This round robin interview includes the following editors:
ELOISA AMEZCUA’s debut collection, From the Inside Quietly, is the inaugural winner of the Shelterbelt Poetry Prize selected by Ada Limón. She is the founder and editor of The Shallow Ends: A Journal of Poetry. [The Shallow Ends: A Journal of Poetry]
MARCUS CLAYTON is a writer, musician, and college professor from South Gate, CA, whose works appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, lipstickparty magazine, and Tahoma Literary Review, among others. [indicia]
SETH COPELAND’s poetry has appeared in Crab Fat, Menacing Hedge, Otoliths, San Pedro River Review, Mud Season Review, and Snorkel. He is the founding editor of Jazz Cigarette, and publishing editor for New Plains Review. Seth teaches and studies at the University of Central Oklahoma. [Jazz Cigarette]
RACHEL SAHAIDACHNY is associate editor of The Indianapolis Review and works as programs manager for The Indiana Writers Center. Her writing has been published in Southeast Review, Radar Poetry, Red Paint Hill, and others. [The Indianapolis Review]
NATALIE SOLMER is the founder and editor in chief of The Indianapolis Review. She teaches English at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and Ivy Tech Community College. Find links to her work at www.nataliesolmer.com.[The Indianapolis Review]
AJ URQUIDI is a California-based writer/editor. His words appear in journals including Vector Press, Foothill, and Verdad, and received the Gerald Locklin Writing Prize. [indicia]
JR: What was the timeframe from your journals’ concept to launch? Any surprises, technical or otherwise, along the way?
NS: I believe it was around the end of April this year (2017) that I started getting this vision in my head of what would become The Indianapolis Review whenever I would lie down to sleep. I literally could not sleep until I would give in, get up out of my bed and begin the researching, web-building, cover art-making, etc. I am a very busy person and knew that I had some extra time in June and July of this year, therefore, I wanted to get the first issue out by the end of July. When I told people this, they really thought I was crazy! It WAS crazy, but I had wonderful help from my staff, and I put in a lot of late, late nights, and we made it! We published mid-July. The main problems we had were technical, in dealing with our WordPress website, and having to upgrade our type of site to the ‘Business’ package, though I still can’t quite explain all of that to you. Ha.
MC: We had just come off of a different journal that we were also in charge of–I’ll spare you the details about that one’s demise because it errs to the side of a “bad break up”–and needed about a month or so before we even considered doing another magazine. There were a ton of life changes happening between the both of us, but once everything settled, we got things going around (estimating here) October 2015. AJ started spamming different liberal arts campuses for work, and we gathered various editors who were friends/classmates of ours in grad school. That particular process (getting submissions and a reliable staff) took longer than anything else. More life changes were happening, and one of our staffers didn’t like how our website looked initially (petty fights ensued, but were quelled very quickly), but we managed to churn out our first issue in June 2016. After that, the output went much smoother. Second issue in January 2017 and third in July 2017.
SC: Three years ago, I worked at a credit union drive-thru on the edge of town. I took advantage of the large stretches of free time available, and read/wrote voraciously. I had been paying attention to some of the more distinct online journals that were beginning to receive considerable recognition (DIAGRAM, Birdfeast, Thrush, Sixth Finch, E·ratio, etc.). I wanted to be a part of that experience, and begin to plan a poetry magazine. This was all nebulous until I moved to a bigger city, and started attending graduate school at the University of Central Oklahoma. From there, I consulted with other journal editors, and decided I could in fact start the project with relative ease. Purchasing a URL was remarkably easy, but I’ll admit I may have found my way to a discount (no, we didn’t trade jazz cigarettes in FedEx). The real learning curb? HTML. Working on New Plains Review at the university helped fine-tune our aesthetic and mission statement. While still specific to poetry, our aesthetic has expanded to hybrid work and even asemic writing.
EA: It only took a few months to get The Shallow Ends up and running. Because I knew I’d be doing things myself, I tried to stick with a basic concept (one poem once a week) and a basic layout for the website. I knew I wasn’t (and unfortunately still am not) an expert when it comes to technology but that doesn’t mean I can’t put good poems by amazing writers into the world. I bought the domain name and began building the site in June of 2016 and launched the first poem on September 1, 2016.
JR: The word ‘archives’ has taken on a whole new meaning where digital perpetuity is concerned. Has this changed the way you promote past contributors’ work?
RS: I feel great responsibility towards supporting our contributors’ work and try to fulfill this by managing posts on several social media platforms, but also into the future by providing a record of contributors by issue. It is really brave to publish a poem in the digital platform – as it does exist to be viewed far into the future, and it’s sad if that record gets lost and buried. We definitely feel that we and our contributors are part of a shared virtual community, and we hope to continue to support their work beyond The Indianapolis Review; particularly since we do have a bit of “local” flavor, too. We strive to promote a selection of Indiana-based writers and artists in each issue alongside poets and writers from around the world. It’s important to us for the Indiana poets and artists to do well, reach local audiences, and generate support for the arts in our local communities.
EA: I strongly believe in supporting contributors beyond just the poem contributed to TSE. Of course their poems remain in our archives, but these poets are still creating and publishing and accomplishing great things within the literary community and I want to celebrate that with them. Being a small part of these writers’ incredible journeys has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my editorship.
AJ: That development hadn’t really changed anything in our timeline, since we were beginning in the game well after digital archiving was already the Blogspot standard for at least a decade. We like to screenshot short-enough pieces from contributors during an issue cycle, then post those to our Facebook and Twitter accounts to spotlight that special someone and keep the issue alive in collective memory. Those gestures survive through reposting/retweeting, so our network maintains the archive on their own pages, whether they realize it or not. Our contributors’ work will forever be like the shells of dead barnacles still permanently crusted on a sperm whale’s chest, hanging on until the latter is finally torn apart by orcas and left to float carcassly in the open ocean waves. I think the whale is the internet in this analogy, and orcas might be 4chan trolls or cyberterrorists (is there a difference?).
SC: We encourage past contributors to send us their latest book, regardless of whether or not the poems we published appear in it. If a past contributor is doing something new or has a fresh collection, we’ll usually take to our twitter (@jazzcigmag) to remind our followers how proud we are to have published the poet’s work. We have, on at least one occasion thus far, reviewed a contributor’s new book, one issue after they appeared in the journal. Maybe we’ll start an alumni association. How else will we fund the future Jazz Cigarette School of Poetics & Professional Swimming?
JR: indicia, equine minds want to know, what’s the story behind the carousel picture on your homepage? It’s quite the impression maker. Opening the question, do you think image expectations are greater for online journals, as opposed to print?
MC: None beyond the fact that it was the most eye catching of the art we chose in the second issue, which also isn’t to say the others weren’t worthy of being utilized on the site. Personally speaking, it was a favorite of mine, so I lobbied to have it featured. Black and white photos resonate with me the most, which is also a big reason why the third featured them so prominently. That being said, we do plan to have rotating art within our website. Truth be told, the only reason the carousel stayed on so long was because we neglected to change it for the third issue. Busy lives. Busy, busy. As for your second question, not really. At least it hasn’t crossed my mind. I think art expectations are about the same when looking at any magazine. Sure, print has the added privilege of being tangible, but the aesthetic stays the same when the viewer takes in the piece with their eyes. Then again, I’m probably talking out of my ass, so maybe there is an expectation, but it is not something we think about extensively.
AJ: Alex Stolis sent us a handful of photos for consideration during the second-issue era, most of which were black-and-white apocalyptic scenes of an abandoned carnival. Of the ones we chose, “The Four Horsemen” had a great staring-into-your-lack-of-a-soul vibe, and it seemed disenchanting enough to serve as the welcome banner on our site for the time being. Black and white matched our site’s minimal scheme as well, so it was a match made in horse heaven. But it will cycle to someone else’s work soon enough. When it comes to social media aspects of promoting the online journal and showcasing everyone’s work, it helps to have such digital-friendly images to share and decorate profiles with, and with enough consistency, it burns an image of our preferred aesthetic into the reader’s memory just by glancing at our Facebook profile. I’ve seen a lot of online journals do that with varying effect. With print journals like Chiron Review or Caketrain (RIP) I can pinpoint a certain cover and remember some of the content that went with, but nothing sticks visually beyond the cover art. On the other hand, digital ventures somewhat like ours, but less PDF-based and more like The Offing or FreezeRay, rely on a small grouping of carefully sequenced art pieces to carry them for the issue, since readers might not even look at covers without a tangible object forcing them to.
SC: I think most successful online journals incorporate image in some meaningful way alongside text. This may be as simple as being known for publishing visual/hybrid work (DATABLEED, Otoliths, and Flag + Void come to mind, but there are many others). For all that, I’ve always admired streamlined, uncluttered online presences. When first endeavoring to create a new digital zine, my original model was the late great Apocryphal Text, whose simple energy-saving background and tightly framed dimensions suited both the eyes and the mind. The internet’s endless archive of work in the public domain has been very advantageous in constructing an interactive dialogue between text and image. Literary folks respond strongly to imagery that conjures feeling of not only the past, but the alternative past, the underground obscura and eclectica on which we’ve also built. I’d say indicia’s awesomely-framed carousel falls into that rhetorical territory as well.
NS: OK. I was very curious after reading this question, and I had to go look up indicia’s cover art. Very cool. I am wondering if anyone from indicia has read the poet Alessandra Lynch’s poem, “Carousel.” Wow, that image was made for her poem about the “brutal white horses with painted on faces!” That being said, I’m not sure if image expectations are greater for online journals vs. print. There are some online journals that don’t do much of anything with image, but still are great journals. It all depends. I am a very, very amateur painter and love art, so it felt like such an exciting thing to solicit and publish art in the journal. I definitely wanted a colorful, vibrant journal–both visually and content-wise. I created my own weird, rudimentary artwork for our cover, praying to draw people in!! Thankfully, some people actually approved of it!
JR: Issue Five of Jazz Cigarette is devoted to poetry in received form. Be still my pantoum heart. What were some of the rarer forms that came across the transom? Has anyone else considered a themed issue?
SC: We fully expected to see some familiar shapes: ghazals, pantoums, villanelles, and such, but poets also sent new forms of their own creation. Some were more successful than others, but overall we were floored by the quality of people’s ideas; it was by far the most difficult submission portal I’ve worked on. Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo, a repeat Jazz Cigarette offender, sent us these incredible pieces which took their inspiration from social media toolbars and popup browsers. Topical and totally distinct. One warning for other editors: if you let people send sestinas, they will send you a lot of sestinas, and you will wake up in the middle of the night, many nights in a row, with six words dancing about your head, refusing to let you be.
NS: Though I absolutely adore pantoums, and themes can be fun, I personally don’t wish to do a theme anytime soon (or ever). I know that when I am submitting my own work, themes drive me crazy! I can’t seem to write a piece FOR a theme or upon request. I mean, I have (like for weddings and funerals), but it’s just not the same. When I do submit for a theme, it is because I picked poems that I felt went with the theme, but sometimes those poems are not my best, hence, my frustrations…
MC: We normally do not focus on themes initially before putting the magazine together. However, each issue does have a–let’s say “accidental”–theme running through the pages. There’s typically this fear that if we have submitters focus too much on a chosen theme, we would get a slew of work that may have been forced rather than their most honest pieces. But, like I said, once we’ve chosen the piece, they somehow organically fit under a certain theme that we simply notice while putting the issue together. Truth be told, we are more keen on free form poetry that pushes the boundary of the art, so if we do get some form of poem that follows a specific form, we tend to be less enthused. This is all to say, we’re not against magazines doing themes. It’s just not our particular style to put out a call for submissions for specific themes. I’ve used the words “form” and “theme” a lot in this answer. Sorry!
JR: Do you see your journals expanding to include reviews, interviews, audio files, digital chapbook contests? Anything newer than these, under the gigabyte sun?
EA: I’d love to expand TSE and include more content, particularly visual art, but for now it will remain a one-poem-once-a-week endeavor. It’s important to me that TSE remain consistent and true to its mission to uplift and promote the work of its poets through the publication of one poem by one poet per week.
MC: Yeah, maybe! [Fine, I’ll expand on the answer: we have been talking extensively about doing interviews with past contributors to further promote their work once the issue has been released. It is something we’re both extremely keen on doing, but (as my other answers have emphasized) lack the time to begin immediately. But it is in the works, and will hopefully be something we will begin rolling out soon. We are also working on releasing chapbooks by past contributors and editors of the magazine itself. This, also, is a method to put more of a spotlight on those contributors’ works, and to give voice to our staff–and even us two (not gonna lie!)–in a more expansive form. We’re very excited about this, as we hope it will give a new dimension to our magazine and a better outlet for emerging writers. Both AJ and I love working with various forms of audio/visual entertainment, so very little is out of the question with what we’d like to experiment with in our magazine.]
SC: We’ve done a bit of all these things, but haven’t made them overarching standards. Each issue is different. When we published Snorkel editor Catherine Vidler’s Chaingrass chapbook of visual mantras, we included a special interview segment with the author. And Tim Kahl, who edits the eco-friendly Clade Song, sent audio versions of his prose poems, to which we affixed (with his gracious help) the new “Jazz Cigarette Audiopoetics” imprint. We’ll be doing more of that in the future. So far, it seems like every time we learn how to do something new, we add it to the mix, at least once, to give it a try. We’re still looking for the right GIF poet, but they’re very good at avoiding us in crowds.
JR: Rachel, your masthead bio alludes to your work as a programs manager at The Indiana Writers Center. How goes a typical day of community stewardship through writing? What roles should digital journals serve on the real-world community-building front?
RS: As I mentioned in the previous answer – for The Indianapolis Review it is really important for us to represent voices from our local communities, as well as beyond. We also hope to find space for voices that are not always heard from in the greater Indiana arts community. It’s so important to support young and emerging writers who may not know much about resources for their art and writing. A digital journal offers room for some of those unheard voices, and younger artists. It gives them space and visibility alongside more experienced writers, which I think offers people support they might not find otherwise. Publishing can be very intimidating for people; they are unsure how to make the leap from sharing with their workshop, classmates, or local open-mic, to sharing in a publication, but seeing some of their friends, or writers from their own community, in the table of contents might be just the nudge they need to get their work out. And it always helps to know that there are other folks right around you who are passionate and obsessive about their art and writing. Publishing in a digital journal gives the audience immediate access to your work – so if you want to share with your family, friends, coworkers, classmates, peers in the field, the work can feel a bit more supported. It’s hard to get all your friends and family to buy a print journal, but with digital, they will probably click the link to see what you are up to. I think one of the best ways to build a strong community for the arts is by pairing experienced and successful artists with those who are just starting out. Those introductions lead to sharing all kinds of useful information about grant opportunities, reading series, editing and teaching opportunities, workshops and conferences, collaborations—lots of benefits to getting professional and emerging artists and writers together. That’s what we strive to do at the Indiana Writers Center, through our classes and events, and programs; and I feel like that’s happening through The Indianapolis Review, too.
AJ: Digital journals are miniature literary social networks, more powerful than the mail-correspondence networks of 1930s print journals, should contributors and editors choose to capitalize on their power. The community we’ve built through indicia, both online and in person at readings and conferences, has frequently been just as motivating to us as reviewing the literature itself. We like to collaborate with other magazines as well: for example, our events with the editors and contributors of lipstickparty magazine, sharing each other’s fan bases for a night (we’re in the process of currently organizing another reading with them for this fall). We digital journals are the organizers, the curators, the assemblers, but we have nothing to show for it if we can’t find and nurture the physical community we build around.
JR: Did anyone take a publishing class during their undergraduate/graduate studies? What would you say to writing programs on the fence about adding such classes to their curriculum?
RS: I didn’t take a publishing class, but I worked on the MFA-run lit journal, Booth, at Butler both as staff reader, and then as Poetry Editor. Butler does offer a publishing class – but I think it was more on the editorial and design side, rather than the “how to get your work into the world” side. My professors definitely frowned on doing submissions while in the program, and wanted the focus to only be on producing, creating, developing, revising. And, I can understand this – I do feel like submitting takes an entirely different energy and mindset, and not only could it be distracting, but might perhaps keep some people from really experimenting and delving into their work fearlessly. Maybe. At the same time, I think that making a really big deal out of it, and saying, OK now you have graduated, now you are ready, can make you hold your work a little too precious; and make it even harder to submit. I know some people who have finished their MFA and hardly submit anywhere (because perhaps it becomes this ingrained behavior at that point? Suddenly you have this habit you never meant to form and that has to be broken.) Natalie was my inspiration – she is like a machine with submissions, and it really helped to be able to talk with her about process, approach, make it all business. If there were room for some of those discussions while still in the program I think it would be a big help. On graduation weekend at my program they do a “pub-panel” and have publishers from around the country visit to meet with, and discuss the next step. But honestly, I didn’t even know what questions to ask, since it was something we never brought up in class, at all. And what I remember of that day, as a poet, there was a lot of emphasis on getting published in the “right” places (Ploughshares or Boston Review were the journals suggested), and until that happens don’t even worry about a book… So, grand goals, but it wasn’t really relieving any anxieties about the publishing business…
EA: I was fortunate enough to enroll in an MFA program that runs out of the same department as a well-renowned publishing program (at Emerson College). The two programs share a department (Writing, Literature, and Publishing) and all masters-level students were allowed to take classes from other concentrations. I took an electronic-publishing course during a summer term and learned the basics of CSS, HTML, Adobe Creative Suite, and a few other programs I can’t remember. I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned during that course, but what I do remember are the conversations we had around what makes certain websites and online platforms appealing to users–a clear use/purpose, consistency and reliability, appealing graphics, etc. I had those principles in mind when creating the journal and I think that’s helped to establish a “no-frills” sensibility at TSE where the true concentration is really the work being published.
SC: This past year at the University of Central Oklahoma, I’ve served on the senior editorial staff for New Plains Review, which has recently expanded its online presence to better promote and complement the print aspect. New Plains Student Publishing produces three journals within a publishing and editing course offered every semester, and I’m inclined to argue that every creative writing undergrad or graduate should have that experience, to really see how it is on the other side of things. Since Jazz Cigarette has a much smaller staff, seeing a big group of English students working together and trying on new hats (digital media, blog, even the financial element) has been invaluable. I’ve learned a lot. New Plains itself is venturing into physical chapbooks for the first time, and…well, let’s just say I’m taking very careful notes.
NS: I was in one of the first classes to graduate from Butler University’s MFA program, and at that time, there wasn’t a lot of focus on publishing. I am not sure if it has changed since. When I talked to my professors about it, they would say, “Don’t even think about that right now, just think about your work and learning your craft.” This was excellent advice (since my work was not ready AND it’s certainly true that other students were more advanced than me and may have received different answers), however it is good to start thinking about it at some point! I think it’s good to get into the habit of sending work out, and viewing it in a detached way, as if it is just part of your job. I don’t think you would need an entire class about publishing, but just a few class periods could be spent talking about it. I developed a three-hour long class on publishing that I successfully taught at the Indiana Writers Center this year. There is a definite need and hunger for understanding how to navigate publishing. I will say I was totally confused and overwhelmed when I finally entered the realm of submitting work, and could have benefitted from more guidance.
AJ: I was a poetry editor for Westwind at UCLA, an extracurricular project that didn’t receive class credit. That was my beginner’s-eye-view of the editing and marketing sides of journal publishing, but it wasn’t required by the writing program. At Cal State Long Beach, however, serving as poetry editor for Riprap did receive class credit toward our MFA, so even from a technical standpoint that was very beneficial to us. We could find other ways to make up those credits, but most of us chose to just work on the journal. At Riprap we got to see the administrative side of layout, design, and the printing process, and we personally corresponded with authors to discuss edits for their work and introduce them at the release reading. Even though they weren’t mandatory, both journal experiences added value to my publishing repertoire: first, the promotion and evaluative discussion of content, and then, the production and artist interaction. indicia would not exist the way it does now if not for these publishing workshops. As far as a class on getting our own work published, there were sprinkles of such subject matter throughout my MFA workshops, but no class entirely devoted to sending work out, or how to find an agent for fiction students’ manuscripts. I don’t think these information sessions would be worthy of a full semester; rather, a few weekends of faculty-led publishing seminars could be encouraged by the program leaders. With visiting prominent writers leading one or two of them. This would have been beneficial to the low-income students like myself who couldn’t afford to go to big networking conferences like Sewanee or Idyllwild.
JR: Twitterati is a bona fide word. Prezi “uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life.” When’s the last time you drafted a poem by hand?
RS: I did a Prezi, once… But, I write everything by hand. I have three different notebooks, each with a different size of paper. One is a spiral of 4 x 6 index cards (usually end up writing more “present”), one is typical “moleskine” size (usually more “dream”), and then a larger 8 x 10 (usually more “past”). Oh, and then sometimes I use a yellow tablet, too, if I am teaching a class and trying out writing exercises. So, there is some “spatial relationship” to my creative process, depending on which I pick up for that day… Generally I like to write really messy, and I find that typing it out on the computer first is a sure-fire way for me to start editing immediately, and in general totally ruining the flow of the poem. But, the computer is where I take the drafts to make sense of them, to find what are the lines, and their order. I rearrange everything.
AJ: Most of mine are drafted by hand (pen), aside from the random generator and found poems, drafted also by hand (typing). I have several full notebooks. The poems begin as unlined paragraphs, and then they are broken into lines on a computer based on whatever criteria I’m feeling during the transcribing process, be it a controlling line length or syllable count. Those limitations are when changes from pen to keyboard really kick in. Most recently, there were 13 or so fragments I scribbled down in 2017 through approximately May and collected as little hashtag flowers in one long piece. By June, DUM DUM zine picked that one up for future publication, so you’ll notice very little editing between my notebook versions and the final pieces on their site, which is frequently the case. I feel disingenuous if I sit down to type a poem without any handwritten draft to confer with.
JR: Are we in the epoch of the online journal? How does this raise the editor’s stakes?
MC: Possibly? I mean, the online journal has never really not had its presence felt in the past two decades or so. The Cortland Review, for example, has had a strong online presence since the mid-90’s, and even our first magazine started well after the online journal was considered standard. So it’s fair to say this is the age of the online journal, but I also don’t think it’s a new phenomenon–which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. The concept is pretty neat since this gives easy access to esoteric pieces of poetry and fiction for lovers of the literary arts. Though–when thinking about the stakes–it does give rise to an inflated online journal landscape and competition, which can be rough. However, this also lends itself to helping editors such as ourselves look for ways to make our magazine different and experimental. To make it colorful. To make it loud. Otherwise, what’s the point of another online journal if it’s just going to be the same as the next one, ya know?
NS: Not only are we in a golden age for poetry right now, but I think we are coming into the epoch of the online journal. I still remember when online journals were viewed with some disdain, and were not as prestigious. Now, most established and respected journals have an online version. Basically, they are doing what newspapers have done in order to survive. Being able to access amazing poetry for free on my phone absolutely enriches my life beyond measure. As a single mother and an adjunct, I do not have much income, but I wanted to give back in some way, and running The Indianapolis Review is my way! I think one of the reasons why we are in a golden age of poetry is because of the greater accessibility to poetry via the internet, and the internet’s way of bringing marginalized voices forward, to the point where they can no longer simply be ignored or tokenized. Thank god academia, as well as the “pobiz” is now accepting and elevating a much more diverse poetry, and I do believe that online journals can play a part in it. However, I don’t feel pressure or “raised stakes”; I just feel that I am a part of a very large community and network.
EA: I think this is the epoch of the online journal. The fact that people are walking around with these mini computers (aka smartphones) in their pockets/backpacks/purses/hands and are able to access hundreds of thousands (maybe millions? there are probably/definitely millions) of poems in a few seconds is bananas. Some many think that means there is simply “too much content” on the internet, but I think that’s a beautiful problem to have and I promise to continue to add to it.
SC: Absolutely. And while I’m not about to cancel my Poetry subscription just yet (especially not when Don & Co. have been absolutely crushing it lately), I think the future will belong to those who can meaningfully engage the potential offered by digital media, and really run with it. There’s a lot of conceptual opportunities provided by cyberography. As more and more journals catch on, however, there will be more amazing opportunities for both friendly competition and solidarity/networking. Right now, I think places like Reality Beach and PANK (read a mag that can do both!) are really leading the way on digital presentation, and I’m interested to see what the future holds for the big (and small) print publications that I follow. Plus, it’d be really cool if The Sewanee Review formatted their website to imitate those classic blue covers, except the items listed would be clickthrough links. If you guys are reading this, I take cashier’s checks for finder’s fees.
JON RICCIO is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers where he serves as an associate editor at Mississippi Review. He was a past reader for Sonora Review.