Friday, July 1, 2016

Six Questions for Patrick Williams, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Really System

Really System is a journal of poetry and extensible poetics. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Patrick Williams: I started Really System for a number of reasons, the foremost of which being a hope that it would help me to find a community of other poets with similar ideas, questions, and aesthetic interests. I was also looking for a "living" corpus of interesting language to which I could apply computational processes with an audience and community of interested writers and see what we could learn as a community and to see where experimental approaches to reading the journal would take us.

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

PW: Mostly, I look for something that surprises me, something that might reframe an idea or a phenomenon or an image for me--something I wouldn't have expected to see. I really appreciate when a poet has clearly read and thought about work published in the journal, even if what they are submitting challenges Really System's fairly specific aesthetics and subjects. I also enjoy it when a submission reflects a larger body of work--if the poems are related or are otherwise in dialogue with one another.

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

PW: There are many ways that submitters fail to be attentive to the Really System submission guidelines, and all of them are equal turn-offs. The guidelines are quite clear and easy to follow, and they're not arbitrary; they all play a role in how I move through and read submissions. I also have a required text box in the submission form that asks submitters to include a brief message, and when people choose to enter something like "it says I have to type here" rather than something they expect a person to read, I usually take that as a sign that filling out the form is just something in their way as they submit their work to a hundred other places. Editing a magazine, like writing poems, is a lot of work, and it's a turn-off when it's clear that a poet sees the journal merely as a platform for the poems they want published rather than a collaboration between themselves and an editor. When a poet has clearly put little thought into where they are submitting (ignoring guidelines, getting the name of the journal wrong), that's usually a pretty bad sign. I still read and consider the all work, though. But it’s usually the submissions that respond to the guidelines that get accepted.

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

PW: Sadly, I don't have time to provide detailed comments on every submission I have to reject, but for submissions that are very close, I try to send an encouraging note and something clear about why the pieces weren't accepted--and tell them I really hope they will submit again. There are probably as many of those types of notes from each submission period as there are acceptances.

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

PW: I must have known this already, having read lots and lots of poems multiple times in my life, but as an editor, I've been shocked by how differently I might read the same work on the second or third pass, or after I've begun putting together an issue. I find that I may have been initially thrilled by a piece that leaves me cold on second read, or that I wasn't in the right place to click with a piece I didn't like at first. That's why I think it's important for me to read every submission multiple times. It's also what takes me so long to make decisions. But as a poet, it makes me feel better about the rejections I receive, realizing that there are many factors that affect what an editor thinks of a piece that go beyond a binary assessment of good or bad.

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

PW: I'd love to know more about how editors go about shaping an issue or phase of a journal they're working on. I rely so much on the work that comes in to help guide what each issue should be, and I'd love to hear other approaches.

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

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