Friday, July 31, 2020

Six Questions for Despy Boutris, Editor-in-Chief of The West Review

The West Review publishes poetry, art, and occasionally short prose (interviews, reviews, and flash fiction). This journal commits itself to having a majority of contributors come from groups that are underrepresented in today’s literary world, publishing writers and artists who are: LGBTQIA+, of color, immigrant, disabled, working class, youth, elder, and/or other communities that have historically been overlooked or marginalized by the literary elites. Read the complete guidelines here


SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Despy Boutris: Well, truthfully, in part, because I had been quarantined for two months already amid COVID and was in search of a project. More than that, though, I wanted to create a journal that lifts up emerging writers with differing and intersecting identities—and one that pays! Although the current payment is small, I hope to raise it in the future; I think it’s so vital that online publications compensate their contributors, and I don’t know many venues inclusive to emerging writers that do. This is a small way to give back to the writing community of which I am lucky enough to be a part.

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


DB: (1) Music, (2) deft line breaks, and (3) invention.


Firstly: Of course, since poetry began as an oral tradition and was accompanied by a lyre in the ancient world, a poem’s music is vital; I search for euphony, for rhythm, for sentence variation, for an ebb and flow.


Secondly: I am enough of a formalist that I appreciate the power of the line—which can be used to increase or decrease tension, or to create and then subvert meaning, as in Jay Hopler’s “O, The Sadness Immaculate,” when he writes, “I look at the parakeets nesting in the blood / Orange trees.” I love line breaks that feel deliberate and complement the poem’s content.


Thirdly: I am queer enough that I appreciate poems that are inventive, disrupting traditional notions of what poetry is and should look like. And, yes, I know that this contradicts the former two points, but I find myself intrigued when a poet intentionally uses cacophonous language, writes in a “borrowed” or invented form, or eschews line breaks all together with a prose poem. Our first issue included several poems (coincidentally, by queer poets) that used lists, footnotes, scattered and hyphenated words, and an interview form. I think complicating readers’ ideas of “poetry” as a form—as well as who can write it and what terrain it can cover, content-wise—is as important now as ever. As such, I often look for invention.

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


DB: Poems, prose, and art that exhibits sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, or ableism immediately turns us off—and we receive these submissions more often than you would think. More nit-picky: I am turned off by weak line breaks, flawed grammar, and repeated typos.

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

DB: Again: (1) music, (2) deft line breaks, and (3) invention. I also love a strong first line.

SQF: What are your three favorite poems?


DB: This is such a hard question! These are the first three that come to mind:


Fog” by Mark Doty


Like Church” by Natalie Diaz


A Little Closer to the Edge” by Ocean Vuong


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


DB: I have two: one serious and one fun.


(1) What advice would you give to new writers who are just beginning to submit their work?


As I learned from Kevin Prufer, a wonderful poet and my favorite professor to date: Make your cover letter personable. Address the editor by name (and spell it correctly! I got an email last night that began “Dear Depsy Bartris”) and, if you have the energy, include your reason for submitting—are you a longtime reader? Did you particularly enjoy a poem in the last issue? If so, name it. From my experience, a specific and personalized cover letter makes a difference to editors sifting through the slush.  


(2) If you were to make a playlist for The West Review, which songs would it contain?


Perfume Genius’s entire discography.

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