Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Edward Byrne

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 Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review.

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

I have always enjoyed editorial activities. I participated on the editorial staff for university literary journals as both an undergraduate and a graduate. My belief has been that closely reading and thoughtfully responding to the works of others foster skills that enhance the experience when encountering any texts. These actions also assist in developing an ability to read more objectively and revise more carefully one’s own poetry. I emphasize this exercise as an active reader when I advise my creative writing students. In addition, like many readers, when I come across impressive pieces of literature, I want to share such a discovery with others. In a sense, that describes the editor’s role.

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 “trajectory” as an editor has not been continuous or easily charted. As mentioned above, I served on the editorial staff for undergraduate and graduate publications. When I arrived at Valparaiso University, there was not a journal devoted solely to literature. However, after I had been here a few years, a professor emeritus who thought there should be a literary journal established at the university approached me. He asked if I would be willing to act as editor if one were begun, and I agreed, but he soon learned the amount of funding needed to initiate a quality print periodical eventually prevented the project from being approved and going forward.

Nevertheless, in the late 1990s, when the presence of the web began on computers at the university, I discerned an opportunity to create an online publication that would contain the quality of a print journal without the costs normally involved. At the time the idea was somewhat novel and seemed experimental. Nowadays, of course, there are so many electronic journals, and numerous print journals migrating online, that it is difficult to recall or appreciate how innovative an action that was.

My ambitions as the editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review remain the same as when I posted the first issue in 1999. Indeed, the language on the journal’s information page has stayed the same since the premiere issue appeared: VPR “presents new, emerging, and well-known voices in contemporary poetry alongside one another, and this literary journal offers another opportunity for more readers to discover young or established poets whose writings deserve an even larger audience.” In addition, “this electronic journal has been meant to serve as a complement to print issues of literary magazines and poetry collections, not as a replacement for those traditional and greatly valued publications.”

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

Other than someone not following the submission guidelines, I have had little problem with writers staying “on my good side.” Perhaps I have been fortunate. Nevertheless, I would recommend those considering submitting should read extensively through the issues of VPR to get a feel for what has been presented in the past.

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?

Since I began the journal as a personal experiment, the publication has been an individual effort. In fact, when I started I had no idea whether the endeavor would succeed. Access to the web had just been introduced to the university, and I had no knowledge of online publishing. I spoke to my wife about the possibility of such a venture one day while we were shopping at Staples, and she noticed a self-help book on the shelves for publishing web pages online, which she purchased for me.

In the following week I sat at my office computer with the book in my lap and developed some sample pages as practice. I told nobody about my intentions, especially since I wasn’t sure it would work. I only spoke to the English department chair, asking him for permission to use the department’s website as a home from which an electronic publication could branch. I told him that I thought I could create a quality literary journal that would cost the department nothing except serving as its online host. I only needed to create a page labeled “vpr.” I’m not sure he even knew what I was truly undertaking or how extensive the project might prove to be (honestly, neither did I); nevertheless, as a friend as much as an administrator, he said “sure.”

In the beginning the technical learning process was difficult, but the task as editor wasn’t as time consuming or complex as it has now become ten years later. For example, during the first year total submissions to VPR numbered in the hundreds, which I thought was terrific. In contrast, this past year saw about 7,500 submissions, an amazing amount. In addition, the journal itself has become more involved — including more works among its contents for each issue and expanding its presence online though the editor’s blog (“One Poet’s Notes”), a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and other venues. In fact, the disk space needed for storing VPRhas grown tremendously since all issues are maintained in its archive; consequently, the university recently decided to moveVPR out of the English department website and give it an independent location online. This change of address initially caused some difficulties with many existing links around the Internet, but certainly it was necessary.

I like that the journal has held a consistent editorial imprint since I have been the only reader. At the same time, I have purposely tried to be expansive by including works that exemplify assorted styles, subject matter, and experiences, as well as accepting poems by writers from various backgrounds and in different stages of their careers as poets.

Since I also still do all the technical construction of the pages in VPR, I find the process time consuming and the product admittedly limited by my abilities. I have thought of adding an editorial staff and drafting some folks more knowledgeable of web design, and I may do so in the future. However, I would like to continue the simplicity of the structure in VPR and its resemblance to the traditional print journal as much as possible. Fortunately, the addition of the VPR blog a couple of years ago has allowed me to include a variety of audio and video elements without interfering with the reading experience of the journal itself.

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

Whenever I read a poem, review, or essay that I can’t wait to share with others because of the quality and insight displayed, I find that impressive and exciting. Fortunately, this happens often enough to fill the pages of the journal.

6. How do you sort through and narrow down submissions and finally select pieces for publication?

I read and respond to all submissions by following a procedure used years ago when I was the poetry editor for Quarterly West. I have two wire bins on a shelf above my desk for materials received by postal mail and read: one contains the “return” stack for mailing back to poets and the second holds the “further consideration” stack of works that I want to read a second (or third) time before making a final decision. All accepted materials come from that second stack and have been evaluated more than once before a final selection is made. With email submissions, I follow a similar process, except that I have electronic folders with labels rather than wire bins.

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.

As explained above, Valparaiso Poetry Review was begun as an online journal for economic reasons. Since my background consisted of editorial experience with print publications, I have adopted similar attitudes in point of view with my approach as editor of VPR. In addition to the economic advantages of an online journal, readers benefit by having easy access to the current issue, as well as all past issues, anywhere in the world. As a result, the readership and the potential audience for the works in VPR could never be matched if it were a print journal. Indeed, writing about this in an article at “One Poet’s Notes,” I once stated that I am pleased readers can click onto so many journals online, more than even any library could ever afford in individual subscriptions.

As I have written in another VPR blog entry, when the journal was initiated reputations of existing electronic literary magazines among authors and readers were spotty at best. In the past decade, opinions have changed as the quality of work in online journals has proven deserving of respect. For most, the stature of online journals is no longer questioned by authors to the extent it once was, nor does it continue to be an issue of concern for readers. Valparaiso Poetry Review today displays a wide range of well-known poets among its pages whose presence was limited to print journals only a few years ago. Nowadays, acknowledgments pages of prominent new books of poetry display many titles of online journals, including Valparaiso Poetry Review, alongside those titles of traditional print periodicals.

Also, when VPR was begun most poets submitted by postal mail. In the past decade that situation has shifted, and the vast majority of submissions received are sent by email. Other editors will confirm that handling email submissions is much more convenient for us, and writers will verify that email submissions are simpler and inexpensive. Therefore, many newer online journals now restrict submissions to email. However, VPR still accepts submissions in both formats. In fact, some of the best poems from a number of the well-known poets included in VPR have been presented only because snail mail submissions are acceptable. I know some poets we have published, usually older and more established figures, who will not send submissions by email.

In a recent informational piece on the VPR blog, I reported the following: the majority of submissions received in the first few years were sent by postal mail; however, a bit more than three-fourths of the nearly 7,500 poems received in the last year were sent by e-mail. Curious about the relationship of submissions to acceptances, I have examined the results and discovered that a little more than three-fourths of the works appearing in the most recent issues of VPR were submitted electronically, indicating there is no subconscious editorial bias toward either form of submission.

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

I am fortunate to know quite a few poets who produce incredibly fine work, and I am pleased that their poetry has been represented in the pages of VPR. However, I also have found myself returning submissions by friends and requesting that they send other poems another time. Since I am familiar with their poetry, I know the quality they are capable of demonstrating in their pieces, and that is what I am seeking for the journal. In that case, because I know their past work so well, I might be even more demanding of them.

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?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe my role as an editor carefully and closely reading others’ works helps hone my eye as a writer when examining my own work. In addition, encountering so much fine literature inspires me to want to write well. I also have greater understanding and appreciation for the tasks at hand for editors to whom I might be submitting work.

I do not publish any of my poetry in Valparaiso Poetry Review. On the other hand, I usually do include in each issue a review or essay I have written about others’ books. I think my critical commentary allows readers to grasp the editorial perspectives I bring to the journal. I also hope my reviews exhibit the seriousness and detail with which I approach all works I read.

I once observed in the VPR blog that “I was particularly grateful to those poets and critics who contributed to the journal, especially in the earlier years, based solely upon a confidence that I would place their works in an atmosphere reflecting literary integrity. I appreciated their trust that I also would exercise editorial judgment that would reflect well upon all the contributions included in every volume of VPR.” To me, developing the trust of readers and contributors seems essential for an editor and for the success of a literary journal.

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?

