An Editor's Playful Playlist

As our Greensboro Review submission final deadline and Valentine's Day, approach, here’s a little editing love story (and some affectionate advice) from The Greensboro Review told through a playlist of our favorite love songs.

Chapter 1: Billie Holiday “As Time Goes By”

So as you sit down to your desk, or your kitchen table, or that stack of pillows you call a desk, you might be wondering, “Which poems or stories should I submit?” or, “What should I write about?” Now, this varies from journal to journal, but here at The Greensboro Review our unofficial motto is, “we’ve been old school since 1965”. While we’ve never turned our noses up at experimental writing, it is important to remember that what captures the attention of the human heart tends to be the same no matter where you set your story, or what sort of lineation you’re using.  As I was often reminded in my undergraduate creative writing classes, the authors of the Bible complained about a lack of innovative material, so don’t be discouraged because you happen to write love poems, or because you wrote a breakup story. As Billie reminds us,

Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny
It's still the same old story.

We tend to stumble through our lives assuming that our experiences are unique.

As editors what we learn every day, and what we see in some of the best writers we publish is an acknowledgement of the reality that we all feel grief, displacement, and loneliness. And on the other hand, that we all experience the tingle of a crush, the joy of succeeding, and the comfort of loved ones. Birth and death, two of the most ordinary things in the world when one really thinks about it. Yet we cannot help but write about our losses, our lovers cities away, and the complications of being a child and having children. I say that Billie is right. Some things do endure as time goes by, so never write off a subject matter merely because you think that human history has it covered.

 Chapter 2: Mariah Carey “Fantasy”

So all crop-top and roller skating jokes aside (watch the video, my friends), this is the part of the story where you’ve sent us your work (in an appropriately sized envelope, with a SASE) and we, the editors, start watching the pile of submissions grow and grow. Every day a few new envelopes show up, the count of submissions on Submittable rises, and we start to imagine pulling the next Pulitzer Prize winner out of the depths of the pile (a former Pulitzer Prize winner would work too). With boxes brimming with envelopes the possibility for the next issue is electrifying and daunting, as Mariah sings, “It’s just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby.” The road to the final issue, printed and bound, is littered with deadlines and many long days spent sorting and commenting on each of the manuscripts. As we move through these steps, though, all we are hoping for is someone to make those fantasies real. Someone whose voice is so unique, their language so clear and precise, that they knock us on our collective editing butts.

Chapter 3: Cyndi Lauper “Time After Time”

So, this is when you might want to excuse yourself, have a cup of coffee, eat a handful of Sweethearts, and come back, because I’m going to tell you about the months of two editors reading 500 fiction manuscripts and another two editors reading 1,500 poems.

Here at The University of North Carolina, Greensboro, in a tiny office that houses six people, we make each issue happen. No one screens the manuscripts, the first pair of eyes that your work sees is someone who will eventually make the decision about whether we accept work for publication or not. As you might imagine, because we see everything that comes through the door, we notice trends in what ends up in our rejection pile. As Cyndi sang, “If you’re lost─you can look─ and you will find me. Time after time.” Except in this case we aren’t talking about that one person who doesn’t leave your thoughts, someone you can return to after years and years, we are talking about manuscripts that show potential but seem to be plagued with similar problems. On the poetry end the trends include lack of rhythmic integrity, congestion with thesaurus look-ups, and mastodonic obtuseness. On the fiction end gimmicks, lack of initial narrative drive, and lack of convincing character motivation tend to earn a low rank from our editors.

The up-side to these trends is that poetry and prose that conquer these hiccups stands out. In other words, taking a harsh look at your work before you send it to us will serve you well. If you have the time, pick up a copy of The Greensboro Review (or read our featured work online) to get a feel for how other poets and writers have found ways to make their stories and poems engaging and unique from the get-go.

Chapter 4: Etta James “At Last”

Finding a great poem or story often feels like meeting someone who is cute, funny, and, Wait…what’s that in your bag? A book of W.S. Merwin poems? Oh, sorry. I got a little caught up there….

 What I mean to say is that finding a submission you believe in is exciting and intoxicating. In the office we often thrust the poem or story into our assistant editor’s hands and demand that the poem or story be read that second. Just like in Etta’s ballad, the work that makes us jump out of our seats are,“ a thrill to press my cheek to. A thrill that I have never known.” But like a good wing-man, often it is the other editor’s job to tell you to play it cool until we’ve given each and every sheet of paper in our office its fair shot.

