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.
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.
Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):
- Helen Losse , poetry editor of The Dead Mule
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
John Wang, editor of Juked
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review
Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review
This series’ standing page with all responses so far: click here.
Previous Ten Questions series: