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.
Previous Ten Questions for Poetry Editors responses:
Steve Schroeder, Anti-
Helen Losse, Dead Mule
Susan Culver, Lily and Poetry Friends
Justin Evans, editor of Hobble Creek Review
Paul Stevens, editor of the Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera and The Flea
Nicolette Bethel, editor of Tongues of the Ocean.
Coming up next (once a week on Tuesdays):
Reb Livingston, editor of No Tell Motel
Kate Bernadette Benedict, editor of Umbrella
Christine Klocek-Lim, editor of Autumn Sky Poetry
Lindsay Walker, poetry editor of Juked
Mary Biddinger, editor of Barn Owl Review
Edward Byrne, editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review
This series’ standing page: click here.
Previous Ten Questions series: