Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Lindsay Walker

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 Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked

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

Participating in poetry workshops was what got me interested in editing. I love the give and take, the “we’re all in this together” nature of workshop but that sort of feedback can also be extremely frustrating. It’s circular. There’s no finished product, no final verdict. With editing there’s a concrete end to each poem: yes or no, which is incredibly satisfying.

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?

My role as an editor began in the fall of 2005 at a party held during my first week of grad school at the University of Southern Mississippi. I met this guy named John Wang who told me about some literary journal he ran called Juked. Eventually John and I became good friends and, as everyone working on the magazine at that time was a fiction writer, he asked if I’d like to read some poems for him. It’s been almost five years now and I’m still reading poems for him.

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

There are obvious do’s and don’ts: do be aware that if you do not read and follow the (let’s face it–ridiculously simple) submission guidelines we will think less of you as a person, don’t waste your creativity on the cover letter, do everything within your power to refrain from sounding arrogant or asshole-like, don’t get clever with your font or formatting, etc. On top of those I do have a few personal preferences. One is to put your best poem at the beginning of your submission (assuming it’s a multiple submission) followed by your second best, etc. You may want to save your best for last when ordering a sequence or manuscript but it’s a terrible idea to do that when you’re submitting for publication. Also, if you have a long poem (2 pages or more) consider sending it by itself rather than as part of a larger submission. I absolutely love formal poetry, surrealism, absurdism, prose poems, and humor; if you can make me laugh you’ve got an excellent shot of being published. Think twice before submitting a poem whose title is, or whose theme could be summarized as: “My Life is Terrible and I am Sad” “Feel Sorry for Me Yet?” and/or “Ode to Facebook/Myspace/Other Internet Phenomena.” On the other hand poems with kitchen utensils, sewing-machine brand names, and/or demonstrative adjectives in the title are always welcome (this list is in no way exclusive of course…).

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 co-edit on my own. Which is to say I read all the poetry submissions and make selections independently. I send my responses to John. John is both the fiction and the managing editor which means he reads all the fiction submissions, manages the website, does the print issue, emails our responses—basically he does all the hard work. For me this set-up is all pros: I read poems and decide whether they’re good enough to use or not. I tell John. John takes care of the rest. He’s amazing.

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

For me the most exciting part of reading a submission is when a poem’s opening blows me away. A few notable examples: “For your birthday I gave you a sky-filled window. / When you looked at it you said it was so blue it hurt your eyes. / You said nothing about the tiny man cartwheeling through the air” (Jon Swan); “The figures gather. / They crowd around the table. / My scrawny grandfather coughs and wheezes / in his alcohol and pee-stained yellowed nightshirt” (Jan Zlotnik Schmidt); “What your beard else is I know not. What your lashes else are I admire. You depend on the strength of your brows” (Alina Gregorian). There’s got to be more to it than the opening, of course, but it’s exciting to enter a poem at a running speed. That being said, if a poem doesn’t end well, I don’t take it. I’m crazy picky about endings. You have to stick your landing: “in dreams you are my monkey / my pet / my partner in crime / you throw the coconuts / to distract the fuck face fuckers / I steal the diamonds / that will buy us /some time” (Misti Rainwater-Lites); “I can’t speak for you / but if I could have blistered in the alarm clock’s buckshot, / I’d have blistered; five more minutes, / I’d have gone up in flames” (Sarah Sloat).

I feel like I’m always reading exciting submissions. I guess that’s because they’re the ones that stick with me. Going by the numbers though, it’s not a huge overall percentage. Maybe two or three out of every hundred submissions I find truly exceptional, truly exciting. Maybe more. Numbers aren’t really my thing.

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

I read submissions in batches, usually about 15 submissions at a whack though that number is arbitrary–I read until my focus starts to slip and then stop. I don’t really use a “sorting” or “narrowing down” process any more. I read each submission (cover letter to final poem) and then decide yes or no without reference to any other submission. In the past I would take a batch of about fifty submissions, print them out, and spend hours sorting them elaborately into piles of “yes”s and “maybe yes”s and “maybe maybe”s and “maybe no”s and “no”s. What’s beautiful about online publishing is that pages, timelines, and budget restrictions don’t pose the same problems they do in the print world. If a poem captures us we’ll find room for 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.

John started Juked as an online publication and that is still the primary format. We also have a yearly print issue featuring the winners and notable submissions from our annual literary prizes in fiction and poetry. This year our fiction judge is (the brilliant) Dan Chaon. The poetry will be judged by (one of my absolute favorite poets) Dora Malech. Also this year we are, for the first time, accepting electronic submissions for the prize issue.

