After five years as editor of Saint Elizabeth Street, I have decided to change the format. Although I'll be sorting through the number of submissions I have currently, after this issue, I'm going to stick to invitation only.
The life of a small magazine is a difficult one, as all editors know. Every editor, no matter how popular, has their crosses to bear. Saint Elizabeth Street has always been a small enterprise. Although we've published many fabulous people, we've never had the time or knack to make it into something popular or 'famous.' This comes largely from the restrictions of having a small child, a full-time job, two cats, and my own writing career. Mainly, I'm just not that good at tooting my own horn. At first, I had illusions of SES rivaling Paris Review, Fence, and so on. Since then, I've grown up a lot.
I have been realizing things about the poetry world that my older mentors have been telling me for years. Poetry is and isn't a hierarchy. Within reason, young poets are all the same to me --no matter how many books, what job, or what awards they have. The real imporrtance is in the work. Is it good? Does it offer something to the world? If the work is mediocre, it is irrelevant who publishes it. There is a believed hierarchy within my generation that I just don't buy into. At the top of the poetry hierarchy, if such a thing exists, are the older poets: Tarn, Bernstein, Notley, Waldman. I don't have to list them all. The folks who have really been around the block more than once.
I have also realized that many poets regard poetry as a horse race. The game is to see how many poems you can publish in x amount of time to get x award or x job. I'm not saying anything new. Tarn writing about this all extensively. People who live in glass houses, of course, shouldn't throw bricks, and I have fallen into this trap as much as the next guy. However, it has really started to affect my work as an editor.
Poets submit work and write back a day later and say the work has been taken elsewhere -- or they want to edit it -- and so on. There must be lots of mags. Who is taking all this work? Poets who I publish often don't write back to say thank you or give positive feedback. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to work hard to publish the work of a poet who you never hear from again. I am sure there are numerous reasons for this, but it often feels like the poet is just off to the next thing...the next publication, the next submission. They are moving too quickly to look back. I cannot tell you how wonderful the small world of appreciation is. I HAVE worked with some wonderful poets: Howe, Olsen, Tarn, Baker, Richard K., Dabid Abel, Gil F, Kate Greenstreet, Jen Benka, Meredith Quartermain, Stephanie Strickland, Marcella Durand, Aneta B, MaryRose Larkin, Gene Frumkin, Mary Higgins, Lee Bartlett, VB Price, so on and so forth. I feel guilty for leaving people out, it would be too long to list them all. David Wolach has been particularly fabulous. George K. in the Gene Frumkin issue has been a lovely soul. There seems to be a correlation between success and graciousness. There also seems to be a second link. Ultimately, the best poets, no matter their quality of writing, don't seem to give a fuck about getting ahead. Rather, they live and die for poetry.
Once the initial shock was over, I was thrilled with being a small publication. I don't mind being read by a small audience. It has made me feel part of the poetry community in a way that I never did before. I have met so many wonderful people and read great work. But, it's really starting to take an odd turn. I find that I DO mind not being read by the people I publish. It may seem selfish -- but it's just not fun. I asked Reb Livingston if I should keep plugging along. She said that it has to be fun. I'm not so sure so anymore.
I have to admit that I'm not the best editor either. I lose maniscripts, I take too long to reply, I spelled Stephanie Strickland's name wrong, I published the same Susanna Fry poems twice. On and on. Poets should be protected from me! But, I do have to say in my own defense all these things have happened to my own submissions too. I've never had a poem published without a typo! (except in Coconut!).
Speaking of killer cool poets, I just had the luck of reading with Reb Livingston, Jill Alexander Essbaum, and Bruce Covey at Emory University. I've never met a group of more fabulous, kind, warm folks, and fine, fine poets too!