Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Nicolette Bethel

What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.

Our responder this week is Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.

1. What drew you to editorial work in the first place?

Three thoughts: 1) that the internet revolution has changed the way in which we write, read and think about literature, whether we know it or not; 2) the literary situation in my country (The Bahamas) could be part of that revolution in a good way; and 3) the literary situation in my country is divided into two parts, the spoken and the written word, and it’d be great to have a place where they could both meet. So tongues of the ocean was born.

2. Describe your editorial trajectory – when/where did it start, how long have you been at it, where is it now? What are your editorial ambitions?

I did some editing of poetry a long time ago, for an anthology of poetry published after a conference was held in Nassau. I sat on the editorial board of an academic publication and of an academic journal more recently, and I’ve worked on yearbooks, newspapers and very small annual journals throughout my career, but the closest thing to current experience that I have in poetry editing is moderating a large poetry forum. So let’s say I’ve been at it for six months (= one 28-piece issue) now.

I rather like the experience. My editorial ambitions are: to get tongues of the ocean up and running, establish the standard I want to establish, and then to find fellow editors to share the workload.

3. Apart from following submissions guidelines, what should a poet sending work do (or refrain from doing) to stay on your good side?

Not become abusive. It’s the quickest way to get shunted to the junk mail folder. Argumentative is OK — if I’m in a good mood I’ll justify my position, but I won’t take abuse. I’ll laugh at you behind your back.

4. Do you co-edit or edit on your own? Talk about this choice – what are the pros and cons of both options, in your view?

I edit on my own. I have worked with committees for far longer than I care to admit, and this is by no means a committee deal. I’m editor in chief of the journal. However, I don’t know anywhere near enough about spoken word poetry to feel comfortable editing it, so I have a co-editor (Nadine Thomas-Brown) who deals with that side of the issue.

The pros about editing alone are, well, you’re editing alone. You can determine what it is the journal is about, and you don’t have to negotiate for what you want. BIG plus. The cons are that all the work comes to you and you do it all yourself.

No – there aren’t any cons.

5. What gets you most excited when you read a submission? How frequently do you get “exciting” submissions?

I don’t know what gets me most excited – it’s a feeling, it’s a moment, and I’m resisting analyzing what it is. I tend towards the cerebral in almost everything, and so I tend to analyze reactions, situations – every last little thing. tongues of the ocean was set up with the idea that the poems that get published are poems that move me. (All these years of analyzing and overanalyzing have led me, ironically, to decide to start trusting my gut.) So now, I don’t ask why. I just wait till I get the feeling and then I pick.

How frequently do I get “exciting” submissions? More frequently than I thought I would. I get excited when I find a new form, like the ourobouric form that drives Nicholas Laughlin’s Clues. I get excited when something moves me. I get excited when some thing really works better than I think it should.

6. Describe how you sort through and narrow down submissions and finally select pieces for publication.

I read (or listen) until I get 28 pieces that move me. A lot of the time I pray. More often than I expect I rejoice.

7. Is your publication online, print or hybrid? Share your thoughts on the differences between these formats from an editorial point of view. Does your publication accept both snail mail and email submissions? Explain your policy in this regard.

So far, the publication is online only. It’s cheaper that way – the only cost is my time. Email submissions only. You know – trees, stamps, the fact that I live in a small weird country outside of which people are unlikely to have stamps, the lack of space and a good shredder, paper cuts – you know.

It’s also the only way we can stay true to the original idea of creating a dialogue between spoken and written word work.

8. Talk about the challenges and opportunities involved in accepting or rejecting work submitted for publication by poets you know personally.

It’s harder to reject their submissions. I simply have to stay true to the work. So far, so good, but it’s early days yet.

9. If you are a publishing poet, how does being an editor affect your performance/behavior as a poet? Do you ever publish your own work? If so, why? If not, why not?

I have become a little more communicative with other editors, and I hope they will forgive me for that. Other than that, I don’t know that it’s changed all that much yet – but I’ve been at it only a few months so far.

Regarding my own work, my fellow editor and I (Nadine Thomas-Brown co-edits the spoken word part of tongues with me) decided last issue that we wouldn’t publish our own work. But we live in a country that is new to the whole idea of juried selection of work for publications – that doesn’t really have a tradition of submission and rejection of work in the literary arts, whose artists generally work on the principle of who-you-know rather than inclusion-by-merit. We also have an idea that editors are people who do their jobs because they can’t write, and who’re on a power trip as a result, and so for this issue I toyed with the idea of publishing one poem by each of us so that we could prove our credentials, as it were. I’m still toying. I have selected the poems (mine will be a reprint, already accepted by and published in another journal) but am still not sure I will put them up.

