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Rampike: an interview with Karl Jirgens

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Could you briefly describe Rampike’s history?

Since 1979, Rampike has published cutting edge international art, writing, and theory. I’ll tell you a little bit about our format. Rampike magazine had to alter its original shape, which was 6 inches wide by 18 inches tall (a shape that sold extremely well). Recently, “big-box” mega-stores refused to carry the publication unless we adopted a “standard” format, so while our more recent 7 by 11 inch format is still a bit unusual, it is not nearly as radical as the previous incarnation. Our original shape was an aesthetic statement, based partly on the Bauhaus mandate of “form follows function” (after all, long narrow strips of paper are ideal for displaying literary texts). The magazine has a history of covering top authors, artists, and critics from around the world. In addition, emerging talents have been presented beside accomplished writers and thinkers. Over the years, Rampike has had good luck garnering stellar, international talent. We’ve been quite fortunate.

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Detail from cover, Rampike, 20.2

Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?

At present we have a select reading audience, to great extent through subscriptions, spread out over roughly four continents including North and South America, Europe, and the Pacific rim, including Australia and Japan. Rampike is a publication that caters largely to artists and writers themselves. We are not a mass-market publication. Rather, we aim at a select readership of artist, or writer-practitioners. We also work with like-minded publishers and periodicals. For example, we’ve done some exchange coverage with the highly influential Open Letter magazine (a forum for contemporary literary theory), and we like to support and collaborate with presses that take chances on innovative authors, such as Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Redfoxpress, Wesleyan University Press, or Coach House Press. We enjoy exchanges with other pioneers. Recently, we did a short interview with Jerome Rothenberg who was very pleased, and subsequently loaded that interview onto the Jacket 2 website. And today, it’s fun to be talking to you folks at the American Book Review!

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Cover, Rampike, 22.1

How would you characterize the work that you publish?

A.J. Liebling once said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” So Rampike uses its free forum to focus on art and writing that is innovative in both structure and subject matter. We also include related criticism and theory. We spotlight contemporary writing but also make room for language-based visual art, performance art, installation art, graphics, photography, visual poetry, and as well as inter-media forms. Our main focal point is writing that is as concerned with the medium of language itself as with the message, or the so-called “subject matter.” Over the years, we’ve covered artists and writers from a range of groups, stylistic approaches, and movements, including Fluxus, Neo-Futurist, Tel Quel, Lettrist, Absurdist, radical poetics, ‘Pataphysical, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Fiction Collective 1, Neoist, digital poetics, Oulipo, Creative Misunderstanding, Postmodern, Fiction Collective 2, Conceptual, nano-poetics, and neo-Baroque. We particularly appreciate and publish language-based artists who cross conventional borders of genre or media, including superstars such as Robert Lepage, or more experimental artists such as Janet Cardiff and George Büres Miller. Some of our writers, such as Alistair MacLeod, have international audience appeal, but also craft language in progressive ways. I’d say that Rampike is a kinetic historical archive; we move with changes in the aesthetic field and are on top of them almost as fast as they happen. But we’re selective and seek those kinds of expressions that we think will be historically significant. So we’re choosy, but open-minded. As an editor, I find the job of selecting articles requires discriminating taste, and a very fine balance.

What is your role in the publishing scene?

To provide a ready forum for high-quality, ground-breaking expression that might not otherwise see light of day...