Friday, September 27, 2019

Six Questions for Sandy Coomer, Founding Editor, Rockvale Review

Rockvale Review publishes poetry to 50 lines. “We believe poets have a unique way of seeing the world and sharing experiences, emotions, dreams and passions. We seek poems that are hard-edged and finely crafted, but can reach beyond the skin to the flesh beneath. We want to read solid, tough language – the rock of this human experience – and fluid, supple images – the vale of this human existence. We want to see both in the same poem.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Sandy Coomer: The simple answer is to give back. I’ve had many generous poets speak into my life and my poetry with love, encouragement, kindness. It’s not easy being a writer, to walk a path where rejection jumps out at every turn. It’s not easy sharing the deep parts of yourself that are revealed when you write poetry. Writing is an act of intentional vulnerability. I started Rockvale Review to open a door for emerging poets, to offer another venue for publication and recognition, and to combine the creative genre of poetry with other creative arts such as visual art and music. I wanted to put something meaningful and good in the world. 

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

SC: The name of the journal, Rockvale, is symbolic for the types of poems we want to publish. We want poems that are tough and tender at the same time – a rock in structure and craft, a vale in imagery and musicality. The top three things I look for are 

1.) imagery – the “show me” principle. One way for me to be involved in the poem is to be able to take it in with the senses. 
2.) verbs –over-complicated verb tenses don’t work for me. Nor do boring verbs that show a lack of imagination. I’m not saying flip through the thesaurus for some obscure word, but give me something unique and interesting, something unexpected, especially if it pairs well with the sound quality within the line. 
3.) structure and form – by this I mean that I want to be able to understand the reason why a poet chose to write in couplets or tercets, or chose no capitalization, or chose to indent the line or use creative spacing. There has to be a reason beyond “that’s what other poets are doing now.” If I find a poem in which the form and structure fits the theme in an interesting way, I will spend time with that poem. 

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

SC: We won’t publish anything political or sexual and absolutely nothing discriminatory or abusive. Most submitters don’t send those types of poems, thankfully, although every now and then something truly offensive comes in (and I’m always shocked! Why??). Another big turn off are poems that, as one of our editors likes to say, are too “precious,” - poems that lean too sweet and sentimental. These are usually heavy with words like “forever,” and “always.” Poems that preach or try to tell the reader how they should feel are also likely to get a “no” from us, as well as poems that ramble without ever reaching a point. And clichés, no! I want something I haven’t seen before. 

SQF: What do you look for in the opening stanza(s) of a submission?

SC: I’m looking for control. I want to feel that the poet knows what they’re doing and where they’re going with the poem. That first stanza is so important (ditto, the first line). It has to hold interest and invite the reader into the unique world of the poem. Often, poets will use the first stanza as a place to rev the engines, to get ready to say what’s meant to be said. Don’t do that. I don’t want to read poems that waste words with a preamble. I want to jump straight in. I want poems that grab my attention in that first stanza and leave me eager for the rest.       

SQF: Is it really necessary to read the submission guidelines? Many are long and boring.

SC: Well, I’ll counter this question with another question before I answer. Is it really necessary for editors to read the poems? Yes! To me, reading the guidelines and following them is a sign of respect and attention, just as reading each poem in its entirety shows respect to the poet. I read every line of every poem, even if I know from the first couple lines it won’t likely be accepted. A poet has spent time and energy, and more importantly, his/her creative spirit in submitting and that effort deserves nothing less than consideration and acknowledgment. I expect the submitting poets to exhibit the same to the journal by taking the few minutes to read guidelines. A journal and a submitting poet are entering into a relationship of sorts. Both parties are due respect. Both parties should give it too. 

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

SC: What is the one submission guideline that is most often NOT followed in Rockvale Review submissions?

Answer: Too many poets put their names on the title of their submission file or in the files themselves. We’ve even received photos of the poets. We read blind and if we detect any identifying material, we disqualify the submission. We disqualify several submissions for this reason in every reading period and some contain good poems that we would have liked to consider. This happens because, (sigh), some poets aren’t paying close enough attention to the guidelines. 

Please let me share one more thing: The biggest blessing of editing Rockvale Review is getting to read some truly stellar poems and getting to partner with the other editors, the poets, the featured artists and featured composers in creating something beautiful. I am in awe of the creativity found in the people we’ve published, their skill and talent in sharing powerful words. I have more faith in this world because of them. 

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

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