Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Annals of Poetry (by David Orr)

illustration by by Michael Bierut

March 11, 2007
Annals of Poetry

The history of American poetry, like the history of America itself, is a story of ingenuity, sacrifice, hard work and sticking it to people when they least expect it. Whether it’s Ezra Pound dismissing his benefactor Amy Lowell as a “hippopoetess” or Yvor Winters accusing his friend Hart Crane of possessing flaws akin to a “public catastrophe,” you can count on the occasional bushwhacking in the land of what Horace called “the touchy tribe.”

The most recent such assault — and the most surprising in years — took the form of a 6,500-word article in The New Yorker last month by the poet Dana Goodyear, who is also a New Yorker editor. Goodyear’s subject was the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, which received an unexpected (to put it mildly) bequest of roughly $200 million from Ruth Lilly in 2001. The article focuses on the Poetry Foundation’s president, John Barr, but Goodyear also takes on Poetry magazine, its founder Harriet Monroe, the Poetry Foundation Web site, legal proceedings relating to Lilly’s bequest, Ruth Lilly herself, the various objects collected by Ruth Lilly’s father (toy soldiers, gold coins), the price of real estate in Chicago and the stuff rich people wear at parties (a “crisp white shirt” or “coral lipstick,” apparently). It is a very long article.

It is also a slick production whose craftsmanship any critic would respect. Goodyear wants to portray the Poetry Foundation as a culturally conservative, slightly tacky enterprise led by a dilettantish, ex-Wall Street fat cat — “what people these days call a ‘businessman-poet’ ” — who’s itching to sell poems the way Frito-Lay sells Cool Ranch Doritos (and no, not by making them deeeeeelicious). So she fills her piece with references to advertising, buying and selling, and ostentatious wealth — John Barr has “a 25-acre estate in Greenwich,” the charity’s Web site has a budget of “more than a million dollars.” And she quotes many poets making critical remarks about Those People and All That Money (the poet J. D. McClatchy says the Foundation has an “aura of mediocrity”). Many readers might figure that Goodyear has done a fine thing by exposing this bunch of crisp-white-shirt-wearing yahoos.

The instinct wouldn’t necessarily be misplaced. After all, the Poetry Foundation does have big money, and some of Barr’s observations (regarding, say, the alleged careerism in M.F.A. programs) deserve a thoughtful response. But that response already has been made — for months now — on blogs, in print and in the letters section of Poetry magazine itself. (In the interest of disclosure, I’ve reviewed for Poetry.) As a result, Goodyear’s article has a strangely punitive cast — for example, only one poet, Billy Collins, is quoted saying anything remotely positive about the Poetry Foundation’s many enterprises. That’s funny, since those enterprises are hardly uniform. Indeed, many of the article’s critical voices have appeared in Poetry themselves (McLatchy shows up in the February issue); these writers presumably are making judgments about specific aspects of the foundation, not wholesale denunciations. Yet Goodyear doesn’t clarify. On the contrary, she leaves things blurry — at best. In an especially confusing decision, she includes a cutting remark by the writer Joel Brouwer about the marketing of poetry, and claims the comment was “an obvious ... reference” to the Poetry Foundation. But Brouwer, as he confirmed by e-mail, wasn’t talking about the foundation at all. Which makes sense, of course, since Brouwer is a regular contributor to Poetry, a detail Goodyear’s readers wouldn’t know.

Similarly, the article treats a range of sometimes contradictory anxieties as if they were a unified critique. Goodyear quotes “the director of a nonprofit literary group” complaining that the foundation is trying to “take credit for things that are already going on.” By this, the director means that the foundation’s efforts to popularize poetry are only continuing a process begun by the Academy of American Poets (responsible for National Poetry Month) and the Poetry Society of America (responsible for poems on the subway). It’s a reasonable point. But then Goodyear shifts to a series of comments from poets who are upset about the very popularizing the director is describing. In combination, the criticisms become incoherent. You can complain the foundation is late to the party, or you can argue that the party itself is a mistake — but you can’t do both at the same time.

More than anything, though, it’s curious that in an article that purports to deal with the future of American poetry, Goodyear says nothing about actual poems. But maybe that’s to be expected — after all, about a decade ago, The New Yorker essentially stopped covering contemporary poetry. Granted, you’ll see the occasional collection in the magazine’s Briefly Noted section, but you’d have to go back to the mid-’90s to find a full-scale review of a poet under the age of 70. And since the turn of the century, the magazine has limited its review coverage to poets who are, so to speak, dead — with one exception, Richard Wilbur, whose “Collected Poems” the magazine assessed in 2004. Wilbur is 86.

Indeed, The New Yorker now treats poetry almost exactly as Goodyear suggests the Poetry Foundation does — as a brand-enhancing commodity. Rather than actual discussions of poetry as an art, The New Yorker offers “profiles” of poets, which are distinguishable from profiles of, say, United States senators only in that the poets’ stories potentially include more references to bongs. That’s not to knock the authors of those profiles — often they’re a pleasure to read. They just have nothing to do with poetry.

And then there’s the question of the poems the magazine chooses to run. Granted, picking poems for a national publication is nearly impossible, and The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Alice Quinn, probably does it as well as anyone could. (Quinn is also liked personally, and rightly so, by many poets.) But there are two ways in which The New Yorker’s poem selection indicates the tension between reinforcing the “literariness” of the magazine’s brand and actually saying something interesting about poetry. First, The New Yorker tends to run bad poems by excellent poets. This occurs in part because the magazine has to take Big Names, but many Big Names don’t work in ways that are palatable to The New Yorker’s vast audience (in addition, many well-known poets don’t write what’s known in the poetry world as “the New Yorker poem” — basically an epiphany-centered lyric heavy on words like “water” and “light”). As a result, you get fine writers trying on a style that doesn’t suit them. The Irish poet Michael Longley writes powerful, earthy yet cerebral lines, but you wouldn’t know it from his New Yorker poem “For My Grandson”: “Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?” Yes, the fluffy chimney.

The second issue with The New Yorker’s poem selection is trickier. This is what you might call “the home job”: the magazine’s widely noted fondness for the work of its own staffers and social associates. The most notorious examples were the three poems The New Yorker published by the Manhattan doyenne Brooke Astor in 1996-7 (one more than Robert Creeley managed in his whole life). Some representative lines: “I learned to take the good and bad / And smile whenever I felt sad.” Even more questionable, however, is the magazine’s preference for its own junior employees. In 2002, for instance, the poet who appeared most frequently in the magazine was the assistant to David Remnick, the editor — that assistant’s name, coincidentally, was Dana Goodyear. In fact, since 2000, Goodyear (who is 30) has appeared in the New Yorker more than Czeslaw Milosz, Jorie Graham, Derek Walcott, Wislawa Szymborska, Kay Ryan and every living American poet laureate except for W. S. Merwin. She’s already equaled Sylvia Plath’s total.

The problem with behavior like this is not that it violates some sacred duty of fairness (The New Yorker is a business, not a charity for whiny poets). The problem, to borrow a quotation from Goodyear’s article, is that this kind of thing “signals a lack of ambition and seriousness that may ultimately be fatal.” Poets may get frustrated with the Poetry Foundation; they may complain; they may disagree with certain projects. But the Poetry Foundation, however misguided or impolitic, hasn’t given up on poetry. The question is: Has The New Yorker?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Education of a Publisher (by Allen Salkin, the New York Times)

Caption: EXTRA EXTRA Jared Kushner selling newspapers on 42nd Street.

Caption: CITIZEN KUSHNER The new owner of The New York Observer, Jared Kushner, whose journalism experience was limited to one article in college. (Nicholas Roberts for The New York Times)

Caption: J-MEN From left, Peter Kaplan, Jared Kushner and Josh Benson celebrate the new tabloid format. (Keith Bedford for The New York Times)

Published: March 11, 2007

LAST Monday, Jared Kushner, the boy publisher of The New York Observer, was nestled in a wingback chair in the book-strewn office of the newspaper’s longtime editor, Peter Kaplan. They were talking about Mr. Kushner’s latest acquisition, the Web site politicsnj.com. “The more stuff he buys,” Mr. Kaplan, said, leaning back, “the happier I am.”

Happiness can take time to grow, both men know. Back in October, when Mr. Kushner invited Mr. Kaplan to a Yankees playoff game three months after buying The Observer, the gray-templed editor, who has been a mentor to waves of young journalists in New York, wasn’t so confident things would work out with his new young boss.

Mr. Kushner, 26, the scion of a troubled New Jersey real estate family, who is also a full-time graduate student, had dabbled in Boston-area condominiums, not publishing, while an undergraduate at Harvard. The sum total of his journalism experience was writing an article about dorm food for a student magazine. In the short time he owned The Observer, Mr. Kushner had found little time even to meet with Mr. Kaplan.

“It was tense,” Mr. Kaplan, 53, recalled of their early relationship. That October night, there was a rain delay of hours. As other fans sought cover in the tunnels of Yankee Stadium, Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Kushner remained in their field-side seats, drinking Bud Lights and talking newspapers. Mr. Kushner told Mr. Kaplan he had been at a game two weeks earlier and sat next to the owner of another New York news media property, and he was astounded at his disdain for his staff.

“I told him,” Mr. Kaplan recalled, “the only way this is going to work is if you love your product, and you understand people are working here because they see something most civilians can’t see about the importance of journalism, and once you’ve got it, you’ll be a great publisher.”

That is just the sort of “Front Page” romanticism Mr. Kaplan has conjured for young reporters over the dozen years he has run The Observer, motivating them to give their all. For the rest of the night, editor and owner drank and talked enthusiastically about the future of the paper. “We needed exactly what we got,” Mr. Kaplan recalled last week. “Three hours of intense conversation in the pouring rain with a lot of beers.” (The game against the Tigers was called because of the weather.)

With The Observer’s transformation four weeks ago from a broadsheet to a tabloid, Mr. Kushner, who professes to be astonished by how much attention he received from purchasing a small Manhattan weekly, has only been more frontally in the spotlight. Dealing with scrutiny is one of many aspects of an unusual on-the-job education he is receiving from Mr. Kaplan, who has called himself the Mr. Chips of New York journalism, greeting each arriving class of boys (and girls), whose youth never changes.

The question for Mr. Kushner, hardly the first rich man to buy a trophy news media property, is whether, after reading the umpteenth gossip item about whom he may be dating, or staring at the 20th quarterly statement of losses, he will drop his trophy as quixotically as he picked it up.

Mr. Kaplan’s challenge is to besot his young publisher with a love of the ink-and-newsprint business before that happens. “It does come down to that Charles Foster Kane line: ‘I think it would be fun to own a newspaper,’ ” Mr. Kaplan said, slightly misquoting “Citizen Kane.” “Young men are supposed to feel that way and I’m thrilled that he does.”

