Friday, July 14, 2017

Six Questions for John Amen, Editor-in-Chief, The Pedestal Magazine

The Pedestal Magazine publishes poetry, flash fiction to 1,000 words, and reviews of full-length poetry collections. Issues may be themed. This is paying market. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

John Amen: I had wanted to start a lit mag for several years, but had always thought it would be a print pub, as that’s what I was familiar with at the time. However, the more I explored the burgeoning world of online publishing (this was the late 1990s), the more excited I felt about launching a pub online. The first issue of Pedestal came out in 2000.

The other thing I should mention is that a big motivator for starting a lit mag was my desire to feature and interview a few writers in particular: James Purdy, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, and Philip Levine, among others. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to publish work by and interview the latter three, as well as others, including Ai and Michael McClure. I was never able to pull together the details with Purdy, however, who may have been the writer I most wanted to interview. I’d see him all the time in Brooklyn Heights, when we both lived there, and heard him read once at The Drawing Room in Manhattan. We’d have conversations on the street and on the phone, but we never got around to the interview. I still regret that sometimes. I was glad, though, to see his Complete Short Stories get published in 2014, though I wish it had gotten a bit more attention.

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

JA: This is a difficult question. We tend to read in “rounds.” The pieces that make it to the third or fourth round, let’s say, tend to be quite memorable and unique, in terms of voice, language, even theme. At that point, the “critical process” becomes very subtle. How does the poem suggest and follow through with its apparent and less apparent intentions? Are there paradoxes in this poem (unity/disunity, theme/anti-theme); if so, how are they integrated; and, in turn, how is this integration itself paradoxical? Are images vivid? Is the language musical? Each poem is like a solar system. To go with that metaphor, how are centrifugal and centripetal forces balanced? How are orbits and counter-orbits created? Etc. Some of the evaluative process is done consciously and clearly and in articulated terms; some impressions are less tangible, though we work towards concrete commentaries and explanations. The editorial discussions are key. It’s this stage of reading that is most exciting to me, esp. when several editors are involved, as there can be illuminating conversations or correspondences about the elements of a poem—craft, vision, etc. How is a certain magic achieved? It’s this level of reading, editing, and assembling an issue that is most invigorating.

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

JA: This is actually not that easy to answer either. I mean, there are obvious things: use of clichés, bad rhyming, awkward line breaks, lack of proofreading. And there are those folks who don’t read the guidelines and send their just-finished novel, all 500 pages of it, rather than a few poems. Things like this. But again, on a more subtle level, the driving goal as an editor is, at least to me, to suspend one’s own preferences and proclivities and encounter a work on its own terms. This is actually a much more interesting and engaging way to read, whether reading in an “editorial” role or simply for oneself.

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

JA: We receive so many subs that it’s just not possible to offer comments on each. But we do try to offer comments for those subs that make it to a certain round before being declined. So, for a small percentage of poems, yes, we do offer comments.

SQF: The first issue of The Pedestal Magazine was published in December 2000. I’m sure there have been highs and lows. What keeps you going?

JA: Yes, there certainly have been highs and lows. Quite frankly, there have been times when the whole process seemed exhausting and demanding to the point that other areas of life were being compromised. What I’ve always found helpful, though, is to return to the original mission, which was to engage with the literary arts in an open and curious way; to seek excellence in its numerous iterations; to practice a love for the art (of reading), and not be overwhelmed by the mechanics and routines of actually sustaining a pub. That has meant, at one point, that we transitioned from publishing 6 issues a year to publishing 4. I enjoy encountering diverse work from diverse writers, as do the other editors who are involved with the magazine (as do, I think/hope, most editors), as well as studying poems, discussing poems, compiling an issue, watching that process come to fruition. Love for lit, and a desire to promote a full range of aesthetics, is what keeps me going. If I ever reach a time when that’s not there, or I’m simply too overwhelmed to be able to access it, or the project just seems like it really has run its course, then it will be time to move on, which will be ok too.

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

JA: I think your questions covered a great deal of ground, so I can’t think of another specific question that I’d suggest. Thanks for bringing up such fertile areas!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment