revisiting ten questions for poets – on poetry, publication, technology

This series represents a wealth of poetry and po-biz wisdom from a bunch of awesome contemporary poets. I used to have these linked as separate standing pages, but didn’t refresh that format when I changed blog themes recently. Have just added these standing pages back to the left-hand column, and got lost in re-reading while I did so. Thank you once again to the generous poets who participated for doing so! That wonderful group includes Ron Silliman and the late Reginald Shepherd.

TEN QUESTIONS SERIES
poets on poetry
poets on publication
poetry editors on publishing poetry
poets on technology

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

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

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.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

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

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Nicolette Bethel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No – there aren’t any cons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

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

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

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

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Paul Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

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

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

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

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Justin Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

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

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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

This series’ standing page: click here.

<><><>

PreviousTen Questions series:

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

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Susan Culver

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 Susan Culver, editor of Lily and Poetry Friends:

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

A love of reading and the desire to connect through the sharing of creative work.

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 would have to say that my editorial inclinations began when I took the job as the reporter for the local weekly newspaper at the age of 22. Being a reporter at a small, community newspaper isn’t nearly as glamorous or focused as one might think. The job entails everything from typing obituaries to snapping photos of the high school basketball game; interviewing elected officials and writing the week’s
opinion.

It also includes laying out and proofing one’s own work. Deciding what can carry the front; what needs to be said and how strongly it should be said.

I stopped reporting for several years, while raising my children, and Lily was created during that time. It combined my love of poetry, fiction, photography and how they should be presented on the page with my need for creative connectedness with others. In the year before I started the project, I’d lost a son and a mother-in-law. Lily, then, was born both from a time of sweetness when my children were very small and a time of personal loss. It began, in many ways, as a response to grief.

Economics and lifestyle changes caused me to return to work at the newspaper in 2007 and I had to let Lily go. After several months of adjusting to the extreme changes of going from being at home to being very much back among the face-to-face public, I finally got my poet’s feet beneath me about a year ago. I began writing again, and started Poetry Friends – a blog-style poetry project that allows me to share the work of others, but on a smaller, less formal scale.

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

Well, here are a few tips for staying on the good side of editors in general.

Don’t argue a rejection. And, if you absolutely cannot stop yourself from sending an email asking why your work was rejected, inquire about it as kindly as possible. Don’t name-call. Don’t tell the editor that you really didn’t want to be published in their blankety-blank publication anyway. Don’t berate the work of other authors. Don’t send multi-part hate mail. This sort of behavior reflects badly on you as an artist… And it’s just not cool.

Beyond that – with email submissions, avoid colored text. Avoid sending the work in an attachment unless specifically asked to send it in an attachment, and – if so – send in the format requested. Unless the magazine discourages it, do attach a brief bio. And by brief, I mean don’t wing off your whole life story.

Avoid being overly familiar in your submission. Unless it’s the title of your poem, making the statement “I saw your picture and you’re hot” in a cover letter isn’t ok. In fact, it’s kind of creepy.

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?

With Lily, I quickly realized that I needed an editorial staff to help me. It was a new and unusual thing to me – working with a staff – and one that I greatly enjoyed. It was wonderful sharing ideas with them, hearing their input, presenting them with a finished product that we’d all worked hard to achieve.

The downside, I guess, would be the time that it takes to organize a staff of people. To decide what needs to be done and who can do it. Those are skills that I hadn’t developed in my life as a reporter. It was always a matter there of me doing what I had to do on my own time frame and without much communication with others. Thinking back, I believe that there were times at Lily when I could have and *should* have asked for help and didn’t.

With Poetry Friends, it’s just me doing the editing and it’s fine. I do miss the camaraderie that comes with working with a staff though.

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

Amazing work excites me. The ability some have in their writing to take one’s breath away. To say it in a way that is unique and yet, on the soul-level, completely familiar. I love that.

I’ve seen so many exciting submissions. At Lily, then, and Poetry Friends, now, a few come around each month. The amount of talent this world holds always blows my mind.

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

Following the guidelines generally becomes the first point in the selection process. It shows a writer who is ready to share their work and wants it shared in this publication.

Content comes next. How accessible is the work? Can I relate to it? Is it something I want to read over and over?

