Editor Interview: Plum Tree Tavern
Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.
A: Ecopoetry 3 to 14 lines.
Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?
A: Written River by Hiraeth Press. It’s a great combination of poetry, commentary and photography. http://writtenriver.com/
G. Tod Slone of The American Dissident, who does not compromise, period. Abandon your groupthink, all ye who enter here: http://www.theamericandissident.org/.
Mgcini Nyoni from Zimbabwe runs a great world poetry site at Poetry Bulawayo, http://poetrybulawayo.blogspot.com/
And Ross Vassilev, who ran Opium Poetry 2.0 and Asphodel Madness a few years ago still inspires me. He keeps the archives up at (http://opiumpoetry.blogspot.com/ and
Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?
A: For a language of nature, Li Po. He’s immortal so contemporary too. For collision with the established culture,Woeser, the Tibetan poetess. For abandonment of life, Daniel Ladinsky, who does great translations of the Persian crowd of mystics.
Or Issa, e.e. cummings, and Tu Fu. Each is interchangeable with others: I could just as easily say Neruda, Zhao and Rimbaud.
I’m not sure cummings always gets his due.
And of course the Beats.
But who’s Zhao? Lin Zhao, Chinese poetess, trapped by Mao Zedong’s Hundred Flowers Movement back in the late 1950s.
Mao’s tricksters tried to sweet talk her into admitting she was out of step with the Party. After declining several increasingly insistent invitations to renounce her writings, she was finally sentenced in 1965 to twenty years in prison where, hewing to China’s long tradition of poetic impudence toward imperial edicts, she continued to mock her captors.
Her refusal to touch her forehead to the dirt for the pleasure of the Great Helmsman is captured in the sardonic lines of her most-cited poem, “A Day of Suffering for Prometheus.” In it, Lin has Zeus ask a question of the Titan who brought the gift of fire to the human race. "Is your head made of granite?" To which Lin has the hero promptly reply, "No, but it is protected by the truth."
Truth didn’t protect Lin. On an April day in 1968, Lin was taken to Shanghai’s Longhua Airport and executed with a bullet to the back of the head. Per custom of the public security bureaus, the lieutenant who pulled the trigger presented Lin’s mother with a bill for the cost of the ounce of lead that stilled her daughter’s earthen voice: five cents. Lin’s devotion to the iron-willed and unrepentant muse of her personal Mount Kaukasos deserves an immortality of its own. During her years in custody, the story goes, Lin wrote thousands of poems—at first in the traditional manner, on paper, in ink; then later, after her warders took away her notebooks and her pen, on the walls of her cell, in her own blood.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: Not many sites focus on ecopoetry, so it’s a small group of others. What sets Plum Tree Tavern apart is its focus to de-emphasize the observer and to concentrate on the image. There’s a reason for that. Let’s just say the arrogance and ignorance of the human ego wrecks the planet. The planet by itself doesn’t need the human ego at all. It can get by just fine without it. Same with a poem about nature. The river speaks for itself. It can get by just fine without the poetic ego. There’s a difference between “The river speaks in older words” and “I hear the river speaking older words.” One line gives the river dignity. The other line advertises the poet.
Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?
A: Be specific. One writer sent a poem that focused on a turtle on a rock in a stream. If somebody wants to write about that, he or she better state the species of the turtle, the type of rock, and the name of the stream. Specificity might have given that poem the credibility it needed to work. Without specificity, that image isn’t a poem. It’s a greeting card. And usually, leave the word ‘I’ out of things.
Q: Describe the ideal submission.
A: Again, specificity. And season, place and color and other tactile elements. More than anything else, the honesty of the image. An honest poem has a certain sound to it, call it a deep, brass ring to it. Something that vibrates into bone. Less than honest poems also have a sound, like tin. I would argue that a poem that is less than honest, isn’t a poem at all.
Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?
A: That the intent is to focus on the nature of nature, not on the nature of human nature. I am interested in the wonder of the world, not in how the observer describes his or her relation to a wonder in the world. Again, there’s a difference between “The river speaks in older words” and “I hear the river speaking older words.” One line gives the river dignity. The other line advertises the poet.
Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?
A: I don’t ask for bios, and I don’t publish them. The poem will either speak for itself, or it won’t.
Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?
A: All of it. Poetry is like baseball. Anything can happen in the bottom of the ninth, the last line.
Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?
A: If the work sounds overly familiar, I’ll google it to make sure it hasn’t been published somewhere before. Otherwise, make sure the format will fit the column width. That's about it.
Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?
A: I have a day job, so editing is a part-time labor. And not a labor of love, it's a labor of commitment. The most enjoyable part is the ability to give a platform to people who have something to say. Nothing better than to give a voice a place in the world.
Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?
A: It’s way important. The difference between electronic publishing and traditional publishing is on the same scale of difference as between a keyboard and a typewriter. The keyboard represents liberty (think of fonts, bolding, alignment) while the typewriter represents restriction. The keyboard is also more democratic than the typewriter--more people can effectively use a keyboard than could use a typewriter. Modern technology simply offers a combination of liberty and democracy that traditional models never attained. It is important for publishers to embrace modern technology because modern technology offers the real possibility for all voices to be heard in the world, and Plum Tree Tavern is all for that. Drink up.