On a couple of occasions the issues of Valparaiso Poetry Review have been shaped by a specific concept. The Fall/Winter 2002-2003 issue focused upon confessional or autobiographical poetry in coordination with the editors of a recently released anthology concerning that topic. The upcoming Fall/Winter 2009-2010 issue will be an expanded special tenth anniversary celebration of VPR’s start in the Fall/Winter 1999 issue. Readers can examine the list of poets to be included in the anniversary issue at a notice on the VPR blog.

Otherwise, I organize VPR’s issues in a manner similar to when I once arranged pages for print journals; whenever possible, I place in proximity those poems that seem suited to one another on the basis of form, topic, setting, or some other characteristic. This process only occurs after all the poems have been accepted based upon the specific merits of their individual attributes.

Feedback from readers frequently happens and is encouraged. The home page of Valparaiso Poetry Review states that VPR welcomes comments from readers. If requested, remarks on specific works will be forwarded to the authors. In addition, for the convenience of readers, the journal’s home page contains a “comments” link to the VPR mailing address.

Edward Byrne has had five collections of poetry published, most recently Tidal Air (Pecan Grove Press). A sixth book of poetry, Seeded Light, is forthcoming in October from Turning Point Books. His essays of literary criticism also have been published in various journals and book collections, including Mark Strand (Chelsea House Publishers), edited by Harold Bloom, and A Condition of the Spirit: The Life and Work of Larry Levis (Eastern Washington University Press), edited by Christopher Buckley and Alexander Long. He is a professor in the English Department at Valparaiso University.

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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.
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked.
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl 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

The De-Cabbage Yourself Experience continued

mackenzie_rob_a

Very Like A Whale is tickled pink to present the second part of  the interview we conducted with Rob Mackenzie for his De-Cabbage Yourself Experience – his virtual book tour for The Opposite of Cabbage, his debut collection from Salt Publishing. The first part of his Very Like A Whale interview is here.
Photo: © Gerry Cambridge, 2009

6. A small group — perhaps five or six out of the 44 poems in the collection – have some of the cerebral ‘observer’ quality of the majority, but at the same time give a strong sense of personal involvement by the narrator and have poignancy for that reason. I’m thinking of poems like Light Storms from a Dark Country, Voices , Married Life in the Nineties and Plastic Cork, which all seem to be “relationship” poems. Describe the genesis of these poems. Do they feel different from the rest to you, and if so, how?

These poems are all about different people and were written years apart from each other. I suppose they do have a strong sense of personal involvement and, apart from ‘Married Life…’, an immediacy about them. The unfolding of the action seems almost synchronous with the pressures on the relationships. But they don’t feel too different from the other poems to me. I’m not in the least a ‘confessional’ poet and I try to find other strategies to draw readers into my poems.

7. You are quoted here as saying: “I wanted to find ways of writing about politics, religion and nationality that would engage, provoke and entertain people.” Not all the references in Fallen Villages of the North were clear to me, but it is precisely and compactly-written and seems to touch on all three of these themes. What were you trying to achieve thematically in this poem?

The poem began with place names. I was travelling by car up the A1 to Edinburgh from the English Midlands and noticed how odd some of the place-names were. The places in the poem like Longhorsley, Pauperhaugh, Cockle Park and Shilbottle (on the road signs to Shilbottle, the –l is often graffittied to a –t) are just villages. Much of the terrain is moorland and farmland but it was punctuated by small fairgrounds at regular intervals. I’d been reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and I also thought of Blake’s Jerusalem as I looked onto the green, rain-soaked landscape. All of these images and influences came together in the poem, which went through a large number of drafts.

Environmentally-questionable farms grow alongside merry-go-rounds. The hail falls. The priest is summoned to curse rival villages and to bless his home turf. Wind and rain play havoc. Messiahs drop in like bombs. Blake’s hymn shakes coconuts from the shy. A parochial and self-serving politics and religion vie with the landscape’s decay.

There’s no single theme, which I suppose makes it a complex poem to get a handle on. I wanted to hang a personality on the landscape, which would exert a pervasive effect on the surrounding human endeavour. The people look to God in a rather self-serving way, and God sends them what they deserve, I suppose.

8. Many of these poems are funny in a great way – if not laugh-out-loud funny, definitely wide-smile funny – and some (such as The Look, Slimming, Benediction and Sky Blue) are pretty Kafkaesque, also in a great way. Talk about the importance of humor and the surreal for you as poetic devices.