All most people knew about Jared Kushner pre-Observer was that his father, the real estate investor Charles Kushner, had endured a spectacular fall. Once a major donor to New Jersey Democratic politicians, he served nearly a year in prison in part for hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, then showing a tape of the tryst to his sister, who had instigated a tax investigation.

Jared Kushner is the only one of his parents’ four children to work at the family company, where he is a principal. The Kushner Companies owns about 25,000 residential units in the Northeast, as well as the Puck Building in New York. But its biggest deal was the purchase last December of a skyscraper, 666 Fifth Avenue, for $1.8 billion. Start to finish, the deal was negotiated in six days, said Arthur J. Mirante II, president of global client development for Cushman & Wakefield, which brokered the sale.

Although the broker had worked for months with Jared Kushner and his father, who was released from prison in August, it was the younger Mr. Kushner who “carried the ball,” Mr. Mirante said.

Mr. Kushner, who has the demeanor of a preternaturally poised politician, or maybe a missionary, deflects questions about his personal life and his family. He does acknowledge that he is single. “I don’t have time to date,” he said, sitting in his sparse office at The Observer, where he spends most of his workdays, often arriving at 7 a.m. “I have six jobs.”

One is taking 17.5 credits in his final semester of a four-year M.B.A./law program at New York University, he said.

Under Arthur Carter, the former investment banker who founded The Observer, which reports circulation of around 45,000, the paper reportedly lost about $2 million a year. But Mr. Carter could afford it and loved the clout and visibility bestowed by the paper, a favorite of New York’s social, political and news media elite.

Finding a buyer was not easy. For about a year, Mr. Kaplan had been helping Robert De Niro, Craig Hatkoff and Jane Rosenthal of Tribeca Productions, founders of the Tribeca Film Festival, to put together a bid. Meanwhile, Mr. Kushner, who knew The Observer from shuttle flights to Boston while an undergraduate, was desperately trying to meet with Mr. Carter, who was giving him a cold shoulder.

It wasn’t until July that Mr. Carter agreed to a meeting, Mr. Kushner said. He showed up with a check for his full offer, which was more than the Tribeca group’s. Mr. Carter said the price was “less than $10 million” and that he kept 20 percent ownership. “I felt he personally had the resources to put into the paper,” Mr. Carter said. “And I think his youth and exuberance are very, very important.”

Describing his own philosophy of the art of the deal, Mr. Kushner said, “People respond to speed.”

“I was 25 years old, and my father was probably just out of prison,” he added. “I remember getting off the phone and saying, ‘Wow, you accomplished something you didn’t think you’d have a one-in-a-million chance of doing.’ ”

“Your instincts told you what to do,” he continued, describing his inner monologue. “You’re buying a wonderful brand. You’ll figure it out.”

There were some early missteps. When he arrived at the office in the Flatiron district, he wanted to take a desk among reporters and editors. Mr. Kaplan told him it would be bad for the “chemistry.” Mr. Kushner attended an early editorial meeting, and although he did not suggest assignments, Mr. Kaplan explained there should be a separation between the editorial and business sides.

He was a strange presence for some staff members. Mr. Carter had only rarely visited the paper’s offices in recent years, but Mr. Kushner works many Sundays, a surprise to some reporters and editors. “They would come in to get stuff done in a quiet office and then Jared would be there — ‘Oh, big young daddy’s here!’ ” said Choire Sicha, who worked as an editor at The Observer at the time, and is now managing editor of the Web site Gawker.com.

Mr. Kushner worked with the paper’s printer to determine how to produce the new tabloid format, a change intended to appeal to advertisers and commuters. He has hired two people to report on and one to edit real estate, a beat that is a source of ads and an obsession for the paper’s affluent readership. Mr. Kushner has gone on sales calls with big advertisers.

Within the paper’s tiny newsroom, where reporters’ concerns are sometimes narrower than a publisher’s, one of Mr. Kushner’s most popular improvements is having pizza delivered on Tuesday nights during closings.

He has also made his first addition to what is now the Observer Media Group: he bought politicsnj.com a month ago. Last Monday he hired a new editor; over the next days he signed former Governor Christine Todd Whitman and former U.S. Senator Robert G. Torricelli as columnists; and he went live with the site Thursday.

Will any of his efforts lead to The Observer turning a profit?

“Maybe,” said Mr. Carter, who is skeptical that the paper’s particular passions — New York politics and news media — and its famously snarky voice can appeal to enough readers to be profitable. “We have a very unique audience.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Kushner is pouring in money, at least for now.

“It’s easier to build a business around a first-class product,” he said, sounding like the M.B.A. student he is, “even if it’s a more expensive product to produce.”

For Mr. Kaplan, the motive for switching to a tabloid was in no small part to get a love of black ink into Mr. Kushner’s veins. “I needed to make a paper that Jared could feel was his paper and not Arthur Carter’s,” Mr. Kaplan said.

It seems to be working. “If you had asked me coming into this experience, would I have the emotional attachment to the product that I have now, I would have said ‘no way,’ ” Mr. Kushner said.

