pictures of its interns online. In fact, it currently has no interns.

And so, it was a surprise to find a page full of negative letters responding to a review by David Foster Wallace in the summer 2001 issue of Rain Taxi. "Elegantly pointless, me-obsessed, academically-challenged, falsely objective, asshole-scratching, hickified piece of writing" is what Robert Bly called Wallace's essay. None of the responses to Wallace's review of The Best of the Prose Poem: An International Journal (White Pines Press) was packed with quite so much hyphenated vitriol as Bly's. The response from anthologist Peter Johnson himself, for instance, was appropriately bemused. Then again, one Morton Marcus declared, "Wallace's review was shameful, not only for him writing it, but for you printing it." Not coincidentally, Marcus is a prose poet himself.

To be fair, the piece in question invited some measure of controversy. Wallace's three-page spread was quite a coup for Lorberer and company, as this top-hole author was paid as much as all the other reviewers (which I will remind you is nothing). In a typical trumping of form, the author of the exquisitely and exhaustingly footnoted Infinite Jest broke down the anthology into numerical components. The result was a rather impassioned piece masquerading as a dry encyclopedic rendering, one you're certainly entitled not to be dazzled by, particularly if you've already consumed your annual quota of DFW metacriticism and minutiae. But it did address the work in question, even if it also went out of its way to tweak the phallic connotations of editor Peter Johnson's name. Unlike most reviews in Rain Taxi, this was a verbal performance, in which the critic assumed as much importance as the text.

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