The Bees’ Threes Archives

Bees Threes November 2009: Kaite Hillenbrand

Three Editors. Three Questions. Three small glimpses into what it means to write the bees knees poem.

These editors were kind to give their keen insight and advice to us, please feel free to leave them thank you notes in the comment boxes.

November Brings Us a Honey Sweet Editor. Welcome, Ms. Kaite Hillenbrand.

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Kaite Hillenbrand is a poet and editor living in her home state of West Virginia. She is Assistant Editor in Chief of Connotation Press. While earning her MFA in Poetry at the University of California, Riverside, she was Poetry Editor for Crate. She teaches at Waynesburg University.

How did you become an editor? Is one born an editor? Do you ever randomly catch yourself editing copy on; oh lets say cereal boxes and/or honey jars?

I am constantly copy editing. I don’t know if I was born that way; I was probably born with the potential for it, and then my mother highly encouraged it in me. She made sure my grammar was impeccable in speech and on paper; bad grammar is possibly her biggest pet peeve. What I appreciate most about her insistence that I use correct grammar is that she explained the grammar rules to me, and gave me tricks for figuring out common grammar problems, like when to use “I” versus “me.” I even know when “whom” is appropriate, even though my grade school stopped teaching it the year I would’ve learned it, but it’s so uncommon that I still don’t use it. I’m no good at trivia, but these little rules stay with me. Who knows why.

My family is so interested in grammar that one story we like to tell is of the time we saw, in the want ads, someone selling a “Chester Drawers.” (We also think this is funny because my father is a master woodworker.) When bad grammar is the source of a long-running joke in your family, you know you’re helplessly editor-y. There are other instances of this weird sense of enthrallment and humor, too—like how we still talk about my student who, not knowing he was wittily changing the phrase, wrote that he’d been in “screw-eating pain.” Such an apt metaphor for something excruciating.

What I really like about having such a good grasp of grammar is that I get to play with it in my writing: since I know what’s right, and since I’m a writer, I think it’s my prerogative to make up and alter words and grammar for effect. This is also a place I mine for my charming but lame jokes.

I think it’s interesting to hear how different people talk and write, though, and I don’t think it’s always right to say that someone said or wrote something wrong. Many linguists tend to deny the old prescribed grammar rules in favor of descriptivism, which says that “grammar rules” should describe how people use language, since language is constantly evolving, rather than telling people how to use it.

Being a copy editor is a lot different than being a poetry editor, though. I was a copy editor for a newspaper for a while, and that’s mostly making sure that all stories follow AP Style, use correct grammar, and are factually correct. Being a poetry editor is much different, and more stressful—but also more wonderful. Discovering new voices is a rush, and it’s pretty incredible to be working for a magazine that goes out of its way to find new voices to publish alongside established writers. I also really like commenting on poetry, and, so far, my favorite job for Connotation Press (where I’m Assistant Editor in Chief, not Poetry Editor) is writing questions for the Q&A sections for the poets. It’s a neat way to interact both with the poetry and the poets.

What do you think is so alluring about poetry? Why do you think people abandon other (possibly more lucrative pursuits) just for the chance to write one well crafted line? What is it about a poem that makes it like a bug-zapper to a poets little bug-heart?

I love your simile! Though I wish that poetry weren’t as violent as a bug-zapper—and, of course, not everything about the writing life is bad. Many parts of it are lovely. But it’s true; writing, for most, is not a lucrative career, and writing itself is a painful process for many artists.

I think different poets have different reasons for writing. I’ve heard a number of writers say that they “have” to write. I’ve never heard one say why they have to, but I’m curious. I’ve also heard a number of successful poets (most recently, Carolyn Forché) say that if you don’t have to write, don’t write, because the writing life is too hard.

I partly like writing because poems are like puzzles. Figure out where everything goes, what doesn’t fit, what metaphor will work best; figure out how to condense that phrasing; figure out which word has the best sound… Sometimes I write an image, assuming it’s a metaphor, then I have to figure out what the image stands for and revise the image to suit the referent. The figuring-out-the puzzle aspect of writing delights me.

I also like writing because it helps me figure out what something means to me, or what I think. My favorite way to start writing is with an image. Images tend to lead me toward thoughts or emotions, so starting with an image that won’t leave my head or that strikes me right off the bat is ideal. I like seeing where it will take me, and I also want to share that image with other people. I often write about West Virginia, which I consider to be home (as far as places are concerned), and there are a lot of people who never experience living in country like this. In some cities, it’s hard to find dirt; the whole thing’s paved. So, it’s nice to think I might share a little of soothing West Virginia earth with people. There seems to be something inside us that makes us want to pay homage to whatever it is we call home, even if we rebel against it (or parts of it).

The reason I started writing is kind of complicated; in my mid-20s, I found myself feeling very alone, and I realized I hadn’t been honest enough with anyone to feel like I had any truly close friends. I’d always tried to be what I thought I was supposed to be—what would make people happy. Eventually, that way of living made me feel pretty hollow and depressed. I decided to make a change and start being honest with people. I was never good at that in person, and maybe that’s why I turned to poetry first. Once I’d started opening up in poetry, I started being able to open up to in person, too. So, I guess you could say I did need to write, especially at that point in my life. Most times, I really enjoy sharing my poetry with people, but sometimes I still get pretty freaked out about just how much I’m divulging about myself.

I like that about artists, though: even though it’s scary, we keep putting ourselves and all of our bizarre-ity out there, heads held high. I’d guess it has to do with ego and desperation and excitement and mourning and celebration and all sorts of emotions and ideas, but it seems to me that sharing art is also a way of respecting the world, or life, in a way—we have to trust that the world won’t destroy us for exposing ourselves in art, or else we think that the world, or living and expressing ourselves honestly, is worth getting destroyed for, if that’s what it comes to. Otherwise, we’d just write in private journals.

What differences do you see in online and print publications? Are paper books a thing of the past? How do you feel about the Kindle? How do you feel about paper? What advantages do online journals offer writers and editors that paper based journals do not?

Good questions! There’s so much to say here. I’ll start with the Kindle: I think it’s cool, especially if it gets more people to read. It’s lightweight, holds tons of books, and (as I understand it) you just need a fancy phone to download a book onto it, which seems like that would encourage some people to read books they might not have read otherwise. And you can still take notes “in the margins” and bookmark pages. That being said, I love pages. I love the smell of books and the feel of books and I especially love a signed book. I love an artifact. I’m the kind that brings home rocks from all over the world so I’ll have something to hold. I have more books than I’ll probably ever read, which I’m embarrassed to admit. I’d like to say, like my friend Maurya Simon, that I’ve read every book in my library. But it’s not true; I have signed books I’ve never cracked. So, no, I don’t think that paper books are a thing of the past, but I do think that the more technologically-inclined we become from generation to generation, there will probably be more and more people who appreciate the convenience of the Kindle and things like it much more than they appreciate, for example, lugging a 50 lb unabridged Shakespeare anthology back and forth to class three times a week.

On to journals: I think that online journals have a lot to offer. Online sites can accommodate longer pieces—at Connotation Press, we are proud to be able to publish, for example, feature-length plays and screenplays, 20- or 30-page poems, and long mixed-media pieces that have a hard time making their way into printed journals due to page limits, the cost of colored ink, and the constraints of the dimensions of a page. Online sites have constraints, too, of course, but being online does open up new possibilities.

We are also excited to have people create profile pages at Connotation Press so that they can comment on others’ art. Online publications can encourage and provide a place for a conversations to occur between artists and their fans, between artists in different genres, between artists in different stages of their careers, between editors, artists, and guests, etc. It seems to me that online publications have the opportunity to help different genres interact and grow based on that interaction: for instance, we have the opportunity to bring a poet, photographer, and musician together to create new art. And we can hope that music fans and musicians will come to our site to see the music we’ve posted, and while they’re on the site, they’ll see some poetry that inspires them or gives them a new idea for a song.

