Albatross #24 now available

We ran a bit past the one year mark for this issue.  It features another great woodcut by Peter Scacco, who is also featured on the cover of issue #23 and issue #21.  I am once again grateful to the authors who have shared these poems.  Each one is strong in its own way.  It leads me once again to a desire to publish a big issue–perhaps for the next issue #25.  The idea would be to make it an “Albatross Anthology” or “the best of Albatross.” Maybe what I need to do is to create a budget and launch a kickstarter campaign.  Were it to win funding, it would allow me to print enough to hire a distributor and have it distributed nationally.  This is a dream of mine.


Albatross #22 now available

I’m back-dating this a year because I’ve fallen off posting to the blog… Albatross #22 was posted to the main website in May of 2011.  We remain consistent with publishing one per year.  The art work on this cover is one of my favorites works of art that we’ve published, and it follows nicely from the bird woodcut on the cover of issue #20.

Albatross #21 now available

I just posted Albatross #21 at the main site.  This has been a tough year insofar as I have begun to adjunct at Emerson College and so have been busy with researching, creating, and then teaching a new course since September.  The work I do on Albatross is always very much squeezed between the cracks of a very busy life, but this year that busyness has increased one hundred fold.  At this very moment, I am neglecting some work I should be doing for this course…

But this work must continue as well, and so it does.   Once again I was so pleased by the poems in this issue.  I still actually type each poem out, so I have that experience of becoming intimate with the poem–as if I wrote it myself.  (This reminds me of a story that UF writer-in-residence Harry Crews once told me.  In order to teach himself how to write, he retyped word-for-word Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.  That was his apprenticeship…)

While a year might be a long time in between issues, I hope you feel like it’s worth the wait after reading these.  Some of my favorite moments: the opening poem by Don Thompson (do you notice how each issue starts off with a poem invoking religion or God in some way?), the following powerful poems by Temple Cone, the arrogance and destructive nature of childhood in Joan Colby’s poem, the terror at the end of Ronnie Hess’s poem… and the stunning pair by Adam Penna (which, in the print issue–soon to come!–you will find in the sweet middle-spot, where the journal flips open to automatically).

Thank you for reading!

On Editorial Choice

I recently received an email from a graduate student asking about why I chose a particular poem.  She was okay with me putting our exchange here in the blog so that others could benefit from the comments:

Hi, my name is _________, and I’m an MFA student at _____ State University. I respect your journal and would like to do a presentation on your editorial process for my publishing class. If you have time to answer a few questions, I’d be grateful. If not, thank you for your time and for publishing an amazing literary magazine.

The specific poem I am focusing on is “Insurance” by Kim Triedman, featured on page 6 of edition 20.

1. Why did you choose this poem? It has the albatross/anabiosis theme, but what else do you look for in choosing poetry? In general, are you ever surprised by what you decide to put in your own journal?

I chose this the way I choose any poem:  there’s something about it that won’t let me let it go.  One criterion is that there can’t be anything in the poem that distracts me (an ugly word choice, for example, or an inappropriate metaphor).  Usually it’s an interesting ending that engages me.  There definitely needs to be a sense of voice, like someone is speaking from a position of authority, knows they have something to say and then they say it in a way that grabs your attention.  I accept poems that I want to read again, that–most importantly–move me in some way, engage my emotions, make me say, “Damn!” and catch my breath.

With this particular poem, I happen to know what nasturtiums are like as my wife plants them, and they are beautiful.  Not sure that has much to do with how I experience the poem–probably–in general I like poems that name things (ever read Robert Haas’s poem “Letter”  in Field Guide p. 65?  Stunning).  I liked the build-up of the ending, the list of participles (“teeming–cascading—extrapolating–luxuriating” and the image of “the little open mouths”:  something that’s coming alive while the rest of the world is at the verge of death/autumn.  And the idea of this being “insurance” against the coming winter, against the death of the summer garden, and summer in general…

This one didn’t have the powerful kicker ending some of them have, but I really liked the tone and voice throughout–that sense of authority, like I said (so many submissions come through, even ones from well-published writers, that are flat and drab).  The opening line is great and engaging:  “There is one thing I get right: every spring I plant the nasturtiums.”

I also pay attention to how the poem sounds.  You’ll notice a lot of assonance in this poem, and I find this especially appealing:

“scritch along the walk like small…”

“greenness, even the blossoms, tipped in gold, their little mouths open.”

2.  Did you receive this poem through the slush pile or was it solicited? Were you familiar with Kim Triedman before publishing her?

I don’t solicit poems directly.  It’s all one big slush pile.  I may have published her in a previous issue–that would be the only way I know her.  Here’s an interesting twist:  we are now friends on Facebook.

3. What is your reading process like? Did anyone other than you read “Insurance” or provide editorial input on the final decision?

