The Little Portland Lit Mag That Could—and Did!

Out of the ashes of Backspace comes Portland-based, mostly-online DIY lit mag Drunk in a Midnight Choir—and they’ve just gone to print.

By Rachel Sandstrom September 22, 2015

Dmac cover front page page 001 gfbchx

Drunk in a Midnight Choir Vol. 1

Born out of the Portland Poetry Slam, and the now-closed Backspace coffee shop, Drunk in a Midnight Choir (DMC)—the self-proclaimed “scrappy little lit mag that could”—arises like a phoenix from the ashes of old Portland.

Todd Gleason, a writer, editor, and DMC’s “main guy” is the former manager of Backspace, the once-lively coffee shop straight out of Reality Bites that hosted the Portland Poetry Slam every Sunday, and became a local institution. Backspace closed in late 2013, and has proved literally irreplaceable: the space is still vacant, with a sad “For Lease” sign hanging in the window, next to businesses less than a year old.

But through that job, Gleason met his first collaborator, Eirean Bradley, now one of six editors for the site, which was launched in February 2014. Backspace also introduced him to the assorted poets who took part in the Portland Poetry Slam. Now they—along with a wide net of collaborators across the country—make up the community of poets, essayists, and music reviewers that publish daily to the lit mag that feels more “zine” than literary magazine.

And that attitude is intentional. Both Gleason and Bradley described the submission guidelines as “anti-gatekeeper." "Basically, if a poem works for me, we publish it,” says Gleason: It doesn’t matter if you’ve published before, or who you know, or how good your other work is.

And that non-hierarchical ideology is working. They’ve gone from requesting 80 percent of their submissions to receiving more than half of their submissions unsolicited. It’s that response that gave Gleason and Bradley the idea to publish an anthology—though neither of them exactly remembers who got the ball rolling. “At some point, you forget the genesis of shit, and it doesn’t matter,” says Bradley, mirroring a similar sentiment from Gleason.

Both realized that they had a lot of great work on the site, and set out to do it backwards: go from web-based to print, creating an anthology of what Gleason describes as DMC’s “small amount of great material we’ve put out.”

After selling out of their first print run—50 copies, a modest number by some metrics, but impressive for a tiny lit mag—at the National Poetry Slam finals in Oakland this year, DMC is printing a second run of their anthology and hosting a release party September 24 at SE Portland’s Crema Coffee and Bakery. They're promising food, wine, and readings from local “choir members,” several of whom are active members in the Portland Poetry Slam community, including recent addition to the choir, Anis Mojgani, a two-time National Poetry Slam winner whose  poem, “Shake the Dust” has amassed a cult following.

“It makes me really excited to set out to try something and have it come through," says Gleason of the anthology. "It’s creativity fueling creativity.”

The release party of Drunk in a Midnight Choir Vol. 1 is on September 24 at Crema Coffee and Bakery on SE Ankeny St., at 7 pm.

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