The why not is simple – there are lots of other avenues for our work (though Nadine is more limited than me, being a spoken word poet), and so we’d rather feature others’ poetry. But the option is open for now.

10. Describe how you conceptualize what you are trying to achieve with each edition – e.g. do you see each edition of your magazine as a big poem, or as something else? How do you get feedback on the quality of your publication?

Oh, jeez, I don’t know. Here we go with the overanalysis again – that kind of question kicks that part of my brain over and I’m standing there in my brain going “Down, boy! Down!!”) All I’m trying to achieve is a feeling. I don’t know how to put the feeling in words, but the first issue’s photo does it better. I want to capture all those things that make up life in the Caribbean, to collect in one place a bunch of poems written by people who are here or connected in some (no matter how tortuous) way, and find the dialogue that surely exists. Kamau Brathwaite once wrote of our region that “the unity is submarine”. OK, then, I’m diving, and each issue is an archipelago of islands in an ocean of poetry, and the unity is submarine.

We use WordPress as the platform for the issue, and I’ve turned the comment feature on, so we get feedback through the comment forms attached to each poem and to each page. And we have a Facebook presence (the tongues of the ocean group) and an embryonic, often shrivelled, Twitter identity (oceantongues) too. Most of the feedback comes by email, though, and word of mouth from people I meet in Starbucks.

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

Steve Schroeder, Anti-
Helen Losse, Dead Mule
Susan Culver, Lily and Poetry Friends
Justin Evans, editor of Hobble Creek Review
Paul Stevens, editor of the Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera and The Flea.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

James Midgley, editor of Mimesis
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel
Kate Bernadette Benedict, editor of Umbrella
Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review
Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Paul Stevens

What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.

Our responder this week is Paul Stevens, editor of The Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera and The Flea

1. What drew you to editorial work in the first place?

Nothing. I fell into it. It’s all Maz’s fault! I had never considered for a moment doing editing until M.A. Griffiths — a poet whose work I very much admire — asked me to be one of the guest editors for her email poetry magazine WORM. In a moment of idle thoughtlessness I said yes.

2. Describe your editorial trajectory – when/where did it start, how long have you been at it, where is it now? What are your editorial ambitions?

M.A. Griffiths would regularly have two guest editors per issue, and her practice was to strip submitted texts of names etc then send the bare texts to the editors to score. The system was 0 = No way!, 5 = Maybe, 10 = Yes! Definitely! Each editor would pick a particular favourite from the batch and write a brief comment on it. I was guest editor of WORM in 2005 and very much enjoyed doing it. I had a lifetime of reading, writing and teaching poetry and some very recent participation in online poetry forums (mainly Burgundy, now defunct): but editing WORM made me realise that the selection process was not unlike marking the Higher School Certificate, and was very do-able.

The next step in my Editor’s Progress came during a discussion in an online forum (Gazebo) where someone was asking about getting poems published for the first time, and Stephen Schroeder replied humorously referring to a mythically undesirable “Shit Creek Review” as a possible starting point: “If he’s willing to accept rejection, have him shoot high at first — better than starting out with the Shit Creek Review, where publication is barely better than nothing.” That was it! Being more than slightly silly, I raced over to Blogger.com, started up a Blog called Shit Creek Review, then returned to the forum and humorously offered publication there. Soon after the joke spread to Eratosphere. To my amazement I was flooded with submissions! And many of them were very good indeed. I asked Pat Jones for some art work, and she was splendidly generous. Her work inspired me to lift production values for the magazine: I now envisaged something better than a mere blog-mag. So I registered shitcreekreview.com as a website, and learned how to make a simple website. Nigel Holt joined to help me with the poetry editing. Then I had heart failure (literally) in the middle of all this, was hospitalised, plied with ace-inibiters, beta-blockers, digitalis, Warfarin and the wonderful Lasix, and discharged after a week. Tanked up with these lovely drugs, acutely aware now of my fragile mortality, I returned home to bring the first Shit Creek Review out a week later.

