SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
Barrett Warner: A vibrant pace, whether the art is dense or airy. As a reader, I want to have to jog a little to catch the bus. I’m not looking for a story to give me a reason to live, breathe, chuckle—I have plenty of those reasons already—but what I yearn is to be thrilled, to be jumped up a notch in spirit by character, scene, plot, swerves, and images.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
BW: Objectifying language and lifeless caricature, and an author who can’t get out of the way of his creation. Most of the works I read are very passable, but the voice doesn’t balance, or the plot overwhelms the characters, or the narrative and lyric threads are so weak that images must do all the heavy lifting. What I feel I most get, and turn down, are fantastic ideas full of dreams but lacking in the qualities to produce a stupendous poem or short story.
SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?
BW: Generally, no, but once or twice in each issue we will reprint a blog if it hits one of our emerging themes right between the eyes. In this regard, we’ve also published Facebook conversations, and Twitter exchanges. But this is seldom.
SQF: Your submission page requests no more oyster poems be sent. Are there other topics/themes you see much too often?
BW: One of our One-Minute Play contributors, Caitlin Saylor Stephens, recently observed: “An oyster leads a dreadful, but exciting life.” We are all about dreadful and exciting, so yes, please write to that quality in people, but leave the oysters in the shoals. They’ve important filtering work to do.
SQF: If you could have dinner with three authors, who would they be and why?
BW: Keith Douglas, a soldier poet in WWII. First, he was known for throwing a great dinner party out of k-rations, but more importantly, his poems of “extro-spection” open a magic door which Sylvia Plath would later walk through. I’d also like to dine with anyone from the Dark Room Collective…Major Jackson, Sharan Strange, Tracy K. Smith…so many incredible poets. I’ve been trying to master figurative language my whole life and I’d be angling to jack a vowel from one of these greats. Lastly, I would love to crack some loaves with Flannery O’Connor. There once was a time when writers also knew about farm life and I like to visit that era from time to time.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
BW: Do we have a brand? Regrettably, yes. It’s all about totally limited omniscience, something too opaque to describe, but we’re serious about this. It’s in so much of what we publish. We don’t want work that is highly dependent on concepts. We don’t want work full of explanations. We don’t even like the use of the word “because.” We want writers who leave a space for the reader to form her own conclusions without having conclusions shoved at her. We want dramatic tension that isn’t always based on a power struggle between two characters. We want the amber feeling that lingers in some enervated space between the painting and the viewer. We want music to be so much more than the trick of its melody.
Thank you, Barrett. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.