At my last CantoMundo retreat in the summer of 2015, I wrote a poem called “Matarose Tags G-Dragon on the 7” which freed, rather than mourned, the many complexities and contradictions of a past-still-very-much-alive self—my matarose self, my younger, more unruly, less defined-lined self, a still very much queer self now married to a man, a self who loves the K-Pop band Big Bang who is currently on a long hiatus as their eldest member enlisted in mandatory military service, signaling the end of an era— and then sent it off to Poetry magazine. I was elated when it was accepted. I was so certain of all its lines, that all of it worked together.
But then doubt crept in. Perhaps the poem at times was too playful? Perhaps it was too let-loose? Perhaps I’d given into something and too much, some part of myself who knew not to give her heart(s) to this poem just as I did to the poem’s love interest in question, a woman whom I’d love for years although she’d wronged me again and again?
I began, slowly, and then not slowly, to make cuts.
Then I cut nearly, over, a dozen lines. A word here, a word there, gone. I ended up with a much neater, more controlled poem. And It felt awful. I felt awful, but I sent in the edits to Don, Lindsay, and Holly anyway. While Don said the revision was okay, if I really did like it better, he truly missed the lines that had I cut. There was a pause. I was given over to this pause. I reread what I had done, what I had chopped up and served in neat, tightly-wrapped packaging.
The revision was wrong. I had betrayed my matarose self who I was celebrating, who was the first poet of this self, who tagged and cut school to go to art museums and parks with her best friend Aimee De La Cruz (now Coleman) who played violin and wore Doc Martens with satin drawstring pants and gave her the confidence to become an editor at her high school’s literary magazine. As a young and very inexperienced 18-year-old editor, my matarose self would never do to someone’s poem what I had done to my own.
I went with the original. I was excited again for the poem all over. I was relieved.
Don Share, Lindsay Garbutt and Holly Amos are truly a wonderful team over at Poetry, and thanks to Don’s careful eye, he saved that poem, one that was incredibly joyous to write. I’m grateful for that.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many editors in different capacities. My very first poetry publication was in Arts & Letters under Scott Hughes who plucked my poem from old-fashion snail-mail submissions. Recently, as a poet, I’ve worked with Ashley Strosnider and Kwame Dawes at Prairie Schooner, Robert C.L. Crawford and Stu Watson at Prelude, Daniel T. O’Brien at The Journal, and Eloisa Amezcua’s The Shallow Ends, just to name a few. In particular I exchanged many an email and story with Eloisa whom, like most editors, is an incredible poet in her own right. Sometimes I attempt the editor’s hat myself and learned from much about the process by guest editing, including working with editor Ruben Quesada at Queen’s Mob Teahouse on a special issue of NEW PLANETS :: NEW WORLDS and editor Nayelly Barrios over at Ostrich Review on The Days of Being Wild I’m grateful for these editors trusting me, for allowing me to propose a theme. And of course, I’m grateful for the editors here at the Kenyon Review, especially Kirsten Reach and Adam Clay.
I’ve asked those below to share which editors have fostered and electrified them as poets. And in the comments section below, please tell us who has supported your work, who has really fought for you.
Here’s to making the necessary cuts—and here’s to giving them a second life.
My writing always begins in the mouth. I was a performance poet before I cared a lick for the page—invested in ephemera, in poems that had a life in the air, that reached the ear, then ghosted. One of the first journals to accept my work for publication and saw the potential for performance poets writing being magic on the page was Muzzle Magazine, under the guidance of poet Stevie Edwards. I published around eight early poems in that journal over my first few years trying to get my work into journals and I’m indebted to her for her eye and for showing me how poems could take on a different life and still sing on the page—offer an entirely new kind of intimacy. That early encouragement propelled me toward an entirely different life in letters—I know her & her journal have done similar work for so many writers. I’m forever grateful.
Shanna Compton of Bloof Books is my hero. With a savviness that is very understated and truly undersung, she does it all. Promotion: She spends all day posting about her authors on social media. Swag: Pins! Postcards! Limited edition broadsides! Copyediting: Never before has anyone caught all my inconsistent commas and capitals. Typesetting: Oh, the kerning! Design: When the resolution of the photo I wanted for my book cover wasn’t high enough, she printed the digital photo, rescanned it at high resolution, and voila! To me, this was an ingenious miracle, a huge save, but Shanna just treated it like a day’s work. Oh, and did I mention that she adopted several books from another press that collapsed, redesigning and rereleasing them? It’s editors like her, who steadfastly do the work for the love of poetry and books and community, that are the lifeblood of our literary culture.
There is writing in my room: the talk, always deliberate with the early information—where to begin? And then, what to say, how? From that, a poem emerges: the need to hear my voice against (and through) the sound and politic of others. I have worked through the *stuff*: the sound and sense of it, the prosody of lived life—thanks, in many ways, to Timothy Donnelly. His kindness toward the words I live with/in. How they comport themselves—where my sense breaks, when I got to be patient, in my room, every time I sit to write. I have a story to tell; always had one, I know, through my reading. And still, years after school-work, I see his tireless generosity toward my work and the work of others: I am a more sensitive reader and writer because of it.
Multi-genre writer Kristina Marie Darling, the new Associate Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press, has been extremely instrumental to my development as a critic, poet, and fiction writer. I admired Kristina’s poetry and criticism before we ever met, particularly her books Failure Lyric, GHOST/LANDSCAPE, and X Marks the Dress: A Registry, among others. In 2015, Kristina accepted my short fiction manuscript Anatomical Gift for publication at Noctuary Press, where she is the Founding Editor-in-Chief, and we have been in correspondence ever since (the book is forthcoming in September 2017). We conducted an epistolary correspondence for the Best American Poetry blog in 2016, having exchanged postcards for several months that year, while Kristina was traveling between literary arts fellowships, and while I was living in Montreal. In 2017, I joined the staff of Tupelo Quarterly as an Associate Editor, per Kristina’s invitation (as Editor-in-Chief), and I also read at a 2017 AWP reading of Tupelo Quarterly contributors, per Kristina’s invitation. This is all to say—Kristina is a woman of many talents, and I greatly appreciate her many gestures of inclusion into the literary community. A proponent of hybridity, it’s writers such as Kristina who set the bar for exploring not only genre in one’s own writing, but the work of literary citizenship. Kristina is an exemplar of a writer and editor who opened the door, then held it open, to welcome so many other writers, including myself, into the room.
Dale Young is the first editor of a respected literary journal (New England Review) who published my poems. I also took a course with him on the ins and outs of publishing which helped me understand the literary landscape, Before that, I really had no idea. He continued to support my work and publish my poems in NER for a decade after that.
Jon Tribble and Allison Joseph at Crab Orchard Review are tireless advocates for poets and writers. In fact, early on in my writing life, I noticed COR was one of the few journals that published poets of color. Because of them, I am still writing and publishing today.
I have gushed about David Baker, the poetry editor at the Kenyon Review, as being the best teacher on this planet. He was my teacher at Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers and also at the Kenyon Writers’ Workshop.
Both Mary Flinn at Blackbird and Jonathan Farmer of At Length are huge advocates for not only my work but many others. When he was at Virginia Quarterly Review, Ted Genoways supported my work and he was always interested in the hard issues, so VQR became one of the most interesting journals in the country, not only from a literary perspective but also from a journalistic perspective.
There is also Don Share at POETRY who has completely changed the landscape of American poetry—or, arguably, he listened to the landscape of American poetry. In my mind, he was one of the first, if not the first, editor of a major journal to pay attention to how things were changing and publishing people of color.