The magazine was very popular. People seemed to like its irreverence (embodied in the title), its kamikaze attitude, and the very high quality of its poets. Now I asked Don Zirilli to join as art editor and webmaster, and we chose a theme for issue 2; SCR has had themed issues ever since. After that I asked Angela France to come on board the Shit Creek canoe as third poetry editor. So that’s the crew of paddlers.

The Chimaera (originally called II) was an offshoot (or subzine) of SCR to start with. I contacted Peter Bloxsom of Netpublish, whose work in setting up Umbrella I very much admired. After working with him for two issues I asked him to become co-editor of The Chimaera, so that magazine is very much a two-man show. The Chimaera is a different concept from Shit Creek Review: more serious, with greater quantity of content, and including prose as well as poetry (though still primarily focused on poetry). The Chimaera quickly evolved a three-part structure: General poetry and prose, a Themed section, and a Spotlight Feature on the work of one poet. Themes we have run include Expatriate poets, Translation, Belonging (an Area of Study for the New South Wales Higher School Cerificate, for which the state’s 60,000 students and their teachers have to find additional texts — this has generated immense exposure of our poets’ work to the Australian education market and beyond), Multum in Parvo (concise writing), Light Verse, and for the forthcoming issue, Well-Wrought Form.

My most recent editorial venture is The Flea, which aims to publish the sort of poetry I like most of all, but for which I felt there are too few venues. If you write free verse about Mom, Dad, suburban affirmation or angst, or dissociated post-modern states of mind, using the simple language of everyday speech, there are any number of venues out there which will publish you. But if you write formal verse (or even free-verse) which expresses wit, learning, abstruse imagery from (say) science or philosophy, polysyllabic diction, and which contemplates abstract concepts, cosmology, platonic love, theology, epistemology, and so forth — the sort of poetry Donne or Marvell might write if they were alive and composing today — if you write such verse, I say, the possibilities of publication are very much more restricted. The Flea is intended to publish such ‘unpopular’ poetry: non-MFA stuff, if you like. Finally Flea-ish verse does not have to be particularly Metaphysical — a difficult term anyway — but simply to please me, the sole editor. 

For that is where my editorial career has led me: I very much enjoy paddling with the Shit Creek Crew, or doing the Peter-and-Paul co-editing with Peter Bloxsom, but I wanted one editorial project that was all my own responsibility: where I had the sole say about what gets published — and that’s what The Flea is. 

The situation of being sole editor is both exhilarating and scary. It also makes the editorial process much simpler. When there is more than one editor the selection process can become very complicated: as the co-ordinating editor for both SCR and The Chimaera I often find it very hard work to keep track of where we stand in relation to particular submissions or other editorial issues. Hard work but necessary and productive work, which ensures finally that good editorial decisions are made. But this takes up a very great deal of my time. Thousands of emails are generated in the process, and a great many posts at the private editorial forums we have for SCR and The Chimaera. The beauty of The Flea is that I just look at a poem and say ‘Yes I want that’ or ‘No that’s not right for The Flea’ or sometimes ‘Hmmm… Let me think’ and there it is: mission accomplished! Poem picked (or not!)! Easy as!

The amazing Peter Bloxsom makes SCR and The Chimaera viable and attractive electronic publication sites with his Netpublish work. But from my point of view his greatest triumph is The Flea. My brief to him was that I wanted an idiot-proof (the idiot being me, folks!) online magazine with a minimum of graphics and the look of a seventeenth-century broadsheet. I am stunned by what he produced. It is exactly what I want, only much better! And the CityDesk text entry system he fine-tuned for my purposes makes it easy for a total nincompoop like me to put new work up in seconds. This is really the way to go, in my opinion, publication-wise. If you want your own poetry magazine. Peter is Da Man!

The mission of all of these magazines I’ve founded is to publish and promote good poetry. They all had root in the world of online poetry forums, especially the Gazebo, Eratosphere, Poets.org, Sonnet Central and Poets on Fire. Support from these excellent forums got them started, but my ambition now — which I am steadily achieving — is to widen the catchment of contributors way beyond these original bases, thereby widening also the pool of readership, to the benefit of all the poets I publish. These three magazines would simply not exist without the support of those poets, who in many cases could get good money for their poems elsewhere but who nevertheless allow me to publish their work without payment to them, in the spirit of developing poetry generally. Let’s call it service to The Muse. I owe all the poets who have entrusted their work to me a very great debt, of which I am very conscious.

