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Journal blurs lines between poetry, criticism and translation

"The battle of diverse thoughts -- / The actual twisting / Of many and diverse thoughts. / What form should that take?"

A good answer would be "Mantis." Although the poet Louis Zukofsky had something more specific in mind -- the sestina -- when he wrote these lines, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't approve of the recently established Stanford poetry journal inspired by his famously interconnected poems, "Mantis" and "'Mantis,' An Interpretation."

"In those two poems you have both a creative and critical act happening -- a critical act happening creatively, a creative act happening critically -- which is sort of the mission statement of the journal," said Mantis managing editor Sara Hackenberg, a doctoral student in English.

Hackenberg and members of the editorial board -- all graduate students in the humanities -- assert that the boundaries separating poetry, translation and criticism are too starkly conceived, imposing artificial limits. Mantis enthusiastically challenges those limits.

"We believe that poetic practice -- which includes the production and performance of poetry, the translation of poetry, the reading of poetry, the publication of poetry and the critical engagement with poetry -- is always too complicated and multivalent for rigid categorization," the editors announce in the preface to Mantis 1, published in 2000. Mantis 2 appeared last winter, and Mantis 3 is scheduled to be published in December.

Flip through an issue of the journal and you will discover the twisting of many and diverse thoughts that nevertheless share a thematic coherence; just as Zukofsky revived the ancient form of the sestina to shape the poetic recollection of an encounter with a praying mantis in a subway station, the editors shape Mantis with contributions that touch upon a common theme. The result is inventive and unexpected and just a little giddy.

The poet and essayist Nathaniel Tarn recently described it "as one of the most interesting and important mags in the country."

Translations, free verse, manifestos, criticism, theory -- even the work of a poetry therapist -- inhabit Mantis 1, whose theme is "poetry and community." Equally diverse is Mantis 2, which takes for its theme "poetry and translation" and features contributions by such figures as John Ashbery, the late June Jordan, Fanny Howe, Charles Bernstein and Michael Palmer.


Students and editors

The editorial board of Mantis consists of more than a dozen graduate students: a managing editor, issue editors and contributing editors. An advisory board is composed of English Department faculty members John Felstiner, Nicholas Jenkins, Robert Kaufman and Herbert Lindenberger.

Contributions from people connected to Stanford are not accepted, unless their active affiliation with the university ended at least two years prior to the date of their submission.

"We want to keep the horizon as wide as possible," Hackenberg said. "We're committed to having a wide number of views and perspectives. ... If we accepted people from Stanford, it would become a different kind of journal."

Stanford faculty members say they regard the fledgling publication with admiration.

"'Little magazines,' so-called, targeted at a readership of expert and devoted readers, have always been a vital part of the culture of modern poetry," said Jenkins, an Auden expert who has written extensively for the Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker and ARTnews. "Mantis, which is actually not so 'little'" -- the average length of an issue is about 200 pages -- "is a fascinating contribution to that tradition. Although the journal is recognizably a product of some of the main tastes and assumptions circulating in the Bay Area poetry world, it has a cosmopolitan and eclectic dimension which I find interesting and important. ... Alongside poetry from the USA, the last issue contained poetry from Ireland, China, France, India, Albania, Russia, Spain and Lithuania. It's gratifying to see Stanford students and faculty, as well as Stanford money, promoting a humane, cultural internationalism."

The theme of Mantis 3, which is set to be published in December, is "poetry and performance." A compact disc will accompany the issue and feature audio recordings of readings, art songs and poetic performances.

D. S. Neil Van Leeuwen, a journal editor and doctoral student of philosophy, said he believes the theme reflects one of the key principles of Mantis. "For almost any given performance, the performer is going to have to ask questions which are normally categorized as critical, like, 'How am I going to interpret this? How do I want to construe this in such a way that the audience can have an understanding of it?'" he said. "Performance is creative and critical at the same time."

To order a copy of the forthcoming issue of Mantis or previous issues, send a check or money order for $10 (per issue) payable to Mantis, to Mantis, Department of English, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2087.

Submissions also may be made to this address. For more information, send e-mail to or visit the web at


By John Sanford

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