The kind of humour I like best in poetry is when it’s used as a counterpoint to seriousness. I think of Zbigniew Herbert, whose poems deal with important themes and yet engage their complexities with what appears to be a light touch. Humour is a big part of that. Many writers I enjoy do this and it’s a feature of the work of many 20th and 21st century Scottish poets.

I don’t think of myself as a surreal poet. My poems cohere too much for that, despite an initial appearance of fragmentation about some of them, but surreal techniques have influenced me. I use them in different ways: to view a scene from a surprising angle, or (similar to metaphor) to layer an image with unexpected connections. Also, there can be a political dimension – absurd images can reveal the absurdity of a situation better than any argument. That’s one thing I learned from Eastern European poets like Herbert and Holub.

9. Name your top five poetic influences and the nature of their influence.

Well, I’ll name five books I read almost exclusively while writing around half of the manuscript. I was consciously courting their influence, and read them slowly and carefully, and didn’t read anything else for months. I didn’t want to sound exactly like any of them, but if anything from their output has seeped into my poems, it will have been all to the good:

Harmonium – Wallace Stevens: his first lines are always remarkable. He never wrote anything in the least ordinary. He reminds me that whatever poems are, they shouldn’t be dull. Stevens is about as far from prose as poetry can get.

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation Millennium General Assembly – Denis Johnson: Johnson is better known as a novelist these days. He is a flawed poet, but never a bland one. This ‘Collected Poems’ contains some fantastic poems and the most extraordinary images and ideas. He’s never cited when poets mention their influences – another good reason to be influenced by him…

Collected Poems – James Schuyler: again, this big book is a mixed bag, but Schuyler’s best stuff is passionate and brilliantly observed. His writing often feels informal and is also really moving.

New Collected Poems – W.S. Graham: like Stevens, sometimes he mystifies me, sometimes he loses me, but Graham is one of the most innovative writers of the 20th century. The odd syntax, the sinuous clarity of thought struggling to find expression, the varied approaches to writing a poem – unparalleled.

The Great Enigma – Tomas Transtromer: he can transform a landscape with a word or phrase and make me look at something simple in a very different light. He compresses his poems without them becoming ponderous and creates the most surprising metaphors and similes (often overused in poetry, but not by him) of any writer I’ve read.

10. You are one of what seems to be just a handful of UK poets familiar with and comfortable in the US poetry blogosphere as well. Talk about that cross-over experience. There doesn’t seem to be as much US-UK poetry blogosphere cross-over as one might expect, given the internet and virtual-ness in general – is that a good or a bad thing for poetry? What are the broad-stroke differences between the US and the UK poetry worlds as you see them?

These are huge and potentially controversial questions! My feeling is that many poets (and therefore, many poet-bloggers) aren’t much interested in poetry or poets from outside their own country. I guess some see blogging as a form of networking and don’t see any need to network beyond national boundaries. There’s no po-biz advantage. However, the Internet has made it possible for those who are interested to find out what’s happening throughout the world of poetry on a previously unimaginable scale. I know the work of many American poets I wouldn’t have heard of in pre-Internet days and am in touch with several U.S. bloggers.

As I see the U.S. poetry world (from a great distance, so I probably have it very wrong), there’s more acceptance of innovation in mainstream circles than in the UK. I know some U.S. post-avant poets might laugh at that, but much of the American mainstream would still seem quite avant-garde to many people in UK mainstream circles. This year, the Forward Prize nominees for Best Poetry Collection (published in Britain) included one U.S. poet – Sharon Olds! She is your representative! That’s where we are… A great deal of excellent British poetry is being written, but the best stuff isn’t always given the recognition it deserves.

American poetry is such a huge world though, it’s impossible to scratch more than the surface. I recently read through an anthology, Legitimate Dangers, of U.S. poets, most of them from the ‘elliptical’ side of things. It was a fascinating read, great for an overview of emerging American poets. Like all anthologies, I liked some poems better than others. I have quite wide taste. I really enjoyed Rick Barot, Stephen Burt, Matthea Harvey, Lisa Jarnot, DA Powell, Natasha Trethewey, C Dale Young and a good number of others, but some writers were indistinguishable from one another. Reading so many poems in a row employing an elliptical writing style brought to mind a prose poem by UK poet, Luke Kennard, called ‘The Elements’ (from one of the best books to emerge in recent years, The Harbour Beyond the Movie) which includes an ‘Interview with a Clod’. The poem concludes:

‘Your work often concludes in paradox,’ I say. ‘Is that intentional or do you genuinely not know anything?’

