takahē: the exit interview

from Bosch’s Allegory of IntemperanceJoanna Preston re-interviews Joanna Preston

Today, once again, I’ll be interviewing poet, editor, chicken-keeper, creative writing tutor and masochistic glutton-for-punishment, Joanna Preston. Joanna, good morning.

Good morning, Joanna. Lovely to be here again. Love what you’ve done with the curtains.

I haven’t done anything with the curtains.

I know. This is the way I love them. Just the way they are.

Um, yes. Right. Joanna, I understand—

Did you get the Billy Joel reference there? “I love you juuust the waa-aay you aaaaaaaarrrre …” Billy Joel.

Yes, I did pick up the reference.

Well done.

Shall we get on with the interview?

Absolutely.

Thank you.

Fabulous. Heh heh heh.

Now I know you didn’t watch Absolutely Fabulous, so that particular dropped reference is—

Pushing it?

I was going to say “cheesy” and “gratuitous”, possibly also “not interesting”, but we can certainly sum those things up with “pushing it”.

Please not that I am not invoking Salt-N-Pepa here.

Your self-restraint is a constant source of wonderment to me.

Or any other sort of condiment.

I think I’ve got it out of my system now.

Shall we try the interview?

Yes please.

Joanna, the last time we spoke, you had just taken the step, some would even say the insane step, of becoming the new poetry editor at takahē magazine.

Heavens, time goes by quickly, doesn‘t it?

It does. A little under three years.

Seems much longer.

Longer?

Coulda sworn it was more like … more than three.

No, I’m afraid not.

I’m sure I’ve got more grey hairs than three years could account for.
Well, yes, but the grey hairs have more to do with your being [CENSORED] years old, not just your stint with takahē.

I refuse to accept that.

Die, then.

I beg your pardon?

from Bosch’s Allegory of IntemperanceSorry, Freudian autocorrect: dye then. Hair dye. Although the other is the more permanent solution. Not to mention inevitable. Dye or die. Up to you.

Yes.

But also not.

This has gotten dark a lot faster than I had anticipated.

You may have a point.

Shall we move on?

Yes, let’s.

Good. The only way is up.

Very possibly.

For yoouuu and meee, babeeeee … 

Oh god …

Ahem. Sorry. My apologies. Won’t happen again.

Thank you.

Probably.

[Deep breath and a bright voice] Joanna, you’ve just stepped down from your role as Poetry Editor for takahē. How was it?

Generally good. I got to read some fabulous poems.

Any particular highlights?

There were a couple of poets who made their first appearance in publication with us, which is great. I remember how wonderful it felt when I got my first yes, so I’m really chuffed to have been able to give that nod to a few other people. And we got a poem into Best New Zealand Poems 2014Brian Turner’s “You Could Say”. So that was another nice little nod of affirmation. 

Any bad experiences?

Really only two. One was a poet who took umbrage at my rejection of their work including a sentence saying which poem was closest and why it ultimately didn’t make it in.

And they took umbrage? In what way?

Something along the lines of it being well understood that when sending a rejection it was inappropriate to include a critique when not asked to do so. I can sort of understand the poet’s point, in that a rant about the poem’s shortcomings can be quite a confronting thing to receive. Except that’s not what I sent – I don‘t remember the exact words, but it was along the lines of “Poem X was the closest, but I felt that Y didn’t quite work.”

Hmm, I think I see what you mean. But why did you do that amount of comment? Why not just “No, thank you”?

I did, in some cases. When I ran out of energy, or it didn’t seem appropriate, or when there wasn’t anything much I could think of to say. But it can be really frustrating to just get a blanket “No”. It’s good to get some idea of what it was that they did like, even if not quite enough to say yes to. What nearly made it, and why it ultimately didn’t. If nothing else, it helps you refine your future submissions. Bernadette Hall used to send me wonderful rejections, picking out the one thing I’d done well and gently guiding me away from the things that I was doing badly. And I’ve had other editors who have offered me comments – for acceptances as well as rejections – which have been wonderfully insightful, and have helped me see something in the work that I hadn’t noticed. I wanted to be able to pay back some of that generosity.

And, presumably, to guide future submissions in such a way that they’d be more rather than less likely to make the cut? To pre-whittle some of the chaff, as it were?

Nice metaphor! Yes, that too.

from Bosch’s Allegory of IntemperanceYou said there were two bad experiences. What was the other?

Oh yes. A really good example of someone doing what you Absolutely Don’t Do. They’d submitted some three-line poems that they called haiku. They weren’t haiku, and weren’t publication-standard as poems, but I sent what I thought was a fairly friendly rejection, explaining fairly briefly what it was that meant they didn’t work as haiku, and suggesting a few places for the poet to go to find more information about the form. Quite brief, but trying to be helpful. I remember I finished by saying “Haiku are deceptively hard to write well, but are a wonderfully rewarding form. Good luck!”.

