Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Editorial Profile: Jay Robinson

Jay Robinson, Poetry and Review Editor of Barn Owl Review, shares his thoughts on poetics, publishing, and the writer's life.

MB: What do you enjoy reading—both in poetry and other genres?

JR: I probably enjoy reading short fiction more than anything else. William Trevor, Alice Munro, Ray Carver—if I had to give up writing poems, and reading anything else for that matter, to save their work from a burning inferno, I’d do it without hesitation. I’m more fitful about reading poems. I find a poet I like and I try to gobble everything they’ve ever written. Once I do, I find it hard to let go of them and move on to another poet. So I read some short fiction again. This spring, though I’d already heard and read much of him, the new collected book of Zbigniew Herbert’s poems became such an obsession.

MB: After considering hundreds of poems submitted to Barn Owl Review, have you noticed any trends in the work being written today?

JR: Two things: Diversity for starters. So many poems, so many different kinds of poems, by so many different types of poets. Secondly, and more to the point I suppose, narrative poems seem to be on the rise. Especially in women’s poetry for whatever reason. At least that’s the work I’ve tended to respond to more often.

MB: If you could give three pieces of advice to writers just beginning to submit their work, what would you suggest?

JR: 1-I should never say this as an editor, but when it comes to the bigger lit mags, always simultaneously submit, no matter the policy. Unless you’re a heavyweight, and most of us aren’t, you don’t have a snowball’s chance anyway. 2-Keep finding new places to submit. It certainly makes the submission process (a.k.a the rejection slips) easier to take because maybe you won’t be getting rejected by the same place for the twentieth time. 3-Keep your pool of poems to a workable number. Keep a record of where they go. And always, as you write new poems, get rid of some of the old ones. For that matter, never be afraid to retire a poem. Most of my poems have been sent off to greener pastures, glasses of lemonade in the Florida sunshine.

MB: There’s been much discussion in the blogosphere about continuing the writer’s life after the MFA. How did you bridge the transition between your MFA days at Sarah Lawrence and your current writing projects?

JR: Well, I tried to continue to write poems after getting my degree. But they didn’t work. For a while I lost that part of my imagination; I couldn’t understand what a poem was anymore. But I never stopped reading. That’s was where the bridge began. And I always journaled about what I read from a writer’s perspective. Eventually, about two years after I’d received my degree, I started writing poems again. What I had to learn how to do, I think, was to separate myself from the work I’d done as a student. The learning I did, not the poems I wrote, was the most important part of my time at Sarah Lawrence. Once I let go of those poems, my dreadful ‘thesis,’ and started fresh, abandoning most of what I’d written before, I could write again.

MB: For those aspiring to write book reviews some day, do you have any pointers on how to write tight critical prose? What is your process when writing reviews?

JR: I always give myself a word count to begin with, something to shoot for and to keep myself contained within. Then as I read the book I dog-ear the poems that I feel are important in the collection. I select some quotes from those, type them up, and try to draw connections between them until I’ve hit my word count. Then I revise. And revise some more. As for my advice about critical prose, I would encourage most people to shy away from thinking about their writing as ‘critical prose.’ Don’t be so serious. Just try to articulate your response to the book in an orderly and economical fashion, one that doesn’t make you the star, but the book you’re reading instead.

MB: What is your favorite poem that is forthcoming in the inaugural issue of Barn Owl Review, and why?

JR: I have two, and I probably would pick one over the other if you forced me, but both deserve the label you’ve asked for. The one I like best, the one that literally tore the top of my head off, was Anne Haines’ “Surviving the Fairy Tale.” First of all, I should say, that I’m not someone who digs fairy tales. I never did as a child, and even I thought people who were captivated by fairy tales a bit odd (and still do). Even the super-sized versions we’ve had in film in the last thirty years have never suited me: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, no thanks. And perhaps that’s why Haines’ poems hit me so hard. It takes what seems to me a played-out notion and injects it with vibrancy, a rawness, an honesty, and I guess you could say a reality, not present before. The other poem, the one I keep coming back to in my mind more and more as I think of Barn Owl Poems, would be Corey Mesler’s “It Was a Test Was What They Told Us.” It’s just the right cocktail of absurdity, surrealism and perfectly executed diction. I can totally (no pun intended with my diction) imagine such a scene taking place in almost any high school in the midwest. Plus, it’s something I never would write myself, something so totally other that it makes me think about poems in a new way.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Barn Owl Review reviews

Although we're primarily a print journal, there's just not enough space to publish all of our book reviews in the annual issue, so we are proud to present our online review archive. Check back often, as the hits just keep on coming.

Current reviews:

This Clumsy Living by Bob Hicok
Standing in Line for the Beast by Jason Bredle
Lightning and Ashes by John Guzlowski
Thirst by Patrick Carrington
No one belongs here more than you by Miranda July
The Invention of the Kaleidoscope by Paisley Rekdal
Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees by Julianna Baggott

Reviews Policy: We are currently not accepting unsolicited reviews, though we do welcome review copies of books, whether poetry or prose. With regard to poetry, we are especially interested in reviewing first books and small press titles, and when it comes to fiction, the less commercial the better. No matter what we review, however, our philosophy when it comes to commentary employs the notion that, unlike some contemporary criticism, the reviewed is more significant than the reviewer. In other words, we try to review work deserving of positive press while keeping our comments to 500 words.

Are you the author of a recent small press book of poetry or fiction? Please click here for more information on submitting review copies, or contact Jay Robinson, our Review Editor.

Welcome to our fledgling blog.

BARN OWL REVIEW 2008 as of 7/16/07

Kelli Russell Agodon * Nin Andrews * Rusty Barnes * Patrick Carrington * Adam Clay * William Coughlin * Melissa Culbertson * Adam Deutsch * Jehanne Dubrow * Noah Falck * Brent Fisk * Jeannine Hall Gailey * John Gallaher * Jessi Lee Gaylord * Do Gentry * Bernadette Geyer * Brent Goodman * Jessica Greenbaum * Susan Grimm * Anne Haines * Brandi Homan * Jessica Jewell * Leonard Kress * Alex Lemon * Rebecca Loudon * Louise Mathias * Clay Matthews * Nathan McClain * Gary L. McDowell * Corey Mesler * Steve Mueske * Natasha Kochicheril Moni * Julie Platt * Susan Rich * Renee Ruderman * F. Daniel Rzicznek * Peter Jay Shippy * Sarah

This will be the blog for Barn Owl Review, a stellar new literary annual produced in Northeast Ohio.