Now Mr. Kushner seems to be as invested in Mr. Kaplan as much as the reverse. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t feel he’s going to make this thing make money,” Mr. Kaplan said. “Maybe he will and maybe he won’t. But that that’s what 26-year-olds are supposed to think. Wisdom is not Jared’s business right now. Energy and enthusiasm is, and that’s something we can use a lot of here.”

Newspaper wisdom can be hard won.

“In real estate, you can work 15 hours a day and get it all lined up with your suppliers, and you can use reason and make that thing work for you,” said Peter Kalikow, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Born into a successful family real estate company, Mr. Kalikow, who had no news experience, bought The New York Post in 1988 and owned it until October 1993 when he declared bankruptcy and the paper teetered into near oblivion. “In a newspaper you can work 300 hours a week and it still won’t make a difference.”

Happy Blitt contributed research.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Campus Exposure (by Alexandra Jacob, the New York Times)

Caption: Parent-Friendly? Ming Vandenberg, editor of H Bomb, Harvard's high-minded sex magazine.

Caption: User-Friendly? Alecia Oleyourryk, a founder of the unblushingly lewd and "sex positive" Boink.

March 4, 2007
Campus Exposure

Aaron Foster, a junior majoring in history at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, was browsing Craigslist one day in 2005 when he saw an ad for nude models. It had been posted by Boink, a glossy new sex magazine by and about college students founded by Alecia Oleyourryk, then a senior at nearby Boston University, and Christopher Anderson, a software consultant in his 30s moonlighting as a photographer. “You’re going to pay me $200, and all I have to do is pretend to be with a chick — you’re going to pay me to do that?” was how Foster, now 24, a slim, dark-haired former marine with pierced nipples and tattoos of raking animal claws on his back, described his reaction.

Soon he found himself standing behind closed Venetian blinds in Oleyourryk’s off-campus apartment, clutching the denim-clad buttocks of a redheaded, similarly nipple-pierced young woman named Jessica as Anderson’s camera clicked away. It wasn’t long before the jeans came off, and the underwear. The impromptu couple then repaired to a queen-size bed, where they simulated intercourse and then lay as if in blissful postcoital repose. The session resulted in a cover shot and an eight-page layout in the third issue of Boink. “It was fun, being nude and being photographed,” Foster told me months afterward. “A good experience. All my friends thought it was pretty cool. Especially if I have a party, the first thing my friends will do is bust out my porn. I think they get a kick out of it.”

It wasn’t so long ago that the male collegians of America hid their copies of Playboy deep inside their sock drawers, and the naked women tucked therein were glamorous, unknowable princesses from a media empire far, far away. These days, when anyone can run a virtual media empire out of a dorm room, student-generated sex magazines, some with the imprimatur of university financing and faculty advisers, are becoming a fact of campus life. Their subjects and contributors are the gals — and guys — down the hall; their target audience is male, female, straight, gay and everything in between. Not all are as overtly titillating as Boink. The grande dame of the group is Squirm, a “magazine of smut and sensibility,” which has been circulating since 2000 at Vassar, once the inspiration for the awkward lunges and contraceptive pessaries of Mary McCarthy’s 1963 novel “The Group.” Topics considered within its pages have included bondage and sadomasochism, the history of the condom and the fluidity of gender. At Yale, there is the earnest, instructive SWAY, whose title is an acronym for Sex Week at Yale, a student-run symposium held biennially there since 2002, with administrative blessing and a corporate sponsor, Pure Romance, a company whose representatives sell sexual aids for women at Tupperware-like “parties.” The premiere edition included a slightly breathless interview with the porn star Jesse Jane along with an essay by the conservative Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., a former Yale economics lecturer, which concluded: “Marriage is for lovers. Hooking up is for losers.” In 2004, H Bomb arrived at Harvard with slightly loftier intellectual aspirations: its founders, Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg and Camilla Hrdy, positioned it as a “literary arts magazine about sex and sexual issues.” Vita Excolatur followed shortly after at the University of Chicago (its title a truncated version of the university’s motto, translates roughly as “Life Enriched”), proclaiming itself “eager to engage all interested parties, from Republican pro-choicers to pro-Foucauldians.” And Columbia now has, simply, Outlet, whose second issue, published online in December 2006, includes a review of eight vibrators and an article on “vaginal personality” — shades of Dr. Betty Dodson, the masturbation instructress — subtitled “How snarky is your punani?”

To middle-aged parents who still remember parietal rules, these projects might seem shocking. True, Playboy has been publishing a feature called “Girls of the Ivy League” since 1979. (Later came “Girls of the Big 12” and “Girls of the Top 10 Party Schools.”) But it could be argued that the co-eds depicted (in a far more decorous mode than their Playmate counterparts) represented only a very small percentage of the student population. College-based sex magazines suggest that the students willing to bare it all may not be so exceptional after all. And while these publications may be less common than the sex columns — usually written by women and often explicitly confessional — that have popped up like little red-light disctricts within the respectable black-and-white confines of established school newspapers, they have taken hold at some of the country’s most prestigious campuses.

In an era when the educated elite seems wholly comfortable with overt sexual imagery (Nerve.com depicts highbrow group gropes; Fleshbot.com and others archly parse the nether parts of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears), maybe it’s not so strange that students are confronting their own sex lives so graphically and publicly. But there’s more to the phenomenon. Considering that a smorgasbord of Internet porn is but a mouse click away for most college students, there’s something valiant, even quaint, about the attempt to organize and consider sex in a printed magazine. It’s as if, though curious to explore the possibly frightening boundlessness of adult eroticism, they also wish to keep it at arm’s length, contained within the safety of the campus. The students involved display a host of contradictory qualities: cheekiness and earnestness, progressive politics and retro sensibilities, salacity and sensitivity. They aren’t so much answering the question of what is and what isn’t porn — or what those categories might even mean today — as artfully, disarmingly and sometimes deliberately skirting it.