It’s pretty cool to be in the generation that gets to discover and encourage all of these possibilities. And I think it’s a really important development for art, since it’s become marginalized in our society (certain genres, like poetry, in particular). If artists in our global society can find a way to come together as an interactive community online, and if a website can interest more people in different kinds of art and get them to interact with genres they otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to, then I think that’s a great thing. I hope that it will lead to stronger local communities of various kinds of artists, too.

For more information about Connotation Press please visit: http://www.connotationpress.com/

 

The Bees’ Threes November 2009: Arlene Ang

Three Editors. Three Questions. Three small glimpses into what it means to write the bees knees poem.

These editors were kind to give their keen insight and advice to us, please feel free to leave them thank you notes in the comment boxes.

This Editor is a Gift to Poetry. Welcome, Ms. Arlene Ang.

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Arlene Ang is the author of four poetry collections, the most recent being a collaborative work with Valerie Fox, Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (Texture Press, 2008). She lives in Spinea, Italy where she serves as staff editor for The Pedestal Magazine and Press 1. More of her work may be viewed at www.leafscape.org.

How did you become an editor? Is one born an editor? Do you ever randomly catch yourself editing copy on; oh lets say cereal boxes and/or honey jars?

Now that I think of it, I’ve always been involved in one way or another with editing. Before joining The Pedestal Magazine staff in 2007, I was editor for the Italian edition of Niederngasse for four years.

Press 1, which came out later in 2007, is a labor of love for Valerie Fox, Phyllis Wat, Dennis Moritz and me. Valerie an d Phyllis do much of the reading and scouting while I occupy myself more with the web presentation.

Being an editor has been a way to share my fascination with poetry… and, more hedonistcally, read great poems. I still get a special thrill when I discover a poet whose work I’d never have come across if not through their submission.

And yes, I find myself wanting to correct grammars or typos and rephrasing some sentences wherever I find them. I’m a pedant at heart. I still spell every single word on text messages. It’s just stronger than me.

What do you think is so alluring about poetry? Why do you think people abandon other (possibly more lucrative pursuits) just for the chance to write one well crafted line? What is it about a poem that makes it like a bug-zapper to a poets little bug-heart?

There’s more immediacy in poetry. What I love best is how people interpret poetry in different ways based on their experiences. The attention to language makes it very intriguing and challenging, especially when it comes to finding out ways to reduce a whole experience into a couple of lines. I like to think of novels as beer, short fiction as wine… while poetry is hard liquor. If it’s 120 proof, it just sets your whole spirit on fire.

What differences do you see in online and print publications? Are paper books a thing of the past? How do you feel about the Kindle? How do you feel about paper? What advantages do online journals offer writers and editors that paper based journals do not?

While some people think that online publications have a higher tendency to publish trash, I’m still convinced that they beat print journals in terms of readership. With the internet, you can reach out to the whole world while with dead-tree publications your audience is limited to the print run.

One thing I really like about internet publications is how they’re more open to multimedia experiments. Born Magazine is one journal that showcases spectacular things that you can do online. Recently, The Pedestal Magazine has opened its doors to submissions of performance poetry, too.

As for paper books becoming obsolete, maybe… after another hundred years. The charm of paper publications will always remain, I think, but it’s also true that we’re moving towards an electronic age. When you browse through the book catalog of Project Gutenberg, you get a good feel of how the future would be like.

Upcoming Arlene Ang projects include:

An anthology, The Red Room: Writings from Press 1 will be published in late 2009. Contributors include Bill Kushner, Jayne Pupek, Maurice Oliver, Lewis Warsh, Changming Yuan, Ruth Altmann, Stephanie Gray, Sean Lovelace, Nicole Cartwright Denison, Leonard Gontarek, Andrew Mossin, Lydia Cortes, Lynn Levin, Meg Pokrass, Elizabeth Thorpe, Miriam Kotzin, John Grey, John Vick, and many others.