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

To be honest I find it very difficult to reject submissions by people I know and like. I have to continually remind myself that it’s not doing them any favors to publish something sub-par. The reality is that it’s hard to separate the poet from the work, but it is, of course, absolutely necessary. If you can’t draw a line it’s not fair to let yourself read submissions by people you like. It’s not fair to your journal. That being said, I love getting and reading submissions by poets I know personally, especially past contributors. I get a big warm-and-fuzzy when I read good work by good people.

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 no doubt that being an editor has made me a better poet. I didn’t have a single publication when I started reading for Juked (due in part to the fact that I had never submitted anything). Editing poems has not only opened my eyes to boundary pushing poems but also to the types of boundaries that exist to be pushed. I would say that reading submissions has helped me hone my own taste and style in a way that writing alone never could. It’s been an invaluable experience and without doubt has turned me into a much better poet than I otherwise would be.

When I first started reading poems for Juked I had this devious plan to send John a poetry submission under a pseudonym and then accept myself for publication. Fortunately I never went through with this idea. As of now I have yet to publish my own work on Juked and I seriously doubt I ever will. I could give you a lot of reasons about keeping my role as editor separate from my role as poet. I could also admit that I’m afraid my own poems would pale in comparison to the ones we publish. But since I don’t publish my own work I don’t have to admit anything, and I like that…

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?

Juked is continuously updated so there isn’t an “edition” exactly, it’s more of an evolving menu of sorts. Rather than compiling submissions into a single publication what we strive to do is continually present new and compelling material. As far as an overall, comprehensive vision well, maybe John could answer that. For my part I simply look for poems that move or inspire in some way—poems that grab your attention and reward your interest.

We get feedback in lots of different ways. Sometimes people email about a particular submission they like; we’ve been reviewed in NewPages.com, the Traveler’s Notebook, various other websites, blogs, etc. Sometimes we get to meet our contributors in the real world. Sometimes they pat our backs and buy us a beer—that kind of feedback is the best.

Lindsay Marianna Walker is a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Southern Mississippi. Winner of the Center for Writers 2009 Joan Johnson Award for Fiction, she has served as Poetry Editor for the literary journal, Juked, since 2005. Her poetry manuscript, The Josephine Letters, was a finalist for the 2009 Walt Whitman Award. Her poetry has appeared recently, or is forthcoming, in: West Branch, The Southeast Review, Gulf Stream, The Southern Quarterly, Specs, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Arsenic Lobster, The Jabberwock Review, and Bare Root Review. She has fiction published in: Smokelong Quarterly, Pindeldyboz, and 971 Menu; her play Boy Marries Hill is anthologized in Gary Garrison’s guide to playwriting, A More Perfect Ten, from Focus Publishing.

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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
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.
James Midgley, editor of Mimesis.
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel.
Kate Benedict, editor of Umbrella.
Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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 – Christine Klocek-Lim

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 Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry.

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

I’ve been involved with writing since high school, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to take the leap from writer to editor. I have a habit of printing out poems I like that I read on the web and thought it would be useful to keep an archive of them online instead of in a pile on my desk. My collection had grown to the point where I needed a second binder and so, at the end of 2005, Autumn Sky Poetry was born from a great, whopping stack of un-bindered poems.

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’ve been editing Autumn Sky Poetry since January 2006, four issues per year. I have no editorial ambitions other than to continue, keeping the journal small and manageable so that I can pursue my writing without being overwhelmed. To my astonishment, people keep reading and the quality of submissions keeps improving. I’ve been told it’s because I only accept ten poems per issue; that automatically limits the space available to only the best possible work. I initially started out with the ten poem idea because I wanted the journal to stay small enough that anyone could easily read it on their lunch hour. The result is that I reject many more poems than I accept but the poems I do publish are the best I’ve read.

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

Aside from the submission guidelines, I think one of the most important things is to send the poems in a format that is easy to read. I don’t particularly care for email with wallpaper, or blinking birds, or a typeface that looks like handwriting. Send the submissions in easy to read Times 12 pt. and I’m happy.

The only other thing that I find bothersome are those poets who send another submission immediately after I reject them. Please. Let at least three months go by, yes? If I must reject your work, sending me something new so soon flavors the new submission with the old, rejected work. I’m likely to reject the new submission, too.

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 alone. I chose this because I’ve worked on many projects in the past with other people. Those projects went well, but the time involved with emailing and/or phoning to try and keep things moving was extraordinary. It’s difficult to work with others on something as subjective as poetry because everyone has different likes and dislikes. Autumn Sky Poetry is filled with poems I love and that’s it. I don’t bother trying to please anyone else.