My editorial ambitions — believe it or not — are to reduce my work load. I work teaching high school, but I have a second full-time job in magazine editing. Not to mention family and personal life, but all this editor-ing takes time away from three other projects that I really want to get stuck into: my own writing (very much on the back-burner now), a research MA I want to start one of these years, and my music.

Having said that I have at least three great ideas for new poetry magazines which could be developed… (At this stage Mrs Stevens administers an overdue dose of Mogadon and I calm down again…)

All of my answers in this interview will be complicated by the fact that I edit three very different magazines, each with its own distinct standard operating procedure, editorial personnel, temperament, specific mission, vision, strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.

3. Apart from following submissions guidelines, what should a poet sending work do (or refrain from doing) to stay on your good side?

A few very simple things. Reading the Submission Guidelines is the place to start. I’m constantly amazed, for example, at the large numbers of submissions SCR gets which have nothing at all to do with the current theme. These submissions have no chance because they don’t fit the theme, and it’s clear that the author simply did not read the current submission guidelines. But now they have submitted I have to write and tell them so. Grumble grumble.

Another good thing to do is to NOT double space the lines of your poem in the submission.

Some very professional poets do this next one, and I always bless them for it: when typing poems in Word or another word processor, they end each new line after the first with a line break rather than a paragraph break. In Word and most other programs, use Shift+Enter instead of Enter. This saves me an immense amount of work, because when we’re putting the poems into html I have to manually remove line breaks made with the Enter key and replace them with Shift+Enter line breaks. I have secret cunning ninja ways of achieving this, but it’s still what we technically term A BLOODY LOT OF WORK. So naturally I go all sweet, gooey and full of lurrrve-vibes when I come across a proper Shift+Enter poet.

Poets, if you take nothing else from this interview, please take this: Peter Bloxsom’s submission formatting guidelines for The Chimaera have general application. Go to http://www.the-chimaera.com/Submissions.html and memorise them! They are really good, and poetry editors across the planet will think very kindly of you indeed if you follow them.

Finally, Dearly Beloved: Handling Rejection. Sadly, some poets can’t handle rejection. God knows I get rejected often enough — and quite often that happens when I submit my own poetry for publication! I send off my little masterpieces to some lucky editor, and in the fullness of time they reply that they can’t fit my poetic gems, which they have assiduously studied and brooded over, into their current aesthetic vision; viz. my work is rejected. Do I fall to the floor and sob, plummeting headlong to the Slough of Despond? Well OK, maybe I do; but do I go to the next step and write back to the editor spitting ‘Fuck you!’? — No, Gentle Reader, I do not. But some there are sadly who do that to me. Or worse, they write long complicated defences of their poem arguing why it belongs in the Canon and I in the Loony Bin. 

Or worse still, they begin a long internet vendetta against me, with aspersions, denigrations, allegations, death-threats, expletives undeleted and various character-assassinations scattered across the world wide web. Some of these vendicatori can get quite obsessively stalkerish. So please, poetry-submitters, do avoid THAT course of behaviour if poss. 

I read hundreds of submitted poems a week and can pick only a tiny few. The odds of having yours picked are not good. My own remedy for rejection of my poetry by dunderhead editors: submit the poems immediately elsewhere. I feel better straight away, like a gambler placing yet another bet that this time might just win: and quite often subs placed that way DO get lucky on the next spin of the wheel. You’ve got to have faith in your own poem rather than vent your angst on the poor editor who was just doing his job. Having said that, some editors ARE total bastards who have absolutely failed to see how utterly brilliant my poetry is! (And as I proof-read these words an email hits my in-folder reading thus: ‘thank you for your submission. we are going to pass this time around. please considr us in the future.’ That’s verbatim, cut-and-pasted from the nasty letter. Sigh. Will editors NEVER learn that I am the Next Big Poet?)
 
4. Do you co-edit or edit on your own? Talk about this choice – what are the pros and cons of both options, in your view?

The Shit Creek Review uses co-editors and blind scoring WORM-style. The advantages of this are that it focuses as much as possible on the text of the poem, and really does I think bring a degree of fairness and objectivity into the selection process. Downside: it’s a lot of work stripping poems of names etc, putting them into a single batch for the scorers, calculating combined scores, and re-constituting the names of the poets. I quite like the system though I know it has its critics. It can sometimes throw up anomalies: for example, say in a batch of 100 poems five are by Poet A, and the scorers like all five poems and give (say) four of them 10/10. But maybe we don’t really want FOUR poems by the one author in an issue — we want to allow space for a variety of poets. That’s where the editorial debate takes over, and a reasoned decision is made.

