Letter from the Editor

Ranch truck, Benton Hot Springs, CA


Letter from the Editor


Back when my wife and I owned a coffeehouse occasionally people would complain about the music. Our mission going in was to make the coffeehouse a cultural light, which included monthly art shows, and live music on weekends, as well as offering a variety of multi-genre music playing at all times in the shop (unless live music was happening). This was when I learned firsthand about how opinionated and what strong feelings folks have about art–primarily music, but also visual, and textual–we also sold books. During a lunch rush, one customer said about the music, Can you change that? I can’t eat my lunch to this! It was The Fairfield Four. Occasionally this happened. Another time staff was rocking to Led Zeppelin too loud. I remember once complaining about the staff playing Bee Gees and the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack–I was simply embarrassed by it, having lived through that era–these were college girls having a giggle to Stayin’ Alive. Another memory too was that we had aspiring musicians on staff and while I had color-coded our cds by genre and wanted five different genres in the CD tray at any given time, one employee only wanted to play two artists on his eight hour shift: Dave Matthews and Elliott Smith, because these were who he wanted to learn from and sound like. I get it. Here it wasn’t an issue of quality–but variety, and customer service. What does the customer most need or want to hear? It isn’t all about you. Maybe something quiet, something calm, is appropriate in the morning while perhaps after lunch distraction becomes welcome. Variety, quality, excellent musicianship and reading the room, setting an ambiance: always the goal. I learned to temper my goal and aspirations of exposing the customer to new things–my idealism tempered–this was a bit before the internet took hold and electronic music opened the doors wide open to anything and everything, globally. Now everyone wears headphones.

Many many local bands started out at our place–we became legendary and many Portland bands still remember getting their start at our place. There was a cost, figuratively, say someone inundated by the crowd to hear a band, just wanting to do homework, converse with a friend, or chill after a hard week. But costs were also literal: Copyright agencies (ASCAP, BMI, others) charged us exorbitant annual fees based on seat count and the possibility visiting bands might play covers for the privilege of offering music. Through all this we continued to offer live music on weekends for decades–and over time the shop’s status became legendary. My barber used to work for us as a barista while she went to college and her husband is also a well-known drummer–both have connections with the music and art scene in Portland. She recently reminded me of this, while cutting my hair. I hadn’t realized but it turns out our shop, that we owned for 21 years, to her was like Kevin Bacon–everybody had either started out or at least played there. Decades later, the reward!

My original point was, art always seems to cause wrinkles–problems. It always seems to come with a special set of demands, complaints, risks and a bit of cost at times. It wouldn’t be worth it if not for the almost intangible rewards? Still, rewards are high: meaning, beauty, purpose, goodness, truth? Memories of friendship and community. Impacting people’s lives–for the good! Sometimes it can even put money in your pocket? But also too often there’s the price. Also, let me just say offhand, it’s important to me to fund Triggerfish. It’s important to me that people shouldn’t have to pay to submit their work to us.

But is poetry dangerous? Is art risky business? Is it costly? I would argue it can be. Ask Osip Mandelstam who recited a poem to the wrong friends mocking Stalin’s mustache–and it somehow got back to Stalin. If not for his wife who memorized his work and later transcribed it, we wouldn’t know or remember him. Or, even at Triggerfish, I have had poets pull their work because they didn’t like a review they got, or they didn’t like another poet’s poem in the issue and didn’t want to be associated with Triggerfish because of it. Or they disliked the peer review process because of feeling obligated to comment, and if commenting on one, needing to offer comments on all, or too many of them. I have had poets not like the images I’ve paired with their poem and ask me to replace it, and I’ve had an artist bail out, wary of having their artwork being paired with poets’ poems. So we’ve gone full circle. Not everybody appreciates our mission. It’s risky. Occasionally offensive. A big example in art for us was a past issue in which the painter’s subject matter featured self-immolation. He was not promoting it, but critical of what promulgated it and in the process managed to make it somehow beautiful. Another issue featured graffiti, another a tattoo artist. And people have strong feelings about art and what they are willing to consume, be associated with, or be in close proximity to. Please don’t think I’m complaining here–as a friend says–this is simply how the sausage gets made. And art is far better than sausage–rather, it is spiritual food!

Instead of getting upset by how controversial art can be, perhaps the best way to view it is that art is vital, it has vitality. If done right, it will grow to have a life of its own. It moves, it threatens, it shakes things up. Sometimes the purpose is to make us uncomfortable. Other times we simply want comfort and someone to come alongside, or perhaps what we most want is to laugh or experience awe, other times we might want is to be scared out of our wits, be discomfited out of our complacency. Maybe it’s not about what we want, but what we need? Anything but indifference, please!


Regarding this issue specifically–welcome to Issue #32–I decided on a whim to show you pictures from a recent trip my wife and I took south to California and what we found along the way. While the photos might have been more professional or our knowledge of what we were shooting might have been more thorough, what we discovered was awe-inspiring enough. I believe that despite whatever shortcomings are involved, you will be entranced by what you find. I also wanted to point out specifically the article by Charles Hood, previously featured artist and poet, who wrote an art feature on the work of Marthe Aponte: her work in picoté is luminous–please don’t miss this!

As for the poetry showcased this time around, we have more poetry from Italy and Ukraine, as well as many from the US, and Oregon :), and several returning friends. One thing to note was the convergence of so many submissions working from and influenced by Asian forms. As this started to pile up in our inbox I began to grow more favorable in my acceptances toward this trend, just because it was tying the issue organically and cohesively together. You’ll see what I mean. Whether it’s the poetry or the artwork that comprises an issue I can never predict at the outset what I’m going to end up with or where we will go. And the surprise adds to the joy of curating. Please have fun perusing Issue #32.  I hope you value it as much as we did in offering it up.

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