SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
JL: Nine years ago I became a member of a long running (initiated in the 70’s) writers group in Lambertville, NJ (River Poets), and was nominated as coordinator for the group a year later. The excellent work of some of the previously unpublished writers of the group inspired me to publish what in the beginning was a locally distributed newsletter to display our talents. In a relatively short time the newsletter evolved into the River Poets Journal, which opened to submissions locally, the US, and Internationally through word of mouth, and various listings online.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
JL: A unique writers voice is what attracts me at first. Popular, stylistic, poetry/prose rarely captures my attention. Sometimes writing is over-learned in classes, or representative of the teacher’s or studied subject’s body of work. I like the rawness of the pure untarnished colloquial voice in the reading. Having something to say is essential to me. That is to say, I’m not impressed with a great volume of rarely used words thrown together to impress the reader with the vast knowledge of the writer on command of English, tricks of writing, ancient history, or the places they’ve traveled. If it’s a place they traveled to, then take me to the room they stayed in, and teach me about the local ambience, the people, the experiences. I want to be startled, drawn into the poem/story/memoir, even if it’s in the stillness, or the lines between the lines of the work. When writers ask what I’m looking for, my answer is most always a symbolic reference to the French movie, “Amelie.” There is a scene in which the main character grabs a blind man by the arm and propels him through the courtyard, commenting on all she sees as they walk together, until she deposits him in the village square, and he is suddenly transformed by her images. That’s what I look for. I want the writer to grab me by my lapel, take me on the journey, make me see what they see, feel what they feel, and care about it.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
JL: Self-indulgent poetry, normally beginning each sentence with I. Poems/Prose about nothing. Shock poems/prose with un-necessary profanity. A lack of rhythm, lack of lyricism, metaphor, in poetry/prose. Gimmicky poems/prose. Over-sentimental poems/prose best meant for family/loved ones/greeting cards. Quirky formatting impossible to use in a journal with space constrictions. Not proofing sufficiently, although if the poem/prose is brilliant, I’m happy to suggest minor edits.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
JL: If I see the writer has potential, I always provide comments. I can be a bit lax to responding to all of the rejected submissions in a timely manner. Although I never want to hold a piece of work hostage, the amount of work required for each issue takes months to prepare for. A good deal of work is with correspondence.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
JL: Good writers abound. I’m thrilled when I find an unpublished writer who definitely should have been published, and that River Poets Journal is the first literary magazine that was intelligent and fortunate enough to recognize and showcase their talent. ;-0. Also, due to the volume of work I review, I have become a better writer myself.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JL: Why we do what we do?
Something I ask myself all the time, due to the amount of work involved, but if it became necessary to give this up, I might be delaying the lowering of my coffin, just so I could release that next amazing issue. It is a kind of insanity.
Thank you, Judith. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 7/26--Six Questions for Lynne M. Thomas, Editor-in-Chief, and Michael Damian Thomas, Managing Editor, Apex Magazine