Andromeda: Q&A with Mike Burwell of the new journal “Cirque”

Have you checked out the inaugural issue of Cirque?

First, there is substantial content by a veritable who’s-who list that includes nonfiction by Jeff Fair, Sandra Kleven, Bill Sherwonit; plays by Nancy Lord and Peter Porco; poetry by the recently departed Marjorie Kowalski Cole, plus Ann Dixon, Ernestine Hayes, Cinthia Ritchie … and that’s just a sampling, and only from the first page of the two-paged table of contents.
Second, there is the online format. Now, maybe I’ve missed out on some other online journals, but this one strikes me as incomparably elegant, and really a pleasure to read online. We’re not talking about dull text scrolling vertically across on the screen. Cirque looks like a real journal (including good photos and design), with pages you can “turn,” and the additional option of being able to buy a physical, published copy on demand. If this is the future, it looks pretty good to me.

And now that I’ve filled this much space proselytizing, a few very quick answers from Mike Burwell, who created this new addition to the lit world.

What was the creative and/or strategic impetus for founding Cirque? I’m curious both about the starting point and the process (including many hours of toil, I imagine, plus any other people you want to credit) involved in creating such a polished-looking product.

My original reason for founding Cirque was the fact that a very fine circumpolar poetry journal, Ice-Floe, the labor of Shannon Gramse and Sarah Kirk, had stopped publishing in the Winter of 2006. When Ice-Floe disappeared, I felt that many poets in the region had lost a significant platform for their writing. About a year later, I teamed up with my friend Randol Bruns in Wasilla to do a journal that would be half standard literary journal and half performance/slam poetry, but for a variety of reasons we just couldn’t get the number and quality of submissions to make this editorial concept work.

Things languished for a year or so and then on a visit to Lake Clark to see my friends Anne Coray and Steve Kahn of NorthShore Press the fire was rekindled. We brainstormed the journal’s name–Cirque: we all liked the sound of the word and the concept of this high mountain place where beautiful things would form, literally mountain lakes and more figuratively written works, informed by the northern landscape….The process languished again because I work full-time and am also getting a masters in anthropology and poet Buffy McKay, who was my chief editorial assistant, got very sick. All this time I was amassing submissions and folks were wondering what I was up to with them. Then, this fall, Rachel Epstein at the UAA Campus Bookstore convened a panel on literary journals and invited me to talk about Cirque. I realized I needed something concrete to report. So the for two intense weekends in September I read submissions, sent out acceptances and rejections, and ended up with the material that has just become Issue #1.
Ironically, it was at this same UAA forum that Tom Sexton told me that Ice-Floe had been resurrected by the Univ. of Alaska Press and I wondered what I was doing trying to fill a void that had just been reconstituted. I was able to talk to Shannon Gramse at the forum and see that their one published volume per year of poetry was not really going too threaten submissions finding their way to Cirque that by this time had morphed into a full scale regional journal that wanted fiction, nonfiction, interviews, plays, reviews, and photography–as well as poetry. In the home stretch, it was Janet Levin’s photographs and editorial saavy and Paxson Woelber’s text and web design artistry that heroically and finally got Cirque up and running. Now Issue #1 is online at and hard copies can be purchased through the MagCloud print-on-demand process.

What are your long-term goals for Cirque; i.e. what will constitute success for you and the journal?

Success will mean producing two issues a year–on the Solstices–keeping the quality of the submissions high, and developing a vigorous readership. At a more basic level, another success is my excitement in working with established local writers and discovering new writers in the region who do great things and helping them get in print. The real surprise of this first issue was discovering how honored and pleased people were to be in the inaugural issue. I mean, I had no track record of publishing a journal and they were all so honored to be part of it. And as you can see, there are many published writers in Issue #1 who could easily have published in a number of other places.

Can you provide the broader context of how this fits into literary journals in Alaska (or the North, or the Pacific Northwest) and the larger world of lit journals, especially those making use of online and/or publish-on-demand technology. Is this part of a tidal wave of new efforts? Is the audience growing, or is it getting split by all the reading options available? Did you have a role model for this project or any other thoughts on technology or the reading audience that you want to share?

Cirque will publish all genres. I think it should have a broader appeal in Alaska and the region–which I am calling the North Pacific Rim and defining arbitrarily as Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia, and Chukotka. I think it is important to break down the border with Canada and Issue #1 has a number of Canadian writers. Also, I want to stay out of California and the East, as there are so many writers there who are already served by many fine journals. In Alaska, the journals Permafrost in Fairbanks and Alaska Quarterly Review in Anchorage take on submissions from the entire U.S. and Canada and have a more national appeal and stature. My intention for Cirque is to get the writing of this region out to a wider audience. In the Net world right now there are hundreds of e-journals that have a disembodied cast to them with editors from all over the globe editing a collection of writers from everywhere. Many of these journals have strong readerships and identities; many do not. I am old fashioned in the sense that I still believe that writing comes out of place, so I’d like Cirque to speak from and for the North—to articulate the essence of this place—but at the same time affirm that this voice has international vitality and impact. There are probably many things that could work against such a view but for now that is Cirque’s editorial intent.

I have looked at hundreds of journals online and have noticed that with the changes in the publishing world most well known literary journals are beginning to offer electronic subscription options to maintain dwindling circulation. So in this sense, the online, print-on-demand format is just practical and a good working platform for Cirque‘s launching. With print on demand, there is the option to get a hard copy in your hands if you really need and want one, and many readers have already expressed this desire. It sure beats having boxes of printed and unsold issues taking up space in the garage.

1 thought on “Andromeda: Q&A with Mike Burwell of the new journal “Cirque””

  1. A marvelous project, Mike. Thanks for working so hard to pull it together, and for the infusion of talent in a centralized forum. I love the concept of solstice pub dates as well.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top