Press 1/Straw Gate Books will also be present at the AWP Bookfair in Denver 2010. Valerie Fox and I will be there as well as other anthology contributors.

The Bees’ Threes October 2009: Editor Marcelle Kube

Three Editors. Three Questions. Three small glimpses into what it means to write the bees knees poem.

These editors were kind to give their keen insight and advice to us, please feel free to leave them thank you notes in the comment boxes.

Please Welcome Our Last Honey for the Month of October, Ms. Marcelle Kube.

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Marcelle Kube is the co-editor at Caesura Magazine. She founded Second Writes and is currently working on a new poetry magazine premiering next year, as yet unnamed. Her other interests include making films and art.

The Bees Knees is a revision based project; something like a workshop online. We are interested in understanding what makes a poem work. I’m sorry to begin with an (seemingly) impossible question to answer, but what makes a poem work? Can the workings of poetry be compared to, let’s say, a flapper? What does a flapper-poem need to make you do a double take when it dances across your editorial desk?

What attracts me are poems that follow the instructions/intentions of the magazine, which is really what all editors want. So, if there is a call for dancers, preferably flappers, that’s what I’m going to consider. It doesn’t matter if you are the prima donna at a ballet company, if you can’t flap, I can’t use you. What will get me to do a double take is craft. Anybody can dress up like a flapper and fake the motions, but someone who has practiced is going to catch my attention. The same is true in poetry. A poem can be about anything, but if it is crafted poorly, it’s not going to keep my attention.

Do you have a favorite poem / poet? How did this work or artist steal your reading-heart?

I love different poems/poets for different reasons, so I can’t really say that I have a favorite. When I’m asked to recommend a poet to someone who doesn’t read poetry, I always say Billy Collins. There’s a sense of honesty in his poems that is created by the fact that he doesn’t try to fool you into thinking that a particular poem is about something else. His writing is very clear and open, yet still full of wonder. In all his poems he tells a story, which is very important for me. In fact, I would say that when I read any poem, I’m looking for a story. I love “Beowulf” because it is a grand story.

(Besides writing) how can authors help to maintain the wellbeing of a publication? What (if anything) would you like to change about the writer / author relationship?

A submission is like a job interview – you want to look better than everyone else that is lined up for the job. You want to be respectful of the editor, the magazine, yourself and your art: in short, professional. A cover letter is a way of keeping track of what’s been submitted, so what I like to see is what has been submitted and the author’s name and contact information. If you’re going to include a bio, 50 words or less is best, but to be honest, I never read the cover letter before the poems.

Getting submissions is fun. With Caesura, the calls in the past have been themes that are conceptual and when we do these, we think we know what we’re asking for; that is, we think it’s clear. Then the submissions come in and you realize that people color ideas so individually and the depth and breadth of how they define something is amazing. And in response to the poems we start to redefine a concept that we thought we had already defined.

I think the best thing that any artist can do to ensure the well being of a publication is to read, share, submit, practice your art and support one another. Because poetry is a kind of performance craft, you need an audience to get better, so it behooves you to go to readings, workshops or form a group where you can read each other’s work. Try being an assistant editor for any small poetry magazine in your area. I got my first editing job when I was studying for my MFA and there were many things I didn’t know about the process. From the writer side, it often seems like editors are enigmatic, or that there is this wall between you and the editors and there really isn’t. It is an eye opening experience.

For more information about caesura, please visit: http://www.pcsj.org/caesura.html.

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The Bees’ Threes October 2009: Editor Roxane Gay

Three Editors. Three Questions. Three small glimpses into what it means to write the bees knees poem.

These editors were kind to give their keen insight and advice to us, please feel free to leave them thank you notes in the comment boxes.