With Lily, the selection came through the editorial staff. What struck them, what they said yes to, how the work made them feel. The pieces that spoke well to most of the editorial staff generally spoke well to me.

Were there disagreements on that? Yes, sometimes there were.

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.

Lily was online, as is Poetry Friends, and submissions are email only. The internet has brought a great accessibility to rural locations such as mine. I think, living in a place where the libraries are limited on space and budget and the nearest bookstores are a couple of hours away, online publications opened my eyes to poetry itself. And it’s that, perhaps, that makes me partial to them.

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

It’s the ultimate rush to publish a fine bit of work by a person I admire. It’s one of the greatest joys to be able to tell a dear friend: yes, your work sings.

On the other hand, it is very hard to say no to someone you know. There’s always the fear of misunderstanding. I know from being a writer myself that it’s hard to separate myself from the work. I tend to believe it’s hard for others, as well.

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 try very, very hard to follow submission guidelines. I tend to read the journal obsessively before I submit, wondering all the while if my work would be a good fit. In fact, I tend to think about it so much that I’ve been known to drop the idea of submitting all together and just spend the afternoon enjoying the archives of a particular journal.

I’ve always said that I don’t read a newspaper like “normal” people read newspapers. Because newspapers are what I do, I tend to look at the obscure little details. Layout. How the article was written. How it is presented on the page. How it interacts with the other work presented. I suppose I do that with literary journals too.

Yes, I’m a self publisher to an obnoxious extent. Other than editorials, I didn’t publish my own work in Lily, but I have at Poetry Friends. I’ve self published two collections as well. And I tend to post my work where it can be read rather than offering it up unseen for editorial consideration.

Why? I don’t know for sure. I think that what I do with my day job – the reporting – has something to do with it. If you look at it, I publish a whole week’s worth of work every week. It’s something I’m quite used to doing. Preparing work to be seen and read by the public is far more familiar to me than preparing work to be seen and read by an editor.

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?

With Lily, I wanted it to be something where each poem was delightfully married on the page to a photo, and each page was delightfully married to the one before it and after it. Where it could all stand alone and yet made one marvelous showcase for the work of many.

That was the intention. It was a lot of worry and work, too! I took feedback mostly through email. Feedback from the editorial staff who had the task of making sure it all came together as it should; from the authors and artists who were featured, from the readers and from those looking to be published there.

With Poetry Friends, I simply want to share the work. I want to offer a taste of what other poets are writing and hopefully give readers a chance to enjoy stuff from authors they know and authors they’re just coming to know. With the blog style, I think it plays well to those who in their busy lives may not have the time to sit and engage in an entire journal but do, I hope, have the time to sit and engage in a
single poem.

My initial hope with Poetry Friends was to post a poem every single day or – at least – nearly every day. Then I realized that poems come in waves, as does my incredibly divided time. One of the things I’m trying to work on in my personal life is not to worry so much. To let things happen as they do . I think Poetry Friends has been a good teacher of that concept.

Susan Culver lives in Colorado, where she is a wife, mom to three daughters, and a reporter. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in a number of journals, both in print and online. For four years, she edited Lily: A Monthly Online Journal. She is currently the editor of Poetry Friends, a blog collective of poetry. She is the author of two collections: All the Ways We Could Have Met (2005) and Comfort Street (2008).

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

Steve Schroeder, Anti-
Helen Losse, Dead Mule

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

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 Bernadette Benedict, editor of Umbrella
Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review
Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review

This series’ standing page: click here.

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PreviousTen Questions series:

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

Ten Questions for Poetry Editors – Helen Losse

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 Helen Losse, poetry editor of the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

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

I never envisioned myself as Helen Losse, Poetry Editor. To be honest, when Valerie MacEwan, editor and publisher of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, posted a call for help, I was looking for an opportunity to network.

Val had published a few of my poems, including my very favorite poem ever—the one that tells everything about me: Voices  - so I already knew Val.

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?

Oh my goodness, an “editorial trajectory” sounds like something that makes me want to lie on the floor and stay there a long, long time.

When I first joined the Mule staff in March of 2005, I was co-Poetry Editor along with Kevin Blankenship. Kevin is a great poet and was a fine editor, but he was just too busy with his job, a new baby, and his own writing. He’s still a fine Mule friend. In fact, there’s a chapbook by Kevin in the June Mule.

The Mule’s submission system was convoluted, with both poetry and prose going to the same place and poor Val having to send submissions on to us. We then had to make decisions and send them back to her so she could post them to the site. The Mule became idle for about a year while Rob, Val’s husband, installed a new publishing platform and security updates. Then in late 2006, or maybe very early 2007, when Val was considering closing the Mule for good—because she had just too much on her plate—we agreed to publish it for ten more years and that I would take on greater responsibility. She closed out and archived the old Mule, and we started the one we have today—with me as Poetry Editor.

Since I began as Poetry Editor (my first issue was April 2007), the Mule has had more poetry submissions than ever, and I have learned to post entries. The Mule uses WordPress software, which was easy for me to learn, because my blog, Windows Toward the World, is also on WordPress.

I plan to keep publishing as many and as diverse a group of poets from the south as I can until we decide we’re ready to archive the present Mule. I’m not sure when that will be. I think when our ten years are up, we may decide to put the Mule out to pasture. I’d like our April 2017 Dead Mule to kick butt like a donkey, jackass and a mule combined. But that’s just dreaming. In other words, I want to go out with a bang! I want it to make the Washington Post. Big Washington. Not Little Washington. At least Silliman’s Blog.

One thing for sure: The Dead Mule is Val MacEwan’s baby. I will keep the Mule afloat any time I need to, but I will not continue the Mule on my own. I like the Mule, but I love Val. We’ve become like sisters.

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

A poet should know that I treat everyone the same—well, pretty much the same. Invited poets are guaranteed publication. And each April we publish a Poet Laureate from a southern state. Yes, I have one lined up for 2010. And I let them slide on their Southern Legitimacy Statements (SLSs), that we take very seriously.

SLSs have two purposes: They are fun, and they weed out people who don’t want to think of themselves as southerners or submit in a spam-like fashion.. The Mule wants poets who like fun and who enjoy being in or from the south (or at least liking our part of the country). We publish poets from anywhere; southern-ness is state of mind not a physical location.

There is one poet who keeps sending me a poem with his bio and no SLS. I’ve told him not to do it. I’ve copied and pasted from our guidelines. But now, when I see his name in the in-box, I just hit “delete.” Life is too short to get upset over an SLS, but we don’t publish standard bios; we publish SLSs instead. And anyone who actually reads the Mule before submitting knows that SLSs are sometimes better than the poems. In fact, some are poems. We like that.

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 now edit on my own. I like being able to act quickly and independently. If I’m ever in doubt about anything, I consult Val. I always check out any situation that might cause problems. I see many pros, few cons.

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

Most of the poems I get are good. Only once in a while does a poem strike me as brilliant. Only one—The Real South by Luke Johnson—actually made me cry.

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

Most of the poets I accept see this in my first reply: “Being published in the Mule is more than just gathering another publication credit; it’s more like joining a big ole southern family. So, welcome.” The Mule is a family that publishes poetry. We are a community that is quite inclusive. We’re liberal and open. We are representative of the south. And because we are a family and a school, we have reunions, take sabbaticals, offer classes; we have fun.

That said, we want quality work of all levels from student to Poet Laureate. A lot of real-life college professors publish in the Mule. We actually don’t reject a lot. The exception is the prima donna poet who’s more bother than he’s worth. Life goes on, even if lines aren’t indented just so. Those who can’t accept that probably don’t belong in the Mule. If I know in advance that a poet will be upset by our presentation, why not spare us both? Val even banned one poet the night she used the term prima donna poet for the first time with respect to a poet who didn’t know when to quit.

Life is too short to value poems over people. At the Mule, we will not do that. Our guidelines actually say, “… PhDs with outhouses.” We work with poets who send us imperfect poems with potential. Being published in the Mule isn’t a career move; it won’t get anyone into an MFA program, but it might just give someone his one and only poetry publication ever. We think that matters. We are southern and polite. We try to be real; writers aren’t better than others. And lots of people read the Mule.

