Appearing in print

By Adam Nelson, Hattie Stahl

Having emerged in 1957 as a print venue for student writing, Chanter is Macalester College’s longest running student organization and remains one of only two literary magazines for writing and visual art.Working on the past three editions of Chanter as an editor and contributing writer has been an eye-opening experience, and the external pressure of deadlines coupled with the inner necessity for constant revision has enabled me to produce some of my best work yet. Writing for a class or even for a favorite professor is one thing, but to write purely of your own volition is another: if your eyes are bloodshot and your brain racked by choice, it means that something important is on the line. And should you choose to share your truth or beauty, it’s worth the vulnerability of appearing in print.

I have a tendency to assume that the world is fragmented, postmodern, and not generally supposed to make sense, that things are not called by their proper names, and that, by and large, we are not supposed to question this non-order, mostly because it would be fruitless to do so. But when I started to think about Chanter and why it bears its name, it didn’t take very much research to find out that the name isn’t the eccentricity I had previously imagined, but a purposeful nod to the college’s Scottish ancestry. As it turns out, a chanter is the reed pipe of a bagpipe, which has the instrument’s finger holes and is where the melody is played. Naturally, the English majors of yore selected a perfect symbol to represent the magazine. They tied the identity of Chanter to one of the college’s most celebrated and
defining bits of iconography, while also embodying the magazine’s purpose in simple and elegant figurative language.

Playing the bagpipe makes an apt, if now predictable, metaphor for writing and publishing. It takes a great deal of stamina, and manybeginners find it very difficult to play for more than a few moments at a time because of the sheer physical challenge. Arguably, patience and practice are even more precious when learning the bagpipe than when learning other, less capricious, instruments. I suspect that beginning pipers remain beginners for a very long time, and although I don’t personally know any bag pipers to confirm this, for our purposes let’s assume that it’s true. Correspondingly, language, also being somewhat persnickety, requires similar patience.

I worked for two years on an essay printed in the recent edition of Chanter (not continuously, but nonetheless over the course of two years), and still think what rubbish it is, even though it has already appeared in two versions in two separate magazines. It’s still far from being finished, and that’s OK. I’d like to think that meaning and value are mostly created by the level of attention they are accorded, and that the more time and care you take, the more layers of meaning you’re able to discover. I’ve come to think of Chanter not only as a space for circulating your best and most polished work and experiencing the joy of being printed and read, but also as a space in which to blunder, to see your writing appear in public only to realize that you are still utterly an amateur and could have said it somehow differently.

When I write, my habit of assuming the randomness of the world is reversed. Sitting in front of the computer, my sole purpose is to attempt making some kind of sense out of things. After nearly fifteen years of keeping a personal journal, I’ve started to connect, and only very recently, two seemingly simple truths about writing: I’ve realized that the relationship between the quality of my writing is directly linked to the quality of meaning at which I’m able to arrive, and that there is a subsequent and equally important relationship between quality of meaning and the actual quality of life.