Our Next Honey is the Cat’s Meow. Welcome, Ms. Roxane Gay.

RGay

Roxane Gay’s writing appears or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle, Annalemma, Night Train, Gargoyle, Keyhole and others. She is the associate editor of PANK and can be found online at http;//www.roxanegay.com.

The Bees Knees is a revision based project; something like a workshop online. We are interested in understanding what makes a poem work. I’m sorry to begin with an (seemingly) impossible question to answer, but what makes a poem work? Can the workings of poetry be compared to, let’s say, a flapper? What does a flapper-poem need to make you do a double take when it dances across your editorial desk?

I must admit that I have a bit of a bias against poetry and I realize that a lot of people say that and I try to work against my bias every day by reading poetry and challenging myself. Part of this bias is borne of having read so much bad poetry–after a while, scar tissue develops. For me, what makes a poem work is an unnameable exceptional quality that makes me want to read the poem over and over again. I like really precise language and really gritty subjects. I like poems that are sexy and sharp, that play with language, that challenge me. What I do not like are poems that try too hard to be profound, that use form in weird ways without good purpose, that rely too much on emotional nonsense and angst and cry out, “I am a poem, love me.”

For some reason, I seem to be drawn quite often to the work of slam poets. Quite a number of slam poets find their way into PANK’s pages.

If a poem is a flapper, and who doesn’t love a flapper, it needs to wear a really cute, sparkly dress and simple jewelry–the writing has to catch my eye but not blind me.

Do you have a favorite poem / poet? How did this work or artist steal your reading-heart?

My favorite poem is This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams. I love the short lines and the short stanzas and the really elegant structure of the poem. Every single word is where it needs to be. Every single word is the right word. I like to recite This is Just to Say. You know something is good when the words sound so right as they are spoken.

(Besides writing) how can authors help to maintain the wellbeing of a publication? What (if anything) would you like to change about the writer / author relationship?

Writers can help to maintain the well-being of a publication by subscribing if the magazine is subscription-based. That kind of support is so crucial and so few magazines receive the financial support they truly need to sustain themselves. Writers can also read online content and promote not only their work but the work of other writers published by that publication. Writers can be open to editorial suggestions. They can follow directions by actually reading them. I wouldn’t change much about the writer/editor relationship. I love working with writers as the PANK associate editor. They are more often than not generous, open and charming. The only thing I would change is that I’d love to see more writers open to working with an editor on improving their work. I believe writers should trust their instincts about their work and defend artistic choices but I also think that sometimes writing can flourish with editorial guidance.

For more information on Roxane Gay and her powerhouse of work (both in writing and publishing), please visit these sites.

Roxane Gay :: http://www.roxanegay.com
Associate Editor, PANK :: http://www.pankmagazine.com


The Bees’ Threes October 2009: Editor Erin Marissa Russell

Three Editors. Three Questions. Three small glimpses into what it means to write the bees knees poem.

These editors were kind to give their keen insight and advice to us, please feel free to leave them thank you notes in the comment boxes.

Our first Honey is the Cats Pajamas. Welcome, Ms. Erin Marissa Russell.

Erin

Erin Marissa Russell is a 26-year-old who studies art and writing in Dallas, Texas. She is the founder and co-editor of Moulin Review, a literary journal staffed by students at Brookhaven College. She is also copy editor of the Brookhaven Courier and contributes news articles. Erin recently became junior editor at Open Heart Publishing. Her short story “That’s What It’s All About” won first place in the National League for Innovation in the Community College Contest in 2009.In addition to writing and making art, Erin enjoys singing with The Lewis Family Singers and working on a new project, as yet unnamed.

The Bees Knees is a revision based project; something like a workshop online. We are interested in understanding what makes a poem work. I’m sorry to begin with an (seemingly) impossible question to answer, but what makes a poem work? Can the workings of poetry be compared to, let’s say, a flapper? What does a flapper-poem need to make you do a double take when it dances across your editorial desk?