Chapter 5: Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”

Just like in life, sometimes you fall for someone and by the time you get the nerve to express your feelings they’re dating someone else. This is the untold heartbreak of being an editor: when you receive a withdrawal from a writer that you were eager to publish. In this moment you feel a strange mix of frustration, happiness, and validation. The frustration comes from the thought of seeing that gem of a poem or story in another journal’s pages, the happiness comes from knowing that that writer you believe in has found so much success, and the validation comes from knowing that, despite the hours that you spend questioning your own ability as an editor, you do have the ability to find work that will resonate with your readers.

At The Greensboro Review we want the very best fit for our writers. We try very hard to make each poet and writer feel like their work has found a home, so we try our best to follow Cee Lo’s advice when we lose work, “and although there's pain in my chest I still wish you the best” and we do our best to pick ourselves up and ready ourselves to have an Etta James moment with someone new.

Chapter 6: The Beatles “In My Life”

A few years ago, The Greensboro Review moved from a tiny house, to a set of new offices just down the road. We quickly filled the new space with a maze of back issues, reading posters, faculty books, old photographs, and walls of bound theses. Since 1965 numerous prize winners have had the honor of editing and being published in The Greensboro Review. This is something that we never forget, but as you think about where you might want to send your work on this Valentine’s Day you might want to think about the lyrics to (in my opinion) one of the best love songs,

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more.

At The Greensboro Review we like to form close relationships with our writers because we want them to become a part of our history. We work hard to carve out a space for each new voice that we add to the wall of issues that spans back to the chapbook sized first issue that came out in 1965.

So a happy Valentine’s day to all our GR readers and contributors, and don’t forget to post or submit a belated card of poems or stories tomorrow.

2012 Robert Watson Prize winners announced

We're pleased to announce the 2012 winners of The Greensboro Review's $1000 Robert Watson Literary Prizes:  

  • Fiction: Annie Mountcastle, "Tiny Little Nothing"
  • Poetry: Kristin Robertson, "Alaskan Charter"

The winning entries will appear, along with several other excellent stories and poems, in the Spring 2013 issue, due out in March. 

Congratulations Annie and Kristin! And thank you to everyone who entered! 

Part II: The Evolution of So-and-So

Read Part one here: So-and-So, The Inception of a Reading Series

GR: Of Course, I have to ask, why the name So-and-So?

So-and-So reader, Chris Vitiello

The name was kind of a tongue in cheek way to emphasize the no-name quality of the series at first. I don't want to make it sound like there weren't readings in Boston...there where. But they were more of the Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, Frank Bidart variety rather than the early-career/not famous variety. I guess the name sort of thumbed its nose at the academic-centered Boston aesthetic. Of course, there actually turned out to be several other series not unlike So-and-So in Boston/Cambridge, but luckily I had never run across them, for whatever reason. If I had, I probably wouldn't have started So-and-So. And then once So-and-So got up and running, and I became more aware of the landscape, I was able to collaborate with those other series curators, which was great.

Another, unrelated, reason I went with the name So-and-So has to do with my Wallace Stevens obsession. He has a poem called “So and So Reclining on Her Couch.” One of the lines is "so much to learn," which also speaks to the early-career focus of the reading least in the beginning.

GR: What’s your favorite perk about being a part of So-and-So?

A So-and-So reading in Raleigh

A So-and-So reading in Raleigh

CT: I often think about the seemingly primal pleasure of being read to. Essentially, I get to invite people from all over the country to read to me. That seems insane. But it's wonderful. And of course, the goal is to provide the Raleigh-Durham community with an opportunity to hear some real, live, working poets read their work. People are so generous with their time, and resources, and work. And besides the readings and the poetry, many of these folks crash on my couch, or at least go out to dinner and grab drinks. It's been wonderful to meet so many people and hear their stories and how poetry plays a role in them. Not to mention I get exposed to so many great journals and presses that they have started, or where they are being published. We were revamping the So-and-So site recently, and I was in awe of the number of links we've accumulated, the number of recordings--both video and audio--we've accumulated. It's really a wonderful resource for visitors to the site, but for me it's like the world's coolest photo album of the last eight years of my life.

You also are part of the Birds, LLC enterprise. How did that collaboration happen? 

Collections of poetry published by Birds LLC

Collections of poetry published by Birds LLC

I combined So-and-So with Birds, LLC out of the selfish need to consolidate my life.  I asked the other guys at Birds, LLC if I could fold in So-and-So, and they agreed. All of them were a big part of the series as it got started, and I think it is a natural progression. Now, when someone reads for So-and-So and I love their work even more than I already had, I publish it in So-and-So Magazine. Then, if the guys read it and love it, we might solicit a sample for the press, and who knows...we might have a great new book to put out. Also, each time we have a reading at So-and-So, or put out an issue, it drives a bit of internet traffic to the Birds, LLC site, which is a win-win for all of us.