But I like a lot of American writing and read more of it than I do English poetry. Scottish poets have often looked across the Atlantic for inspiration, so I’m only carrying on a well-worn tradition by doing so.

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Mary Biddinger

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 Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review.

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

I was tired of reading poems about flowers. I was bitter and wanted my own mechanism for revenge. I wanted to find a hobby big enough to accommodate my bounteous ego. I wanted to be taller, funnier. I wanted to be the one leaving remarks on rejection slips. I wanted to tell people to dig deeper, to care more about the human condition, all in mocking purple cursive.

Just kidding. That’s not me at all. Here’s the truth.

I believe in a version of literary karma where the good you do for others somehow comes back to help you. There could be a practical explanation for this phenomenon, such as how increased exposure to poetry through editing can positively affect an editor’s own poetry, but I prefer the mystical version of it. I was drawn to editorial work not for the thrill of playing god, but for the potential the job has to make people happy. I also feel quite passionately about poems, and wanted the chance to advocate at length for a poem that struck me.

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 started in 1996 as an Assistant Editor for Mid-American Review. From there I worked as a slush reader for ACM, and an Associate Editor of RHINO. After moving to Akron, I used part of a personal Ohio Arts Council grant to start Barn Owl Review. We don’t have that many litmags in Northeast Ohio, and I wanted to spark something here.

In addition to continuing to edit BOR, I’m also the editor of the Akron Series in Poetry. That means reading over 500 book manuscripts a year, choosing finalists for the Akron Poetry Prize, and making decisions about my own editor’s choice title(s). On top of that, I serve on the jury of the Open Book Competition for the Cleveland State University Poetry Center.

Reading all of these submissions, both for the magazine and book contests, makes me aware of certain trends. This year I read a lot of ghazals, Portrait of _______ as _______ poems (à la my beloved James Allen Hall), and Dear ________ poems. By “a lot” I mean that it felt like the editorial version of the movie Groundhog Day. Call it Ghazal Day. Many of the poems were quite delightful. At any rate, there are definite trends, and I wonder what they say about the poetry universe at large.

Litmag editing and book editing have a lot in common, and feed into each other in a useful way. I’m also in the beginning stages of a hush-hush new endeavor that may, if rumor is true, involve publishing volumes of essays on contemporary poetics. Allegedly, I have one hell of a co-editor in this venture. But enough about the mystery project. It’ll be public soon, and I can let all of the cats out of all their respective bags.

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

I have endless good will as an editor. When I open your submission, I have nothing but affection for you and your poems. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve never published before, or if you’re someone I’ve solicited. I begin with excitement and a dorky sense of glee. I don’t care what font you use or whether your salutation is Dear Sirs or Yo Editor.

I appreciate it when submitters follow our requirement of making the sub all one file. If you send me five separate attachments, I may get lost between downloads. I like it when authors include a cover letter as the first page of the attachment. Some editors might not like quirky cover letters, but I like them if they seem sincere.

What else? I don’t know why folks withdrawing have to say, “I must withdraw my poem ‘The Shit Raccoon,’ as it has been accepted over at Blastsaddle Quarterly.” I guess I am mildly curious (and sometimes panicked! O Trey Moody, I was so afraid we’d miss out, and so glad we didn’t!) about withdrawals, but I don’t want to know, really, who else got it. I have similar qualms about book contest cover letters that list places where the manuscript was a finalist or semifinalist. It’s nice to know that the book is getting some recognition, but it seems a little like, “Jake, Fred, Paul, and Charlie all seriously considered taking me to homecoming, but didn’t. I am thereby offering you this boutonnière and hoping you’ll let me pin it to your lapel instead.” I’d never hold this against anyone, however. Nothing but good will from this girl.

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 need help. I take on a lot in my editorial life, but I am also somewhat of a delicate organism. I need people to talk to. I need someone to get excited at. So we have a fairly large editorial board with editors at various stages in their careers. In composing the editorial board, I wanted to represent a variety of sensibilities. When the subs come in I often think something like, okay, Amy Bracken Sparks will love this as much as I do, and Eric Morris may too, but I’m not sure if it’ll be Jay Robinson’s cup of tea, and so on. The best part of a varied board is being able to look past your own preferences to see the value and wonder in a poem that might not have initially jumped off the page and scrambled up your neck.