With The Chimaera most selections are the result of extensive email to-and-froing between Peter and me. This can be time-consuming, and sometimes complicated. The advantage is that it allows two critical takes on each submission, with a balanced opinion prevailing. But in practice we do both tend to like the same poems, having similar tastes; or at least can see why one editor likes a poem that the other might not find so appealing. We occasionally have guest editors, such as the inimitable John Whitworth for the Light Verse feature in Issue #5, or Stephen Edgar for the Well-Wrought Form issue in the forthcoming issue #6.

The Flea is edited solely by me. I have absolute power. I am Mister Kurtz at the Heart of Darkness. It’s wonderful!

5. What gets you most excited when you read a submission? How frequently do you get “exciting” submissions?

I get very excited when I read a very good poem. Not just a nearly-good poem, but a truly good poem. A poem with all systems functioning. A poem where all forces work together to grab me by the scruff and frog-march me into a real poetic experience. A lot of this is down to good writing, but a lot of it is also down to personal taste. Some technically well-written poems do not move me. Some poems do because it is a happy conjunction of particular poem with particular reader. How often does this happen? Perhaps once or twice a year.

6. Describe how you sort through and narrow down submissions and finally select pieces for publication.

I’ve pretty much described those procedures for SCR. For The Chimaera and The Flea, I read the poems, leave them, come back and read them again. Some I can see straight away are not going to fly for me. Some amazingly good poems knock me right off my scrivener’s stool at first reading. The ones I end up taking tend to impress me pretty much straight away. Most though I need to come back to over time, either to see if I’ve missed some good qualities, or to check that my initial enthusiasm endures through time. This is why response times are usually reasonably long for submissions: good poetry deserves consideration over time.
 
7. Is your publication online, print or hybrid? Share your thoughts on the differences between these formats from an editorial point of view. Does your publication accept both snail mail and email submissions? Explain your policy in this regard.

All three are online publications. Online publishing has HUGE advantages. Mistakes can be corrected. On the EXTREMELY rare occasions that I might have incorrectly formatted a piece, or misremembered some spelling, or perpetrated some stylistic infelicity, that can be very quickly fixed online; not so with print. Online publication potentially (and actually I think) reaches larger — much larger — audiences than printed poetry magazines. Online poetry magazines are far more accessible than print magazines for most readers. How many print magazines do you subscribe to? By comparison, how many online poetry magazines can you read? 

Shit Creek Review and The Chimaera are now permanently archived by the PANDORA project of the National Library of Australia, because as Australian-based poetry magazines with significant Australian content they are regarded as publications of national literary significance. The Flea will soon be similarly permanently archived. That means that the magazines and the work published in them will be preserved and accessible (anyone with an internet connection can read these archived issues) as long as the National Library exists, whatever the fate of the particular web sites. So the argument that web publication is ephemeral falls flat on its face. How many print magazines can say they are both permanently archived and easily accessible by anyone?

Experimentation in presentation and layout is much more cheaply and efficiently achieved through pixel rather than print. If I wanted to produce another magazine like The Flea, but with different feel and look to match different content — let’s say a 1930s look to publish Audenesque verse — that could be done much more cheaply and efficiently with an online publication than with a print publication; in fact for most small print publications that design flexibility would I think be well-nigh impossible.

All three of the zines I work with accept email or online form submissions. When I finally manage to extend my day to 48 hours, I hope to achieve some kind of print form of these magazines as well — because like almost everybody else I DO like the heft and texture of a print publication as well.
 
8. Talk about the challenges and opportunities involved in accepting or rejecting work submitted for publication by poets you know personally. 

Well, it could be a minefield. I hope the poets who I know personally (or cyber-personally) have enough faith in my character and personal integrity to realise that I submit and reject work only on the value (as perceived by me) of the work itself. 

That goes both ways. If someone I know and like submits a poem I think is not right for the particular issue, or is a bit dodgy poetically, I trust that they understand that such a decision on my part is called for by the work as I see it, not my personal relationship with them. The reverse is true too. If someone I know to dislike me (Gasp! How can they be so blind!) were to submit good work, I would publish that work (and have done). 

Same with politics and other personal issues. I really do not care what the politics of a poet are. Really! If anyone submits a good poem, I will publish it because it is a good poem. That’s what I think poetry is about. It’s a transcendence of our work-a-day petty selves. I would publish Adolf Hitler’s poem if it were good enough. Same with George Bush. Benjamin Netanyahu. Joseph Stalin. Tony Blair. Jeffrey Dahmer. The Boston Strangler. Condoleeza Rice. Madeleine Albright. Hilary Clinton. John Howard. Attila the Hun. Osama Bin Laden. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jabba the Hutt. Dutch Schultz. Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno. Sarah Palin. The Spring-Heeled Terror of Stepney Green. These are all people whose politics or other personal behaviour I strongly disapprove of, and there are plenty more! But if any of them sent me a poem they had written that I judged to be a good poem (which would ipso facto therefore NOT include hate-material), I would publish it! I publish poems: I do not judge personal lives.

9. If you are a publishing poet, how does being an editor affect your performance/behavior as a poet? Do you ever publish your own work? If so, why? If not, why not?

Being an editor has completely demystified the submission and editorial process for me, and that has been very liberating. Though I’d written poems on and off since my early teens, I had hardly submitted any of my work anywhere before becoming an editor, because of laziness and also a certain awe of the whole process. I had a couple of poems published in my undergraduate days, and the Sydney Morning Herald had taken one (and paid $94 for it!) which I had submitted on a whim. And around the turn of the century I had an essay preface to Guglielmo Ferrero’s historical study Women of the Caesars published by Barnes and Noble, so that gave me a little confidence. But since becoming an editor myself, I’ve felt empowered to submit work by understanding the process, by knowing how and where to submit my particular type of writing. I get lots of rejections like anyone else, but I have had over eighty poems published in the last three years both online and in print.

Editing three poetry magazines as well as serving as a selection panelist for the sonnet magazine 14by14 means that I read and judge LOTS of poetry. Not a day goes by when I don’t read dozens of poems, and make decisions about what works in a particular poem and what does not. This has really sharpened my sense of what to do or not do in my own writing. I feel very lucky indeed to have this opportunity to work so closely and constantly with poetry. All of this is in addition to teaching literature, where I include as much poetry as possible.

I once published a poem by myself in Shit Creek Review but later regretted it and have since removed it. I’m not against other editors publishing their own work, but I’m not comfortable with it for my work.
 
10. Describe how you conceptualize what you are trying to achieve with each edition – e.g. do you see each edition of your magazine as a big poem, or as something else? How do you get feedback on the quality of your publication?

Of course the answer to this varies depending on which of the venues we’re talking about. Let’s take the simplest case first. The Flea wants to publish a fairly restricted field of poetic type, so it tends to attract high-quality submissions of that type. So really my job here is simply to pick the best small group of poems — never more than fourteen per issue; ideally nine — that I find in my in-tray.

At Shit Creek we drink lots of cyber-moonshine by the banks of the fabled Creek and dream up bizzaro themes for each issue. The poems then flood in from various like-minded weirdo-poets, we score ‘em and list ‘em into a schema, then the artists get to work: Pat and Don weave their magic and conjure up the distinctive (if controversial — Michael Cantor will tell you about that!) Shit Creek Look.

With The Chimaera it’s a question of picking the poet for Spotlight, and also selecting a subject for the Themed section. The trend there is towards better matching the two. The General section is simply selected on the basis of the poems we like best from the current crop of submissions: there is no real attempt to shape that selection by any other criteria than that of poetic excellence.

Thanks for having me, Nic, in this great series of interviews. I think you do a fantastic job in promoting poetry, in service of The Muse.

Paul Christian Stevens was born in Yorkshire, England but lives in Australia with his wife and numerous children, animals and citrus trees. He has an Honours Degree in English and Archaeology, and teaches Literature, Ancient History and Historiography. He has published poems and prose in print and pixel, most recently or imminently in Mannequin Envy, The Barefoot Muse, Shakespeare’s Monkey Revue, The Literary Bohemian, The HyperTexts, Goblin Fruit, Contemporary Sonnet, New Verse News, Abyss & Apex, Umbrella, Lighten Up Online, Lucid Rhythms, Ourobouros Review, Innisfree, Snakeskin, Unlikely 2.0, Centrifugal Eye and The Raintown Review.

