Monday, May 14, 2012

Six Questions for Susan Terris, Editor, Spillway

Spillway is a twice annual, print poetry journal. Issues are themed. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

ST: I like to be surprised. Spillway issues are themed, and I’m always looking for unusual ways to approach any of them, though I think all themes are probably variations on “love and death”.

I look for a variety of poetic styles, because I think an eclectic volume is always more interesting than one that feels as if it reflects only one type of poem. I think of each volume as an anthology, which – I hope – is rich in possibility.

I am always looking for musicality of line and a strong sense of poetic craft – poems that seem finished (whatever that means), rather than still in process.

SQF: What are the top three reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?

ST: Poems that seem to be still in process. (Sorry a repeat, but the #1 reason poems get rejected.)

Good, well-made poems that seem to lack the spark that makes me fall in love with them. It’s always necessary for me to fall in love with a poem before I say yes.

Poems that are excellent but seem to duplicate poems already accepted for a volume. Often submitting late in a cycle is a disadvantage, because I do a kind of rolling acceptance. That means by the end of a cycle it’s much harder to get a “Yes” from me.

SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

ST: Poems that don’t seem fresh. Poems that don’t make me feel something. In general, I excuse spelling, punctuation, even grammatical errors – all of which can be easily corrected – but I don’t like: lower case “i” in first person poems, poems that are centered, poems that arrive with ornate, hard-to-read fonts, or cover letters with long, padded bios.  For me, it’s always strictly about the poem, not about the prior credits of the poet.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

ST: I provide comments for poems that come close and for poets I’ve published before; but most poets receive an online note that is not individualized. I read at least 5,000 poems per issue, so individual responses to all are simply not possible. I am a one person editorial staff with no assistant editors or interns. And I also act as Poetry Editor for two online journals – In Posse Review and Pedestal Magazine, so I read & reply to those poem submissions also. I wish I could reply to each poet individually, but I simply can’t.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

ST: I’ve learned a lot about the kind of surprise, spark, or originality that will attract an editor. Interesting titles seem to make an editor take a good look at a poem. Any poem should have concrete details that intrigue or delight the editorial reader. I’ve learned themed issues offer a somewhat better chance of acceptance, since editors need poems that fit or broaden the theme, rather than only poems by better-known poets. Oh, yes – and I’ve learned not to send out work in that first flush of excitement right after it’s written but to wait, revise, reread, revise again until any poem is as well-crafted as I am able to make it. And, lastly, I’ve learned that sometimes, no matter how hard a poet works, a poem is simply not a poem – that it should be something written as prose or that it should (yikes!) simply be deleted.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

ST: Are you more interested in the poet or the poem?

For me, it’s always about the poem. If I fall in love with a poem, it doesn’t matter to me who the poet is or how many impressive publishing credits he/she has.

Thank you, Susan. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 5/17--Six Questions for John E. Smelcer and Rod Clark, Editors, Rosebud

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