Friday, October 4, 2013

Six Questions for John Murphy, Editor, The Lake

The Lake is a new poetry webzine dedicated to publishing all forms of poetry by new and established poets, highlighting the best of contemporary poetry. Read the complete guidelines here.

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

JM: I look for poems rooted in the everyday, in the observed reality that engenders how we feel about people and the things around us, with imagery we can all relate to. It would perhaps be easier for me to state what I don't like in a poem. I don't like surreal, abstract poems that wander on an on, e.g. "My soul floats in a black void of nothingness..." etc, etc. There's more implicit connective emotion in Williams' wheelbarrow than in lines and lines of abstract poetry. I'll also consider classical forms, e.g. sonnets, sestinas, etc as well as free verse and prose poems.  And if people are not sure whether to submit to The Lake, go to the site, read every poem there and you'll get a good idea of what I look for in a poem. Rather than be too prescriptive with masses of submission guidelines I think the poems in The Lake will give  poets a good idea whether to submit or not. 

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission? 

JM: It could be argued that one person's mistakes are another's mode of poetic expression. For example, I've accepted poems with no punctuation at all and another example would be deliberate poor spelling in a poem about illiteracy. Generally I can recognize this aspect in a poem because they are part of the poem's meaning and I can see what the poet is trying to do. So poets should think about spelling, punctuation and not to wander off from the idea/emotion they are trying to illuminate, to think about concision and brevity if they can help get meaning across to the reader. When a poem is considered by the poet to be finished, put it aside for a few days and then go back to it and see if it really is finished. I've also seen potentially good poems spoiled by uninspiring metaphors and similes. But then again, what separates a good metaphor from a mediocre one is a subjective value judgement. Workshopping poems helps to sort out the good from the bad.

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

JM: It would depend on the poem. If I really liked it and it said something to me then I probably would accept a personal blog poem.

SQF: What do you want authors to know about the submissions you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive? 

JM: I make my rejection emails short, sweet and polite, never rude or patronizing. I know rejection can be hugely disappointing but authors should never fire back an angry email demanding to know why they have been rejected. That's not going to get them anywhere.  I don't give feedback, in common with most magazines and journals, although if a poem needed one or two tweaks to make it a poem I would want to publish then I would suggest revision.  However, I just don't have the time to provide a lit. crit. service to rejected submissions. When I first started writing poetry and sending it out, one of the first things I had to accept was rejection. If you write poetry and send it out to be considered for publication you must accept that 90% of the time you are going to be rejected. The best way to get feedback is to join a poetry workshop. Online workshops are ok but face-to-face workshops are better as you get to build a rapport with fellow workshoppers.  I've been attending a monthly workshop for the last twenty five years and I get very helpful advice from the other poets. So accept rejection and move on. There are hundreds of magazines out there waiting for submissions. 

SQF: What magazines do you read most often?

JM: There's one I read regularly, Ink, Sweat and Tears, an English webzine. Every Day Poets is another one. I also skim around the web onto various poetry zines. It's a very vibrant scene.

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

JM: Why did you start The Lake?

For a long time I fell out of love with poetry due to personal reasons  - going on 10 years when I didn't write much. The last couple of years however the muse caught up with me and gave me a prod and I started to write again in earnest. And I also wanted to start a webzine to give the opportunity for poets, both established and never-before-published newbies, to get their work out there. (The August issue of The Lake features a young poet's first published poem.)  So there you go. Come on in, the water's fine!

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

10/08--Six Questions for Matt & Kristi, Editors, GlassFire Magazine


  1. Really helpful advice. I wish more publications would do this.

  2. It is lovely to know that you enjoyed Every Day Poets. We were terribly sad, as editors when it folded. Kathleen and Connie went on the form Gyroscope Review and I now work at The Linnet's Wings and so those are two you might like to read. And I of course will take a look at The Lake :) Many thanks, Oonah Joslin.