SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Madison James: I started Kudzu in 2010 with a group of classmates at the University of Montevallo. We were all going our separate ways, and I wanted something to keep us working together. I felt like there were journals devoted to ecological thinking, and journals focused on writing in and about the South, but I hadn’t come across one that was interested in southern ecology. The name of the journal came from the intersection of many different things, including the James Dickey poem, my grandfather’s house (which we called Kudzu), and the idea of Kudzu as this disruptive force which had also come to symbolize the south in a salient way. Just look at how many kudzu poems there are. Every southern poet needs a kudzu poem. That’s why we started the journal.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
MJ: Most importantly, we look for if it feels 'Kudzu'. A silly answer, I know. But, we have a mission; we're at heart ecopoeisis. It's a theme that is profound enough, varied enough, wavering enough, and accessible enough to allow for wonderful, purposeful, and unique writing. We're more than 'hey, recycle your beer cans'. So, I want something that touches the limitless idea of 'Kudzu'.
Second, structure that works and fits with the content and themes of the piece, word choice and language—stay away from the cliché and familiar unless you are doing so for a higher purpose, and images that are vivid, specific, and unique.
Third, we look at the biography (and cover letter). This is, after all, a biography that we are publishing. But let me be clear, this isn't a bio race. We are equally charmed by an honest and clear biography from an unpublished writer as a professional writer who teaches at Iowa. Conversely, I am equally put off by anyone who states something like 'he/she is a drunken wordsmith who often lets the poison drip from the brain to the page'.
Lastly, I look for things that do what a bomb does. Also, not the words 'shimmer' or 'orgasm'.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
MJ: I have read this so many times when submitting my own material, and I'm not sure that I ever fully believed it until working on the back end of a magazine, but, read the journal before submitting. This echoes back to the feel of 'Kudzu'. It's something to ask of the writer, but it matters, and it's quite clear when the writer hasn't read us.
That, and just don't submit, withdraw, and resubmit repeatedly. This admittedly does not happen very often, but it certainly is annoying when it does. A snooty cover letter and a lack of adherence to the theme and submission guidelines has a similar effect. I will not turn a submission down for the first, but it will make me think you don't take our publication seriously.
Also, poems that aren't yet "finished," however a poet interprets that. I think that it's obvious when a poet submits a poem that hasn't been carefully worked through and isn't the best version he or she can make it. Sometimes this just requires spending more time on the poem and trying to achieve some objectivity or "distance" that that poet doesn't yet have. In my experience, most poems require more than one draft and a poet should be confident before sending if off to a journal.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
MJ: Our team reads each submission several times, and we use our comment system to develop feedback, if we feel that feedback will help the writer. Being writers ourselves who often submit poetry, fiction and nonfiction to literary journals, we appreciate feedback on our work. I always try provide a few detailed sentences on what I really liked about the piece and critical feedback on what I didn't think worked and how it could maybe be improved. Sometimes, we are too overwhelmed to give individual feedback, but that is not usually the case. We particularly enjoy providing comments to beginning writers—the retired real estate executive who now has time to finally write poetry, the English major who finally gained the courage to let someone else read their story, the eight-year-old girl who is going to go on to be a star. There is a redeeming joy in offering personal comments to these writers.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
MJ: Publishing is, first and foremost, about relationships. You are becoming part of a group of published writers every time you appear in a new magazine. Being professional and courteous with your submission is the best way to show that you take that relationship seriously. If editors and readers are going to invest their time in you, make it clear that they should do so for a reason. Rapid fire, or what I’ve heard called omnibus-submissions, is bad manners. It will up your chances of getting published, sure, but it will waste the time of hundreds of readers. Carefully selected submissions lead to better relationships between editor and writer.
Secondly, I think I've learned how necessary it is to write with purpose and clarity. Write for a wide audience. If most readers finish your writing asking 'why am I reading this?' and 'I don't understand what this about', they aren't below your writing. Your writing isn't hitting high enough.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
MJ: Without revealing specific information, what was the most regrettable rejection you had to make?
Before Kudzu was well established, we had to be very conservative about our page lengths. Because we read year round, and as we discovered, many writers wait until the deadline to submit, we have had incredibly strong works that simply came at the wrong time. Remember, deadlines aren’t the best day to submit. Early sub’s get the most reads!
Thank you, Madison and Staff. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 5/8—Six Questions for Michael Grover, Head Poetry Editor, Red Fez