What are the biggest challenges So-and-So faces?

The biggest challenge I face is audience. In a way, the audience here in Raleigh is incredible. While there are a couple exceptions, there tends to be, on average, a crowd of about 25 people at each event. But unlike many other reading series, I would say the majority of my audiences are non-poets...people from the community who are interested in hearing poetry and/or supporting the arts in general. In that way, it is really don't get that everywhere. However, the crowd is constantly morphing. Very rarely do the same 10-15 people attend. When your audience is primarily other poets, one benefit is that you can count on a core dozen or so people attending. Every time there's a reading I get extremely nervous that I'm going to walk up the stairs with the poets and no one is there.

For Birds, LLC, the challenge is money. We'd love to put out more than two books a year, but so far we can only swing two. There are so many good books that we won't be able to publish as a makes me a little sad. The good thing is that these books will eventually get published, and hopefully by a press we love and respect and who will treat the author and the book with care.

Time is another big one. The older we get, the more life, marriages, divorces, moves, jobs, layoffs, houses, apartments, health, etc. So even with five editors, it's not easy to stay on schedule.

What’s in store for So-and-So and Birds, LLC’s future?

I just hope people keep coming to Raleigh to read and that continues to slowly but surely build a community here around great poets, journals, and presses. And as I accumulate wonderful poems from these poets, I'll periodically put out an issue of the journal.

ritf_full_cover 790x375.jpg

The next two books For Birds, LLC are in the works...Ana Bozicevic's Rise in The Fall and Sampson Starkweather's The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather. Ana's book is her second, and she is simply one of my favorite living poets (hear her read her poem “About Nietzsche” below). One time she and I were talking...this is probably six years ago or something...and she was telling me about her favorite poets and it was the first time I ever thought about a contemporary, "You're BETTER than they are!" It was actually a pretty important revelation for me. And Sam's book is simply going to be epic. Four. Actual. Books. Almost 300 pages. He's simply the most athletic poet I've ever met/read...literally and figuratively. It's such a pleasure to be able to put these two books out into the world.

Celebration Lunch!

Here we all are at Sticks & Stones in Lindley Park celebrating our forthcoming Spring 2013 issue #93 which is officially queried, edited, and ready for formatting! we're also in the final judging process for picking the 2012 Robert Watson Literary Awards in Fiction and Poetry winners! But, for now, it's time to eat a celebratory lunch.


Part I: So-and-So, Inception of a Reading Series

Part I: So-and-So, Inception of a Reading Series

Not sure how to stay connected in the literary world after graduation?

Not sure how to stay connected in the literary world after graduation?

For emerging writers, staying connected to the literary world, especially after leaving an MFA program, can mean having to be resourceful and find ways to connect with other writers. Greensboro Review Poetry Editor, Jessica Plante, recently spoke with So-and-So Series and Magazine Founder and Editor, Chris Tonelli, to ask how his literary enterprises began, and how they have evolved. So-and-So began in Boston as a local reading series in 2004, and has since expanded to include a collaboration with Rope-a-Dope Press, the So-and-So magazine, and a collaboration with Birds., LLC., an independent poetry press based out of Austin, Minneapolis, New York, and Raleigh. So-and-So’s home base is now in Raleigh, NC where the reading series continues and the Magazine is published bi-annually.

GR: What prompted you to get started?
Chris Tonelli:
 I was still a graduate student, close to finishing my MFA at Emerson College in Boston, when I started So-and-So. I was starting to publish my own work and giving readings, and newly-graduated friends of mine were organizing reading series in NYC, editing their own literary journals, or editing their graduate program's journals. Everything seemed to be happening in NY. At first, this was exciting, hopping on the bus to NYC, crashing on a friend’s couch, meeting poets we'd only read in journals—it was all very romantic. But then it got old—taking off work on Friday in order to get to a 7pm reading in the city, riding back on the bus hung-over and exhausted on Sunday. It dawned on us, We live in a pretty cool, literary city, why couldn't we get people to come read with us here?! I can't remember why I took it upon myself to be the one to start it up; that was just one of those random (in this case lucky) decisions one makes, I guess.

