On Empty Mirror’s First Twenty Years

Empty Mirror - 20 years

On December 30, 1999 I left my last day as a retail store manager, and I never looked back.

I’d worked in and managed bookstores and wanted to open my own. I’d been collecting out-of-print, signed, poetry, Beat Generation and art Business Relationships books with an eye toward opening an online bookstore, and now the time had arrived.

Previously, I’d edited several literary publications: The Lithic Review and a broadside series, Nomad; the one-issue Quicksilver, the Quicksilver/Quartermoon Press broadside series; and finally, in 1999, Ted Joans’ poetry collection, WOW and Other Poems, which included drawings by Laura Corsiglia.

So, it was probably inevitable that Empty Mirror Books would eventually transform itself into something more than an online bookshop.

I’d chosen a domain name, but after dawdling for a few months, I discovered that it’d been registered the week before by someone else. I was distraught and drove to a clifftop park where I just sat in the car, stared out at Everett’s Port Gardner Bay, and tried to figure out what to do next. The next day my friend Erica suggested naming it after one of the books on our shelves. When she got to Empty Mirror, the title of an early collection of poems by Allen Ginsberg, something clicked. I liked the association with Allen Ginsberg, and also the Zen meaning of empty mirror.

Empty Mirror Books launched on May 31, 2000.

I began by spotlighting books by featured poets every month, and by writing articles about each of them. Quickly, others — friends and those who would become friends — began to contribute essays and art. Empty Mirror featured photos of poets and other creatives taken by Larry Keenan and Rob Lee, bibliographies of work by Michael McClure and others, articles about poets, interviews, and occasional reviews and art features. Although nonfiction and art comprised most of EMB, every once in a while we’d publish a poem by invitation. The site grew quickly, and, although we still sold books and there was no set publication schedule, Empty Mirror Books became a de facto online literary magazine, publishing work which was often experimental or outside the mainstream.

In 2003, the Surrealist/Beat/Jazz poet and artist Ted Joans passed; dozens of his friends, fellow writers and artists, and readers sent memories, thoughts, art, and photos for EM’s massive TED JOANS LIVES! tribute.

I also built (and hosted at EMB) a website featuring photos by the renowned Beat and counterculture photographer, Larry Keenan. Larry’s photos of the Beats and Bob Dylan are iconic. Next, the artist, visual poet, and writer Hammond Guthrie built an iconoclastic online arts journal of his own, The 3rd Page on EMB’s webspace. Both Larry and Hammond have passed, but their websites remain online as sub-areas of the Empty Mirror site.

Empty Mirror Books sprawled to a couple of hundred webpages and was built by hand with HTML and CSS, which I taught myself in the first five months of 2000. But by 2011 (probably earlier, to be honest) two things were clear: continuing to build each page by hand in HTML wasn’t sustainable, and the bookselling portion of the site was best moved to an online venue such as AbeBooks or similar. It was also clear that EM would be more successful if it were published on a regular schedule. So, I spent late 2011 designing a WordPress site, migrating each page, to the new format, and adding new content and updated submission guidelines. Dropping the “Books,” the site would be renamed simply Empty Mirror

The new Empty Mirror, a weekly literary magazine, launched on February 29, 2012.

Since then, there have been many changes. While the Beat portion of the site was once prominent, now we’ve expanded the conversation to many other types of literature from around the world. For a while, EM published fiction, but we eventually stopped because it was so time consuming (maybe I should bring a fiction editor aboard). In the past we also published pieces about bookselling and book collecting and often featured music and film-related essays. The visual design has changed several times.

Probably the biggest change is Empty Mirror began to publish poetry — and translations — weekly. That change has been transformational. We’ve published poems by many amazing poets, and poetry is now at the very heart of EM.

Empty Mirror is ever evolving. On June 26, 2020, we’ll publish a special LGBTQ+ Pride issue guest-edited by Danielle Rose. She’s our first guest editor, and I couldn’t be more excited. More guest editors and theme issues will likely be in the future.

And, as EM grows, the time may soon come to add another editor. After twenty years, it’s just me here, and the journal would benefit from additional points of view. I’m always looking to broaden EM‘s scope while continuing to focus on the creative work of those outside the mainstream.

Empty Mirror is dedicated to inclusiveness. Michael McClure published what he called “liberational writings” by his creative friends on one of his websites, and that’s much of what I aim to do here: publish personal, often experimental, writing and art which tell our diverse stories, help us to better understand each other, stand against oppression. With every piece EM publishes, I’m looking for the rift blossom.

I don’t know what’s in store for Empty Mirror (and that’s the fun of it!). But I know without a doubt that I’m grateful to all of EM‘s contributors, readers, and friends. Thank you for making EM a place like no other! And, the biggest thank you goes to my husband, Craig, who’s been here for it all and has been my — and EM‘s — biggest champion and supporter.

Here’s to another twenty years!

with love,
Denise Enck

Denise Enck

Denise is Empty Mirror’s founder and editor. She’s edited several other literary magazines and small-press publications since the 1990s. When not at Empty Mirror, you can probably find her reading or writing — or out exploring the back roads and beaches of Washington State.

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