I am the only one who reads the submissions.  I’m a one-man band.  Reading process:  every couple of months I say, “Shoot, it’s been a couple of months since I’ve done submissions, so I better catch up…” It’s hardest keeping up with email submissions.  I’m not sure I’m answering your question.  Submit follow-up questions if you like.

You should also consult the Albatross blog, where I talk about examples of my process:

I then asked her about why she picked that particular poem.  Her reply:

Thanks for responding and directing me to your blog! I just looked at it, and I especially enjoyed the entry regarding how you order poems within an issue. The way order influences structure and perspective has always fascinated me (especially the role order plays in Modernist literature). The impact of organization on a literary magazine is interesting, especially how an effective order allows the poems to stand both independently yet also in dialogue with each other.  All of the revision posts are very relevant to my class, and I’ll certainly include them in my presentation.

I was struck by “Insurance” by Kim Triedman for a fairly odd, personal reason: it reminded me of my mother. The more independent I become, the more fascinating my mom becomes as I see her as a “real” person—sometimes, almost as a stranger. The speaker in “Insurance” is probably so many things to so many people, but when she takes the time to plant the nasturtiums she is reasserting herself as a person with her own needs, fears, and hopes. As you noted, there is also some beautiful language and description in the poem. But the thing that makes me go “damn,” so to speak, is the way the poem doesn’t rely on sentiment but instead uses action and metaphor to deliver such an emotional impact. I chose Albatross in general because it takes an ecological stand and challenges humans to consider how we impact the world around us. Poetry can be such a powerful rhetorical tool, and I respect a journal that welcomes work that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

Ultimately, editorial choice depends on the sensibility, experience, and taste of the editor, all of which results from the powerful complexity of the human brain.  This is why it’s so hard to explain!

Albatross #20 now available

I just posted Albatross #20 at the main site.  The print issue will be out within the next couple of weeks.

There are some amazing poems in this issue.  Some of my favorites include William Keener’s and Lyn Stefenhagens’s.  I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I have.  And the cover art is awesome as well.  While visiting my son in Gainesville, we went to a party at an art gallery, and the owner was selling this woodcut as a card.  I asked him if I could use it for #20, and voila!

I have found other works of art this way.  Another of my favorites, the cover for #10, was done by a professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN.  We were sitting next to each other at Dunn Brothers Coffee House, and he was sketching these cool abstract pieces.  Again, I boldly asked to use the artwork, and this is how it came to be on the cover.  This cover for #10, by the way, was featured in the 1998 (I think it was) Poet’s Market.

Arranging the Poems in an Issue

I don’t know what other editors do, but I pay special attention to the order of the poems in an issue. For the past handful of issues I try to open with a poem that is spiritual in some way–invoking the holy in nature with reverence. I try to end with an apocalyptic poem, one that signals the potential downfall of the planet–or some special part of it that would make living on it less of a wonder. It’s not that I seek out poems with such content to fill these spaces; it’s just that, every issue, there turns out to be at least one reverent poem and one semi-apocalyptic poem. The poems also tend to break down into themes or topics (poems about animals, about trees, about human relationships, etc.) and so I group these together as well as try to find hinges between the topics. Sometimes these are merely a second poem by the same author; other times it is an image or a phrase that provides the hinge.

For example, in issue #19, the two poems about gardens (“The End of the Garden” by Kathleen Kirk and “The Shade Garden” by Gabriel Welsch) are followed by one titled “Persephone to Hades” (by Jules Green) and then by Ralph Culver’s “Prelude” (which is set in winter) and “False Spring” (by Don Thompson). This latter poem mentions birds, and the next poem by Linda King is “a bird will rest its feet only in flight.” This poem mentions “cloud promises,” which leads to the next poem by Caitlin Rice, titled “The Clouds All Fall to Earth.” And so on.

I was happy to see that Kathleen Kirk noticed this and commented upon it in a recent letter:

What a wonderful set of poems [in issue #19], and I admire your careful arrangement of them, and how they beckon to each other across the pages. I was of course delighted with Megan Roberts “Blackberries” poem, and I hope she enjoys the blackberries in mine. I love how Gabriel Welsch’s “Shade Garden” is opposite my garden poem. The issue is full of close observation of nature and evokes powerful emotions, deep thought, and all kinds of reverence. I love how the issue opens and closes with poems that kneel down. Wow.

I have to say that the coincidence of the first and last poem invoking kneeling was not one that I noticed nor intended. I won’t take credit for doing that intentionally, though it makes for a sweet wholeness. The poems in these two positions fulfill the functions I described above; in each, kneeling has a different purpose. In the opening poem, for example, the kneeling is out of reverence: “to stand/as if this were a throne/or the fragment of an Annunciation,/to bend, to kneel down, to pray” (“Loss,” E.G. Burrows). In the closing poem, the kneeling is forced by the Gods, to help us recognize our arrogance: “The gods have stood up and told you to kneel./And you kneel.” (“Hubris” by Misha Becker).

Further Comments on Harsh Poetry

Eric Paul Shaffer sent a follow-up email in which he explains his sense of “harsh poetry”:

I can see there are some points you address that I would like to amplify in order to clarify the context in which I made them, especially the one about “poetry that is too harsh.” I meant that many editors are afraid of poems that they consider make judgments concerning humanity that might be offensive to humans so they usually shy away from those poems.

I didn’t mean that the poems in Albatross are “too harsh”; in fact, it is a relief to read work that encounters the planet as it actually is rather than the world as humans believe it is, beliefs they maintain in order to benefit and excuse themselves in the continuing attack on everything that is non-human on the planet.

As you can see from reading “Whales at Sunset,” I am not reluctant to indict humanity, not even myself, for its crimes, and that the editors thought my poem was too harsh, but I still think my indictment was accurate.

I am actually happy to characterize the poetry in Albatross as “harsh” from this point of view and also honored to be among those who aren’t afraid to publish poems that make harsh judgments. Many become defensive when faced with such “offensive” poetry (and strike back with their own level of harshness, calling names like “tree-huggers” and “enviro-wackos”), but my hope is that we can move beyond our fragile, personal egos and begin to consider the larger whole (the “interdependent web of all existence” as the Unitarian Universalists put it in their 7th Principle) of which we are a part.

Let me say that I get many many poems that are merely judgmental or didactic, without any art. The primary consideration, in my mind, is that the poem is beautiful in some way: it moves me, its language is accurate and honest and striking, it captures a fresh and refreshing perspective on a topic.

Harsh Poetry and the Purpose of Publishing

I received a submission recently from Eric Paul Shaffer, who included a poem called “Whales at Sunset” and who introduced the poem like this in his cover letter:

Because some editors have said that the ecological implications of ‘Whales at Sunset’ are too harsh, after reading ALBATROSS (#18), I particularly wanted you to see the poem. It was included in my recent book LAHAINA NOON, but has never been published elsewhere. I read your guidelines carefully, but I saw no mention of a policy on previously published work, so I thought I would include it, in hopes you might find it of interest.

Now I was pleased that he thought to send it to me, and pleased also at the thought that we publish poetry that is “too harsh.” Harsh poetry is the kind that needs to be given voice, given the state of the planet these days. When I read the poem, I thought it was perfect, but I did not accept it because it had already been published. I’ll try to explain my rationale.

My understanding of the purpose of publishing individual poems in journals is to build a record of publication to demonstrate that one’s work has been recognized and featured by other editors. Once one had enough credits, one could prepare a chapbook or book manuscript with the hope of finding a publisher for a longer collection of work. The hoped-for end result is to have a book published. If the poem is already published in a book, then there is no reason to then publish it in a journal, in my mind. This is why I didn’t see the need of mentioning this in the writer’s guidelines; it just seemed self-evident to me.

I can understand the desire to increase the audience for a poem, but once the poem has been published, it has its audience–the book.

There are a couple of other more selfish reasons for not accepting it, much as I liked it. First, I only have so much “real-estate” (i.e. pages) and so I guard it jealously. I often wrestle with a poem, reading a submission two or three times over a period of two to three months before accepting or rejecting, because the space is so scarce. Second, I hope that my poets will go on and publish a chapbook or book so that ALBATROSS can be listed among the credits. This gives the journal more exposure and demonstrates the good taste of the editor (after all, s/he accepted a poem by someone who published a chap/book!).

These are also reasons I am so adamantly opposed to receiving simultaneous submissions, because of this mechanics of publishing. If you have published the same poem in two journals and then publish a book, who will you credit? If you publish a poem in one or two journals, why stop there–why not publish it in 5 or 10? And then who gets the credit?

In my next post I will publish the poem in its entirety (I have permission of the author), so you can see how harsh a harsh poem can be…

Albatross #19 now available

I just posted Albatross #19 at the main site.  The print issue is forthcoming in a week or so (finalized the files and delivered to the printer today, giving him the go-ahead to print 100 copies).

It’s always a bit of a relief to get another issue out there.  I know it’s a relief for the poets, who have sometimes waited a year or two to see their poem in print.  It’s always up in the air, too, until the poem is actually in print, since the journal might fold up shop in the meantime.

I’ve always tried to keep Albatross small so that it never outgrew itself.  I’ve seen journals start out as quarterlies only to see them burn out after a few years.  Albatross is published about once per year and has been doing so for 23 years, a not unremarkable feat for a poetry journal I’m proud to say!