The opportunity to interview founders and editors of literary magazines is one of the most exciting and humbling aspects of my job. This interview with John Tranter, poet and founder of Jacket magazine, brought home to me how much great work is being done in the Australian literary scene by people who are dedicated to their craft, and savvy about their industry. Read on to find out more about this wonderful publisher of modern Australian poetry.

Sp: When and why did you set up Jacket – what’s the best anecdote from the early days of Jacket?

JT: I set up Jacket in 1997. I was the sole employee (unpaid) for the first eight years, then we doubled our staff: Pam Brown joined as Associate Editor (unpaid) in 2005. We are up to issue number 37 now (mid-2009).

When I began, I had no idea if anyone would ever get to know that the magazine was there, among the millions of pages on the net, or what kind of reach it might have. In the first issue I published an interview I’d done with the British poet, Roy Fisher. In a week or so I received an email from a fellow thanking me for publishing it. He said ‘I’m a great fan of Roy Fisher’s and it’s hard to find work on him up here in Nome, Alaska.’

Sp: Your favourite paragraph from a published submission and why?

JT: ‘Three sentences on the way to Belize’ (by Eliot Weinberger)

Sitting in the last row of the plane next to a Belizean woman of uncertain age. The choice for lunch was pasta, fish, or chicken, but by the time the meal cart reached us, there was only pasta or fish. My seatmate smiled sweetly at the stewardess and said, "Next time you’ll have to kill more chickens." 

Sp:  Your favourite image from any edition of Jacket and why?

Image of woman and clouds by Walter Crump

Photo copyright (c) Walter Crump, from Ruth Lepson and Walter Crump:
"Morphology", reviewed by John Mercuri Dooley (Design, Christina
Strong) BlazeVOX Books, 2007.

JT: I like it because it seems to be trying to tell a strange story, and I think the clouds look beautiful.

Sp: Top 3 things that will turn you off a submission?

  • Tired, conventional ideas
  • Sloppy, careless or egotistical writing
  • Writing that tries too hard to be cute 

Sp: What are you most interested in at the moment in Australian publishing?

JT: The need to reduce the proportion of "Australian" publishers which are entirely owned and managed by foreigners from the current 90% to about 40%. This would take the emphasis away from the idea that every single title must turn a profit, and replace it with something more civilised: the idea that a great publisher carries a wide range of titles: from blockbuster profit-makers to massively popular biographies of "media" "celebrities" and sporting "heroes" to a small but distinguished list of poetry titles that will inevitably lose a small amount of money: that is, a tiny fraction of the obscene profits that the other books make.

Sp: Speakeasy is interested in gaining a snap shot of the future of publishing in Australia. Where do you think your mag will be in 5 years?

JT: I really don’t know: still there, I hope.

SP: We hope so, too!

Check out the submission guidelines for Jacket: they are an exemplar of good-humoured professionalism, and a great guide to understanding the special requirements and opportunities of online publication.

One Response to “Lit mag #5: 'Next time you'll have to kill more chickens.'”

  1. Angela Slatter,

    […] June 23, 2009 by angelaslatter The exceedingly redoutable Meg Vann interviews John Tranter at Speakeasy […]

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