Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Seneca Review: Three Editors Take The Essay “Beyond Category”

One of the great things about Seneca Review, we feel, is the blurring of the boundaries between and among genres. We tend to order the magazine’s content for this purpose. Starting with our last issue, we decided to stop making a genre distinction between the “poetry” and the “lyric essays.” Eventually, it became too difficult and probably too unnecessary for us to do so.

The work we publish happens mostly in the borderlands between the two to begin with—the interstices or fusions of poetry and essay, of one genre and another. That’s often what excites us most. So we wanted to harness that preference and push it a few steps farther. We don’t like to be stagnant even in our editorial preferences, so we wanted to push ourselves and SR into a new space.

We wanted to start crossing bigger lines of genre and form. Not just between poetry and essays but between writing and visual art, between analog and digital. Not that this is exactly new, but it is surprisingly absent in the majority of literary magazines around. Though, our Lyric Essay Special Issue did feature photographs that we considered essays—still, we felt like that was just a start. We wanted to cross lines of form in a much more concerted way.

We asked ourselves, what if we collected just hybrids and outliers and anachronisms? Work that went beyond the lyric essay, beyond the prose poem, beyond just words or just images even. We wanted to let the essay happen in the porous, often unsaid context its always been in: intermingling with experimental typography, splicings, documentary poetics, visual-textual hybrids, collage, live coding, new media, old media with new applications, audio, video, bio-art, book arts, and the like.

In other words, we wanted to invite poignantly difficult work into SR. That was the impetus of our upcoming special issue Beyond Category. To accommodate the type of dual or multiple media work we’re looking for, the special issue will appear simultaneously in print and online. To have a nexus point or gathering place for writers and artists working in more than a single medium or working in an original way in a single medium felt pivotal to us.

It also seemed vital to have a particularly hybrid editorial approach to our Beyond Category special issue. So we three of us on the masthead—Kathryn Cowles (poetry editor), Joshua Unikel (assistant editor), and David Weiss (editor). All three of us work several forms—from radio essay to installation art, text-and-image to graphic design, new media to pen-and-ink drawing—and we all make work that’s in-between, so it made sense for the three of us to team up for this one.

In fact, gravitating toward work that’s “beyond category” is a rather natural progression for SR as far as we see it. From the 1970s until the late 90s, we focused exclusively on poetry. Since 1997, we’ve championed and published the lyric essay. A large part of each issue now is devoted to the more experimental forms of creative nonfiction. For the past five years, we’ve let the essay reflect back at itself by publishing online interviews on the lyric essay with practitioners whose work is simultaneously appearing in the magazine – writers like Thalia Field, Stephen Kuusisto, Brian Christian, Christine Hume, Aaron Kunin and Dan Beachy-Quick.

So now in the 2010s, we’re continuing what’s actually always been in our editorial mindset: keep it current and keep it quality. This is simply our way of doing so in the Age of Information, at a time when it’s become almost impossible to think about the essay in a vacuum, literary or otherwise.

Our Beyond Category special issue is slated for this January. The deadline for submissions is October 31. To submit, send your hybrids and outliers to our Submittable page.

Feel free to contact us with queries via email at

—Kathryn Cowles, Joshua Unikel, David Weiss

Kathryn Cowles is a poetry editor at the Seneca Review. Cowles has her PhD from the University of Utah. Her book of poetry Eleanor, Eleanor, not your real name (Bear Star Press, 2008) won the Brunsman Poetry Prize. Her writing has appeared recently in Drunken Boat, Free Verse, The Offending Adam, and the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day.

Joshua Unikel is the assistant editor of the Seneca Review. Unikel has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. Currently, he is an MFA candidate in the University at Buffalo’s Visual Studies Program. His art has shown recently in New York and Buffalo. His writing has appeared recently in [PANK], Sonora Review, Fugue, and Booth.

David Weiss is the editor at the Seneca Review. Weiss is the author of a recent book of poems, GNOMON, two previous collections of poems, The Fourth Part of the World and The Pail of Steam, and a novel, The Mensch, which was published by Mid-List Press as a winner in their first novel contest. He has also published numerous essays on poetry.

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