A Cottage Creation
(reprinted with permission of North Shore Lifestyle Magazine) April 1998
Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine was invented and named
during a weekend at a north woods cottage.
Story by Kristin Wegehaupt
Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine has come a long way since it was an intriguing notion discussed at a weekend visit to a cottage. The amateur magazine is the result of hard work, ardent commitment and vision. Its success comes in spite of some shuffling of staff.
For those who toil over Porcupine, it's an avocation, rather than a for-profit vocation. It seems appropriate that the staff motto is anything but businesslike: "There is no distinct edge between art forms, between the artists' works and lives, between one artist's work and another artist's work. Artists connect people to each other, people to the earth, the present to the past and future."
If not for a walk in the woods and an unexpected encounter with its namesake, Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine may never have evolved from its status as an exciting idea. The founding editors, a group of friends, including Buz and Vicki Reed and Barbara Joosse, were enjoying a fall weekend at the Reed's cottage. It was Joosse who proposed that the group begin a literary arts magazine in the midst of a north woods outing.
The Reeds were reluctantly drawn to Joosse's suggestion. Reluctant, they say, because they were well aware of the work required, thanks to their past involvement in another literary arts magazine. Just as Vicki Reed was pledging her and Buz's support and guidance but not their direct involvement, a rather vociferous porcupine crossed their path completely ambivalent to the group, and ambled back into the woods. The porcupine was just the sign they all needed. The decision was made, and Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine became a reality.
Joosse points out, "The porcupine is a good metaphor for people involved in the arts. The right name says a lot," Joosse goes on to explain that the porcupine carries its protection in its body - its quills - and therefore can behave ambivalently with outsiders. This is similar to the artist who must guard himself from criticism. Fear of criticism can inhibit the creative process and cripple the creative spirit.
"If we had gone to the cottage two weeks later, it would have been Wild Turkey," Buz Reed says. Thus, the timing may have been for the better. Wild Turkey Magazine doesn't sound very inspiring.
Now more than two years old, with several issues out, Porcupine is published semiannually in Cedarburg. Each I 00-page issue contains a compelling collection of visual artwork, poetry, short fiction and interviews with artists and artisans across the country. There is a little something from and for everyone. Buz Reed sums it up when he says, "We see art in everything."
Porcupine is different from other literary arts magazines. The magazine's extensive use of visual artwork and featured artist interviews distinguishes it from its peers. Each issue features examples of prose poetry which is not prevalent today.
The editors feel that the magazine's emphasis on accessibility is what makes it most unique. Porcupine is not an elitist magazine. "We look for something we feel expresses real art, but is accessible to all people, not just professional writers or literati," Joosse explains.
In fact, Vicki Reed refers to Porcupine as a "warm companion. This is not something you will find on a coffee table. It is not intimidating or imposing."
Joosse thinks not only of the person who will pick up the magazine, but also of where it will be found such as in a warm cottage or lived-in den. "I expect to find coffee spills or spaghetti stains on the inside pages," she says with a smile.
"It might even be found in a bathroom," Buz Reed adds with a bigger yet smile.
The editors have reached a point of total honesty. When debate occurs over a particular submission, comments are not taken personally. The staff works very well together, each individual fulfilling a different, yet no less important, role.
Buz Reed is the official managing editor and poetry editor by night, and an engineer and poet by day. He receives several hundred submissions per issue. Approximately 20 poetry selections are featured in each publication. "I make an effort to select poetry that many people can relate to," Reed explains.
Chris Skoczynski has served as short-fiction editor for a little over a year. She reads between 50 and 75 submissions per issue, of which two or three are selected. Her involvement with Porcupine stems from her love of reading. It is a welcome break from the academic nature of her career as a professor. Skoczynski also attempts to select submissions that are interesting to a wide audience.
Joosse, an author of children's books, is the featured artist interview editor. These unique interviews serve as the anchors for each issue and guide the direction the magazine will take. The staff generally prearranges three interviews for each issue. Artists who are interesting in many dimensions are proposed - artists who "tweak" their interests. Attempts are made to select artists who are complementary, yet unique.
Joosse also likes to employ varying interview styles to achieve a balance. Achieving a balance is important, and to this end each piece is viewed as standing on its own. Then the editors must look at the issue as standing on its own. Integrity is key.
Vicki Reed uses her experience as a professional photographer in her work as Porcupine's Photography Editor. She is responsible for the photographs that accompany the featured artist interviews. Her involvement requires extensive research as she must have an idea of what it is she wants to capture without developing a preconceived image. Reed does not want to destroy the spontaneity.
Porcupine owes much of its success to the hard work and dedication of its staff (and, of course, to the many artists and artisans). Buz and Vicki Reed, Joosse and Skoczynski remain committed because of the personal rewards they get from their involvement. These rewards are evident as they each ponder what it is they get from their work with Porcupine.
Joosse is first to respond. She was accustomed to working on the other side of the desk as the writer. Now she has a better concept of the complete process. "I always thought that I would be a terrible editor, but my gifts as an editor have emerged." Because both fiction and artist interviews deal with character, they complement each other nicely. Joosse feels that her involvement with Porcupine refreshes her writing.
Skoczynski enjoys the break from the academic nature of her professional life. Porcupine offers a balance "It is gratifying to be a part of this non-elitist literary arts magazine," she explains, "Since I'm not an artist, I'm like the 'Joe Shmo' of this group ... if it delights me, it must delight others."
Vicki Reed says, "Porcupine pushes me each issue to do my best with the particular artist assigned." Her career as a photographer of limited edition fine art prints involves work that is very different from her work as the photography editor for Porcupine. This work is more of a challenge for Reed. "And I love meeting all of these fascinating people," she adds. Photography is definitely Reed's passion. She confesses, "Photography is the best kept secret for opening doors and getting you in fun places. I learned that very early, and embrace it constantly."
Buz Reed is the last to divulge his personal reasons for his continued hard work and dedication. He readily agrees with his wife that he enjoys meeting world class artists and artisans. He adds, "And we do meet most of the artists in our issues which has changed our lives, but it is also being able to present them to others."
The editors are pleased with Porcupine's quality, and want to share it with others. Increased efforts will be concentrated on expanding the magazine's distribution under the direction of Michael Stephens, Porcupine's marketing support staffer.
The most recent issue, published in December, features social realist painter David Lenz, multi-medium artist Teri Wagner and R.J. Siegel, a computer guru and pilot. If this tweaks your interest, contact Porcupine for a subscription. The magazine is also available at various local bookstores including Harry W Schwartz Bookshops and Barnes & Noble Book Store.
If Porcupine has a mission, Joosse may have expressed it best: "I feel that in this country we often think of art as something that is collected, kept in a sacred place or in museums. My commitment - besides what I get out of it in a selfish way- is I want really fine artists to be exposed to really great people."
Kristin Wegehaupt is a lifetime north shore resident who
lives in Glendale, Wisconsin with her husband Mike.
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