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A ‘Corpse’ exhumed 

UCA resurrects another much-ballyhooed literary journal.

EXHUMED: 'Exquisite Corpse.'
  • EXHUMED: 'Exquisite Corpse.'

The University of Central Arkansas, which adopted the struggling Oxford American magazine, has welcomed yet another homeless journal and added more literary cache to Conway.

Exquisite Corpse, long edited by founder Andrei Codrescu (perhaps best known locally as a frequent voice on National Public Radio), began publishing in small print-runs more than 25 years ago. In 1996, Codrescu chose to produce the journal exclusively online, and the Corpse, as it was known, became one of the first and most successful web literary journals. Now, a decade later, the printed Corpse has come back to life as an annual print edition based in the Department of Writing at UCA. 

Named for a collaborative surrealist exercise (also known as the parlor game Consequences, in which words or images are assembled by a group), “Exquisite Corpse” features a tried and true mixture of provocation and poetry. Its voices, while united by what may be called a common disposition to the avant garde both in politics and culture, express a wide variety of styles and approaches to literary production.

“UCA gets to enjoy a growing reputation as a literary and arts-centered institution, and the Corpse gets a place to plot and scheme,” says Managing Editor Mark Spitzer. “Since the annual is based in the writing department, we also get to take advantage of some living, breathing resources, like employing student interns as editorial assistants and Professor Terry Wright as associate editor.”

Spitzer, a longtime staffer of the journal, moved to Conway in 2007 to teach in the writing program. Codrescu himself had previously moved to the Ozarks. Encouraged by their new proximity to each other, the two hatched a plot to revive the print edition in Arkansas. UCA, with its recent emphasis on enhancing the cultural life of central Arkansas, seemed the perfect fit.

“It takes a very daring university to host a corpse,” Spitzer says. Codrescu and Spitzer previously worked on the web version at LSU, where Codrescu was a professor in the English department, though the relationship between the journal and the university was never formalized. LSU, Spitzer says, “had always been somewhat hesitant and not always that supportive.”

He says that the reaction to the new annual among the journal's many dedicated fans has been positive and sometimes even surprising. “We recently debuted the journal at the AWP Convention in Chicago, and I was amazed at the number of past contributors and dedicated readers that stopped by our table to gawk in astonishment and glee.”

The first edition of the new annual ($20, available at www.corpse.org) indeed serves as a wonderful introduction to the community of writers who regularly contribute to corpse.org, as well as those fellow travelers attracted by the journal's aesthetic. Though the most famous name associated with this incarnation of “Exquisite Corpse” — aside from that of Codrescu — might be Ralph Steadman, who's contributed a typically startling and beautiful collage to the cover of the annual, several of the featured writers have gained considerable traction in the literary communities that have arisen around small journals.

Among the Corpse regulars who appear here are Willie Smith, Mike Topp, Joel Lipman, Jim Gustafson and Robin Becker. Those names might be unfamiliar out of certain circles, but their art is far from obscure. Humor and daring mark the most difficult work, and the editors often intercede with a guiding hand for the wayfarer. Online literary communities sometimes suffer for their insularity, as well as their willingness to traffic in challenging styles and content. This annual, however, offers a welcoming range of consistently strange and exciting ideas for the reader, as well as a mellifluous blend of forms and textures, and Conway is lucky to be able to offer its own warm welcome right back.

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