Shenandoah NZ Diary Part I

My latest symptom of workaholism is an editing project: this fall, with help from two students described below, I’m coediting a portfolio of contemporary poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand for Shenandoah:

Shenandoah is currently seeking submissions for a February 2013 feature on poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand. Please send up to five poems in a Word document to editors Lesley Wheeler and Drew Martin at by August 31st, 2012, using the word “submission” in the subject line. Include a brief biographical note explaining your relationship to the land/country. Work previously published in any venue, including magazines not distributed in the United States, is not eligible. We will consider poetry simultaneously submitted to another journal, but please contact us immediately should the work be accepted elsewhere. We would be happy to receive photographs and other visual materials as complements to literary submissions.

We will respond to all submissions by mid-October. Prior to publication, we will require a final electronic copy of the work, a high resolution photograph of the author, and biographical information. Additionally, we may ask for audio recordings of some work and will provide instructions for creating these files through Audacity. In lieu of payment, online publication will include links to authors’ personal home pages and publishers’ sites. All published work will be archived online.

I don’t know about the motivations of the crazy guys embarked on this with me, but mine is curiosity. I’m hoping to learn more about New Zealand writing; about literary editing; and about teaching, since supervising an internship is a new pedagogical mode for me. I’ve done demented things like this before and find that while they’re stressful, they also pay unexpected dividends down the line, so I try to take or make opportunities for new literary ventures whenever I can. Here’s the beginning of my editorial diary; I plan to post follow-ups later.

8/23: I’ve been sorting, printing, and cross-checking submissions—49 packets so far of 1-5 poems each, but I’d be surprised if we don’t hear from at least 10 additional poets in the final week, maybe many more. Reading a quarter of them and browsing others, I have discovered:

  • one not especially credible “this is from my vacation in NZ” submission
  • a few packets I’ll probably vote no on
  • enough terrific batches to guarantee hard decisions (do we take the long, appealingly crazy one by poet X or one or two of her brief intense pieces?)
  • several maybes, meaning either that they have some power that’s a little damped or garbled, or that I need more time with them to tell

A little over half of the total submissions are from women; more women than men pursue poetry in NZ, as in the US, so that disproportion seems fair. I see at least some geographic and aesthetic diversity, a range of ages and educational backgrounds and careers. I haven’t counted for this yet but I suspect the Wellington area is more heavily represented than any other, since my network is best in that region. Only five poets identify in their biographical notes as Māori or Pacific Islander, although I’ve spotted other kinds of racial and ethnic diversity. I’m worried that we’ll end up with a disproportionately pākehā pool and wish I had better ways of getting the word out.

I’m printing out all the submissions to read on paper, as my wise editor-friend Anna Lena Phillips at Fringe advised me to do—it seems wasteful, but the medium matters to how a poem feels, looks, sounds. I find myself wildly grateful to poets who followed instructions and put all the poems in one Word file: the extra clicking seems trivial until you’re processing 50 batches. Also, you single-spacing paper-conservers and those of you who put your name on every page: bless you. I’m hand-writing last names on every sheet otherwise so I don’t get confused later. I now understand all those persnickety editors whose detailed instructions I’ve moaned about for years. There is SO much potential for loss and mistake.

There was at least one poem this morning that made me laugh in delight, so I expect other wonders to counterbalance the clerical frustrations. It’s also fun to find: hmm, the members of this writing group apparently tackled centos a few months ago, or hey, we’ve had a couple of poems with that title, was that a workshop prompt? I’m interested,though a little concerned, to find myself reading differently, too. It’s easy to start meeting each poem with a dare: okay, impress me fast or I’m putting you down. I do consume poetry magazines this way, and I’ve judged contests before so I’m familiar with this reading mode, and of course I read and evaluate all kinds of writing for a living as a teacher and scholar, but this time swift judgment seems more dangerous, perhaps a reaction to guard against by only allowing myself to read in short bursts. I’m glad I’ll have other readers to argue with along the way; I’m hoping editorial conversation will prevent egregious omissions or indulgences. After all, I do personally know and like some of these writers, a complicating factor.

My coeditors, Drew Martin and Max Chapnick (Max joined the process later), arrive on campus in a week or so. They’re senior undergraduates, good poets, and they know a little bit about contemporary Aotearoan poetry because they were in my classes last year. (Note to self: if I do this again, make the deadline September 15th, so coeditors can help me with the tiresome printing/ correlating tasks that happen at the outset.) We’ll all read furiously for the first week of September and then have a long meeting to start making piles: yes, no, or we need to argue about this one until the leaves start reddening over our heads.

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