Despite the sex magazines’ brash names and general air of exuberance, a scrim of protectiveness, even primness hangs over many of them — a vestige, perhaps, of a not-so-distant past when topics like date rape, sexual harassment and AIDS were dominating the national discourse. Seminars addressing these issues are still a part of most freshman orientations, though mention of the infamous Antioch sex code of the early 1990s — which postulated that students should secure their partner’s verbal consent, button by button, before each stage of lovemaking — tends to evoke blank stares and giggles from the undergraduates of 2007. Still, though personal online pages on Web sites like MySpace or home videos on YouTube often reveal as much as students do in these magazines, Squirm’s release form specifies that the magazine is intended solely for on-campus distribution and that students retain the copyright to their contributions. “We try to limit unwanted exposure as much as we can,” wrote its current editor, Sarah Fraser, in an e-mail message. “It’s one thing to know you’re posing nude or writing erotica for an insulated campus, and understandably quite another to know it’s being disseminated widely.” After a brief initial flurry of publicity, Kimi Traube, one of Outlet’s founders, began declining interviews from noncampus press. “We’re flattered by all the attention but have decided it’s best for the magazine to focus our energies on the Columbia community,” she said, also via e-mail. The current editor of H Bomb, Ming Vandenberg, is especially concerned about the security of the magazine’s content on the Web. “I am trying to design a foolproof plan to prevent any negative externalities,” she said, adding with a note of horror, “There could be a photo of a clothed Harvard student that someone goes into, chops the head off and puts it on an unclothed body.”

These publications vary in tone and content, but while all strive to be provocative after a fashion, they generally eschew the term “pornographic,” hurling it as an insult with the good-natured mutual contempt of varsity football teams. “Outlet ... is not intended to be porn,” sniffs a December letter from Traube to readers, saucily addressed “Dear Hotbottoms.” “They do a very good job of that over at Harvard.” On their Web site, Harvard staff members retort: “If you aren’t mature enough to tell the difference between playful nudity and pornography you probably shouldn’t be reading H Bomb.”

The exception is Boink, which Oleyourryk calls “user-friendly porn”: an unblushing assortment of bared private parts, lewd prose and graphic caricatures. With its panoply of contributors — about 50 percent of whom are enrolled at B.U., most of the rest at other colleges — Boink is the most independent and commercially ambitious of the pack, and at first glance the least interested in critical thought. It retails for $7.95 at Newbury Comics and other stores in the Boston area, has a print run of 10,000 and, atypically for a college publication, pays its contributors. Boink has also sponsored a number of parties, some shut down by the police for under-age drinking. Recalling one of these events, Aaron Foster said enthusiastically: “Girls walk around with their tops off. But it’s just a party. My buddy was convinced there was some secret orgy room. I was like, Dude, there is no secret orgy room!”

The absence of a secret sex dungeon was not enough to endear Boink to Boston University’s administrators. Before the first issue even appeared, it was denounced by Kenneth Elmore, the dean of students. It did, however, attract the attention of Howard Stern, a B.U. alumnus, who promptly booked Oleyourryk on his radio talk show. Ben Greenberg, a young editor at Warner Books, was alerted to the broadcast by a friend. “I was like, Wow, I can’t believe someone would do that — what would their parents think?” he says. But the shock wore off quickly. Harvard’s sex magazine might have been more obvious fodder for a book, but “the general consensus was that the H Bomb one was kind of tame,” Greenberg says. “It didn’t want to consider itself in any way porn. The Boink people were willing to embrace that and run with it and turn it into something sex-positive rather than something that was dirty and smut.” Warner, which has published anthologies by Penthouse and Vice magazines, eventually offered Anderson and Oleyourryk a six-figure advance to compile “Boink: The Book,” a collection of erotic writings and photographs from college students around the country; it is scheduled for publication in 2008, to coincide with spring break.

Oleyourryk, now 23, graduated in 2005 with a journalism degree and is working part time as a bartender. She herself gamely disrobed for the debut issue of Boink. “I was very comfortable with it,” she said on a chilly autumn afternoon at Charley’s, a pub on Newbury Street. Blond and slender, with professionally arched eyebrows, she was wearing a glittery paisley shirt and big gold-medallion earrings and furiously biting her nails. Anderson sat across from her: a dark, calm, slightly portly fellow in a green fleece pullover with a faint sheen of perspiration on his upper lip.

The two met after Oleyourryk, then in her sophomore year, paused at a water fountain during a run and looked up to see a flier Anderson had posted seeking nude models with athletic builds. He was hoping to augment his portfolio of black-and-white art photos, which he sells at www.light-sculptor.com. (Cited influences include Edward Weston and Rodin.) “It was about, Can I do this?” Oleyourryk said. Photographer and subject struck up a friendship, and after Anderson did some work for the first issue of H Bomb, he called to see if Oleyourryk wanted to collaborate on a magazine. “We thought it would be fun,” he said.