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

Steve Schroeder, Anti-
Helen Losse, Dead Mule
Susan Culver, Lily and Poetry Friends
Justin Evans, editor of Hobble Creek Review

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean
James Midgley, editor of Mimesis
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel
Kate Bernadette Benedict, editor of Umbrella
Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review
Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication

plagiarism!

Wow. Check this out. Makes you wonder yet again what goes on inside the plagiarist’s head. Ethical and moral considerations aside (and goodness knows they are many and weighty), in this day of instant searches and perenially accessible information, behavior like this just seems really, really dumb.

Sorry to hear about this with regard to your fine work, Barbara Jean.

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Justin Evans

What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.

Our responder this week is Justin Evans, editor of Hobble Creek Review:

1. What drew you to editorial work in the first place?

The hubris of youth and belief there was room for yet another journal out there, to somehow lurk quietly behind the scenes. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say? Actually, I read an interview featuring my friend and mentor, Dave Lee. He recounted a story about a post-grad seminar he was taking where he was asked if Four Quartets by Eliot should be considered an American poem. After some discussion on birth and citizenship, the instructor said, “You are all missing the point.” As it turns out, the instructor was making a point about American poetry being centered on place― that American poets in large are creatures of place. I knew that place had (and continues to) have a great deal of influence on my poetry. I realized that there should be an up front acknowledgement of place. I looked around and I didn’t see many journals which were open about place being all that important to American poetry, so I decided to do something about it. Hobble Creek Review: A journal of poetry and place is named for one of the central landmarks of my youth.

2. Describe your editorial trajectory – when/where did it start, how long have you been at it, where is it now? What are your editorial ambitions?

We (the editorial “we”) are in the middle of our third year and we are getting around to applying for an ISSN. I think we are doing just fine. I have been really fortunate to have some fine poets helping me out at critical moments, which seem to come up with every issue. Editorial ambitions? That’s a loaded question. I really don’t think I have any ambitions other than to put out the best poetry I can. I do have one standard in this regard. I would rather not put out an issue than publish poems I don’t like. The truth is I am learning as I am going.

3. Apart from following submissions guidelines, what should a poet sending work do (or refrain from doing) to stay on your good side?

My first suggestion would to be to accept with a bit of grace the consequences for not following the guidelines. Until you edit a journal, and I know my journal is smaller than most, you never will know the dark side of poets and their pettiness. As a poet I thought everyone behaved well, and accepted rejection and chastisement from editors with the understanding that it is the editor’s job to be firm and fair. I certainly found out that no matter how many times you say something like ‘submit only once per period’ or ‘no attachments,’ you still get them and no amount of being civil stops some submitters from blowing a gasket when you reject their work. Take rejection and criticism like an adult, especially if you are at fault for not following the guidelines.

And that would be the next thing: Understand that a rejection is not a personal statement about one’s character or worth. The poems might be terrible but that shouldn’t be taken to heart.

One last thing: I like it when I come across a poet who clearly puts the poetry first. I like a cover letter but I don’t like commercials. Poets need to realize they aren’t going to impress me by telling me how many places they have published. It implies they are doing me a favor by submitting work to my journal, when in fact we are part of a greater symbiosis.

4. Do you co-edit or edit on your own? Talk about this choice – what are the pros and cons of both options, in your view?

I am a one man show. My wife helps me with the html coding, but I am the guy who reads all of the submissions and makes all of the decisions. I am also the guy who makes all of the mistakes—and I make plenty of them. I don’t know if I could handle this if I worked with other people simply because doing this by myself means I can wait a week or move up my schedule a week if I want without forcing anyone else to fall in line.

5. What gets you most excited when you read a submission? How frequently do you get “exciting” submissions?

I like when poets take our stated purpose of place and twist it into their own definition of what place is. Poets are amazingly creative, but so many look at ‘place’ and automatically think of a poem about the moon or ‘Tintern Abbey’ and dismiss addressing place in other ways. Still, I have been lucky in that there has been only one issue out of all the issues we have put out where I never had a genuinely exciting and thrilling submission.

6. Describe how you sort through and narrow down submissions and finally select pieces for publication.

First, I am of the belief that an editor can immediately see which poems have or do not have a chance of making ‘the cut’ so to speak. I am lucky in that I have a low volume of submissions, making my process rather easy.