Also, working alone means I have no deadlines: no one else is depending on me to have work completed by a certain date. This way I can release an issue anytime during the month. Sometimes I have the material ready in the beginning of the month and sometimes it takes longer, but without any firm dates, the journal continues to be a work of pleasure for me, not a burden.

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

I worry every reading period that I’m not going to get enough good poems for an entire issue, and each time I’m wrong. I get at least ten “exciting” submissions every time, or I wouldn’t have ten poems to publish. If I get less than ten, I go out and search for poems I like in online workshops. If I find something, I request the poem from the poet. That’s always worked really well for me.

What gets me most excited are poems that are written well. I like every type of poem imaginable: forms, free verse, prose, experimental, narrative, etc., but the single most important thing for me is that the poem works. Give me an example and I can break a poem down into pieces and explain exactly why it is working, or why it isn’t in terms of technical details, meter, emotionality, but I don’t have to think my way through all this to know when I first read something whether or not it is good. After reading so many poems over the years, for a poem to work, it must show a solid demonstration of the craft of writing and a reason for the words to be there. I don’t enjoy poems that are all technical virtuosity and about absolutely nothing. Likewise, I don’t like poems that are all emotion and sentimentality with an utter lack of craft. Give me metaphor and personification. Give me iambic pentameter, alliteration, and anaphora. Give me the story of your mother’s death or an explanation of how the sun falls into the front seat of your car. But most of all, give me a reason to read past the first four lines!

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

Every submission I receive is labeled on hold. I try to send an acknowledgement of receipt for every submission within a few days, but I’ll admit there are times I have neglected to do this (my apologies). I usually hold all the submissions until about one or two weeks before I’m ready to publish and then I read them all at once over the course of several days. I know within four lines whether or not a poem is worth keeping. Those poems that don’t capture my attention immediately I reject. The poems that I love I put in another folder (the possibles) until I’m done reading through all the submissions for a particular issue. At this point, I see how many poems I’ve got in the possible folder and whittle the submissions down to ten if I have too many, or go out looking for more poems if I have too few. Some poems I know I want to publish immediately and some I find grow on me with repeated readings. Some poems I keep for the next issue, if the poet agrees to wait that long.

I used to find this process much more agonizing when I first started because I didn’t trust myself to know what poems I liked and which I didn’t without reading the poems multiple times, but after years of receiving and going through submissions I find that my sense of aesthetics is much more finely tuned than it used to be. I trust that I know what is going to work for the journal and what poems aren’t, and I don’t beat myself up as much anymore over the poems that are sent to me. Once in a while a poem has promise but there’s a typo or two lines that just aren’t working. With these, I often reject them but add my editorial thoughts and encourage the poet to resubmit.

Finally, sending out rejections is still the worst part of the job because I certainly know how it feels to be on the receiving end, but ultimately, I have to be true to the philosophy of the journal. I want only the best poems, the poems I absolutely love for each issue. If I compromise on that, soon the journal wouldn’t be worth doing anymore.

After I have my ten poems, I begin creating the pages for each. After that is done, I send out a proof page to the contributors and my copy editor (who is a genius). After that, I make any corrections necessary and publish the issue, usually within a day or so of sending out the proof page. Once the issue is published, I post announcements on my blog, online workshops, Facebook, and Twitter and send out an email notification to everyone I know.

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.

Autumn Sky Poetry is online only and will always be online only. I like the ease of it, both for publishing and fixing errors. It’s inexpensive. I can use whatever photo I want for the cover without worrying about color correction. I don’t have to think about distributing it. Everything about doing this online is easier for me. I only accept email submissions for the same reason: ease of submission and acceptance. I don’t have to retype anything or go to the post office. No one has to pay for postage. And finally, none of it takes up any space in my house!

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

When I first began Autumn Sky Poetry, I did not have open submissions; I asked for poems that I liked from people I knew as well as some I didn’t. Once I began accepting submissions, I received a few from friends. I treated their poems the same I do any others: I accept the ones I think are good and reject the ones that don’t fit. It helps that everyone I know is and has been remarkably understanding. I still feel somewhat unhappy at having to reject poems by those poets I know, but I don’t want to compromise the quality of the journal.

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 find that getting rejections is not as painful as it used to be because I myself have had to reject poems that were good but didn’t fit with that issue of the journal. There are many poems I liked very much that didn’t work because of the season or the set of other poems I’d already accepted, so I know how often an editor must make difficult choices. On the other hand, I also know how very random the process can be, too. Other editors have to deal with a committee or a contest judge whose taste is opposite their own. The way magazines accept submissions is complex and difficult. I can’t say I’m not often disappointed to receive rejections, but I try not to let it completely derail me from my goal: writing the best I possibly can and getting the work out there in the world.

I never, ever publish my own work in Autumn Sky Poetry. I have a personal website, and a blog. There’s no reason at all I can’t put my poems in those places (and I have). I don’t need to also put them on Autumn Sky Poetry. I only accept ten poems per issue, so having one of those poems be my own would be unfair and pointless. The journal is meant to showcase the work of others. As an editor, I like to keep my footprint as small as I possibly can. Even my Editor’s Notes are rarely longer than two paragraphs.

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?

Each edition is generally a mixture of types of poems. I like to publish seasonal poems within the season the issue goes live, though that’s not always the case. In general, I don’t publish theme issues or publish groups of poems that are all alike, though I must admit, sometimes it works out that way. I will reject a poem if the other eight I’ve already accepted seem to form a theme of sorts (spring, or love, or some other loosely conceived philosophy) but I rarely plan on that happening. However, I will be making one exception to this rule: October 2009’s issue will contain artwork from poets for the first time. In the past, I’ve rejected many submissions that included artwork. It’s been my policy that Autumn Sky Poetry is a poetry journal, not an art journal or prose journal. Over the years, I’ve seen some wonderful art, and have finally been convinced by one of my contributors to publish one issue that contains art. This issue will include poems with art that has been created by the poet to match the poem, or ekphrastic poems with a link to the art which inspired them. Anyone who would like to submit to this issue, please send me your work!

Most of the feedback I receive is through email, though I’ve also seen posts on blogs, Facebook, and online poetry forums regarding Autumn Sky Poetry. Each issue I try to advertise online through those outlets, and I’ve had nothing but wonderful compliments on the journal so far. It’s the best part (for me) about publishing the journal.

Christine Klocek-Lim lives in Pennsylvania. She received the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in poetry and was a finalist in Nimrod’s 2006 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, OCHO, The Pedestal Magazine, Terrain.org, the anthology Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory and elsewhere.

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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
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.
James Midgley, editor of Mimesis.
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel.
Kate Benedict, editor of Umbrella.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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 – Kate Benedict

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 Kate Bernadette Benedict, editor of Umbrella.

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

“I guess you could say it’s a call” as Sylvia Plath says in Lady Lazarus. Of course, the web has made it possible for one person with a vision to become a publisher, and I did have a vision for a journal that would feature poems that work around a strong, central premise: an “umbrella idea.”

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?

Editing itself is an old knack. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I worked as a book editor for Simon and Schuster, and then as a freelance for a while. Umbrella represents a return to working with texts and authors, work I truly enjoy. Umbrella’s emphasis on poetry makes the project even more congenial.

My ambition is to keep Umbrella’s standards high by publishing excellent poetry of an eclectic nature. I also feel that certain boilerplate styles hamper poetry’s power, so it’s also a key mission of mine to showcase poems that employ a fresh and ringing diction.

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

I appreciate what any editor appreciates, a professional approach. No snowing us with multiple submissions during a reading period, no simultaneous submissions if the journal doesn’t allow it, no complaints about the guidelines. There’s no need to be unctuous or ingratiating—those things convey insincerity—but please don’t rankle an editor from the get go! Unusual font faces and double-spacing make on-screen reading difficult. Keep good records so you don’t resubmit rejected poems by mistake and certainly do not be as clueless as the poet who submitted a poem to me that I had already published!

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?

Two wonderful co-editors—Rachel Dacus and C. E. Chaffin—serve as contributing editors and do prose pieces and interviews, as well as contributing a poem or two. They also serve as sounding boards when I am uncertain about a piece or when I recognize a submission that is in their special purviews. Rachel, for example, is my go-to person for ekphrastic poems. This year I’ve also been working with a guest editor, Robert Schechter, who has curated a special section on verse riddles for our Bumbershoot lighter-side annual. These people are all pro’s; there are no cons.

Otherwise, it’s my show, as it were. I read all the submissions, make most of the choices, and serve as my own webmaster. I see this as a big pro too. Response time is kept to a minimum and the journal kept true to its mission. Frankly, I have no desire to work on an editorial committee where consensus might hold sway over editorial focus.

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

More frequently than I ever would have imagined! Each poem chosen excites in its own way. A poem scintillates when its umbrella idea marries perfectly to its execution … and when it moves me on a deep level.

It is also exciting to have the opportunity to publish a renowned poet, and we were just bouncing with excitement when Richard Wilbur gave us some children’s verse for our Bumbershoot annual this year (Summer 2009).

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

Nine times out of ten, I winnow them out right away. Really, this isn’t a difficult process because nine times out of ten, the poems simply do not fit with our published guidelines and mission. The remainder I sort into “yes” and “maybe” and a minority of “maybes” make the cut.

