Art Works Blog

Art Chat with Sascha Feinstein of Brilliant Corners

Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Brilliant Corners is published twice each year by Lycoming College. Contributors have included NEA Literature Fellows Yusef Komunyakaa and Camille Dungy and NEA Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern.

The proliferation of poetry on jazz---such as "The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes, "The Day Lady Died" by Frank O'Hara, and "Jazz Fan Looks Back" by Jayne Cortez---seems to speak to a very particular relationship between the two forms. As editor of Brilliant Corners---a literary journal at the intersection of jazz and literature---we thought Sascha Feinstein, a poet and professor at Pennsylvania's Lycoming College,  was the perfect person to talk to about the unusual relationship between these two forms.

NEA: What is a jazz poem?

SASCHA FEINSTEIN: Both poetry and jazz defy absolute definitions; one might say that their elusiveness helps to define them. I try to speak toward the question in my critical book, Jazz Poetry: From the 1920s to the Present, but generally speaking, I?m much more interested in the ways that jazz music can inform literature than defining those arts separately or collectively.

NEA: How do you see the relationship between poetry and jazz? How are the two forms similar? Different?

FEINSTEIN: The relationship between poetry and jazz interests me first because of their differences: How can one embrace an invisible art (music) with the more absolute definitions of language? To that end, the union of two seems endless with possibilities. As the editor of Brilliant Corners, I look for poems that demonstrate a deep understanding of the music and that don?t rely on clichés, especially those associated with mere hipster jargon. I want poems that swing and that resonate with the reader because of their own literary merits (and not merely because they invoke jazz). This holds true for the other genres published in the journal---jazz-related fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and criticism.

NEA: Where did the idea for Brilliant Corners come from?

FEINSTEIN: When I started teaching creative writing at Lycoming College, I learned that their former literary journal, The Great Stream Review, had gone under---quickly and without much notice (like most). The president [of the college] asked if I would resuscitate Great Stream, but I suggested a journal of jazz-related literature, for at least two reasons: (1) None existed in the U.S., and (2) I had no interest in starting just another generic publication. I wanted something unique, a journal that could fill a void and, at the same time, speak to my own passions and therefore keep me enthusiastic, despite the great demands of running a print publication on a miniscule budget. And I knew that jazz continues to inspire some of the greatest contemporary writers in the world; with this focus, I could publish a first-class journal. For first issues, which appeared in 1996, I solicited work from friends with monumental name recognition. Since then, the submissions have continued to roll in.

In thinking about a title, I wanted something that would evoke jazz, so I lifted the name of Thelonious Monk?s composition, ?Brilliant Corners? (also the title of a phenomenal LP). I?m wild about the tune itself, but I also liked the way it suggests something about text---brilliance within the corners.

NEA: What does ?Art Works? mean to you?

FEINSTEIN: In relationship to Brilliant Corners, this slogan seems to celebrate art as creation and art as product. For a long time, I?ve felt that people in the arts should also be working on projects that celebrate art beyond the work of their own making. Running a journal is a little like hosting a massive party---with all the joys, but also all the cleanup!---and more often than not, the work involved in generating an issue focuses on the mundane. Yes, sometimes it?s exhausting, but I believe in that kind of work where the product may not necessarily have an ?economic effect? on other artists but that nevertheless focuses on their art, not mine.

You can learn more about Brilliant Corners on the journal's website.

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