Tagged: brian doyle


portlandkidI’m on record teasing editors for putting adorable babies and little kids with big eyes and irresistible furry critters on their covers and in their feature wells. C’mon, what’s the challenge in drawing readers with a snuggly baby picture? I think the word “cheating” may have been used once or twice. Three times.

A couple of weeks ago I plucked from my stack of mail an envelope from Portland, Oregon. Inside was the latest issue of Portland, with a little note from editor Brian Doyle taped to the cover. For anyone who can’t read the note on this image from my scanner, it says “hahahahahaha a cute kid cover — BD.”


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What all is stuffed into the mailbox this week? Let’s see . . . mm-hm . . . mm-hm . . . Portland . . . looks like a food issue . . . damn you Doyle!

The winter issue of Portland flaunts editor Brian Doyle’s unparalleled ability to convince world-class writers to contribute to his magazine. This time, damn him, he has pieces from Michael Pollan, Pico Iyer, and Edward Hoagland. Pollan to Iyer to Hoagland—man, there’s an infield. To be accurate, Pollan’s long contribution, “The End of Cooking,” is an excerpted reprint of something he published in The New York Times Magazine, and Hoadland’s “The Top of the Continent” is drawn from the essayist’s new volume, Alaska Travels. But still.

By the way, there’s a lot more to a meaty issue. I especially liked the photo essay by Steve Hambuchen of Pacific Northwest farmers, bakers, vintners, and brewers.

IC View from Ithaca College sports a redesign, as well as my favorite subhead of the week: “Alumni See Trash With Fresh Eyes.” Robin Roger edits the magazine. (Below, new cover is on the left. Relative dimensions are not accurate. The new design has the same trim size.)

The 2013 record for most people smiling and facing the camera on the cover is currently held by The Baylor Line (editor Todd Copeland:

California (editor Wendy Miller) produced my favorite lead sentence of the year, so far, in David Tuller’s “Putin v. Pussy Riot“: “In a cozy, two-room apartment in a leafy Moscow neighborhood, I gathered with half a dozen local gay and lesbian activists on a mid-August evening to drink tea, munch on zakuski (snacks), and discuss the regime of creepy Russian president and former KGB thug Vladimir Putin.” Love the opening spread, too:

Good words alerts:

— Binghamton University Magazine (Diana Bean edits) has a recurring feature called “The Other Side,” and in the Fall 2012 issue devotes it to a four-question Q&A with associate professor Steven Tammariello, who at age 43 still plays football for the semi-pro Cortland Bulldogs. (I know what you’re thinking . . . another story about a PhD biologist who plays semi-pro football?) My favorite line: “I used to be the only player with a PhD, but one of our defensive linemen earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Cornell, so I have some company.”

— My second-favorite lead sentence so far in 2013 comes from Immaculata Magazine: “When Bob Kelly’s radio station asked if he knew a football expert who could be on their morning show The Breakfast Club, he immediately said, ‘I know just the nun!'”

— Extraordinary, moving essay by Mel Livatino, “Dogged by the Dark,” in the latest Notre Dame Magazine, Kerry Temple, editor.

Finally, since I began this post with my nose out of joint—damn you, Brian Doyle!—I will end with this great spread, from the Fall 2012 Medicine at Michigan. The photo illustration is by Clint Blowers; editor of the magazine is Richard F. Krupinski.

Some of that outside validation we all crave

This year’s edition of Best American Essays lands in bookstores today, and alumni magazines and writers are represented. Listed among “Notable Essays of 2011” are:

— Brian Doyle, editor of Portland, for “The Creature Beyond the Mountains,” which appeared in Orion.

— Patrick Dunne, for “Into the Deep,” which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

— Kerry Temple, editor of Notre Dame, for “A Summer Night,” which he scribbled for the Summer 2011 issue of his magazine.

Congratulations to all.

Doyle’s dream

When I opened an envelope that contained the Winter 2011 issue of Portland, I found a little note from editor Brian Doyle clipped to the cover, a note noting that this issue was something he’d long dreamed of publishing—an issue devoted to music, one that included a bound-in CD. So I slipped the CD into my iMac and started reading.

On the cover is a gorgeous photograph of a mandolin. I don’t like the mandolin, I never want to play the mandolin, but this image is scrumptious enough to make me at least want to own a mandolin. Once past the front-of-the-book campus stuff, you come upon seven pieces on music—Connor Doe’s sweet meditation on being a guitar player and a new dad at the same time; a Trappist monk’s counting of the myriad sounds that make up the music of his day; the music latent in the Indian names for Oregon rivers; singer and songwriter Jennifer Crow speaking through Doyle about creating music; Kirsten Rian’s startling remembrance that starts out recalling when guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn died and then becomes something wholly unexpected; an essay on the music of sandhill cranes; a story by Pico Iyer—and the CD with 20 pieces of music.

I asked Doyle for how long had we wanted to do such a thing. “Oh dear, years,” he replied. “Credit where due: Mark Wood at Pomona [Pomona College Magazine] bound a CD into his magazine years ago, but his was all music from the campus, as I recall, and the thought niggled at me that o sweet mother of the baby Jesus wouldn’t it be cool to do a record of all sorts of wild music from all corners of the vast university community, alumni, and students and guests and friends and faculty and staff and everyone and anyone. Man, that would be way cool.”

What made the issue happen now was the capital campaign. Yes, the capital campaign. Said Doyle, “We are conducting that rare and lovely music, a campaign where everyone’s creative ideas for drawing people toward the university are not only allowed (holy moly!) but encouraged (what planet are we on?!), and paid for (what galaxy is this?!). The poobah running our campaign gets it that interesting ways to get people to lay ears and eyes on the university are actually fundraising efforts, yes? On the theory that people who attend to you will soon enough get absorbed by your drive and need, and help out.” Read the captions that accompany the many photographs of musicians and instruments and sheet music and you realize that this is the slyest campaign issue of an alumni magazine ever. Each one gently suggests that Portland could use help in remaining a place that fosters the making of music and fine prose and quality thought, and directs the reader to the campaign’s website. The CD is glued to a an insert that briefly explains the campaign.

Regarding that CD, which cost about $10,000 to produce, Doyle said, “Steve Forbert gave me a song. Steve Forbert!!!!!! who had been a visiting writer—we were intrigued by how songwriters are writers and don’t get the credit for writing stories. Neil Murray gave me a song, and he’s one of the greatest Australian songwriters there is. He’d written a piece for our magazine. An alumnus gave us a song and died two weeks later, 88 years old, lovely gentle wonderful man; his daughter told me the last grin she saw on his face was the news that every reader of the magazine would hear his lovely jazz tune. A wild young hip band named the Dimes gave me a song because they had had so much fun playing a show on campus. An alumna gave me a song from her country rock band and told me so many funny stories about singing in roaring bars at night and singing at church early in the morning that we ended up doing a whole feature on her. A student walked into my office and said she had recorded songs with her friends on a university program in Kenya, would I listen, and my heart sank, because the phrase recorded with friends usually means shrieking cursing howling awful vulgar sniggering rap, and her songs made me want to caper because they were so lively and happy and laughing. It was a total ball, this issue. Also I note with amazement that no one [among the musicians] asked for a penny.”

The only flaw in this whole exercise derives from Portland being perfect bound, which messed up a few of the photos that Doyle ran full across, full bleed. I asked him is this might the one time he wished his magazine were saddle-stitched. “Sigh. Yup.”

Let’s end with a medley, which feels appropriate, a medley of prose highlights. First, Connor Doe:

At one point during our rehearsal, my son, who was pretty new to being a son then, kept perfect time while banging the stick on the floor and grinning jubilantly. I’m not kidding. It didn’t last for more than a few beats, and probably it was a complete accident, but it was absolutely perfect. Maybe the best thing about being a dad is that perfect time is always possible.

Robin Cody:

By my count, some 68 percent of our native rivernames are three-syllable words. Most of the others are four-beat words. Walla Walla, Tualatin, Skomakawa, and Metolius survived the pioneers’ naming of things. The newcomers selected, from the home folks, the most melodious phonemes they heard for this new-to-them place. They adoped rollicking names for lively rivers, so different from the flat Platte and the languid Snake along the Oregon Trail. Imagine their relief, their joy. Even Methodists could hear the three-note riff here that goes bu-DEE-bu.

Kirsten Rian:

Sound rings off forever. There is no reconciliation point, even when it moves past our ability to hear. It’s out there somewhere still, echoing. It’s something to believe in, to know, even though it can’t be touched or seen. Like faith. Music plays itself in how it’s felt, in how the notes reverberate through the tiny bones in our ears, yes, but also throughout all the rest of us, a secular love rooted in the infinity of belief.

And, finally, Pico Iyer:

Once, high up in the nosebleed seats of Osaka Castle Hall in Japan, I closed my eyes and heard Eric Clapton take off on long silvery riffs on his guitar. He stood alone, completely motionless at the back of the state. His head lifted up, his eyes clearly shut. The music was playing him, more than the other way round. In fact it seemed to be streaming through him—he and his instrument just vessels—and enveloping us all in something beyond the reach of explanations. I didn’t have the words for it—I was embarrassed to hear myself saying it—but I didn’t care what his religion was or wasn’t (or mine, either): this was what the world sounded like when it was unbroken.

Best American Essays taps alumni magazines

Not for the first time, the annual volume The Best American Essays has honored a couple of alumni magazines. The 2011 edition’s editors, Robert Atwan and Edwidge Danticat, selected Pico Iyer’s “Chapels”  from Portland (you will need to scroll through the PDF to find it on pg. 50) for inclusion in anthology that includes work by Hilton Als, Christopher Hitchens, Charlie LeDuff, and Zadie Smith. Here is the opening paragraph:

Giant figures are talking and strutting and singing on enormous screens above me, and someone is chattering away on the miniscreen in the cab from which I just stepped. Nine people at this street corner are shouting into thin air, wearing wires around their chins and jabbing at screens in their hands. One teenager in Sacramento, I read recently, sent 300,000 text messages in a month—or ten a minute for every minute of her waking day, assuming she was awake sixteen hours a day. There are more cell phones than people on the planet now, almost (ten mobiles for every one at the beginning of the century) Even by the end of the last century, the average human being in a country such as ours saw as many images in a day as a Victorian inhaled in a lifetime.

The back pages of each edition of Best American Essays lists other notable essays published in the previous year, a sort of honorable mention. Among the pieces honored were Joseph Epstein’s “The Symphony of a Lifetime,” published by Kerry Temple’s Notre Dame Magazine:

I have taken to saying that my wife and I are at the grandparent stage of life. I don’t before now recall using the metaphor “stage” to describe any other segment or portion of my life. The notion of stages of life has been around for a long while, of course, and doesn’t look to be going away.

Go-o-o-o , Lemmings!” by Brian Doyle, published by The American Scholar:

The first sports team I remember loving as a child, in the dim dewy days when I was two or three years old and just waking up to things that were not milk and mama or dirt and dogs, was the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame. They were on television every day, it seemed, in our bustling brick Irish Catholic house. Inasmuch as I was hatched and coddled near Manhattan, there were also Metropolitans and Knickerbockers and Rang­ers and Islanders, and as I shuffled shyly into high school, I met snarling and roaring mammalian mascots, notably the Cougars of my own alma mater, which was plopped in marshlands where I doubt a cougar had been seen for 300 years.

“An Intimate Geography” by Barry Lopez, also published by Portland:

It was night, but not the color of sky you might expect. The sun was up in the north, a few fingers above the horizon, and the air itself was bluer than it had been that afternoon, when the light was yellower. A friend and I were sitting atop a knoll in the Brooks Range in northern Alaska on a June “evening.” We had our spotting scopes trained on a herd of several hundred barren-ground caribou browsing three miles away in the broad, treeless, U-shaped valley of the Anaktuvuk River. The herd drifted in silence across an immensity of space

Finally, the Spring 2010 edition of Portland, “Water as Soul,” was cited as a “notable special issue.”

Congratulations to all.