Often I create sample pages for the likely poems before I accept them. I want to read them over many times and see them formatted for the screen before making a final decision. It’s painful but sometimes I do wind up deleting these trial pages because, in the end, I did not find them rereadable—and Umbrella tags itself as “the supremely rereadable electronic journal.” Editorial preferences—mine anyway—are more elastic than you might think, though. I tend to “hang out” with the formalists and Umbrella is a form-friendly journal, but I write poems in many styles and moods and I want to publish poems written in many styles and moods.

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.

It is possible that Umbrella will do some print versions in the future via print-on-demand technology but for the time being we’re an online journal only. I have neither the wherewithal nor the space to accommodate snail-mail submissions, nor the staff to retype the poems from hard copy. I have to html-code the poems and prose pieces but not retype them.

In some ways, the two areas—electronic and print—seem to be coalescing. Some print journals now accept online submissions and then format the acceptances into pdf files, which are then transmitted electronically for printing. How streamlined! No more deep piles of paper slush to wade through, no more copyediting manuscripts by hand and then mailing them off to a printer. I don’t think I’d enjoy working for a print journal which conducted business in the old way.

The print journal is still a beloved format for poets and readers but, given the economics and the new technologies, we will soon reach a tipping point and most poetry will be published in electronic form only. That’s not just a prediction of my own.

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

One becomes friendly with poets one admires and such connections bring a high caliber of work in. The down side is that, if you have any editorial integrity at all, you have to turn their work down on occasion—and then you feel like a cad. If they are real friends, they understand your position and don’t hold grudges.

An appearance of clubbiness is death to a journal, in my opinion. Though Umbrella get submissions from lots of new people each quarter, the proportion of publishable work from that batch is lower than I would hope. It remains an important goal for me to keep the roster fresh.

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 can’t say my behavior has changed but my attitude has improved. I used to dread rejections and feel quite miffed by them. Since I’ve been editing, I don’t give personal rejections a passing thought. After all, I have rejected things that have found good homes elsewhere; a rejection doesn’t communicate anything more definitive than that a poem didn’t appeal to one particular journal at one particular time.

As for self-publishing, I’ve only published a little light verse in our Bumbershoot annual and some editorial prose. In general, I believe it is bad form to publish your own poetry.

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?

Our “Orsorum” section is a miscellany. When poems on similar subjects make the cut, I place them in sequence for continuity—but any such continuity is just a happy accident. Our theme sections are a different matter. We’ve done special extras of “hot” poems, “cold” poems, spiritual poems and the like. Even so, the different tones and stances are quite remarkable. I don’t want to publish “one big poem,” I want to feature the multi-faceted and the multifarious.

Feedback comes in the form of both personal emails and public postings to online venues, and feedback has been encouraging. Then again, perhaps those who feel that Umbrella ought to be rained into the storm drains just aren’t speaking up!

Kate Bernadette Benedict is the author of the full-length poetry collection Here from Away. She lives in New York City, where she edits Umbrella, and where she has worked in the fields of book publishing and finance.

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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
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.
James Midgley, editor of Mimesis.
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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 – Reb Livingston

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 Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel.

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

It was always something I wanted to do. For a while I thought I had to “get in” somewhere established, which was difficult not living in the vicinity of many literary publishers. I (cold) approached a few journals to see if they needed readers, assistants or whatever. Didn’t get anywhere with that. While in grad school I was selected (I don’t say “hired” because there was no compensation) to relaunch a website promoting small presses for someone who ran multiple websites and magazines. Unfortunately his reputation turned out to be perfectly accurate, he was abusive and unstable, making it impossible to continue working with him. After grad school I had fairly detailed discussions with two friends from the program about starting our own online journal, but it became clear that they wanted me because I knew how to “do stuff.” One friend wanted to call all the shots and the other seemed to be only interested in coming up with a name for the magazine. I’d bring up pressing issues like content management or the fact they both were going to have to learn html, and well, there wasn’t much enthusiasm. So I excused myself from that, and again, once I left the project, absolutely nothing transpired, confirming my suspicions. It began to occur to me that I knew how to do many things and the things I didn’t know how to do, I could likely learn. It also occurred to me that I’m smart, creative, responsible and quite capable of doing what I want to do on my own. For what I am not capable of doing (like design), it’s worth finding somebody who’s sympathetic to poetry and pay her some (sadly) small amount. If I’m going to do this time-consuming, unpaid work, I should at least be doing the work I want to be doing, the way I want to do it. Why hand over authority? This seems quite obvious now, but it took me a while to get to the place where I could give myself permission to just do exactly that. Once I began giving myself permission, it kind of became contagious in other aspects of my work from what I write to how I publish. This bothers some poets. They believe there are rules to be followed. They are free to believe whatever they like. As am I.

