SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
John Sibley Williams: The Inflectionist Review was born from conversations between a few fellow poets, each believing that both extremes (overly narrative and overly experimental) carry the risk of being “poetry written more for the poet than the reader.” Of course, there are countless beautiful poems written in these styles, but there is a tendency for writers to write purely about themselves or to push boundaries in a way that exclude the reader. The middle ground is a place where each word means something to both writer and reader, where images can resonate across cultures, where interpretation is key. So TIR rather organically came together from these substantive talks.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
JSW: Linguistic beauty, conceptual ambition, and emotional resonance. The best pieces amalgamate all three, with words that leap off or singe the edges of the page, ideas that speak to larger human concerns in unexpected ways, and images that carry me somewhere, that break me—into tears, into anger, into catharsis, into outright celebration.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
JSW: Apart from obvious issues like sexism, racism, and other forms of prejudice, which one doesn’t see often in poetry but which sometimes rears its ugly head in subtle ways, the quickest way for work to be rejected is if it doesn’t conform to our rather straightforward guidelines. Strange fonts, incorrect number of poems, and submissions emailed rather than sent via our submission manager are all common issues. Also, as we read blindly, the poet’s name being included in the document is another telltale sign that he or she didn’t bother to read the guidelines. I hope this doesn’t sound like nitpicking, but publishing is based on mutual respect and appreciation. We hope submitters enjoy the journal, and we obviously love the work we publish. So when a submitter makes it obvious he or she did not read the guidelines, that presumed respect is broken.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
JSW: If a submission comes close to publication, we often commend the poet and reference the piece that came closest. But, due to the number of submissions we receive, we usually don’t have the time to provide comments on rejected work.
SQF: Who are some of your favorite poets?
JSW: Oh boy, that’s always a question I fear. How does one list less than, say, fifty or a hundred? But if I narrow it down to poets whose collections came out in 2016, I’d say my favorites were Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Keith Leonard’s Ramshackle Ode, Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal, Sjohnna McCray’s Rapture, Miriam Bird Greenberg’s In the Volcano's Mouth, Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies, and Francine J. Harris’ Play Dead.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JSW: Do you have any tips for poets interested in submitting to The Inflectionist Review? Glad you asked.
Although this may seem like clichéd advice, poets should definitely read sample issues before submitting to us. Many journals have broad tastes or rotating editors or panels of students whose personal preferences vary greatly and overlap in unexpected places. However, TIR has a tight focus and only two like-minded editors. Our mission statement is clear. Every issue we receive many hundreds of “shotgun” submissions from poets who obviously are not familiar with the work we publish. As a writer myself, I get that approach. One cannot read every journal out there. And it often works with the kinds of journals I referenced earlier. But not with The Inflectionist Review. Familiarity with the journal is usually evident within the first few lines or stanzas. So, apart from formatting to the guidelines, the most important tip I can give is to enjoy a past issue or two and see if your work’s themes, structures, and styles communicate with our vision.
Thank you, John. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.