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

Risk. I like risk, whether it’s related to subject matter or form, or anything else. I also like what some people might consider “raw emotion,” but only when it’s delivered in an artful way. I want to feel your poem, whether it’s making me laugh and scaring off a crappy mood, or horrifying me and making me want to lock all of my windows. I’m someone who is quite affected by the world, and poems seem to have a transdermal influence on me sometimes.

I get the most excited when I read poems that make me think of poetry in a new way. I get excited all the freaking time. Maybe that’s why I like editorial work so much. I have been known to jump out of my chair, to shiver visibly, and to squeal after reading a particularly striking poetry submission.

I have a special interest in queer poetry. I like a good city poem. The pastoral doesn’t appeal to me purely for pastoral’s sake. Something needs to be rotting somewhere. And, of course, I am a huge fan of the well-wrought love poem.

I don’t enjoy poems about hurting cats or kittens. If such poems arrive, one of my co-editors will usually note it on the spreadsheet so that I can recuse myself and go make sure that all of my cats are still present and unharmed.

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

I am governed purely by caprice. Sort of. Thankfully, BOR has a spreadsheet system where we record our scores for poems, and provide comments/arguments. Admittedly, we are slow. Your poem may hang out in our e-folder for a while. Sometimes I freak out and have to make sure that Jay sends a contract out stat. And until we hear back, I’m sweating.

We read from June through November, and just pick poems up as we go along. We narrow poems down by arguing and advocating. Sometimes we ask for revisions. We also encourage past BOR poets to send again, but we don’t necessarily give them preference. I love it when we accept poems from folks I’ve never heard of before. I also love it when I’m blindsided by an unsolicited sub from someone I greatly admire.

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.

We are a print journal that only accepts subs by email. We’re poor. Aside from a few small grants, this magazine is funded by macaroni dinners at the Robinson and Biddinger households. We are hoping that our kids don’t get sick of macaroni, or else we might have to quit printing and become an online journal. If that’s the case, I really will have to learn web design once and for all.

BOR features a portion of its content on the website, and I do like the idea of open access to the magazine. But there’s nothing like slicing open that box of issues, nauseous over the possibility of typos or other disasters, and then the sense of relief when everything’s turned out just right.

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

I solicit a lot of poems for BOR. So naturally I will be publishing people I know. Rejection is an unfortunate part of the biz that we all deal with. Many folks who have gotten close with one issue had poem(s) accepted for the next. It’s also helpful that the editors all have different friends and associates. Whereas I might just weep my way through a rejection to someone I adore, another editor might be more objective and helpful.

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 don’t publish my own work. That would be most untoward! At least in the forums I’m involved with. I’m not very good at promoting my own work in general, though I write a ton and publish a goodly number of poems. I just prefer to promote my editorial projects and authors. I’m bashful that way.

Being an editor helps me understand what I can get away with. My new manuscript, which was written all in the past seven months, is a departure from my earlier work in that I am much more myself in the poems, in terms of voice. I’m having fun with the manuscript. Reading so many poems makes me nervy. My natural tendency is to push it.

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?

People send us nice notes! On pretty paper! And we get lots of hugs at AWP. So that makes us feel good. We release the issue at the conference so people can pick it up in person and we can hopefully dazzle them in person.

Every issue of BOR creates its own narrative. It’s a composite of the tone of the poems in the magazine, and the tone of the editors. Some issues are bound to be funnier than others. BOR #1 had a theme of religion throughout it, for no apparent reason. It was beyond our control. We choose the poems that choose us. When we put them together, sometimes they fight, and sometimes they disappear behind the garage for a little while in pairs. Sometimes the other poems watch those poems behind the garage. And sometimes a tornado rolls into town just in time to rock every foundation, and send us somewhere we never thought we’d go.

Mary Biddinger is the author of Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, diode, Gulf Coast, The Laurel Review, North American Review, Passages North, Third Coast, and many other journals. She is the editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, co-editor-in-chief of Barn Owl Review, and director of the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She blogs at The Word Cage and teaches at the University of Akron.

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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.
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked.

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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