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?

No Tell Motel’s 5 year anniversary is this August. I’ve written about this at length in other interviews available online, so not to repeat myself too much I’ll just say that in 2004 I got pregnant. I had a (silly) crisis. Since none of my (half) attempts becoming involved in editing/publishing ever panned out, I feared that this was it for me. I was going to become a mother, which oddly I considered an end, when in reality it was a miraculous beginning. I felt like I had to do something before the baby arrived. So all summer I worked with my co-editor, Molly Arden, and designer, Nancy King, on No Tell Motel. It launched by summer’s end and in February 2005 I had my son and realized what I fool I’d been. But of course, sometimes being a fool is a good thing. In this case it was.

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

Before you send that penis poem, ask yourself, “Did my poem earn its penis?” Seriously, the design of NTM has led certain poets to a very curious perception of the work we publish. Yes we publish love poems (in addition to many other types of poems, perhaps you might want to read some), yes we’ve published some “sex” poems too, and the occasional penis has appeared. Operative word: occasional. Even the Bedside Guide anthology series that specializes in “sexy” is not rife with penis. Penis is like salt, NTM uses it sparingly.

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?

Sometimes I co-edit, but lately, more and more I’ve been editing on my own. That’s because my co-editor, Molly, has suffered a series of health setbacks. I hope soon she’ll fully recover and be able to resume her role as co-editor. When Molly was involved with the magazine, we’d discuss and decide on submissions together. When we disagreed, or when she wasn’t able to convince me otherwise, my decision was the final call, but that didn’t happen very often. I miss not being able to run submissions that I’m not sure about past another editor. From time to time, I’ll run one by a few poet friends whose opinions I respect.

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

3-5% of our submissions I consider exciting and end up using. Exciting are poems that I really like and am thrilled to be given the chance to put them out into the world.

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

Since Molly’s been sidelined, NTM only accepts submissions two months per year: May and October. The first thing I do is log all the submissions. While I’m logging, I do a quick scan of the submission. If it’s obvious from the get-go its something we’re not going to use, I mark that down and respond quickly. There’s no reason to hold on to work I know I won’t be using. This clears out 20-40% of the subs and yes, there are some very glaring signals that makes it that easy to immediately reject: failure to send at least 5 poems, sending an attached filed without contacting us beforehand, “greeting card” verse, excessive use of PENIS or other personal flag words, etc. Then I do another round where I read the poems once. If I don’t have the urge the read the poems a second time, I respond with a no thank you. Again, if I’m not jibbing much with the poems, there’s no reason I should hold on to them any longer than I already have. With the rest of the subs, which could be anywhere from 20-40%, I spend a lot of time rereading and considering the poems. I slowly whittle that pile down — what’s left after all that is what I publish. Occasionally I’ll get something that I immediately know I certainly MUST publish. I respond to those pretty quickly.

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.

No Tell Motel is completely online, we do not accept anything via snail mail. There’s no reason for me to accept snail mail because everything is done electronically. I don’t wish to contribute to the waste of paper or subject poets to the soaring cost of postage. Even if I saw a poem on paper that I wanted to publish, I’d still need it in electronic form. Even print publications need an electronic copy. Virtually every print publication that’s accepted my work came back and asked me to email them electronic versions.

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

Hater-type poets often bemoan friends publishing one another, completely ignorant to the long and rich literary tradition of poets doing exactly that. The Beats, the Black Mountain Poets, the New York School, pretty much every poetry “school” or “scene” or “community did and continues to do exactly that. That is WHY poetry continues to thrive. The whole contest system has really screwed with how poets approach publishing. If a press or a magazine runs a contests with an entry fee, they are both legally and ethically bound to run it fairly. That means friends don’t select friends and teachers don’t select students. Every manuscript needs to be given the same opportunity. Fine. But contests are only one form of publishing. I’ve written at length about their many flaws and short-comings, so I won’t go on about that any longer here except to reiterate that has a lot to do with why some poets have this ridiculous and counter-productive idea that friends or acquaintances shouldn’t support each other’s work. Friends support one another in every field of art. Visual artists, musicians, actors — they all hook each other up. That said, while I have certainly published a number of friends and acquaintances, I have published by far more strangers. Although as I get to know more poets, the percentage of poets I publish who I “know” is likely growing. Often these “strangers” who I publish become friends afterwards. For instance, some of my closest poets friendships began in the NTM slush pile, my slushpile-turned-friends include Jill Alexander Essbaum, Bruce Covey (who later published my first book, Your Ten Favorite Words), Hugh Behm Steinberg (who I hadn’t met in person until after I published his book), Rebecca Loudon (who I have yet to meet in person, yet have a strong relationship with via e-mail), Lea Graham, Anne Gorrick, Charlie Jensen and many others. How could I not become friends with these wonderful poets? I don’t know how anyone active in poetry and publishing a magazine can publish only strangers. That said, I reject the work of friends more often than I accept it. Whenever a friend tells me that he’s wants to send work I tell him that’s fine, but only send if he can handle the possibility of rejection because statistically I will reject it. Usually people understand that. Occasionally they don’t and it’s uncomfortable for a while. In a few instances, “dear” friends have freaked on my ass and in those rare cases, those friendships have suffered permanent damage. Occupational hazard.

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 makes me more appreciative of the work of other editors. It encourages me to focus on what’s working and what isn’t working, and focus less on the individuals who give very much to poetry. It spurs within me a great amount of disdain towards those who make vile personal attacks against editors and publishers. The poems, the books, the magazines, the essays, the reviews, the projects are all fair game for criticism, in fact that criticism is vital and necessary. But I’ve witnessed, and in a few cases experienced, some spit-tinged attacks. Those attacks rarely touch on the quality of the work but more on how one accomplished the project, or who knew who or who blew who or whatever meaningless nonsense that is nothing more than a FOX News-style diversion from what actually matters, i.e. the work. I haven’t published my poems in NTM — yet, but hey, why not? ‘Cause someone else doesn’t think I should? If they’re not paying my medical benefits, why would I care? They ain’t the boss of me. I have a new book coming out in the fall called God Damsel. My press, No Tell Books, is publishing it. So why shouldn’t I publish poems from that book? If over the past 5 years, thousands of poets decided NTM to be good enough to send their own work for consideration, why isn’t it good enough for my own poems? If over 60 editors have found my poems good enough to include in their own magazines and anthologies, why shouldn’t I? To be perfectly honest, I’m rather fond of my poems. NTM would be lucky to get them!

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?

Feedback comes in many ways. Sometimes people write me e-mails or to the poets we publish. Sometimes people write about NTM on their blogs or mention the magazine in articles. I receive a lot of feedback from poets when I meet them in person. A poem by Craig Morgan Teicher first published in NTM will appear in BAP 2009 and a number of our poems have appeared in Best American Erotic Poems and Sundress’ Best of the Net, so I suppose that’s feedback too. No Tell Motel doesn’t do issues. It’s an online magazine. We follow the new media model and offer new content (poems) on a regular basis, keeping in tune with how readers read online. We publish a new poet each week, a new poem every (week) day. Issues are a print concept. Other online publications figured this out in the 1990’s. Even the traditional print publications with web presences figured this out by 2000. I know of few other online publications that publish monthly, quarterly or (gasp) yearly issues, outside of the forever suffering and behind literary pubs. People get pissed when I point this out. Despite the disdain I generate by repeating that, I continue to do so because I believe it’s very important. Poets frequently discuss “relevance”, but what is more relevant than HOW people are reading, now, in the 21st century?

Reb Livingston is the author of Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut Books) and co-editor of The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel anthology series. Her next book, God Damsel, will be out in early 2010. She is also the editor of No Tell Motel and publisher of No Tell Books.

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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
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.
James Midgley, editor of Mimesis.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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 – James Midgley

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 hails from the UK: James Midgley, editor of the UK print journal, Mimesis.

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

I suppose it was the chance to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of poetry. I realise that’s a fairly woolly answer, but I wanted to do so, specifically, in a way that challenged more restrictive views of what poetry could be, without compromising on quality. Mimesis from the start was intended as a kind of boiling pot of different influences and approaches to writing, from the traditional to the more unusual. It’s also been a great way to generally keep abreast of goings-on in the poetry world, and get involved with other poets whom I value. I remember several years back when I had some poems taken by The New Writer (this was among my first real publications) the editor subsequently sparked up a conversation – what was I up to? Who were my influences? Etc. It’s great to be able to do that, to really invest in poets and have them invest in your publication.

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?

Mimesis started off as a bit of a solo mission on my part, simply including the work of some poets whom I’d solicited specifically for the first issue. Soon after, Weihui Lu came on board as the art editor, which has meant we’ve always had illustrators working directly to accompany poems in the magazine – something that helps us stand out from more usual approaches, I think. Janna Layton also used to act as a kind of correspondent, interviewing a poet each issue for the first few – she’s since had to step down, with the result that we’ve been publishing more essays/articles instead. We now have a more fleshed-out masthead, with Aditi Machado being the most recent addition as prose editor.

