Submitting poetry is like trying out for the middle-school musical. I do not say this to demean the work of a writer nor the sincere angst of 13 year-old starlets. The emotions generated from these “auditions” are often extreme, because they require a person to put themselves “out there”—to be vulnerable. Every time I send out a submission, I feel like I’m putting on a t-shirt that says “LIKE ME. AND IF YOU DON’T LIKE ME, KICK ME.”
So why do it—why risk rejection? Well, I think the answer is complicated—but can generally be surmised as the desire for ones own place in the cafeteria Shakespeare production of Henry V. In other words, it’s nice to make things—it’s nice to make things with other people. It is also nice to belong, even if it means acting in the interpretive dance of the Battle of Agincourt (involving tutus).
Well, there were no tutus involved when Andrew Wessels of the Journal The Offending Adam accepted my poem “Faith as Seen on YouTube” in September. However, I was astonished that he liked my crazy poem (sometimes my poems are a little wacky). I was also blown away by “how” the poem was accepted; Andrew asked to see more of my work and prompted a conversation about my poetic process. I felt like the “cool kid” asked me the “new kid” if I would like share a bowl of green jell-o with him.
At first I was hesitant to play along—it seemed too good to be true—“cool kids” do not eat green jell-o. So I revisited The Offending Adam website and reread their mission statement which states: “The journal is a bridge between writer and reader, and we take that responsibility seriously.” And it’s true—they do—they do take writing seriously. I was elated. I wanted to tell everyone about this new journal that was coming out the first of February 2010.
My problem is, I don’t know “everyone” so telling them will be rather difficult. But I do know you fantastic somebody—so I am telling you—please support The Offending Adam Journal by reading its content and submitting your work. Tell your friends about it. Tell your friends to tell their friends about it. Join The Offending Adam on facebook and twitter. Enjoy being a part of a project that sincerely cares about words.
To learn more about this project please visit: A Compulsive Reade
Visit the Offending Adam Journal: The Offending Adam
The Offending Adam on Twitter: Offending Adam
The Offending Adam of Facebook: Offending Adam (Facebook)
Also The Bees’ Knees is featuring an interview with Editor Andrew Wessels this month. Read his thoughts on words and publishing. And co-editor Cody Todd’s chapbook is up for discussion in the Bees’ Knees book club.
My Best to You and All Your Creative Endeavors,
The Offending Adam—what is it? How is this journal different from other online journals?
Well, to list all online journals as a single entity is difficult. Each online journal has its own tactic and strategy. What we saw, overall at least, is that many online journals tend to be digital copies of the print-journal model. Once, twice, or four times a year, a large bulk of material gets plopped on a website, which then sits otherwise dormant until the next group of material is published. This is a necessity for print journals just because of the economics of the situation. The online world, though, we thought was exactly set up for this to not need to happen. By publishing regularly, in our case a new issue each week, we give each piece of content its own standalone time as the center of attention. And this idea of attention and consideration is a driving force behind all of our decisions. We want our readers to be encouraged to spend time with our contributions, not feel the need to breeze through as many as possible. It is the difference between trying to see the entire National Gallery in London in 30 minutes and sitting down in front of Paolo Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon for an afternoon to truly come to an understanding of the painting.
Where did the idea for The Offending Adam come from? And the name, it’s great! Where did you find such a provocative and witty title for a journal?
I certainly did not come up with the title of the journal. Last summer Cody and I decided, once and for all, we were going to start a journal. We focused primarily on what we wanted to do with the journal and what our purposes and aims were before really looking at the title. Once we started discussing titles, we went through a number of names with varying degrees of like and dislike, primarily dislike, until Cody just out of the blue mentioned the quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Consideration, like an angel, came / and whipped the offending Adam out of him” as something that had stuck with him. From there we quickly jumped on the name The Offending Adam. As we discussed what that quote and title meant to us, it became ever more apparent how the title really conversed well with our reasons and intentions for starting the journal.
The Offending Adam has set out to be “a bridge between writer and reader.” What is that bridge made of? Where will these “bridges” enable a writer / reader to go?
