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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Spots in Between Austin Journal Explores the Literary Borderlands BY JENNY BROWNE the he name “Pissed-Off Poets Journal” sounded a little harsh. It was 1991, the height of the Persian Gulf War, and although the group of mainly Michener Fellows from the University of Texas Center for Writers was indeed pissed off, they opted instead to call their new poetry journal Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. The name stuck. So did the journal, now entering its eighth year of publication, a long run for any literary periodical, especially a poetry journal. But the “economy of lasting” as promotibn coordinator Patrick Collins calls it, is a tenacious process. For the second time in its publication history, the biannual journal is taking a hiatus, and will not produce a Spring/Summer 1999 issue. An issue was last skipped in 1994, when the original founders passed the reigns to the current all-volunteer staff. The thematic reference to “borders” approaching them, crossing them, illuminating what lives along them, and redefining them, has served as a reference point for the poetry, photographs, and black-and-white art that fills the pages of the Austin-based publication. Much has changed on the literary landscape since 1991, and how Borderlands navigates this latest crossroads or border-crossing, remains to be seen. According to founder Dorothy Barnett, who now directs the creative writing program at Austin Community College, Borderlands was born of two desires. Many of the founders were having trouble getting published in existing literary journals. In addition, there seemed to be a tendency in academic journals towards publishing more “navel-gazing” poetry, focused on the psyche of the writer or his reader. Barnett said, “In some ways, Borderlands was a direct response to the Gulf War. We were all writing more engaged, more outward-looking poetry. We wanted something different than the academic journals, something that took on the outside world.” When Borderlands first began, the founders knew of no other publications fo A Scarecrow X by Benne Rockett, from the cover of Borderlands cusing on what the editors still call “outward-looking poetry” in their mission statement. Moreover, there were few publications focused on Texas and the Southwest. To the question about what gives a journal the right to call itself the Texas Poetry Review, Patrick Collins replied, “Although Borderlands was never a purely regional magazine, the original vision was about the more specific political issues on the Texas/Mexico border and on Texan and Southwestern writers. No one else had that focus. I think in recent years the concept has widened greatly, and become less focused on a purely Texas theme.” Recent issues confirm a continuing participation of Texas writers, and the persistence of Texas themes. In Issue Number 11 Roberts’ starkly comical “Leaving Texarkana under Circumstances” ends with the fatalism of a longtime Texas resident’s sun-streaked directions: “That’s Highway 82, too, the one you lost/ back at the K-turn, most likely. K is for confusing, we say, which it is, under the circumstances, to get out of here.” M. Alexander’s “Tempo El Refugio” more directly relays the power of what externally and therefore internally defines a particular place. “No, the saints are not marching. Marching in heat like this would be/ a sin. In heat like this every noonday is/ a sabbath. No one would dare to dishonor,/ disinherit, dissemble, steal or dismember/ in heat like this. No one covets or plays/ false at this temperature. There are/ no other gods.” Both poets convey the essence of staying of being stuck, and of trying to leave. Borderlands has never been stuck. Barnett commented, “It has been a snowball since the beginning. Now we don’t know how to stop it. There are more outlets for Texas writers now Utter in Austin, the Maverick Press in West Texas. Maybe if our mission is accomplished, it is time to let it rest.” But others feel that Borderlands still fills a gaping hole. Nationally acclaimed San Antonio poet \(and Observer mented, “There is so much good writing happening in Texas these days. I’m always surprised there are not more magazines. Borderlands still really fills a unique niche. I’ve always thought of it as a place you could send more edgy things.” “Edgy” is also relative. As Borderlands has grown up, the editors’ notion of borderriding writing has widened. Barnett elaborated, “For me, a poet’s responsibility is to light up dark areas, the spots in between that people don’t talk about not to be didactic.” The work of Byron Brauchli, an Austin photographer and printer, was featured in “Cultural Refractions: Border Life en la tierra de nadie” reflects a “third world” not the geo-political Third World, but rather an additional world that is not entirely like either of the places it divides. Collins agreed 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER LII1111111116 DECEMBER 25, 1998