In terms of our goals, we want to get more people involved with how Mimesis is produced – more special features, articles, and reviews. With any luck issue seven will indicate how things are going to progress, with most of the aforementioned in place. We’re also keen to develop our online presence with digital features, a blog, and so on. The next site design should see much of that put into place.

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

I like to think we’re pretty flexible in most cases – we don’t expect would-be contributors to bow down and offer up their work from one knee, etc. That said, it does make life much easier when the guidelines are adhered to. It’s particularly time-consuming to read through poems when each has been given its own attachment – much better, if attachments are necessary, to include them in a single document. And it should go without saying that poems in size 100 bright pink fonts aren’t a good idea.

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?

Technically the buck stops with me, but it’s rare that I’ll accept work (or turn down work that displays merit) without consulting one of the other editors. And naturally, when it comes to things other than poetry, I act as more of an overseer. Without meaning any disrespect to those who choose to go entirely solo insofar as choosing work is concerned, I think working completely alone is a risky business: all of us have off-days or blind spots when it comes to judging the work of others. Nevertheless, having the final say does grease the wheels significantly.

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

Lots of things. It’d probably be terribly reductive to mention much that’s specific – but when writing seems to be in command of itself, but moving off into unexpected areas. Not too much irony, please – the literary world seems to have overdosed on it, and with too much there’s no real risk involved. Too many po-mo self-aware poems often just seem to be in the act of covering themselves against potential flaw-finding.

How often? Not as often as I’d like. Poems are difficult creatures, and most poets appear to send them out too early for their own good.

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

My first role is as a sifter – going through everything that really obviously doesn’t know what it’s about. Then I’ll sit with the rest for a few days, and at the end of that turn down what’s closer but not quite there. The remainders go into a ‘maybes’ folder, and I discuss them with one or two other editors. We affirm (or dispel) our opinions on the pieces, and take what appears to us most exciting.

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.

The magazine is print only, but we do make use of online space quite regularly – most notably to display the results of our recent Digital Chapbook Initiative. We also have plans (as partially mentioned above) to set up a regular blog, and an archive for out-of-print material – so watch this space! We only consider electronic submissions – it just makes infinitely more sense for us, with our setup.

Our choice to be a print journal was a fairly simple one – POD has made it relatively simple and reasonable from a financial standpoint. I also believe material context can have a great (though often subconscious) bearing on a poem, and that putting work in the best possible context is a primary task and responsibility for a magazine. The dilemma for e-zines is that while their visitor numbers may be shooting into the sky, how many of those actually read the work on display? If you financially invest in something, even if that be a few dollars for a magazine, you’re much more likely to go through and give what’s there some real consideration.

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

This isn’t such a big deal, really – especially since it’s often just as awkward to submit to an editor one knows. It’s always that particular bit of writing that’s being turned down or taken, and not the poet, and not the poet’s entire oeuvre. In the case of rejection, it’s also not necessarily because the work is bad, but simply because it doesn’t fit – either in that issue, or in the journal in general (though, as I’ve emphasised, we are pretty pluralist). I do think it’s good to maintain a steady influx of new blood, and try to steer away from publishing the same people too often, though that can be tricky if they keep sending excellent poems!

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?

To be totally honest, I drop everything at the mere hint a poem might be working its way out of my head – everything. I also become incredibly irritable to anyone around me until that poem is out on paper or in a Notepad document. So my role as editor doesn’t have much of an affect – I don’t let it. I suppose it must affect to some degree the frequency with which I seek to publish my own work, though – I take a very long time to consider a poem ready for consideration by a publication, and even longer to actually send the thing out. But I think that’s fine – poems do take a long time, and not all of them need publication even when finished. And no, I don’t publish my own work in Mimesis, if that’s what you mean – it’s not something I believe in doing.

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?

It all comes together in a rather accidental way – we simply accept the most interesting/striking poems we can, and likewise for prose work. Nevertheless, there always seems (to me at least — and others have remarked on it) a strong dialogue going on between the pieces we publish. I imagine this is helped a good deal by the interlinking of artwork and writing, and perhaps by subconscious tendencies in our thinking whenever we come to put work together for an issue. I’ve shied away thus far from having themes or concerns running through a particular issue, since this has always seemed to be a somewhat artificial way of working, and one that swerves close to the gimmicky at times. We tend to receive feedback more or less at random from either contributors or subscribers. Naturally the former are biased, but I suppose they could always remain mute! So far the feedback has been very positive – but we are eager to keep moving on to pastures new, both to keep the magazine interesting, unique, and to keep us interested in it!

James Midgley lives and studies in Norwich, England. His own poems have appeared in various journals, usually within the UK but occasionally online too. Last year he received an Eric Gregory Award from the society of authors.

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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
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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.

<><><>

Previous Ten Questions series:

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