“People couldn’t understand that we were just doing it to do it,” Oleyourryk said. “So many people were looking for justifications — like: ‘Oh, there are going to be articles, right? There are going to be articles about S.T.D.’s and contraception and about this and about that?’ Nobody could accept that it was for entertainment value. Why is that not O.K.? It’s just so unsettling, it seems, for people, that it’s just like, Oh, it’s porn for porn, enjoy it, masturbate to it, whatever.”

Oleyourryk said that for her and her peers, the question is not why pose nude, but why not? After all, they grew up watching Madonna (“All she was was naked all the time”), parsing the finer points of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and flipping through Calvin Klein ads: sexual imagery was the very wallpaper of their lives, undergirded by a new frankness about how to protect oneself from pregnancy and disease. “Condoms. They’ve been rammed down our throats ... since we were old enough to start contemplating training bras,” wrote a Boink contributor in an essay called “Fall Fornication Must-Haves,” which apparently included crotchless bikinis and a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted dildo called the Minx.

Sex is “everywhere, and it’s always been everywhere for this generation,” Oleyourryk said. “A body is a body is a body, and I’m proud of my body, and why not show my body? It’s not going to keep me from having a job. Maybe it sticks to people, but it doesn’t have that negative connotation like, I’m going to have to carry around this baggage. Maybe it’s like, I’m going to carry this around and be proud of it and say: Look how I looked then! My boobs weren’t on the ground. I wasn’t 45 pounds overweight. How hot was I? It’s not, like, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ anymore. It’s a little badge of honor.”

Of course, posing naked for a sex magazine is not exactly like making Phi Beta Kappa or playing the lead in the school play. For one thing, it’s generally not something you write home about, though Oleyourryk insists that her parents have been supportive of her venture. (“As much as they could be,” she said. “I was raised very Catholic, but they live in today’s world.”) For another, it’s something pretty much anyone with sufficient moxie can achieve; Boink models are fit and fresh-faced but hardly all homecoming kings and queens. “We’re looking for diversity,” Anderson said.

Indeed, the most recent issue — Boink’s quarterly publication schedule has been suspended while its editors work on their book — is, in a way, a triumphant marriage of the prurient and the politically correct. There is a 10-page layout devoted to the cover model, a fetching blonde named Eve; 7 more pages of Sarah, a buxom brunette, stripping for the shower; and 9 of Crystal and Lexi photographed together in a tangle of pearls and pierced body parts. But a customer buying the magazine to get glimpses of such nubile female flesh might be startled to encounter compact, mop-topped Zach (“I’m planning to get my Ph.D. in mathematics, just for fun”), followed by dark-eyed Costa (“Some of my friends call me Super Greek”) masturbating to orgasm clad in nothing but a silver cross around his neck. “We have different sexualities represented, which commercially has been a hindrance,” Anderson said with a shrug. The practice, however, has won Boink grudging approval in at least one unlikely quarter: the Boston University Women’s Center, the college’s resident feminist organization. “What really stood out is that there were male students in it,” Heather Foley, 21, now president of B.U.W.C., which devoted a meeting to discussing the issue, said in a phone interview. “Because there were men in it, and gay men, under the same cover, it was sort of alternative. It kind of equalized it: gay men could look at it, women could look at it, and that was great. Women as objects, men as objects.”

Foley, a senior majoring in political science, acknowledged that equal-opportunity objectification might represent a dubious sort of progress. “I believe Andrea Dworkin, that porn perpetuates violence against women,” she said. “Most pornography is just women. Boink is different in that way, but because porn does feed into that system, I tend to be against it in general, and I don’t think just because we’re putting men in it that makes it O.K. But it’s a step forward that men are being put in it.” In some way her confusion seems to mirror the awkward pas de deux of college sex magazines and their audiences, a tug of war between pornographic conventions and subverting those conventions, between private and public: Look at me! Don’t look at me! Protect me! Set me free!

For all Boink’s raunchiness, its founders profess a certain idealism and purity of purpose. Back at Charley’s, Anderson told me that he and Oleyourryk have turned down lucrative offers to do reality-television shows and for joint deals with what they disdainfully call “the industry,” with all its implications of hairy middle-aged predators, silicone implants and tacky trade shows in the San Fernando Valley. Oleyourryk stressed the authenticity of Boink’s subjects in a Botoxed, surgically altered world. “We want to be proud of the fact that this is what’s going on in sex and in college right now, and these are real people, and you’re more relatable if you’re a real person,” she said. “We don’t put makeup on them, we don’t do their hair, we don’t Photoshop them. We aim for honesty and truth.”

Over at Harvard, students are pursuing a different kind of sexual veritas. In contrast to Boink, H Bomb was approved by the university’s Committee on College Life and somewhat controversially granted $2,000 in start-up costs by the Undergraduate Council. Sex magazines apparently create strange bedfellows: writing in The Crimson, Travis Kavulla, publisher of the conservative journal The Harvard Salient, suggested with unlikely indignation that this grant shortchanged the Take Back the Night rally, sponsored by the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, an event historically ridiculed by campus conservatives.