Sounds reasonable. So what happened next?

I pressed “Send” on my email. And within five minutes – genuinely five minutes, because I couldn’t quite believe it and I checked – I got a response from the poet. Two words.

Oh. I’m assuming those two words weren’t “thank you”?

No. Very much the opposite of “thank you”.

Expletives?

Yes, although not the ones you’re thinking of. The words were “get stuffed”.

Interesting …

Yes, I thought so. The person had enough self-control not to go into a long, sweary rant in response, but still thought that it was worth being that rude. I half expected that I’d get an apologetic email later, when the person calmed down. In which case they might have redeemed themselves somewhat. But no. 

Just so we’re clear: this person thought it was perfectly fine to tell an editor to get stuffed?

Oh yes.

Were they an adult, or a child?

An adult. With children, according to the bio.

There’s really nothing more to be said about that, is there? Other than possibly “alert CYFs”.

Indeed.

A good editing horror-story.

Moving on. I recall that when we spoke last, you were looking forward to being able to just concentrate on the editing side, with none of the admin. How did that work out for you?

This is about the website, isn’t it?

Yes, this is about the website. Tell the nice people about the website.

I ended up doing the new website for takahē.

And by “doing”, you mean …

Creating. Designing. Teaching the other editors to use. Running it.

And you have experience in website design?

Not … as such, no.

So why you?

Becuase mumble mumble mumble mumble.

Speak up.

It just happened! Alright, it just happened! Jane said she’d take over marketing if someone else took over the website, and one minute we were talking about possibilities and how much easier it would be if we were using WordPress for it and that most of the work was already done by the templates and so on and it was simple and anyone could do it and someone said oh alright I’ll set it up then and somehow it turned out that it was me mumble mumble

from Bosch’s Allegory of Intemperance“Somehow”? In what way? Precisely how, “somehow”? Someone else said it and threw the words out of your mouth? You were having an out-of-body experience? You were possessed? You were drunk? Or the others slipped you something in your coffee and then told you that’s what you’d said when you came round again?

(Silence)

Sigh … ok. You set up the website. And now you’ve found someone else to take over running it for you.

Yes, Rata Ingram has taken over the web stuff, and James Norcliffe has taken over the poetry editing. So I am free. Freeeeeeee! Frrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

So finally back to getting Janus finished, yes?

Well … sort of. I have to get Helen Bascand’s final collection done first. And then I have a few more poems that I need to write for Janus. But that’s pretty much it.

Ok, good.

And then I need to edit them.

The poems?

Yes.

The ones you haven’t written yet.

y…es. Yes. Them too.

How far into the process are you with the new poems you have to write?

Going really well! I’m already well up on last year’s output, and the year is only just beginning!

That is good news! So, you’ve written, what, a dozen new poems?

I’m two-thirds of the way to last year’s total!

Ah. I’m getting a familiar feeling.So. You’re working on Helen’s collection, you’re getting ready to complete Janus, and you are surprisingly, and, dare I say it, enterprisingly vague about actual numbers. Let me make a guess. A wild stab-in-the-dark. You’ve moved on from takahē in order to have more time for your own work. Logically then, with those two commitments – Time to Sing and Janus – a sensible person would also be pulling back from other time-absorbing things.

I don’t like where this is going.

And yet here we are. So. My guess. You’re teaching again, aren’t you?

I’m teaching again, yes, as well. But you know, I did last year too, as well as takahē editing. It‘s rewarding. I like it. It makes me feel useful.

Ok, It makes you feel useful.

It makes me feel useful.

And it keeps you in touch with other poets.

And it keeps me in touch with other poets.

And it makes you do lots of reading.

And it makes me do lots of reading.

And it gives you an excuse to not write any of your own poems.

And it gives me an excuse to not write —wait, no, I’m not falling for that one.

Which brings us full circle. You’ve written two-thirds as many poems this year as you did last year.
You’ve written only two poems, haven’t you.

Yes.

Joanna Preston …

I am an idiot?

You took the words right out of my mouth.

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2 thoughts on “takahē: the exit interview

  1. I think you are a perfectly splendid poetry editor – and thank you for your patience and support, not just as a contributor but also running in as proofreader. PS Ages ago I dyed my hair white – means I can skip counting the grey (plus everyone thinks I am wise and probably work hard). (Ha.) Totally recommend it.

    • I have contemplated it. Unfortunately it seems I’m horrendously allergic to the chemicals in hair dye, so I just have to live with the salt. The weird thing is that they seem to come and go – I have stealth greys (which sounds a bit like a slightly odd, but potentially very successful superpower, doesn’t it?)

      As for the rest, aw shucks!
      (blushing, shuffling feet, looking secretly pleased whiles almost managing to maintain a suitably modest facial expression …)

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