A So-and-So event

A So-and-So event

GR: What were some obstacles you faced in getting So-and-So started?
 Space and money. I chose Saturdays for the series so my readers would have time to travel. Turns out, even in an historically literary town like Boston, venues don't want to host poetry readings on a Saturday night. I didn't want the sterile fluorescent lights of a generic bookstore, but I also didn't want a loud, distracting bar where patrons aren't exactly enthusiastic about quieting down for a poetry reading. What I found was a space called The Lily Pad, but they charged a fee. At first this wasn't a big gang was initially very generous during the pass-the-hat portion of each reading, and I collected enough to pay for the space and even give the traveling poets some gas money. But, understandably, this dried up.

GR: What happened when the money dried up?
 I met the incredible Mary Walker Graham. She emailed me out of the blue to say she had a letterpress and was starting a print collaborative called Rope-A-Dope Press with her roommate, Robert daVies. I'd never met either of them, ever, but she thought, in order for Rope-A-Dope to have some initial content and start a fan base, they should create broadsides for each poet I brought to town. If that wasn’t awesome enough, she suggested that the readings be held at their dream-of-a-space, The Distillery. I took her up on both offers. As I understand...and I may just be starting rumors here...The Distillery was an abandoned warehouse that poor artists squatted in illegally in the 80s. When the authorities found out, they gave the artists a bit of time to raise money and get the building up to code, or else they'd all be "evicted." Anyway, they somehow were able to do it, and it's been this amazing artist studio/living space ever since. Their particular studio, #11, was this unbelievable vault of a space...four or five stories high with balconies and a floor space to read from. From then on, this unbelievable space became home to the So-and-So Reading Series.

The amazing space at The Distillery.

The amazing space at The Distillery.

GR: That sounds like a great atmosphere for a reading.
 Yes. People would be hanging over the balconies to listen to the So-and-So readers below, or asking to see and purchase broadsides. The readings had this great mix of poets and artists. The broadsides printed for So-and-So were designed by the artists who lived in the Distillery. All of Rope-a-Dope’s production materials where available to look through, and lots of great broadsides and chapbooks. Several collaborations sprung from them—artists designing poets' book covers, etc. Mary and Bob created these epic anthologies with these broadsides; hand-bound, hard cover collections of all from each season of So-and-So. They're ridiculously beautiful and were sold to art collectors and rare book librarians. Mary and Bob were also very active in the community. They did a lot of work teaching kids how to make books. They also started a chapbook series which I was lucky enough to help edit. Not that artful chapbooks are new, but I like to think they helped kick off this latest wave of DIY publishing. 

GR: Did all this help you network?
"Network" has some sort of sleazy connotation, but helped me meet poets and editors. Not for any sort of career advancement, per se, but for the building of a poetic community. Coming out of MFA school, the number of journals and presses seems overwhelming--what should I read? Where should I send my stuff? Running the series was instrumental in honing an aesthetic...what I liked and didn't like about the actual poetry and about the poetry biz, what to pay attention to and what to avoid. it really narrowed my focus, and while it may be a small niche, it's the right niche for me. I now have a much better idea who my audience is and who I am the audience for.

Gorgeous Rope-a-Dope broadsides produced for the So-and-So Series

Gorgeous Rope-a-Dope broadsides produced for the So-and-So Series

GR: Was it more demanding than you expected? Did you ever want to quit and just walk away from it?
At times I suppose it is hard work. And it often takes a back seat to, I have to change diapers, I don't have to read submissions, etc. But I now have two rad interns--Joseph Silvers and Michael Johnson--and they do a lot of web/media stuff for So and So, and that really helps out a lot. There have only been a few times when I've felt like not doing it any more...when poets traveled long distances for free only to read to a handful of folks. But 2 or 3 out of 56 readings isn't too bad. And ultimately, I like being read to. It's as selfish as that. It helps me connect to the work of my favorite contemporaries and energizes me in my work.

How Does a Literary Journal Edit?

Tools of the trade

Ever wonder what's involved in the copy editing process at a literary Journal? Well, here at The Greensboro Review we put each accepted story and poem through a rigorous series of steps, reading and rereading poems and stories and marking up a 'New Master' copy of each piece. Stories and poems are read aloud and are checked for noticeable errors from the original copy submission and textual, or surface, errors. This process is repeated several times as we progress toward publication. Four different people copy edit each poem or story before a query letter is sent to the author for final say. The tools of our editing trade? The Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition and the American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition.   

A Prize Winning Poem Turned Tattoo

Avonlea, a Freshman at UNCG, knows what inspires her. She not only read and enjoyed The Greensboro Review’s Spring 2012 issue in her English 105 class, but tattooed the first two lines of Jill Osier’s Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem “To Have Been On Fire” onto her shoulder. We at The Greensboro Review thought this was so cool that we went to meet her.