This is a wonderful question, and one any poet submitting work will do well to consider. Of course, always throw out advice you hear that doesn’t line up with your own artistic vision. But I’ve learned the best criticisms are the ones that still sting after a few days- they still sting because they’re still true.

A good poem, first of all, says something. If your poem is about something as simple as rain, that’s wonderful. But unless you’ve written the most perfect description of rain ever to exist, I’d like your poem about rain to also tell the reader about something else- the world, or how you feel during this particular rain, or what else is like rain.

A good poem is also a poem, and not prose with more line breaks. What is the real difference? I say a poem is written in language different enough from everyday conversation to alert a reader they are hearing a poem without seeing the line breaks. On a related note, a poem should have a clear, well-developed voice. If, in your reading, phrases stand out to you that don’t quite fit with the others, that’s a good place to start revising.

Also, the very best poems do something interesting with language. Any poet will do well to have a basic understanding of prosody and the way poets have traditionally played with spoken and written language. Of course, you shouldn’t try to use all these tricks at once, and may elect to not use any of them sometimes, but your work will benefit from attention to the smallest details.

Do you have a favorite poem / poet? How did this work or artist steal your reading-heart?

The first answer to this question would take a novel to answer, so I’ll give you the second answer. My favorite poem right now is “At the Beginning,” by Vasko Popa. A local poet and friend, Alex Etheridge, recently introduced me to a number of poets I wasn’t familiar with, Popa and some other Serbian poets among them. Popa uses very elemental, archetypal images to elicit visceral reactions in his readers. I like “At the Beginning” so much I incorporated the text into a drawing I just completed. It fit well with the surreal, purgatorial feel of the image.

(Besides writing) how can authors help to maintain the wellbeing of a publication? What (if anything) would you like to change about the writer / author relationship?

Publications’ wellbeing is but a facet of the wellbeing of the writing community. The best thing writers can do, then, to maintain their wellbeing is to get to know other writers, editors, and publishers. Go to local workshops or feedback groups, go to readings, and look up your local small presses and literary journals. Lots of them have events when new issues come out, or open mic affairs. You’ll meet like-minded people and have a lovely time to boot. It’s so easy now to get all the feedback you need online that it’s easy to bypass a local support system, but it’s so integral. In addition, you’ll make valuable connections at these events that will maintain the wellbeing of not just publications, but your own writing career.

For more information on Erin Marissa Russell and the amazing things she makes, please visit these sites.

Erin’s Blog: http://erinmarissa.wordpress.com/
Open Heart Publishing: http://lifeatohp.debrincase.com/
Moulin Review: http://moulinreview.wordpress.com/
Brookhaven Courier: http://www.brookhavencourier.com/
Erin’s Art: http://erinmarissarussell.com/home.html

 

3 thoughts on “The Bees’ Threes Archives

  1. There was a lot to like in these interviews–the compulsion to own more books than one can read, and the concept of an editor helping a poet find his/her voice. The very first time I submitted, the editor of a national publication steered me through several revisions of a poem before it was finally published. “Fantastic!” I thought, “and so very helpful.” That was the last time an editor offered anything beyond “We are delighted to inform you . . .” or “We enjoyed reading your poetry but . . .”. I know how busy editors are, but I was naive enough to imagine that I would regularly be mentored by these kindly souls. Inspired by your editors, I took one random phrase from each interview (some of which remain intact) and came up with the following. Cheers!

    Thank You for Submitting

    it’s hard to find dirt under the nails of this poem
    as if it had spent all day in the hot tub

    its short stanzas tweezed to fallen parentheses
    its elegant structure would pass through

    airport security unscathed I’ll bet, and yet
    they don’t fool me, these minked-up lines

    poetry is hard liquor,
    a cigar you inhale

    despite the carefully powdered similes
    this poem has bags under its eyes

    sniff each couplet for subtle signs of decay—
    that will be a good place to start revising

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