Hopefully the bridge is made of reinforced concrete and steel beams and whatever else goes into current high-end bridge-building these days. To go back to your first question, when we thought of other journals, there seemed to be a disconnect between the three participants – author, reader, journal. There is no indication of any relationship between the author and the journal, and any relationship between the reader and the journal is made difficult by the lack of communication between the two (hence our editorial introductions) as well as the mass of work that is offered all at once. Questions I ask myself when I pick up a journal are “Where do I start?” “Why is it in this order?” “Does the order mean anything?” and “Why did they pick this?” That last question is vitally important I think. We have to remember that for most journals the editor(s) read a number of poems from each submission, yet more often than not pick just one poem out of the batch. That editor is at a huge advantage as they have seen a mini-ouvre that has helped to inform that poem that was selected. What happens when that poem exists in isolation surrounded by a number of other disparate poems in isolation? We can’t always sense why something is included or how it really works.
By providing the bridge of the editorial introduction, as well as publishing almost exclusively multiple poems from each contributor, we believe that there will be a greater connection in understanding between the author/contribution and the reader. Instead of reading the selections with an “oh, ok” perspective, we believe our readers will dig into the poems and interact with them on a more personal level. Poetry, for myself at least, gets more and more interesting and exciting the deeper one is involved with it, the more one learns and experiences from it. We designed a journal, as represented by this bridge image, that explicitly pushes readers to do this.
What makes a poem catch your editorial eye?
This is a very difficult question. First, perhaps, a quick overview of how we go through our editing process. We run an editing work-process that is single level. Submissions don’t get “passed up” to the above editor. Submissions don’t have to get 4 check marks from readers then a check mark from an assistant editor and then and only then be shown to the head editor. That process seems to discourage the unique and singular work, because it’s best chance of survival is by not-offending. For us, if an editor likes your submission and wants to take it as their submission to curate and introduce, then it is accepted. There are a number of submissions that we do discuss as a group, if somebody likes it but isn’t quite sure. So, that being said, I can only attempt to answer this question for myself.
Actually, here is a good way to answer it. Earlier today an old friend of mine who writes fiction contacted me because she is judging a youth writing contest and suddenly was handed a group of poetry submissions and asked to grade each on a 10 point scale. I got a frantic text message asking me “how do you judge poetry?” I kind of danced around a specific answer, giving pointers for specific things to avoid, such as ridiculously bad rhymes i.e. “You have to start / by filling up my heart” or poems that think that old-sounding-language is poetry. But, basically, I couldn’t figure out a way to give her a decent answer. Then, about half an hour later, I got the following text message: “Holy shit, I just found a 10. When poetry is good, it is GOOD!”
That is what I look for.
Andrew Wessels, your project “The Compulsive Reader” is fantastic. As a compulsive reader, what do you think the relationship between reading and writing should ideally be?
This has been debated for probably forever. I wonder if Homer was going to conferences about this issue. For me and my writing, I absolutely have to read. I generally tend towards the belief that you have to read well to write well, but I don’t necessarily think that that means you need to read everything. I enjoy reading a lot and it is good for me, but I also don’t think that you can prescribe an amount. What I try to do is push myself to that limit where I simply cannot read more without my head exploding, then I try to read a teensy bit more. At that point I usually can start writing some poems. More than anything, reading generates an excitement in me. An excitement for the word, for thinking, for poetry.
It is really easy to badmouth people who write and submit poems without reading journals and without reading books. For the person who literally does not read at all, yes that is applicable. But for the typical decently-read poet sending out poems, this doesn’t apply. As I discussed above, I think the journals hold at least some part of the blame by separating themselves from the reader and creating a canyon that just cannot be traversed. Many smaller poetry publishing houses seem to be understanding this and creating a real aesthetic vision that again helps the reader connect with the work without the work needing to be dumbed down.
If I could wish for a moment, here is my one wish. I wish that all poets and aspiring poets would write one book review a month. Not a little 300-word blurby review. A 1000+ word review that begins to really deal with what the book is, why it exists, how it works and why someone might want to pick it up. It would be nice just to have that much conversation about the books that are being published. And, for each person doing the reviews, I do just absolutely believe that by being forced to consider and think about a poem or book of poems, you cannot help but be more attentive and understanding of your own poetry.
