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.
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
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
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).
Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:
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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