The Mule rejects awful poems or selects only a few, if a poet send more than we want at the time. Sometimes poets get over-zealous in submission, but most seem to use good judgment. When we’re really stuck, we can always send Val’s standard rejection note: “The selection process for inclusion in The Dead Mule is both objective and subjective. It is a complicated beast. We utilize a numerical averaging system similar to the Olympic diving competition scoring method. If a particular piece is not chosen, one is always encouraged to submit something else. So, send us something else.”

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 Dead Mule School of Southern Literature was begun in 1995 by Valerie MacEwan as a print magazine under a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. It soon become an online only literary magazine. From time to time, we consider putting together a print issue. We accept only e-mail submissions.

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

The Mule is a family. We actually encourage the people we know to submit. If I ever have to reject a poem from a friend, I try to use the same kind of tact I do with strangers. An editor should know how to reject a poem without rejecting the poet. The Dead Mule does have a rule—maybe unwritten—not to publish the same poet in back-to-back issues.

I think one has to have a bit of an ego to submit a poem anywhere, but most of my poet-friends try to promote me as much as I promote them. I have gotten annoyed with poet-editors whose work I have published, if they constantly refuse mine. That isn’t how families work. It isn’t much of a way to be a friend either.

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?

My role as editor has helped me network with people I wouldn’t have known otherwise. And in reality, it helped me get my new book, Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009), published. But as Carter Monroe, the poet-editor who published the book and whose press is closed to submissions, said: “You asked me for direction and advice as to how you should proceed with the manuscript and I offered to publish it . . . .”

The Dead Mule has a policy that we do not publish our own work. The only time I broke this “rule” was when I was learning the software and re-published Voices on a blog entry. I figured I wasn’t accepting my own work; Val had already done that years earlier.

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?

“Issue” is a loose term for the Mule. In the past few months, we have published nothing but poetry due to personal issues. In that sense, I guess I’ve been the Mule. But not really. We have plans to publish more prose as soon as we are able.

More goes on in the background than we are willing to tell. All of the editors of the Mule—while we are artists and editors—are rather private people. If readers know us, they probably know what’s going on. It is not a secret that Ruth Heinold, Val’s mother, died April 30 after a long illness. It is not a secret that each of us deals with her own health issues, some more serious than others. The details of our lives are another story. And those details sometimes help determine what an “issue” entails.

We have a rule at the Mule. The rule is, let’s have as few rules as possible. Let’s enjoy publishing the Mule. Let’s be glad we are editors and friends. Life is too short to value art over people. The reality is, I set the times when I want to publish. And if I need to change my mind, I do. The July 2009 issue of the Mule is called the Summer Sabbatical issue, because I’m taking a vacation. Submissions will be read after July 15.

I get feedback from e-mail and from other poets that I know personally and see at poetry readings. We get comments on blogs. Why the Dead Mule is even on Facebook. One of my editorial goals is still to network. Another is to promote my book.

Helen Losse is the Poetry Editor of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature  and the author of Better With Friends, published by Rank Stranger Press in 2009. Her recent poetry publications include poems in The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Shape of a Box and Blue Fifth Review. She has two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces and Paper Snowflakes. Educated at Missouri Southern State and Wake Forest Universities, she taught English in Charlotte, NC and now lives with her husband in Winston-Salem.

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Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:

Steve Schroeder, Anti-

Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

Susan Culver, editor of 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 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 – Steve Schroeder

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 will showcase 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 first responder in this series Steve Schroeder, editor of the scintillating Anti-poetry magazine. Steve’s responses:

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

I like to organize big-picture creative projects (the complicated multi-world fantasy universe I tried to create in high school and college, the all-time-greats baseball league I still dabble in occasionally, etc.), and editing a journal seemed like a natural way to extend that interest into the writing I was doing at the time (2003-4). The journals I’ve run differ from those other things in that I actually deliver them whole to the public. Editing also seemed like, and proved to be, a good way to be more involved in the national writing community and learn about both the practical and artistic sides of poetry. And to gain fame and wealth.

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 editing The Eleventh Muse, the print annual of the Poetry West organization in Colorado Springs, in 2004. I edited it for three full years before I moved to St. Louis and started my own online journal, Anti-, whose first issue appeared at the beginning of 2008, and which, as of June, will have published 4 full issues as well as more than 25 additional “Featured Poets.” My ambitions at this point are to continue building the readership, contributor roster, and recognition of Anti- to demonstrate the viability and vitality of the online medium for poetry. Also, to borrow from Conan the Barbarian, I want to drive my enemies before me and hear the lamentations of their women.

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

All my submission pet peeves are pretty well covered in our guidelines already. I suppose the only thing I can really say that the guidelines don’t is this: “It’s an online journal, and every single poem is free, right there. You have zero excuse to be e-mailing me something that makes it patently obvious you didn’t read one of them before you clicked Send.” Of course, people still do.

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’m the sole, head, buck-stops-here editor, though I do get a lot of feedback and other support from my great team of Assistant Editors: Kristin Sumner, A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz, Brent Goodman, Aaron Anstett, Jill Alexander Essbaum, and D. Antwan Stewart. I want to be my own boss because I can do a good job being either the boss or a supporting player, but true committee situations tend to devolve fast — see the long list of journals that average six months or more to respond.

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

I think the most exciting thing for me reading submissions is when I encounter a poem that totally blows me away by someone I’ve never even heard of. Clay Matthews, Sandra Beasley, and Jehanne Dubrow are just three of the poets I discovered that way who are now accomplishing great things. Fortunately, the poetry world is big enough that I still find poets this way no matter how well read I think I am and how many poets I know.

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

I screen all the initial poem batches, which I can do because I’m a bit OCD, I have a job whose schedule allows it, and we’re still a relatively small journal that isn’t swamped with submissions. I immediately reject anything that’s obviously incompetent or wrong for us, then make an accept/reject/more information decision on the rest. Anything that I want discussion on goes out to the editorial team. Based on what I hear back from them and my own multiple readings of the pieces, I make my final decisions. I kind of wish I had a fun answer here, like “I set all the poems on the floor, and whichever ones the cat lies on are the ones I accept.”

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’re online only. For me, the online venue gives me a much bigger potential audience with much smaller overhead cost. Though I still like the look and feel of a good print journal, it’s funny for me to see the prejudices of the old guard toward online publishing start to crumble. I expect most journals will start to accept electronic submissions within the next decade, or they’ll be dinosaurs. A little brutish Darwinism might help the po-biz.

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

Obviously I can’t be completely objective about the poems of friends, but a lot of my friends write really spectacular work, so I’m happy to publish a small slice of it. On the other hand, I feel a little bad when I have to reject poems by friends (or even friendly acquaintances), but most of them understand that it’s not a personal thing at all, and we still like each other. And if not, in the words of everyone’s mothers, did you really want someone like that as a friend anyway?

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?

For the most part, I think being an editor makes me work harder as a poet to research where I want to send work, only send poems places I’m really sure I want to appear, and follow guidelines carefully. I still hate the no-simultaneous-submission guideline, however.

I don’t publish my own work, primarily because there are plenty of places I can publish without having to go through an editor who’s incapable of being even slightly objective about my work. Also because of this piece, by E. E. Cummings about Louis Untermeyer:

mr u will not be missed
who as an anthologist
sold the many on the few
not excluding mr u

Does anyone know who Louis Untermeyer is anymore? I think Cummings was right. Self-publishers start out with a significant credibility deficit.

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?

Well, one thing I’m trying to achieve with the online format is move beyond a pure “issue” style of publication, since that’s forced on a print journal, not necessarily a best practice. In addition to regular issues, we also publish “Featured Poets,” where multiple poems by a single poet are on the front page of the site for at least two weeks, as well as themed chapbooks and front-page reviews. Playing with the timetables, the amount of poems, the presentation, etc. is another benefit of being online.

Feedback is as fast as e-mail, and who hasn’t dashed off a hasty message they later regretted? Actually, the feedback has been predominantly positive, with only an occasional “Fuck you” from a disgruntled submitter.

Steven D. Schroeder’s first full-length book of poetry, Torched Verse Ends, appeared in 2009 from BlazeVOX. His writing is available or forthcoming from Verse, Pleiades, Barrow Street, River Styx, and Verse Daily. He edits the online poetry journal Anti- and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

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Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):

This series’ standing page with all responses so far: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

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