What book should we be reading that we don’t know about?
What one book should everyone read? Can I name more than one? I first just want to say that I love what Omnidawn books is doing. They are perhaps the one publishing house that I have enjoyed every single book of theirs I have read. That is not to say that there aren’t a lot of other publishers out there I adore, but they especially stand out to me.
Ok, let me see if I can choose one or two books. Tom Raworth, a wonderful British poet who deserves a lot more attention over here, is a poet who really informed my thoughts and writing last year (I have a couple of his poems reproduced and discussed on my blog if you want to link to those). I just re-read Donna Stonecipher’s Souvenir de Constantinople and continue to just revel in it. How about a third? There is a great translation of Ece Ayhan, my favorite Turkish poet, called Blind Cat Black & Orthodoxies.
Can I name an old&dead poet? He is generally skipped over in your standard Brit Lit classes and I didn’t first come across until a couple summers ago while reading the Norton Anthology from start to finish. Thomas Traherne, who is only given 2 poems and a brief excerpt of prose, was the biggest surprise of those many thousands of pages. His verse stands out as a revolution in many ways compared to what surrounds him, much in the same way that Blake stood out or Christopher Smart or, to use an example from above, Uccello’s paintings stand out.
I could honestly give recommendations all day long. There is so much wonderful writing out there, I find it absolutely amazing that anyone can even leave their house to do anything except go to the grocery store.
December 2009 Special Edition: Mothers Who Write
Dear Ms. E. Victoria Flynn, you run the very successful “Mother Writer” group on the Blog She Writes. Would you please tell us more about this project?
It was the combination of the words “Mother Writer” that started the group, not the other way around, and I was thinking in expletives. Some months after the birth of my second daughter I got the gumption to rekindle an on-again/off-again affair with writing. I joined a live local group, but it only met monthly. Eventually, I began to blog. That’s when I came across She Writes, still in its infancy.
I’m a stay-at-home mom in a small town, but found a different community on the internet. I realized sitting at my dining room table staring down the daily mud-bath of lunchtime that there are not only a huge number of women writers reaching out for a community of their own, but a lot of those women are mothers. I was part of a mothers’ group. I was part of a writers’ group, but who was sounding the rally cry for all the Mother Writers?
I love the name “Mother Writer.” There is something tough about it—something about the name that makes me want to put it on a T-shirt and claim my tribe. How do you feel the members of “Mother Writer” are helping one another? Do you have ideas of how we might provide more support for each other?
I love the idea of T-shirts and have been thinking a lot about it since you brought it up. The name is tough. I like to think “Mother Writer!” is a battle cry, and place Rosie the Riveter would feel at home.
We are nearing 200 members with extensively varied backgrounds both in writing as well as parenting. Mother writers span the globe and are searching each other out. It is wonderful to see seasoned authors offering their experiences and knowledge to those of us trying to get our names realized in a national or global market. Of course there is plenty of promotion being done, but also support and applause when a new book, inspired blog post or article is released.
Blogging is something I hold very close at the moment. I think most bloggers get a warm, fuzzy feeling reading comments and seeing new followers crop up on their site. I’m making an effort to read the blogs featured in Mother Writer’s “Name Your Mama Blog Here” discussion and hoping it prompts more of us to explore work we might not have come across elsewhere. I would love to see mother writers highlighting features they found of interest and giving book suggestions of their peers’ work on She Writes, personal blogs, Facebook and Twitter. It is amazing how easy it is to find help when you are willing to do the same.
Your blog Penny Jar is an interesting mix of shop talk, writing, and memoir. How do you feel this project aids you as a Mother Writer?
Penny Jar is my second blog, the one I started after learning a few things about blogging. It tends to be the more focused of the two, heavy on memoir. There is little of my own family in it, though I suppose I am always writing them in one way or another. What Penny Jar does do is force me to examine my own childhood, bring it back in the most visceral way I can and make my own parenting choices from there. I find it slow going, but a fun project when I’m not hurling insults at the screen.
