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Editor Interview: Beloit Poetry Journal

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

A: Poetry that matters

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

A: Crazy Horse, Massachusetts Review, Field, Seattle Review, Cerise Press, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and so on. So many doing good work.

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

A: Among my favorite living poets: Carolyn Forche, Martha Collins, Fred Marchant, Sonya Sanchez, Kazim Ali, Jake Adam York, Susan Tichy, Kevin Prufer, Yusef Komunyakaa, Anne Carson

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

A: Our alertness to poetic invention, catholicity of taste, willingness to take risks, indifference to a poet's reputation, ability to spot new talent, and commitment to poetry that matters

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

A: Please read an issue, in hard copy or in our online archive, before sending us work.
We're interested in the poetry with quickened language that slides off the tongue (we choose poems by reading them aloud) and whose gaze is toward the world.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: From the first line, it announces itself. It teaches the reader how to read it. It stakes out new territory in form, style, or subject matter. It knocks our socks off with surprise and delight.

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

A: Too many submitters knowingly or unknowingly violate our policy of not reading simultaneous submissions.
Despite our five-page limit (except for long poems), many submitters send 8, 10, or more pages. That makes us growl (and doesn't help their chances).
We limit submissions to two in a six-month period. Again, some people ignore that guideline.

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

A: Cover letters are optional. If you send one, don't just leap from "Dear Editors" to a list of credits; it seems discourteous. If you do list credits, a few representative publications will do. We're interested in the poems you send us, not where you've been published.

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

A: We read submissions all the way through. Sometimes the first poem is something we'd never take and the fifth poem sings to us.

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

A: When a manuscript comes in it is read by one of our co-editors. If it makes it through the first screening it is read by the other co-editor. If it makes it through that screening it is passed on to the other five members of the editorial board for comment. If any of the board members expresses serious interest in any poem in a manuscript it will be read aloud and discussed at our quarterly editorial board session, where final decisions are made.

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

A: The first screener gets up before dawn almost every morning and reads the 20 or so manuscripts that have come in since the day before. As the current second screener, I generally read manuscripts that have been passed on to me within a week of their arrival, on a less predictable schedule. Now that we take submissions online, both of us read at home. We add a personal note to almost every rejection notice.
Publishing a poetry journal entails much more than reading manuscripts, and amounts to full-time work for both of us. The tasks are extremely varied (searching out cover images, bookkeeping, corresponding with poets, laying out an issue, updating the website, etc.) and we are constantly prioritizing our to-do list.

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

A: We value print publication, the feel of the book in the hand, and won't give that up. But we also embrace the power of electronic media to make text, audio, and images available to a worldwide audience, and to facilitate direct communication between writers and readers. Our website houses a full-text archive of the first 61 years of the BPJ that makes our contribution to literary history readily available to anyone with an internet connection. At the same time, we are nearing completion of a real-world library that will house 30,000 volumes of poetry and the journal's correspondence from the early 1950's. This will be open to writers and scholars, and serve as a meeting and performance space as well.