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