Friday, May 30, 2014

Six Questions for John Mannone, Senior Poetry Editor, Abyss & Apex

Abyss & Apex likes to see strong, emotionally resonant, literary-quality poetry with a clear speculative element (fantasy, science fiction, or any combination of the two), as well as scifaiku and what some call “science poetry” or “astronomy poetry.” Although dark fantasy and dark SF are encouraged, we DO NOT publish horror. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What, when reading a submission, really gets you excited?

John Mannone: I get excited when I can publish the best speculative poetry out there. And I get doubly excited when that poetry stimulates the intellect as well as the imagination, but also educates as well as entertains. I get excited when the poem sticks with me after I’ve read it and when it transcends genre. I want poetry that is accessible, but I want literary quality poetry with a speculative element, especially science fiction and fantasy, which also has literary depth (be able to answer the “so what?” question). I favor lyrical work, but conversational pieces are fine provided they too have impeccable rhythm and something more to offer than story. In a recent interview with the editor of Poetry Pacific, Chanming Yuan, I go into more depth on my editorial focus and personal aesthetics.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

JM: I’ve said it elsewhere before—I eschew cut-up prose arranged to look like a poem. I understand that narratives and conversational pieces could look prosy, but there should be a preponderance of poetic craft present to lift it into poetry. However, the single most flagrant violation I caution against is inattentiveness to rhythm and flow and to the music of words. Even conversationally toned pieces can be skillfully crafted. The other mortal sin is lack of literary depth.

I am usually not impressed by cutesy or clever pieces, and very short work must be stellar to be considered (though it has a better chance for publication if the short pieces are either linked or form a loosely themed constellation).

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

JM: In general, no. I tend not to publish material posted on a personal blog, especially because we are a paying market. I want material that hasn’t appeared anywhere before that would be available to the general public.

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions you reject and how authors should respond?

JM: I am going to answer a broader question—my process of selection/rejection. I personally read each submission several times over a period of time before I respond. The process is a little different here than for other venues because though we publish quarterly, we have only two specific monthly windows during which we accept poetry submissions electronically (June and December). I read the poems when they arrive in my inbox to get a general sense of the work. I record my first impressions. A week or two later, I do a more careful reading and cull the selections for the ones that merit a closer look, and then again at the end of the reading period to make the final selections for the next two issues. With the author’s permission, I may carry/hold some work over, but I try to avoid that; it is best for the author to make submissions early in the reading period. Every piece submitted receives serious attention. Understand, however, a poem arriving in my inbox on the last day will only get those several readings in the same day instead of being spread out over a few weeks. 

Another reason I don’t make quick decisions is so that I can better see how all the final-round poems might work together. (And reading all the poems at the same time helps mitigate any fluctuations of my mood.) Often, I make editorial suggestions that I think will improve the poems I want to publish; I like to work closely with the author. I am saddened when I have to turn away good work, but I often send a personal note of encouragement. I do have form responses, but they are tiered and tailored for often-seen reasons. Because I hate receiving form responses full of abstractions, I try to be a little more helpful to the authors I must turn away. Occasionally, I’ll recommend other venues, if I recognize the poem fits thE other magazine’s aesthetic better than it does ours. I always welcome polite responses from the authors.

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

JM: One of the most important things I learned is to make sure my personal submissions show a dynamic range of style, voice, and form (consistent with the aesthetics of the venue). I cannot tell you how many times I have seen little to no variation from one poem to the next in a submission package from a particular author (and that’s for every venue I have edited and poetry contest I have judged). I recognize that sometimes it is like a stylistic signature, but most often it is not. Editors want to see some range of style, and that’s one reason you’ll often be asked to submit 3 to 5 poems.

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

JM: None at the moment.

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

NEXT POST: 6/6--Six Questions for Joseph Levens, Editor, The Summerset Review

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