I start by doing an initial reading as the submissions come in. If I think I want to use the poems, I move the submission into another folder for a later reading. If not, the submission remains in my in-box until it is rejected. After I do a second reading and decide I want a poem, I create a page in my new issue’s folder, and contact the poet. I find that if I create pages as I go, the work is much easier. If I am still unsure, I give it one more chance. If I can’t make up my mind after reading the poem three times then I automatically reject it. Sometimes this means I reject good poems because I simply cannot find my way inside of them. This is why poets should never take my rejection personally. I have most certainly rejected tremendous poems simply because I cannot relate to it.

7. Is your publication online, print or hybrid? Share your thoughts on the differences between these formats from an editorial point of view. Does your publication accept both snail mail and email submissions? Explain your policy in this regard.

My journal is on-line. I find that my journal can remain small because I don’t have to fill a certain amount of pages, or it can have extra pages without trying to figure in any extra costs. I only accept e-mail submissions, as they are simply easier to deal with. I like publishing electronically because I make a lot of typos and if an author catches one, I can go in and change it with no delay or hassle. I submit to both types of journals and I think there is room for both and each should be treated for the quality of work they put out. When the on-line journal first started there may have been some aesthetic objections to be made, but today there really can be nothing to object to.

8. Talk about the challenges and opportunities involved in accepting or rejecting work submitted for publication by poets you know personally.

I have never cared about appearances. I will publish my friends at the drop of a hat if the poem is well written. I truly don’t care for a reputation as an editor. I believe my job as an editor is to leave as little imprint or mark on any issue I put out. I should be invisible. The poet should be invisible. The poem is what matters, and if it is a good poem and I am lucky enough to publish it, what should it matter that I know the poet?

I don’t want to sound as if I am bragging or trying to butter up my friends or anything, but most of the poets I know are really incredible, which means if they ever send me work it’s likely to get accepted. Not because they are acquaintances of mine, but because they are good enough at what they do to know what to send me. I envy them all. A lot of times I will see a poem I like and simply ask the poet if it is still available.

9. If you are a publishing poet, how does being an editor affect your performance/behavior as a poet? Do you ever publish your own work? If so, why? If not, why not?

Actually, being an editor has confirmed most of everything I already did as a submitting poet. I feel kind of good about my track record as a submitter, seeing all that comes across my desk as an editor. I am gratified that I was taught early on by some very kind poets and editors the right way to submit and how to be gracious in rejection.

I will never self-publish my own poetry. If I can’t convince someone else that my poetry is good enough, then I will just have to try harder. I honestly believe that if I were to publish my own poetry at HCR, I will have taken any credibility away from my own process and standing as a poet.

10. Describe how you conceptualize what you are trying to achieve with each edition – e.g. do you see each edition of your magazine as a big poem, or as something else? How do you get feedback on the quality of your publication?

Whether I want to admit it or not, I think each issue takes on a personality, almost like a hidden narrative. I may not be able to express it, but I can certainly feel when I have started in one direction with a group of poems and how other poems don’t work.

Most important, I want to create an issue which is more than a collection of the best poems I receive. I want each issue to have a personality and be reflective of something which points the reader in a specific direction. I want each of my issues to create momentum within the reader and make the reader reconsider the so-called limitations of place as a theme.

People e-mail me from time to time, telling me they like what they see. I always pass on the praise when someone makes comment on a specific poem. I have received hate mail, but I have learned to accept that I am never going to make everyone happy.

Justin Evans is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, most recently Working in the Bird House (Foothills Publishing, 2008). He lives with his wife and three sons in rural Nevada, where he teaches History and Language Arts at the local high school. He blogs here.

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

Steve Schroeder, Anti-
Helen Losse, Dead Mule
Susan Culver, Lily and Poetry Friends

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

Paul Stevens, editor of The Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera and The Flea
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean
James Midgley, editor of Mimesis
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel
Kate Bernadette Benedict, editor of Umbrella
Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review
Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review

This series’ standing page: click here.

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PreviousTen Questions series:

1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication

dust jacket phobia

Whale Child is eight and refuses to read, or contemplate reading, any dust-jacketed book with its jacket on.

We are about to move house. Preparing for the packers, I find I am finding a steady stream of bookless jackets all over the place.

There is nothing so forlorn as as a bookless dust jacket, I am also finding.

I ask myself: Have I failed as a mother or this a Sign of the Times?