Having a baby can feel like landing on an Alien planet. What advice would you give to the first time mom / writer as she begins to reshape her life on planet motherhood?
As trite as it may sound—Trust yourself. We all step into motherhood differently with so many expectations and soon find out that nobody really knows what they are doing. It’s hard to manage motherhood and finding time for ourselves often feels impossible, but I believe that everything you do for yourself, to make your life better is also for the betterment of your family. Besides, kids love interesting parents.
For more information about E. Victoria Flynn and She Writes Visit:
Marjorie Tesser is editor for Bowery Books, Bob Holman’s independent poetry press, and co-edited the Bowery anthologies Bowery Women: Poems and Estamos Aqui´: Poems by Migrant Farmworkers; she is also editor and publisher of The Mom Egg, a journal. Her poetry manuscript, The Important Thing Is… was the winner of the inaugural Firewheel Chapbook Award, and will be published by Firewheel/Sentence in 2009. She produced Bowery Women: Shoot the Poem!, a videopoetry festival, with assistance from the Center for Experimental Television, and has performed with the Harmattan Theater Company in NYC. She is on the board of trustees of Four Way Books.
How did you come up with the project The Mom Egg? What are some of the advantages / disadvantages of running a themed publication?
The Mom Egg was originally conceived by Joy Rose as part of the Mamapalooza Festival, an annual event celebrating the creativity of mother/artists. Alana Ruben Free was founding editor. I was asked to come on as co-editor, and did so with Alana for Mom Egg Vol. 4-6. This past year I received a grant to construct a website and expand the publication, now independent; Alana decided to focus on her playwriting, and no longer co-edits. So I inherited the theme of the publication, as well as the quirky name. There are challenges in editing a niche publication, but rewards as well. I believe that historically, and still today, women’s creative work has been in the general scheme of things overlooked and condescended to; that of mothers, even more so. So the publication’s mission of promoting mother artists and the subject matter of motherhood is still justified and necessary. Even though there are parameters for contributions (we publish work “by mothers about everything, and by everyone about mothers”) the work we receive is anything but monochromatic. We’ve had contributions from teen-aged moms and grandmothers, from mothers with diverse economic, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Mom Egg contributors come from all across the US and Canada, and from Europe and Asia. They bring their perceptions as mothers and artists to subject matter such as war, poverty, social injustice, illness, caring for the infirm and elderly, as well as to the miracles and demands of child-rearing, and the joys and requirements of the creative mandate.
What makes a poem really shine? How do you choose one poem over another in the selections process?
I look for work that goes beyond the what and the how to the why or the what if or the so what; work that gives me a fresh perspective on something I’ve experienced or gives me a portal to a different world. I like poems that occur at intersections of thoughts. I’m a sucker for a particularly adroit description or phrase, lyrical or blunt. I’m not too keen on sentimentality or preachiness; we also don’t publish “how to parent” kind of stuff—there are other publications with that focus. I like both modern, experimental poetry and traditional forms (I pay more attention to what’s in the box than the box, but a really coolly wrapped box is fun too). Assembling a journal issue is like building a stone wall; the pieces have to be individually beautiful but also to fit together in a way that’s solid.
What book are you reading now? What book(s) would you recommend?
I tend to read bits of lots of books at once. I’m a huge fan of Marie Ponsot’s and just got her new book, Easy. I’ve found the poems in Rachel McKibbens’ debut Pink Elephant (Cypher Books) memorable and sometimes disturbing. There are many small presses who put out wonderful books, among them Four Way Books and Coffee House Press and the press I edit for, Bowery Books. Fay Chiang’s book for Bowery, 7 Continents 9 Lives, will be out this winter. Fay has had work in The Mom Egg; I admire the power and honesty of her writing. I also read a lot of litmags, online and print. A few I like are Pif Magazine, A Gathering of the Tribes, Open City, and Drunken Boat, but there are many more. And of course, reading submissions for The Mom Egg 2010 (Vol. 8)!
For more information about The Mom Egg, please visit: http://www.themomegg.com/themomegg/Home.html