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?
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.
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):
This series’ standing page: click here.
Previous Ten Questions series: