SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Chila (pronounced Sheila) Woychik: I love the lyric essay form. When I began reading Annie Dillard several years ago, I realized I wanted to write like that, wanted to see and experience new ways to express myself in that sirenic, glistening way, and I set out to do something about it. Book submissions coming in to Port Yonder Press since 2009 were plentiful but the book publishing scene was too burdensome; I needed a shorter and more elastic form to work with. In 2014 I began trying my own hand at the lyric essay and saw some success with a number of journals. I decided to cease small press publishing in early 2015 and moved into journal work. We initially took literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and art, but I was hungering for the lyric form, so narrowed our focus beginning in September of 2015 to lyric and experimental essays only. I couldn't be more pleased with it at the moment.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
CW: Lyricism, lyricism, lyricism. That is, overall story, a memoiresque feel, emotion, dialogue, documented facts aren't nearly as important to me as a strongly lyrical sound to the word strings. I suppose if one could explain a lyric essay to a newbie to this genre, we could say it's something very close to a prose poem: it has to sing or it has no business being called "lyric" or "poetic." In fact, the work should not only sing, but dance and juggle musical notes while breathing fire, circus-like. You get the picture. Basically, leave us slightly confused and sighing in a beautiful "I can't wait to read that again" way. I believe the current vernacular is wordgasm. Study Annie Dillard and a writer will get the idea. I especially recommend her short collection of what I call three lyric essays: Holy the Firm.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
CW: The lack of lyricism. So much that passes for lyric essays today are anything but. Authors submit creative nonfiction and think that is what's meant by a lyric essay, but it's not. Granted, we've taken a few pretty generic creative nonfiction pieces this time around because they were good pieces of work, but it's not what we're ultimately after. I imagine that within the next year or so, we'll get tougher on the lyric requirement; at the moment we're building a submission base and will still occasionally acknowledge good work that may not be exactly what we're seeking re: lyricism. With an uptick in submissions from last year to this year, however, we're already becoming a little pickier.
A second thing is untruth. "Lyric" or "creative" are not modifiers that mean the author can fudge truth (though this strange bit of writing heresy has been emanating from one specific quarter for the past decade or so). To see something from an author's perspective, which of course differs from other authors' perspective, doesn't mean we're free to lie. Write the truth and make it beautiful as you see it, yet be sure it's still the truth. An essay is nonfiction, period, not open to fibs to fit a theme or author's personal goals.
A third might be non-family-friendly content when we've clearly stated we want essays to be suitable for a wide audience beginning with little Johnny and Janie who are ten and nine, respectively. I realize kids are subjected to more these days than their parents or grandparents were as children, nevertheless, we still believe parents, not a journal, should have the responsibility of introducing their offspring to R-rated concepts. Even so, adults have an unfortunate habit of leaving reading material within reaching distance of children. We want them to be able to do that with the Eastern Iowa Review and still sleep soundly.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
CW: We used to. But we've discovered that if an author doesn't have an inherent feel for the lyricism we seek after a rewrite or two, we may not be able to instill that in him at all, short of rewriting the piece for him, and of course we can't do that. When I recommend on our website that a writer read Annie Dillard, I'm very serious about it. Ellen Meloy is another of my favorites, and though I would define her writing a little differently - dense nature-centric poetic prose - I certainly would classify much of it as lyrical.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
CW: Being an attentive small press or journal editor surely must be a step toward earning a self-administered MFA, or should be. If a writer can find a place to intern, to read incoming submissions and offer input, to read other readers' input or the editors' input, well, there's nothing better. I might add that a good editor will also read widely and research his or her form of choice, adding to the learning process. I'm still in class. I've also personally been prompted to grub through journal guidelines line by line before submitting something; time's a hotfoot, after all, and no editor wants the extra work of reading something that the author didn't specifically designate for their publication.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
CW: How do we want Eastern Iowa Review to eventually define itself?
I want the Eastern Iowa Review to be known as a friendly, teaching, deserving market for the truly lyric essay. I feel the form has been analyzed nearly to death and much of its simple beauty sacrificed in the halls of "let's pull this apart a little further." I feel other elements, the "lying for the sake of getting a point across," have dealt a very negative hand to this innocent inching thing. But I also feel that our family friendly requirement, added to the fundamental gorgeousness and truthfulness of this form may foster work that is linguistically athletic while still being adaptable to all ages, beginning at perhaps middle grade and extending all the way to the most learned among us. This is my goal, anyway, and I can be insistent on reaching personal goals when I want to. Thanks, Jim, for having us.
Thank you, Chila. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.