Monday Jun 24

Ken Robidoux, Editor-in-Chief: Welcome to Connotation Press: An Online Artifact

John Turi and Ken Robidoux September 1, 2009 : 12:01 a.m. - It’s strange the way things happen, you know? Of course, I’m not the first to have made mention of this fact, and even now as I write this I am certainly aware of the line I’m straddling. But it is strange. I was having a conversation with a good friend. A very good friend for many years, and things went sour. Absolutely horrible things were said between us, and I far and away said the worst. I honestly can’t remember losing it like that, ever. And it was made clear our friendship was over.

By morning I knew I had to make amends. Have you ever seen a giant, rainbow-colored hot air balloon splayed out on the ground, late in the afternoon, about to be put away in its carrying case? Yep, that was me. But as sincerely as I tried to apologize I was rebuffed.

About this time, John, a very dear old friend I had lost contact with looked me up on Facebook. Yep, I know, but whatever, this time it was someone I actually wanted to look me up. We met at his place and hung out, watched a DeNiro movie, the one that seems like it’s just one big-ass car chase, and we started catching up.

At some point in the evening we were outside smoking cigarettes and John mentioned he was considering getting back into publishing. He had run a gnarly fiction press for a while, burned out, and folded shop. This time, he thought he’d publish academic poets and how-to manuals on how one goes about legalizing medicinal marijuana in their state, setting up dispensaries, stuff like that. John asked if I would consider working as his editor. His idea cracked me up. And since I had recently left USC, where for four years I taught some of the most brilliant young engineers we have in this country how to have conversations with non-engineers on page or otherwise, I was free. Still stinging from the loss of a dear friend, and at the time in the process of moving from Long Beach, California to Morgantown, West Virginia where another good friend and I share a vacation place, I remembered something I hadn’t thought a lot about since grad school: starting a magazine.

My experience in college was an excellent one. I had the privilege of studying writing from some of this or any country’s best poets, and they were generous with their time. I am very grateful. But one thing I noticed while in college was how segmented we all were. Categorized by genre, we lived and played that way. And the magazines and journals we all so desperately valued and wanted to be published in often lived that way, too. I could never understand why. We all loved art, and paid dues for the opportunity to be artists. For instance, in grad school I had to take two lit theory classes. How’s that for paying dues? TWO! Back to the point, I always wondered why there couldn’t be a place, some kind of grand gallery, where we could all be near each other; a place where the lines of demarcation might be present, but not strictly enforced.

I pitched my idea to John. I said I would be his editor if he built me a magazine. John is an award winning, highly paid web designer in his other life. I asked for an online magazine where we could publish poetry and fiction and creative nonfiction…sure, easy enough…and drama and screenplay…yah, no problem…and art, you know crazy-ass great art, anything that we can do justice to in representation on the internet…uh, ok, we can probably do that, I mean it’s…and real raw, almost bar conversation video interviews with amazing artists that’ll do it because we asked them to…uh, Ken, I’m uh…and we’ll have dance and local music and food & wine & travel & stand up comics & spoken word poetry and…Ken, I think we should probably go back in the house…and we’ll feature a grip of undergrads, nominated by the teachers they adore, and we’ll use Sammy, our two pound Netherland Dwarf bunny as our mascot, and…Ken, you’re kinda scaring me…and the website will be all dark, you know with deep maroons and royal blues and purples, and forest green, and it’ll look like the art we’re publishing, and…Ladies, can you come out here a sec. I think Ken’s lost it…and so hey, what’da’ya think?

To his credit, John smiled at me and said, “Yah, I think we can do it. It’ll be a lot of work, but yah, could be cool.” About a block from Disneyland, on a shorts and sleeveless-t night, we started Connotation Press. I wondered that night if what I was really doing was paying penance for all the insane things I’ve done to those I care about over the years. Running a monthly magazine is a nightmare, building one from scratch in two months and then running it is beyond silly…it’s Monty Python silly…no, it’s Spinal Tap silly…no, it’s “I caught you a delicious bass,” silly.

The next day I started making calls. I knew we couldn’t do this alone. It really is a very large project. I called the people I knew who had the most talent and at least one tether to the ground and pitched our idea. Within two weeks we had a staff of 10 people, and three members on our advisory board. Soon, two of the members of the advisory board joined in the magazine editorial duties and we were on our way.

We decided we’d be a magazine that would feature artists, not just publish them but promote them. We would do whatever we could to help artists get seen and heard. Our prime objective was and is to do the best we can to make sure everyone we publish looks as good as possible. And we determined that we would make it possible for the audience to be able to, in most cases, contact our artists through the website, maybe write an artist and thank her for the great poem or ask him a question about a turn in his story. And maybe by putting everyone in one big place, all kinds of artistic expression, we could turn people on to things they might have never experienced otherwise. For instance, maybe someone logs in to see a local music video and stumbles on an interesting poem title and clicks in. And maybe a writer, a poet for instance, sees a dance troupe’s interpretation of a particular piece of music and contacts the choreographer and the two create some kind of new expressive dance-to-the-music-of-poetry art.

It’s an old story, really. At a rather low point in my life I was blessed to come up with an idea and be given all the love and support my community could muster. And for that love and support John & I are eternally grateful. At the end of this first and rather long editor’s note, I will run the short list of those folks that made this idea possible.

After the launch last night, I realized how truly grateful I am for this opportunity. I realized that by doing something good to help balance something bad, I was responsible for helping to almost accidentally create a wonderful new venue for the art and artists and friends I dearly love.

So please, check it out. Roll through the pages. Enjoy some of the finest art you will see anywhere. Enjoy art by those at the beginning of their experience and those at the end and every single space between. Tell your friends! Submit something! Come on in, the water’s fine!

Connotation Press: I Never Saw the Moonlight ‘til it Shown Off of Her Breast

Without these people, this magazine does not exist: JOHN Turi, SHAWN Turi, KAITLIN Hillenbrand, JOHN Hoppenthaler, AMANDA McGuire, KELLY Fiore, KATIE Fallon, RENEE Nicholson, BETH Staley, WAYNE Thomas, NATALIE Seabolt Dobson, TOM Sydow, Big CHUCK Evered, TOM Waits, KIMBERLY, HANNAH, and LILLIAN Robidoux, and of course, JIM Harms.

Photo: John Turi with Ken Robidoux at Pismo Beach : August 2009


jorgeg This launch edition is dedicated to our dear friend Jorge Guerrero who lost his fight with HIV. Jorge was only 36. HIV is still real, still killing our beautiful boys, and it is still VITAL to EDUCATE and PRACTICE SAFE SEX. Requiescat In Pace.