Some words from literary editors

One of my co-colloquiists brought along the latest issue of Poets & Writers, in which is a topical article for all of us here, called Putting Your Poetry into Order. And an even more irresistible (to me) feature: Through the Eyes of the Editors, in which three literary magazine editors speak to us.

Stephanie Fiorelli discusses a fairly new magazine she co-founded, Avery, going for three years; unusually for a literary journal, it’s independent, non-profit and publishing nothing but short stories. She and her fellow editors also maintain a blog to open up some of what goes on to produce such a publication.

Essayist and poet David Hamilton, who’s been editing the Iowa Review for thirty years, talks about general changes and the impact of university-isation of literary journals over the years: escalating numbers of submissions (10,000 poems received each year of which 120-150 can be published); ‘go-team’ competitive sensibilities between academic-run journals.

Most interesting to me was the piece by poet Stephen Corey, who edits the Georgia Review (and who co-edited an anthology I highly recommend, Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry) who said a number of thoughtful things. He estimates having received something like 200,000 poems, 50,000 short stories and 15-20,000 essays during his 25 year involvement with the magazine. He goes on to say

“that these statistics are misleading and unnecessarily intimidating, because the bulk of what we receive is not very good at all. The competitive pool is very small, and across the past 25 years I have not seen any appreciable increase in its relative size, despite burgeoning creative writing programs, spell-check and rudimentary grammar-check software, summertime writers conferences, private writing mentors, and online writing workshops.”

He says the number of non-fiction submissions has massively increased,

“except that most of the pieces we receive are not essays anymore, but autobiographical narratives and reminiscences that read more like sentimental journal entries than thoughtful and rigorous considerations of experiences”

And that although the number of poems submitted hasn’t changed much, the number of short stories has dropped, but perhaps this is because

“I think the publishing industry has worked over-time of late to eradicate the short story form, and I think some of the writing programs may have been helping too. Story cycles, linked stories, novels-in-stories – all these au courant designations are attempted end-arounds in the pro-novel, anti-short story game of book marketing.”

His advice to writers is in tune with the overall tone of our time: to slow down.

“Any person who writes one great poem or story or essay per year for twenty years will take his or her place on the short list of the finest writers of all time. Slow down. Read voluminously, year after year, both for pleasure and to be reminded of all that you must not do, and all that you must exceed, in order to make your own special, indelible mark… Never to be forgotten once read – isn’t that what we must seek?”

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