Posts Tagged ‘lit mag’

The Art of Implication: replying to emails

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over many years of replying to email as an educator and a literary magazine editor, it’s to take a deep breath before writing a reply and to imply the things I’d like to say. So you can imagine the reply I might have sent to the submitter tone our literary magazines who wrote to complain that we had returned a submission that was getting recognition elsewhere.

In my reply, I acknowledged that our review process is imperfect and subjective, and I mentioned some of the factors that can play a role, from the typos in a submission, to the length, to the themes that emerge as an issue of the journal comes together. I also encouraged him to read our journal to better understand our choices, and I defended our practice of offering a discount to all those who submit, even if their work is returned. What I didn’t say is that no one is obligated to subscribe, but I did note that we have back issues posted online with free access.

The advice I didn’t give, but I hope was implied, is that writing snarky responses to rejection notices rarely helps your chances when submitting to journals. Editors work hard and try to make the best decisions they can. We know you’ll be disappointed when we don’t take your work, but we expect you to develop a thick skin and not take it personally.

I could have said this explicitly, but I doubt the person who wrote would have taken it very well. Keeping the tone positive is more likely to get the desired result. Of course the other option would be not to reply. Sometimes no answer is the best answer.

Why I Love Editing a Lit Mag

Poetry_South_2018_frontcoverThere are a lot of good reasons to love editing a literary magazine: for one, you feel like you’re doing something for writers and readers by providing an outlet for talent and curating content for the public. That is certainly true about Poetry South, the magazine I am fortunate enough to edit with a small staff of students and alumni of our low-residency MFA program. And it is true of Ponder Review, the multi-genre magazine our program started to reflect the kinds of writing that we practice in our classes. But my reason for loving my role as editor of Poetry South is more selfish.

As editor, I have the enviable (and unenviable) job as final arbiter of whose poems are in and whose are out of the magazine. I read every submission, but I also have a staff who reads and votes, and often we disagree — not vehemently, but our votes aren’t all identical. Naturally, there are practical considerations of length and our page format that sometimes dictate whether a poem will fit our pages or whether we have room for another poem. There’s a balancing act to try to put together the best issue that we can from the submissions we receive, and I know there have been times when we’ve sent back very good poems.

Sometimes a reader has read too many poems when she or he gets to a poem that may be quite good, but because of everything that came before, her or his vision is clouded. That’s where the process helps. We try to have at least 2 and often 3 pairs of eyes on every poem. It’s not a democracy, though. Ultimately, a decision has to be made, and that’s what I love — not the power of making the decision, but the responsibility.

An assistant editor may have loved a poem that I passed over on an initial read. Maybe two other readers liked it, and I didn’t. This challenges me to reread and rethink the decision. Or the opposite may occur, where I loved a poem (or liked it — maybe in a generous moment) and it got voted down by one or two other readers. In either case, I end up reading the poem two or three times, and I have to justify my final decision.

Yes, I change my mind, swayed both for and against poems that I voted for or against in my initial read. Often you notice things the second time around that you didn’t notice initially — reading for a magazine is an imperfect art. I learn as much when my mind isn’t changed as when it is.

To make these decisions is to constantly reevaluate and challenge myself about what I think about poetry. Yes, sometimes a theme or a voice develops for an issue and that’s why you make the decisions you do, but often what you learn is more about what you value in a poem. I’ve learned, for instance, that I like a poem with a good narrative, but that I want a poem with more than a narrative: it has to have rich sounds and be said in such a way that I can’t imagine another way to say it. I like a poem that challenges my sense of form and structure, but I want that poem to also have something to say. And I’ve learned that I can’t second guess what I like because just when I do, a poem will come along that challenges all of those preconceptions and still manages to amaze.

I love editing a literary magazine because I get to read so much poetry — not just the poetry that we decide to publish, but also those poems we decide to send back. And I learn from it all. Perhaps more than anything, I learn just how many different poets are out there, and how many different kinds of poetry they write, and how much passion each brings to their art. And I can’t help hoping they’ll all get published. If our little magazine isn’t the right fit for them this time, I suspect they’ll find the right place at the right time soon enough.

But for those we do publish, when I start compiling contributors notes and find out who the poets are — we tend to read fairly blind — I love seeing that we publish some poets with multiple books and many magazine publications to their name, and that we also publish poets for their first or second time. It’s nice to know we have a good mix of experience, age, background, etc., and that it all comes together between two covers to form a cohesive whole. Within those pages, we introduce these disparate voices to one another, and we hope we create something new and valuable in the process.

Teaching Creative Writing with Literary Magazines

I’m a big fan of teaching creative writing with literary magazines, and have been doing it my whole my career. When I first started teaching Creative Writing, I used the textbook The Creative Process by Carol Burke and Molly Best Tinsley. It is a thin little book with chapters on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, along with cross-genre introductory chapters, and it was very influential to me in the way that I teach. One of the things it doesn’t have is an anthology of readings in the book. I was happy with that.

Since I was guest-editing an issue of The Literary Review, I began by ordering back issues of it  for my class. I would order a box and sell them at cost to my students. Usually I broke about even, though collecting their $4 was sometimes a challenge. I never lost much on the deal, though, and I was supporting a good journal.

One challenge of doing it this was was that I usually got our sample back issues just a week or so before classes started, or sometimes even after they had begun. I would pick out stories and poems for the class to read, and I often didn’t have a chance to review them. Students knew that; we were all exploring brand-new work together. That was also part of the thrill. It made class a little unpredictable, though I always knew the quality of the work would be fantastic.

Eventually, I decided to move to different textbooks after The Creative Process began to feel a little dated for me. I tried a couple that had selections of readings in them, and it was always a little bit of a let down. It was nice to have the readings well in advance of teaching the class, when I ordered my exam copies, but it never felt as fresh as when I was using a lit mag.

So when I decided to write my own notes, which I’m now publishing as the textbook A Writer’s CraftI also opted not to include an anthology of readings. Instead, I’ve been having my students purchase a recent Pushcart anthology. This has the advantage of having more selections to choose from, and it’s not terribly expensive (though more than a magazine’s back issue). There is also an index of magazines consulted in the back, which is helpful for students who want to find more. But I do miss teaching with an actual magazine.

Another way I’ve always tried to introduce literary magazines in an intro to creative writing class is to have students write a magazine review. They have to find their own magazine, get a copy, and then write a short review of it. I have them focus on the kinds of things a writer would care about if deciding where to submit. What is the quality of the magazine, who publishes in it, what styles do they seem to prefer, etc. Finding a magazine can be a challenge if you aren’t in a city with a good independent bookstore. But there are libraries with magazines, and students can always order one if they start early enough. And I’ll allow an online journal if students can access a full issue. New Pages even has a magazine store, where you can buy sample copies online, which can help the students who plan ahead. I’ve learned about a lot of good journals through this assignment!

CLMP also has a lit magazine adoption program for use in the classroom. As I understand it, they are revamping and relaunching the program this year, and faculty will be able to let their students purchase subscriptions for use in their classes. When that is available again, I may go back to assigning a magazine for the readings for my class! It sounds more convenient than ordering a box of books and guessing the right number of students who will enroll.

 

New Year’s Resolution: Use Pinterest

Last year, I did very well with my new year’s resolution: I resolved to finish a book of poems. I did that and got it published — Barrier Island Suite  is coming out in March from Texas Review Press. This year, my resolutions may be a little more modest, but I also want them to be practical.

For my first resolution, I resolve to make better use of Pinterest.

Now, let me say I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. Or I should say, I really don’t like it all that much, but I know I should. Everyone says they love Pinterest, and I’ve never seen much value. I don’t do crafts, and I don’t collect things. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on social media, if I can avoid it. What’s there to love in Pinterest?

But last year, I decided I should make the plunge, so I set up a Pinterest account for the new low-res MFA Program in creative writing that I direct at Mississippi University for Women. I thought it would be a good idea to have a presence on one of the fastest growing social networks. I wanted the account to fit our program, and got a little excited by the idea that Pinterest can be about more than crafts. I set up two boards: one for our program and one with links to writing advice and news. Initially, I pinned a few things, and then it languished.

My initial, brief enthusiasm for Pinterest was based on the realization that I could use it as repository to store links to web sites of interest, but this enthusiasm cooled because I found pinning things counterintuitive and rather clunky. There wasn’t always an image that I wanted to pin on the site I wanted to list, or I simply forgot about Pinterest as my schedule got busy. I didn’t make a point to go look for things to pin, in other words. I did download the button for my web browser, so I could pin things more easily, but I didn’t use it much.

That is my plan to fulfill my New Year’s resolution, though. I’ve realized that I can pin almost any page, and can and should use this more when I’m doing my regular browsing. Often a link on Facebook or Twitter will take me to an interesting article on writing or to a magazine that has a good poem or story. All I need to do is click the Pinterest button, and I can quickly add it to a board. Pinterest will even let me start a new board as I’m adding it, if the content I want to save doesn’t fit my existing categories.

I want to use these boards not only as my personal repository of links, but as a way to share interesting material related to writing with the students and faculty in the program (I have a feed from our Pinterest account in the online student lounge I set up in Canvas). Of course, anyone in Pinterest can follow our boards, so I hope they might be of interest to other writers and therefore to prospective students. In addition to the boards I mentioned above, I’ve started one for literary magazines, and may start one for publishers, contests, workshops, or other writing opportunities.

Follow our program on Pinterest to see how I do with this resolution!