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Editor Interview: Triggerfish Critical Review

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Poetry and criticism.

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: As I can, I dip into jubilat, Kenyon Review, Pleides, Blackbird, Cortland Review, Five Points, Alaska Quarterly Review and other things that come my way. I admire Copper Canyon Press, for their fine, beautiful book production, but also for whom and what they select to publish. But there are too many publishers to name working for nothing other than love. It is important to note that each person on the editorial advisory panel would provide very different lists and they are not responding here.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: The answer to this kind of question is always in flux and one always feels like you're either going to betray or forget the beloved writers you don't list. Still it's a very practical question to answer so readers have some idea what resonates for the editor.
I have a special love for prose poetry—not just French and American but anyone anywhere working in that form who can really pull it off. Also epic poetry, though the last person to do what epic poetry does recently was Tolkien. Homer, Beowulf and Gawain (the pearl poet) are pretty tough to beat. Dante, Milton, Blake.
Here's a list of names, no particular order, but if there are poets in the fiction category assume I like their poetry too.

Fiction: Henry Fielding, Flannery O'Connor, David Foster Wallace, Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Herman Melville, Raymond Carver, Jorge Luis Borges and Tobias Wolff.
Prose poets: Gary Young, Killarney Clary, Charles Simic, WS Merwin, Lydia Davis, Julio Cortazar, Jean Follain, Henri Michaux, Mark Strand, Max Jacob, Aloysius Bertrand, and Franz Wright.
Poets: TS Eliot, ee cummings, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Yang Wan-li, Mark Jarman, David Bottoms, Jim Harrison, Scott Cairns, Richard Hugo, Jane Kenyon, Kevin Gooden, James Tate, John Donne, Basho, Tomas Transtromer, James Wright and Tu Fu.
Science Fiction: Stanislaw Lem, Iain M. Banks.
Again, this list would look very different depending on who from the panel were responding—in many ways my list probably looks very staid and conservative.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: I don't believe any other journal is doing exactly what we are doing. We feature an artist for each issue and reproduce fine art from their oeuvre to complement the literary work we choose. Once we've selected the work for an issue we offer the contributors the option to respond to and comment critically on the work of the other contributors in that issue with whom they share work, and the editorial panel usually joins in on this collaboration, so each issue is a bit risky and often kind of magical in how it comes together and unfolds. We think it's good for the poets to comment and be commented on, not only as an exercise in writing and trust but also offers opportunity for friendships and mutual respect as an outgrowth, and through individual responses to individual work for our contributors to get a sense of audience and peer reaction. Each new issue isn't just publication, but a little community that has loosely collaborated to produce it. This makes sense because our publication was initially founded to provide a platform for writers within an online poetry workshop. We also facilitate interviews of either poets or artists, sometimes publish book reviews.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: What we're looking for is something impossible to categorize by formula, genre or subject. We like work that takes risks, but usually most of what we publish in a given issue is not necessarily risky—maybe a couple pieces. It's a truism to say we're looking for quality. What we want is something timeless—you know what I mean—whether it was written by Jean Follain a hundred years ago or Killarney Clary yesterday—you look at it and you know, this is quality, it's art, it's going to be art tomorrow and beyond—it transcends fashion, cleverness and superficial qualities someone might try to mimic and probably took some small bit of genius to write, whether because of vision or style—simple in its parts perhaps—but only one person in the history of the world could have composed or conceived it...

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: It is a thing with breath and autonomy apart from what the writer brought to it or reader brings to it. It is its own thing, individual and alive, singular and alone and given half a chance (we hope) will take on a life of its own in the minds of our readership and beyond. Not necessarily complex or undefinable—the language might be quite simple, and the thought process that created it discernible. It seems alive because it's borne of the poet's language and experience and becomes in itself experiential for the reader and because of this is often open to multiple interpretations. There's a quality to it of specific immediacy but because of this it also taps the universal and timeless.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Sometimes people submit to our email address instead of using the submission program (Submishmash) which is our preferred process. This can mean only one thing (which doesn't bode in their favor): they either didn't read, or read carefully enough, our submission guidelines. We aren't looking for disqualifying factors for submissions, but if there was one, this would be it. Another issue is when those submitting work have trouble with our program—they think they are submitting multiple poems but only submit one, or they are trying to withdraw one poem from a three poem submission and not the entire submission. This is the time to use our email, or withdraw the entire submission and then resubmit the still available work—either way works. I am sympathetic to people who make the effort to communicate (via seemingly mechanistic means—they only SEEM impersonal) and take every available step to maintain integrity. I know there are real poets behind the submissions and strive to never forget that, and I hope they know there are real editors behind the facade of software bridging us, which makes the entire process convenient and possible. If you use the program and offer us heads up via email, I notice and am always grateful.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: It's always especially nice to know whether someone submitting work is a reader of the journal. I always enjoy knowing something of what submitters have been doing with their poetry, and something about what caused them to think of us with their work, and maybe a bit about their life or career. None of this has any bearing or impact on whether we accept their work. The only thing that matters is the work itself, which either grabs us or it doesn't. I won't lie to you and say that if someone mentions Paris Review in their list of publications that I don't take notice. One person recently said this: "I think these poems have the movement and insight of your last issue. Thanks for considering them." And I took extra care with that submission and started out with sympathy and a desire to check what he meant. I do read all cover letters and all work submitted. The information offered in cover letters is usually read out of curiosity than it is anything else. If we publish them we use their bio notes and CV info, otherwise it's irrelevant. Brief cover letters are never frowned upon.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: I read everything completely at two different sittings to ensure I'm not in a bad or cloudy mood. What I like best are the really bad and the really fine submissions--those are easy. It's the above average work that has problems, or the competent but not great work, or the bad work with some really fine moments (which comprises the majority of what is submitted to us) which can turn the reading process into work. Even the work we publish is usually flawed--it's a question of whether the flaws make or break the poem--some poems have flaws which either don't interfere with a poem's success or contribute to it--and then you have to ask yourself--if the poem's flaws contribute to its success, are they truly flaws? We read everything twice and often far more than that.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: Anything that is very good to great I forward to an advisory board where we discuss it or vote on it. It's not unusual for us to largely disagree and even launch into arguments on a set of pieces. My board has a broad mix of tastes which is why I enlisted them to help me. I do screen some, but a lot gets forwarded and everyone is quite opinionated. What I look for is one or two strongly advocating a piece—it doesn't matter if I like it—I look for commitment to a piece from at least one person on the panel, preferably more. Or, I might like a piece and no one or maybe one other will like it. And sometimes it isn't the yays or nays that' are most important but the kind of argument made for a piece that matters. If it's strong, that's the person I ask to do the review of the piece after we accept it. We almost never arrive at anything close to consensus as an editorial board. We come from very different aesthetic and taste backgrounds, but we are also great friends, so it all works out.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: My day job is driving a truck, hauling trash around at a landfill. My editing work is done in the evenings after work, and weekends. This includes tons of correspondence, most of it fun and rewarding, but time consuming like you wouldn't believe. Checking on submissions, soliciting work from poets I admire, accepting and rejecting work, mucking around in untidy bits of software worse than Dante's dark wood (which might actually be preferable on some days), resizing and uploading art images and sound files, issuing deadlines and keeping a timetable and learning to be flexible with it, planning the present and next issues and trying to come up with organic, cohesive wholes. Mediating disputes between the panel members and begging them not to resign, carrying on dialogs about mission and poetics, aesthetics and what criticism should look like or debating about politics, philosophy or religion. Making sure no one is abusing the FB page and updating duotrope interview and listings, etc.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: Why fight it? If it's there, adds tremendous convenience and is affordable, why not use it? I still go to my local independent bookstore and spend lots of money there to support them, but I'm not against amazon and good deals either. I prefer books to ebooks, but boy, an online journal sure is preferable to print when it comes to cost and capability like beautiful art reproduction and supplemental audio for poems, and it allows us to reach people we wouldn't otherwise without the internet, Google and Duotrope.