Monday, November 28, 2011

What I Learned As an Editor

Recently I served as Guest Editor for the inaugural issue of Adanna, a new print journal. The doors opened for submissions on January 31 and closed on April 30, so I had 3 full months of reading and selecting poems, short stories, essays, and book reviews. I'd like to now share some of my thoughts and observations about the experience.

1. It's a lot of work! If I'd just been doing the poetry, it would, of course, have been less, but this experience gave me a heightened appreciation for the silent work that editors do to put out a journal. Editors do a ton of work. It's easy to get angry at them. But don't forget to be grateful.

2. A significant number of contributors do not follow the guidelines. Ours were very clear. We asked for no more than 6 poems, we asked that contact information appear on each submitted piece, that prose be one piece only and no longer than 2000 words, that the submission arrive as one file. Here's some of what I received:
       • from one poet, 96 poems. No joke. Then she sent an additional 6. After I sent a rejection note, she sent 6 more.
       • several prose writers sent as many as 3 pieces. Sorry, but that's just an imposition on the editor's time.
       • one prose writer sent a piece that was close to 9000 words. When I wrote and said I could not read her piece as it was far in excess of our maximum, she replied that I should select my favorite 2000 words. When I said that wasn't the way it works, she replied that she didn't want to live in my world. Good. I don't want her there either.
       • far too many poets sent 6 files instead of 1. When I sent them back, I was asked to provide instructions on how to create a single file. I was nice about it and did so, but really, if you don't know how to do that, maybe you're not ready to submit?
       • far too many authors put their contact information in the email but not on the submission. Now somebody had to do that so we could keep track of what belonged to whom. I don't think that somebody should be the editor. I was nice the first few times, then started just returning with a note to review the guidelines.
       • a number of poets sent only one poem. Why would anyone do that? An editor wants choice. Side note: not one of those poems was accepted. Maybe there just weren't any others to send?
       • a number of authors sent a pdf although we specifically asked that authors not do so. Why not? Because if we wanted the piece, we needed to be able to make edits.

3. It's really not a good idea to submit to editors you know personally. The hardest part of my job was saying no to people I know. We received many submissions from NJ poets, but because the journal is both national and international, I could take just a limited number of pieces by NJ poets.

4. There are many reasons for a rejection. I've read that before, but now I know it's really true. I sent out acceptances on a rolling admissions basis. So if I'd early on accepted a poem about Alzheimer's, one that arrived later, no matter how good, wasn't going to get in.

5. If you know that the journal accepts on a rolling admissions basis, it's a good idea to send early in the submission period. (See #4) Towards the end of the reading period, long pieces just weren't going to get in as we were running out of available pages.

6. Mistakes happen. Even with a good system and great care and the utmost respect for the contributors, an occasional mistake will happen. We had submissions from approximately 450 writers, most with multiple pieces. 
      • And yet we almost omitted two accepted poems from the journal. Something went awry at the layout end. Fortunately, because I had a system which included a checklist, I spotted the omissions in time to rectify.   
      • We also somehow lost an entire submission. Submissions went to the editor and from her to me. Somehow this one vaporized. We became aware of it only when the poet withdrew one poem. By then, however, it was too late to consider the others as the journal was already in production. All we could do was apologize.
      • We were scrupulous about notifications, and yet we missed one. I hear writers complain a lot about a journal's failure to respond. I agree that that is unforgivable—if it's just laziness. But if it's a genuine mistake, please understand and forgive. Then try again.

7. If the guidelines ask for a bio, be sure to include one (and adhere to the length asked for). Do not tell the editor to go to your website to find the information. Won't happen.

8. Send your best work, work you'd be proud to have published. We received some submissions from poets whose work we knew and admired. But what a disappointment to discover that they'd sent inferior work. I wondered if these poets didn't want to risk sending their first team work to a new journal. Okay, but then it's better not to send at all. Wait until you've seen the first issue and decide if you'd like to be in the second issue. As this was a first issue, it was very very important to us to select work that would set a high standard.

9. Format your work correctly. It's so annoying to get work with weird margins. Stick to the one inch rule. And it really surprised me to see how many writers are still inserting two spaces after a period. That practice has gone the way of the dodo bird. With the advent of word processors, the rule became one space. Using two spaces dates you as someone who learned how to type on a typewriter. Now this might seem really petty, but each one of those extra spaces has to be deleted by somebody. Let that somebody be you, the writer.

10. Putting out a print journal is truly a labor of love. There's no money to be made. Think of the print journals that have gone out of business. Think of the ones that have converted to online formats. Then support the print journals that give us paper pages for our work. If we want them to continue, we need to support them. If you can't afford author copies, perhaps you could recommend the journal to your library, to your students, your friends. Mention your appearance in the journal on your blog, at Facebook, and via other social networks. Help spread the word.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Give the Gift of Poetry

I have an early gift-giving suggestion for you: A subscription to the print journal, Poet Lore. At 125 years old, Poet Lore is the oldest literary journal in this country. It is also one of the best, turning out outstanding poetry in issue after issue. I've been a subscriber for years. Other journals I subscribe to I sometimes drop for a while and move onto other journals, perhaps later returning. I wouldn't consider dropping Poet Lore, not even for one issue.

Here are some reasons why you should treat yourself and the people you love to a subscription:
1. A subscription is only $10. Really, what other gift of such value can you get for that price? That price, however, is going up on January 1, so act now. Do not procrastinate.

2. The journal comes out twice a year, spring and fall. There's enough in each journal to keep you happy for many hours, yet not so much that you feel overwhelmed by the size of the issue.

3. This is one of the few print journals that is exclusively poetry. You're not going to have to flip through the short stories and essays to get to the poems. It's all poems. I have nothing against prose, but I love having this one journal that's such a feast of poetry.

4. The selection of poems is eclectic. If you like well-written poems in a variety of styles, poems that tell stories, poems that touch the heart, poems that take some risks while not sacrificing clarity, then this is your journal.

5. Each journal is organized in much the same way that a poetry book is, i.e., with the poems strategically placed rather than in alphabetical order or according to some other arbitrary plan. This means a big investment of time and brain power on the editors' part, but provides enormous pleasure for the reader. Each issue is like a quilt, each poem fitting in just the right place and adding to the overall design.

6. The back section of each issue contains a generous number of reviews of recent poetry collections.

7. An Added Bonus: This journal stimulates the production of new work. I never leave an issue without having begun one or more new poems of my own. There might be a poem that begs me to imitate it, that makes use of a technique I haven't seen before and would like to try. There might be a poem with a line that demands some kind of response. There might be a poem with an image that evokes images in my own brain.

So what are you waiting for? Hop on over to Poet Lore and place your order.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Spot a Future Poet

I'm often asked, as I imagine most poets are, How did you know you wanted to be a poet? Or, What made you become a poet? The truth is I didn't know I wanted to be a poet until I volunteered to test the poetry prompts for a then-forthcoming textbook written by William Stafford and his former student, Stephen Dunning. That book, Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises, was published by NCTE in 1992 and remains one of their bestsellers. My role over a period of about six months was to write poems to the prompts that arrived by mail every few weeks. From the very first one, I knew that something special had happened. I was electrified. I knew I wanted to keep writing poems. And I did, even though I was off to a late start.

Maybe if someone had ever asked me to write poems, I would have gotten off to an earlier start. But I went through school never being asked by a single teacher to write a poem. If it happened in elementary school, I don't remember. I know it didn't happen in junior high, high school, or college. In fact, until I was in college and later graduate school, I barely even read any poetry. And yet as I look back to the young girl I once was, I think I might have shown some early signs of poetic potential. I've isolated three characteristics:

1. I was a crybaby.
I cried at home. I cried in school. Threaten me with punishment and I dissolved. Hurt my feelings and I was ruined for an entire day. My teachers, at conference time, always told my parents that I was a pretty good student but I cried too much. Once my cousin was visiting from Tennessee and staying at my grandparents' house. I went there with my father to visit. She wanted to visit a former friend down the street so I went with her. When the friend opened the door, they conferred. Then my cousin turned to me and said, "Di, I'm going to have lunch with Carolyn. I'll see you later." And the door closed behind her. I went back to my grandparents' house and began to cry my eyes out, so much that my father made me go home to my mother. Once there, I cried so hard and long my mother finally put me to bed. I could still cry just thinking about the way my cousin dumped me.

I wish I could say I've grown out of crybaby-hood, but lately I've been tearing up during The X Factor.

2. I was a daydreamer. 
This also got me in trouble in school. Sometimes I was thinking, but sometimes I was just zoning out. It was like a trance. I'd just gaze and not even see what was in front of me. In eighth grade my teacher one day stopped class and disturbed me out of my trance. He said I'd been staring right through him and he'd never been so uncomfortable in his life. Oh dear. When I was in high school, I pretty much trained myself out of doing this in public places. But I still do it, especially if I'm tired or if I'm thinking about something. Sometimes I'm looking for a word or an image for a poem I'm working on.

I'm glad my parents weren't able to knock my dreaming out of me.

3. I was a liar.
Really, I told a lot of fibs. I learned the word prevaricator when my father called me one. I made up a whole bunch of different names for myself and sent off for things by mail and used those names, much to the mortification of my mother when the mailman handed her an envelope addressed to Venus DeVeau. In sixth grade I received a Siamese kitten for my birthday. When I told my classmates, no one believed me! Why not? Because they'd come to know that most of what I told them was invented. Consequently, that day I brought home almost the entire sixth grade so I could prove that I did have a kitten. I then realized that perhaps I'd better stop my prevaricating. If I hadn't, I might still be calling myself Sarah Bessie.

But, for the most part, I did stop. Except in the poems where it's legal to invent.

Now if my parents and teachers and pals noticed my crying, my daydreaming, my lying, why didn't any of them realize that those were really just the early signs of a poet in training?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Invitation to a Reading

Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Diane Lockward and Ed Romond
Carriage House Poetry Series
Kuran Arts Center
Watson Rd.
Fanwood, NJ
8:00 PM
Open Mic

Do you need reasons to come? Okay, then for one thing, I'll be reading with Ed Romond who is just terrific. For another, this is a really nifty venue—an authentic restored carriage house. And just because it would be lovely to see you.

Scroll to the bottom of the page.

If using a GPS, use 75 N. Martine Avenue as your address.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My Poem Goes to Portugal

Several months ago I was contacted by Francisco Craveiro, a mathematics professor from the University of Coimbra in Portugal. It turned out that in addition to things mathematical he also enjoys poetry and translation. He especially likes poems with math-related subject matter. From time to time he gathers such poems together, translates, and compiles them in a chapbook which he reproduces and distributes. He had come across my poem, "The Mathematics of Your Leaving," from my first book, Eve's Red Dress. I don't know where he found the poem, but it first appeared in Rattle. Now while Rattle is a print journal the editor had also posted the poem on the journal's website, so perhaps that's where Francisco found it.

A few days ago I received a copy of the chapbook. Eight poets are included. There I am right after Charles Simic! I have no knowledge whatsoever of Portuguese, but it's a kick to have my poem translated into that language. I love how poems make their way around the world and end up in unexpected places.

Here's the cover of the chapbook

And here's the original poem in English:


Today I remembered my algebra book
flying across the room,
my father shouting I was stupid,
a dumb girl, because I couldn’t do math–
and all because you are leaving,
I’m calculating numbers,
totaling years, even
working out equations:
If x + 1 = 2, what is the value of x alone?
All day I’ve been thinking about
word problems: If a train travels west
at the speed of 60 miles per hour
against a thirty mile per hour wind, how fast
will you be gone?
Today I’ve added and subtracted,
multiplied and divided. I’ve mastered
fractions. Even that theorem
I could never understand–plus 1
plus minus 1 equals zero–is perfectly clear.
Then just when I think I’ve finally
caught on, a whiz kid now, a regular
Einstein, suddenly the numbers
betray me. No matter how many times
I count the beads on the abacus, work it out
on the calculator, everything comes
to nothing.
Mute and fractured, a dumb girl again,
I sit alone at my desk, staring
out the window, homework
incomplete. A square root unrooted,
I contemplate infinity.
–from Rattle #11, Summer 1999 

And now here it is in translation:                          

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Poet on the Poem: Patricia Fargnoli

I first met Patricia Fargnoli online at the Wompo listserve. Later, I met her in person when she was resident faculty at The Frost Place. She is a wonderful poet and teacher of poetry. Poet Laureate of New Hampshire from 2006-2009, she is the author of six collections of poetry, including two chapbooks. Her first book, Necessary Light (Utah State University Press, 1999) was awarded the 1999 May Swenson Poetry Award judged by Mary Oliver. Her most recent book is Then, Something (Tupelo Press, 2009).

I found today's poem in the current issue of Poet Lore, one of my favorite journals. I was reading the journal recently in New Hampshire to give a reading. When I came across Pat's poem, I knew I wanted to invite her to discuss it here. Then as Fate would have, who should show up at my reading later that day? Pat! So I immediately lassoed her. By the way, Pat is the kind of poet who shows up at other poets' readings. She is truly a model of how we should support each other.

Click Cover for Amazon
Will the Cows Come Home? 

When the river freezes over and the pot boils
When the cat leaves the corner, when the tulips leave the bed

After absence has made your heart grow fonder
After the apples have fallen far from the tree

Where the village is sleeping, the cows will come to the barn
Swishing their long tails, nodding their heads

If you have been waiting too long, the cows will come for you
If you believe in cows, they will come to your hand

If you hold out sweet grass in late afternoon's last hour
From the greener pastures, they will surely come to you

When you say the right sounds, they will hear you
When your house is made of glass and stones, they will see you

When what has gone around must come around,
They will come home

Be careful what you wish for; if something can go wrong it will
But where there's a will there's a way

After the cat's nine lives are through and the dog's bone is buried
After the wishbone's been broken and the turkey's been eaten

Go with the flow of the river. The cows will come home
After your actions have spoken louder than words

Before all good things have come to an end
Before all the bridges have burned

The cows will come home

If the rolling stone has gathered its moss and is still
If the salt has been thrown over the barn's shoulder

All things come to those who wait
Cometh the hour, cometh the cows

Better late than never, everything in its own good time
The cows will come home

To your barn shaking their bells
They will come home to you.

DL:  What led you to choose cows as a topic for a poem? As the poem progresses, they seem to become more than merely cows. Was that your intention?

PF:  I had just been to buy raw milk from a local dairy farm (as I often do), where I'd stood at the fence talking to the Holsteins and loving their broad innocent faces. So I thought why not write another cow poem (I've written a few). And the phrase "when will the cows come home” came into my head. But I haven't a clue where the idea came from to answer the question by playing with sayings. The muse was on the job that day, I guess. But the next thing I did was, with the help of Google, make a long list of popular sayings. Then (and when I had the rhythm) the poem almost wrote itself. Which, I might say, is much different than my usual “struggle over months or years” process.

And yes, of course, the “cows” become more than merely cows…though I don't know that I realized that at first. They are, perhaps, whatever we wait for. Though I don't know if that's it exactly either. One of the early lessons I learned when I was learning to write was this: If one writes exactly enough about a specific thing/object/image/event, sometimes it gathers a deeper meaning (or another level of meaning) beyond that exact description. I think that is true in this case.

DL:  You violate one of the first rules taught to novice poets: Avoid clichés. Instead, you embrace them—and to great advantage. What made you decide to take this risk and what do you think makes it work?

PF:  I wasn't thinking of these as “clichés” exactly but mostly as sayings: aphorisms, platitudes, proverbs that have been around for a long time and which have been used as “lessons” for humans about life. What's changed here, of course, is that I've made them apply to cows—a shift in perspective. Anyway, I love breaking “rules” in poems and getting away with it (the latter part of that sentence, the important part). An early poetry teacher, Brendan Galvin, taught me that “what works” is the only final rule.

DL:  Your use of anaphora adds music, structure, and meaning. How hard did you work on that technique? Also, the refrain, “The cows will come home,” or a slight variation, adds such power to the poem. How conscious was this?

PF:  It was very conscious. I read somewhere that Stanley Kunitz once said that when he had the rhythm of a beginning poem in his head, the poem could be written. Well, I may be remembering that wrong, but he said something like that and it struck me as being true.

And the refrain and anaphora keep the poem focused and glued together. The repetition builds power as it goes, I think.

DL:  In the third to last stanza, you say, “Cometh the hour; cometh the cows.” That change in diction immediately grabbed my attention. But why “cometh”?

PF:  The saying I was playing with and paralleling here is “Cometh the hour; cometh the man.” This is my favorite line, precisely because of the surprise of the change in diction—and because of its rhythm.

DL:  a) Tell us why there's no punctuation at line ends.

PF:  There's no end punctuation at all except for the final period. That just seemed intuitively right to keep the flow going. I let capital letters and line and stanza breaks substitute for punctuation.

DL:  b) Tell us why each line begins with the formality of a capital letter. 

PF:  Because I felt that each line was almost an end-stopped sentence—or at least a sentence fragment and I wanted them to be read that way. Again, this was intuitive and seemed right.

Bonus: Visit Pat's poems on The Writer's Almanac, read by Garrison Keillor.

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