Tales from the trenches: co-editing [redacted] magazine

from ‘Aftermath of the Battle of Triboltingen’ bWell I’ve just finished finalising selections for the next issue of [redacted], which I’m co-editing with the outgoing poetry editor. I’ve come to a couple of conclusions, which may or may not be of interest to anyone else (but hey, it’s been a while since I posted anything, so what the heck).

1. More women than men submit work. Of the thirty submissions I’ve seen, only 12 were from people with penises. (To clarify: they didn’t send me proof of their possession of penises, and neither do I want to see any. I’m just making an assumption based on the comparative rareness of people being of male gender and lacking penises.) (Stop it.)

2. A not-insignificant number of people don’t read submission requirements. I’m not just talking about not checking to see how things should be formatted, or how many poems they can include. Some don’t include either an s.a.e. or email address. One person didn’t include any contact details. Not even what town they live in. Not even a surname. (On the other hand, it does make rejecting their work a much easier task.)

3. Most people don’t think enough about their linebreaks. I know, I am the most linebreak obsessed person in New Zealand. Possibly the Southern Hemisphere. But it’s such a fundamental part of a poets’ toolkit! You can do so much with them, and a bad one can turn a moving elegy into a triumph of bathos and unintended comedy. I’m absolutely certain I stuff them up heaps of times. But at least I do try to think of why I’ve done what I’ve done. (For the record, I blame Stephen Knight. He’s the one who said that a poet should be able to justify every linebreak. What’s more, he actually made me do so. I’m still scarred from the experience, but it really did teach me a lot.) I think I’m going to have to run a single day linebreak workshop. Just so I can get it off my chest.

4. Writing rejection letters is hard. Not emotionally hard, because I’m a callous bitch I don’t think many people are going to be shattered by the mere fact of a non-selection letter. But because I want to try and offer some sort of explanation as to what it was that weighed their submission down into the ‘sorry, no’ pile. The nicest rejection letters I ever got were from Bernadette Hall, back when she was editing takahē. Somehow she always managed to find the one tiny glimmer of poetry in the steaming compost-pile that was my submission. And it wasn’t just that her comments took the sting out of the rejection. They actually helped me see what it was that I needed to focus on. It impressed me back then, and having tried to do something similar myself, it impresses me even more now. Even just the amount of extra time it takes to do that – to think of something useful to say, to make it succinct, to make it digestible (both emotionally and intellectually) for someone you don’t know … I’m feeling shattered all over again just remembering it.

5. I need a better filing system. At the moment, the highly technical way I have of filing things is the celebrated ‘piles across the desk and on the floor’ method. Although I also use a green pen to make notes on the back of envelopes. (It’s the little things that make the difference.)

So there you go. [Redacted] has taken over a chunk of my life, and it’s still two months away from when I am supposed to be ‘officially’ taking over. I’m not sure if this bodes well or ill. Or at all. (Can things ‘bode’ neutrally? Hmm…)

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