Unlike Boink, H Bomb has a faculty adviser and adult champion: Marc Hauser, a professor of psychology and evolutionary biology, who is a friend of Sarah Hrdy, the anthropologist and mother of Camilla, one of the magazine’s founders. But Hauser pronounced himself somewhat disappointed with

H Bomb’s maiden efforts. “It hit the ground with all this big fanfare, but it didn’t really do its thing,” he said. “Stylistically it succeeded, but everyone” — citizen critics gathered breathlessly during the long ramp-up to the magazine’s debut — “felt that it didn’t really succeed in terms of content, that’s where it fell flat.” He would like to see the magazine take a more belletristic bent, reviewing controversial books, perhaps — “You think of ‘Lolita,’ ” he said — and examining what might be called sexistential questions. “Nowadays, what constitutes porn?” Hauser mused. “What does a 21-year-old think porn is? I, as a parent of an 18-year-old, would like to hear that view.”

H Bomb initially shared at least some of Boink’s exhibitionism, if not quite the full-frontal erections. In the spring 2005 issue, undergraduates posed in various states of undress, using only their first names and responding to the question “How’d you lose it?” One young man was depicted with a bare light bulb shining on his flaccid member, his face obscured by shadow. Vandenberg, who inherited the magazine after Hrdy graduated and Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg grew preoccupied with her thesis, plans to take things in a more modest direction (and curtail all the budding Anaïs Nins experimenting with free verse — “I hate the poems,” she said).

“Now that I’m in charge, it’s not the kind of thing that you have a problem with your parents seeing,” the new editor said over homemade oxtail soup in the capacious penthouse apartment she shares with her boyfriend in Boston. “I would prefer if all nude photos were anonymous,” she said. “But people want everyone else to know. People want to stand out.”

On a laptop computer, Vandenberg, 20, showed a few of the pictures she is planning to publish in the next edition of H Bomb, which will be online only for financial reasons. “Quite tame,” she said. In one, female Harvard science majors peered earnestly at test tubes, wearing lab coats opened to expose black lacy bras and panties, as in the old Maidenform advertisements. It was intended, she said, as a comment on the brouhaha that ensued after Lawrence Summers, Harvard’s former president, publicly remarked that genetics might account for why women are still a minority in the sciences. “I really don’t think he said much wrong,” said Vandenberg, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biological anthropology. “I’m not a feminist. Feminism has this premise that men and women are equal, and I have a more biological view of things. I don’t think men and women are equal at all. I think we’re different, and what’s wrong with that?”

She spoke disparagingly of the prose submissions — H Bomb publishes both essays and fiction — sent in by Harvard women. “They’re sent in as fiction, but they’re always barely disguised personal confessions, or not even confessions, outpourings of angst: I entered Harvard and I thought to myself, I’m going to rebel against my sheltered upbringing, I’m going to have sex with whomever I want to — that’s the opening of the piece, and then the body will be Subject A: I led him on and then I felt bad, because I really liked him. Subject B: I thought I was leading him on, but actually he dumped me first. Conclusion: I’m so frustrated, I’ve ruined my reputation and now no one wants to have a serious relationship with me. They realized that they’re not fulfilled by casual sex, and yet they can’t find someone they connect with.”

More photos clicked past: a daytime re-enactment of Primal Scream, a Harvard tradition during which students streak naked across the Yard the last night before final exams begin; a montage of young vacationers frolicking in the Hawaii surf — “like Abercrombie & Fitch,” Vandenberg said, referring to the clothing company’s popular ad campaign; and a young man photographed in the dressing room of a sex-toy store, wearing handcuffs and a feather boa. “This was about making bondage, which is a scary sort of thing, more palatable,” she said.

Sleek and attractive, with a low-key volubility, Vandenberg was a freshman when she walked into a crowded H Bomb meeting in Harvard’s Loker Commons, thinking it was for the film-society magazine. She stayed because there were free T-shirts. “They wanted me to be a model, and I was incredibly scandalized by this,” she said. Hrdy learned that Vandenberg had done some travel photography and offered to provide her with human subjects. “I thought, Well, this would be interesting,” Vandenberg said. “I’ve never taken nude photos before — why not?” Among her efforts was a series of black-and-white shots of a fellow female student sitting on a toilet with her legs crossed, naked but for a pair of pumps, her head turned to the side and mostly obscured, and another of a woman covered in red rose petals, “American Beauty”-style. “I thought it was great fun,” Vandenberg said. “It was a great, controversial thing to say, Oh, I’m a photographer for H Bomb.” Miss Rose Petals, a sophomore named Fiona, returned the compliment, saying on the phone later that she was “honored” by the opportunity. “It’s sort of a document of my time at Harvard,” she said. “My friends were very accepting. Those who saw my pictures thought they were very beautiful.”

You might expect that the staffs of campus sex magazines would convene in some sort of Dionysian, orgiastic formation — multiple bare limbs splayed over a king-size bed — but in fact the publications are just as likely to be produced in digital solitude, submissions beamed over the Internet, no one so much as touching hands. “Right now it’s a dictatorship,” Vandenberg said. “I’m the meeting. I really hate meetings, actually. I really just like to communicate online. It’s very inconvenient to meet physically.”

The exploration of sexuality on college campuses has often had a political, communitarian component. Forty years ago, love-ins and slogans like “Make Love Not War” linked anti-war sentiment with feminist rejections of traditional roles. In 1990, students at Radcliffe — then still a separate institution from Harvard — began publishing a magazine called Lighthouse, after the Virginia Woolf novel “To the Lighthouse.” Considered a “safe space” for women to express themselves, it also contained intensely personal anonymous female sexual confessionals, dropped furtively into a cardboard box in Lamont Library. It died a quiet death in the late 90s, around the time that Radcliffe definitively merged with Harvard. In H Bomb and many of the other new breed of publications, any tolerance for emotional vulnerability appears to have evaporated, replaced by an uneasy, fleshy bombast.

Vandenberg described a social landscape changed irrevocably by the rise of networking Web sites. After meeting someone, it’s now de rigueur to check out his or her profile — a collage of pictures (often risqué) and preferences — on MySpace or Facebook.com. “I have a BlackBerry — so immediately,” Vandenberg said. “You might run into someone at a party, and then you Facebook them: what are their interests? Are they crazy-religious, is their favorite quote from the Bible? Everyone takes great pains over presenting themselves. It’s like an embodiment of your personality.” Except for the die-hard holdouts who refuse to participate in these networks — “They’re treated like pariahs, people will just harass them until they join,” Vandenberg said — to attend college now means to participate in a culture of constant two-dimensional preening, for males and females alike. In this context, posing for a sex magazine can seem like just another, more formalized level of display.

At one of Boink’s parties, Aaron Foster, the cover model from the third issue, met a female model, Anna Lee, signing copies of the second issue of the magazine, in which she appeared wearing only body paint. They connected again on MySpace and had what he described as “a whirlwind thing,” but then he stopped calling her. “It was a weird situation,” he said. “She’s a porn girl, so ... I dunno. I assumed she wasn’t really looking for much from me. I’m a guy. There’s a lot less stigma attached to it. A chick, people think ‘slutty,’ whereas a dude gets associated with male bravado.”

Now a junior, Lee became audibly distressed when asked about her relationship with Foster. “That’s not why he told me he broke up with me,” she said. “The reason we split up is because Aaron was in a time in his life when he didn’t want to have a relationship.” As for her being a “porn girl,” Lee said: “It was a mutual thing. I didn’t know what to think of him either.” About her dealings with Boink, she expressed equally mixed feelings. “It really just started out as a joke. I think it’s good to be proud of your body, especially when you’re younger and stuff, as long as it’s tasteful. Just something to add to the résumé. I thought the body-painting spread was really creative. I wanted people to say, ‘That’s really cool and artistic and different.’ ” But she wasn’t pleased that her image was associated with some other, more explicit shots. “In my issue there’s this guy who posed, and he’s masturbating in the picture. It’s really awkward. I’m like: Wow. That was pretty disgusting.”

Lee, who is 20, was also upset because, she said, Boink had marketed a poster featuring a picture from her shoot — one without body paint — without her consent.

Anderson later told me that he had contemplated making posters of Lee and another model (the release form Boink models sign gives the magazine complete sovereignty over their images, he said), but there was no consumer interest and they were never printed.

“I think this was a case of being in the spotlight and then out of the spotlight,” he said of her complaints. “An attention-getting thing.”

It was a windy Sunday, a model search for the Boink book at a local nightclub had been canceled after the club’s manager was fired and Anderson and Oleyourryk were having a subdued meeting in the living room of the latter’s apartment in South Boston. They were discussing a Web site she had discovered that featured faces — only faces — of people experiencing orgasm, one that a writer for Outlet would also later cover. A cat paced back and forth on a white shag rug, eyeing the birds on the swaying boughs outside. In one corner of the room was Oleyourryk’s discarded Halloween costume, a low-cut green garment with glittery scales. “I was a dragon,” she said. “Girls totally find Halloween a chance to be slutty. Not slutty in a negative way, but — sexy.”

“We’ve had a surprising number of people, writers who have told us they’re virgins, which just seems unusual to me,” Anderson said.

“Why are there so many virgins?” Oleyourryk wondered.

“Might be a lack of opportunity,” Anderson said. “College is supposed to be a time of experimentation, but a lot of people get freaked out by it too. They have all this opportunity, and they don’t really know what to do. Too much choice.”

The duo were sitting on a couch, a bottle of Diet Coke at Oleyourryk’s side, sifting through printouts of essay submissions. “I would guess that if you were watching J. K. Rowling write a book, it would be a bit more stimulating,” Anderson said, passing over a sheaf of papers. Our sex is the Mass, read a piece by a Dartmouth student. You kneel down in the doorway of my chapel. ...

“We get so many female submissions,” he said. “Everyone wants to be Carrie Bradshaw.”

“All girls want to be sexy and have a lot of sex, but they want to do it in an environment that’s safe for them,” Oleyourryk said. “So they’re doing the Carrie Bradshaw thing or dressing up for Halloween.”

Anderson tilted his laptop to show a picture of a blond woman standing in a black bikini in a road, then clicked over to a head shot of a light-skinned African-American woman. “I like her lips,” Oleyourryk said, stretching and getting up. Her cellphone bleated urgently. “Oh, Christ, I will call you back in a minute,” she said, batting crossly at it.

They seemed a bit overwhelmed, to lack zest for the task at hand. Where were the eager freshmen to help? “Who in college doesn’t want to get involved in a magazine like this?” Anderson said. “And then their interest lasts about five minutes once they find out that they’re not going to be surrounded by naked girls. People have a very skewed view of what it’s all about. They think it’s going to be the Playboy mansion 24-7.”

“Wait, wait,” Oleyourryk said in sarcastic imitation. “We’re not going to have an orgy?” Rising from the couch, getting ready to leave for her evening bartending shift, she sounded like any other recent college graduate facing the world. “Oh, lordy, lordy,” she said. “I do not want to go to work.”

Alexandra Jacobs is an editor at The New York Observer. This is her first article for the magazine.