Unsaid Magazine was founded in 2003 by David McLendon as the result of what McLendon calls, "My own selfish literary needs." The aim of the magazine is simple: to find and publish writers who need to be heard.
Michael Kimball: Let's start with how you started Unsaid and also maybe tell us why.
David McLendon: The answer grows out of my earliest days in Brooklyn. I had started a reading series there called Failbetter Presents, which was quite successful. Most of the writers I invited to take part in the series were writers who later appeared in Unsaid.
They were writers whose work I had read for years (David Ohle, Gary Lutz, Pamela Ryder, Dawn Raffel) and a few I had recently learned of, such as Peter Markus and David Hollander.
At some point -- perhaps late 1999 or early 2000 -- my pal Thom Didato approached me with the notion of taking the aesthetic of my reading series online. I liked the idea, and that's when he and I started Failbetter.com.
Around 2003 I saw the website take on a vibrant life of its own. It was incredible, really amazing, but my heart was elsewhere. I was looking for more subversion and innovation. More danger.
Truth be told, we received a submission that hit me like arrows, I was so excited about it, but in the end it was not for Failbetter, or for what Failbetter had become. That's when I left the website. Thom and I remain great friends, he's a true brother, and each of us supports the endeavors of the other. And, in retrospect, I agree that the aforementioned submission was not for Failbetter. It was for Unsaid. It was the first submission I accepted once Unsaid was underway.
So, to answer your question, I suppose this act of severance is how Unsaid began to begin.
Kimball: You've left me with an obvious question. What was that piece, and why was it right for Unsaid, but not right for Failbetter?
McLendon: "Via Fondazza: A Still Life," by Kira Henehan. I read it and read it again. I had never before read anything like it. Henehan's voice is singular, she ignores rules in order to create sensations from the page. Actually, it's as if she's oblivious to rules, or has never needed them. One reads her twisted syntax, and everything about it begs to be accused of being "wrong", but her authority over the page refuses the formation of such an accusation.
As far as why it worked for Unsaid and not Failbetter, well, you know, it was as if Henehan's pages were saying, "Look, Toto, we're not in Iowa anymore."
Regardless, it is the single work of fiction that inspired me to go forth with Unsaid. Henehan will roll her eyes at that statement, but it's very true.
Kimball: So you started with the Henehan for aesthetic considerations. Could you talk some more about the aesthetic behind Unsaid, what you are looking for poetry and fiction to do to you as a reader?
McLendon: I want writing to hit me in places that I expect least to be hit. Something new and lasting, sentences that are not odd for the sake of oddness, but different for the sake of the author's difference in the world. What I don't want is another Henehan or Kirkpatrick or Persson or Markus. God knows I don't want another Kimball.
What I mean by this is that oftentimes feeble mimicries find their way to my desk. They are halfhearted imitations instead of the genuine artifact. People refuse their own transformations and are more comfortable when distracting themselves with the trans-formations of others. Only Kimball is Kimball. Only Persson is Persson. And so on and so forth.
The question one might ask at this point is this: Are forms of written expression finite? I think not. It's my belief that writers can twist language infinitely to accommodate the expressive needs of their bodies. One must twist one's way of thinking back to its original twisted form. Reading Faulkner or Beckett or Kristeva is not enough. Reading Unsaid is not enough. One must know his or her own true rhythms to write. And to write with any degree of merit, one must write and write and write and write. It's hard work, and it should be. Period.
Kimball: I like this, the idea of infinite forms of written expression. Let's talk about it some more. I'm often reading for this very thing, to find what makes a particular writer particularly so. You already talked about Henehan. What would you say makes Russell Persson particularly Russell Persson or Deb Olin Unferth particularly Deb Olin Unferth or Jenny Boully particularly Jenny Boully or Andy Devine particularly Andy Devine?
McLendon: Perhaps Devine and Persson are the best places to begin. And this is something to think about. People ARE places, and within each person there are many places to explore.
Persson, God, where does one begin? There is a seriousness to the pages of Russell Persson that is rarely seen in this age of the instantaneous. Read Persson closely and you will see that he is extremely defiant. He is also extremely subtle in his defiance. Persson will further subvert a beautiful acoustical event if he sees that the event can be anticipated before its conclusion. The first pages I received from Persson I could not stop reading. Honestly, I was trying to figure out his code, his method, his mojo. Well, we all know how this ends out. I went first to the bar, then to the ex-girlfriend's place, trying somehow to find an audience who might share my need to explicate the source. This was audacious, of course, but I really felt I needed to express this need to others. Needless to say, I was 86'd from the bar and the ex-girlfriend drew up a restraining order.
Devine is the antithesis of Persson. Devine is so direct, so precise, and so relentlessly much so that most readers will immediately dismiss his pages as folly. Devine is not folly. I dare any reader to sit alone in a room and read Devine's pages aloud. If one simply "looks" at his pages it is easy to miss what he has actually accomplished. There is such a complicated simplicity to Devine's pages that I can only compare them to the beautiful stuttering lucidity of a glossolaliac. They are truly incantations. Allow yourself to listen. Devine, like Persson, is that rarest of writers -- he cares too much about the writing to be concerned with what anyone cares.
Kimball: I like your descriptors -- defiant, subtle, beautiful, relentless, complicated simplicity, stuttering lucidity. I don't think that anybody but Persson could have imagined Persson or anybody but Devine could have imagined Devine. But, tell me, if it's possible, what kinds of writing are you looking for? What should writers be sending to you?
McLendon: You answer most of that question within the question itself. I am looking for writing by writers who are the only ones in the world who could imagine who they are. Writers who know what is at stake in the wager of what they say. Everything is at stake in the best pages I receive. An urgency is made clear as early as the first sentence. Acoustics and cadence and syntax and diction are everything to me -- but they are ultimately nothing unless they present this urgency. The person with the lowest hand can win all, but he or she must place all they own at the middle of the table. This is what I see in the best writing I receive. Those who are willing to wager everything for the sake of difference. The serious urgency of such a writer can be felt when reading his or her pages, which often makes the process of accepting or rejecting submissions largely intuitive. Years of reading and writing and editing contribute greatly to this process, but honestly, the final decision usually comes from my gut.