A friend of Avonlea's designed her tattoo.

We sat down at the Starbucks on campus. Avonlea brought her copy of The Greensboro Review, keeping a thumb between the pages where Jill’s poem appears. Referring to “To Have Been on Fire” Avonlea explained that after reading the poem, the lines haunted her the rest of the day. That afternoon, attending a university-sponsored talk given by Doc Hendley, his message about passion seemed related to the poem and the message to Avonlea seemed clear: Stay strong.

The poem begins, “The mind goes, eventually, / where it needs to go. As does the body.” Avonlea paraphrased these lines beautifully for us as: “Let the body follow where the mind’s passions have led us.” and after recently breaking free from an abusive relationship, that’s just what Avonlea aims to do. Committing to Jill’s words so unflinchingly makes us believe that this young woman is bound to think and act passionately for a long time to come.

In fact, she seems to come from a family with a track record of being motivated by what inspires them. Avonlea’s parents passionately pursue their goals. Her mother is currently on a six-month long trip to Africa with the NGO Save the Children, and her father is the founder of a non-profit that works to improve children's access to crucial mental health services.

Thanks, Avonlea, for sharing with us, and we hope all of our readers are as inspired by the written word.

Why Do We Reject Poems?

How can you make it out of here alive?

How can you make it out of here alive?

Yesterday, fellow Poetry Editor, Michael Mlekoday over at The Indiana Review posted on a topic close to our poetry editing hearts…five marks of the often rejected poem. I asked Asst. Poetry Editor, Christine Adams, here at The Greensboro Review to take a minute to weigh in on the subject. After she joked, “What the heck do I know?” She went on to describe her thoughts on “attempting to fray the edges of why I reject a poem.”

Christine Adams:

Michael Mlekoday’s list should be fairly familiar to most poets, begin strong, choose your images carefully, make sure that there is a logic to the way that your poem accumulates momentum, elevate your language beyond the ordinary, and finally, make sure you take the tops of our heads off, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson. But, I’m thankful for people like Michael Mlekoday, who actually take the time to try to unravel the reasons why a poem will end up in the rejection pile.

I’d also like to add that most poems that editors receive are not terrible, in fact they’re pretty okay for the most part. As I look around the office I see that most poems end up in the rejection pile because they were average. Because in a day spent reading poem after poem, most begin to run together. Remember that your poem needs to be the one that snaps us out of it. For instance, while I do agree that stock language is boring, as Michael says, sometimes when it comes out of the mouth of someone other than the speaker of the poem an interesting tension can arise that will make me turn to my fellow poetry editor and say, “We got a good one.”

Tate Street Festival Success!

GR Poetry Editor, Jessica Plante, and UNCG MFA Fiction candidate, Doua Thoa

Saturday's event on Tate Street was a big success. Our little Greensboro Review table was decked out for the first day of fall complete with some zinnias fresh from the S. Lindsey Street Farmer's Market. We covered the table with issues of The Review and sold quite a few copies of back issues (which were going for $2 a piece!). We also raffled off a copy of resident novelist, and UNCG faculty, Michael Parker's book The Watery Part of the World, as well as David Roderick's Blue Colonial which won the APR/Honickman 1st Book Prize in 2006, and Spring Garden Press' Brewing in Eden by Elizabeth Volpe. All of the books were generously donated by the authors and Spring Garden Press.

We also teamed up with the fabulous folks at Tate Street High Society for a wildly popular street-side poetry contest! So many Festival attendees participated in the contest that we ran out of paper and people were seen hunched over constructing their verses during the festival. Please check out the Tate Street Blog for lots of fun literary stuff to read.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table, and a special thanks to our new subscribers! Congratulations to our raffle winners: GREG BROWN, Spencer Auten, Mike Peake, Nina Yourt, Olivia Carteaux, and Lucy Barden!

Give Us Ideas - AWP Swag in Boston!

The Greensboro Review will be at the AWP book fair and we can't wait to see some of our contributors, navigate the panels, and sell our latest Fall issue of the journal. Now for the toughest question of the hour, what kind of swag should we hand out? When The Greensboro Review traveled to D.C. two years ago our iconic hieroglyph had made its way onto some rather nice shot glasses; anyone who bought a subscription got a shot glass.

We've had thoughts about what to do this year...the ever handy matchbox, a canvas tote bag for anyone who's over-purchased books and needs a way to carry them during the book fair and after, or a lovely broadside, but we can't seem to come to a consensus in our office. What's the best swag you've seen at AWP? Please let us know your ideas so we can rock the swag during AWP 2013.

Can't wait to see you all there!