Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Editorial Profile: Mary Biddinger

Jay Robinson poses a few questions on editorial delights, poetic influences, and moving beyond the first book.

JR: How has the experience of being a poetry editor for Barn Owl Review, a lit mag you’re responsible for, differed from your past editorial experiences?

MB: I guess the most significant aspect of editing BOR is the scope of my duties, since as founding editor I feel responsible for just about every detail of the publishing process, even though we have a crack editorial team. I’m so thankful for all of the experience I received at Mid-American Review, ACM, and RHINO, where I still serve as an Associate Editor, and it’s fun putting that experience to work. I’m glad that I have a history as an editor, since that helps folks have confidence in the magazine and allows me to actually enjoy the editorial process.

Having more responsibilities is exhilarating, though I would probably feel differently if we hadn’t gotten such a sensational response to our call for submissions. I don’t just want to produce an attractive and respected print mag, however. I want to do things differently, whether it’s acknowledging receipt of every submission by email (there’s nothing more unsettling than sending work out into the ether), giving our contributors little keepsakes, or updating everyone with the BOR blog.

I’m mostly concerned about making BOR a friendly venture, a table at AWP where everyone’s welcome to stop by and say hello. I still feel too nervous or dorky to approach the editors of many mags where I’ve published, and there’s absolutely no reason for it other than the lack of communication happening between acceptance letter and contributor’s copy. I want to maintain a relationship with our contributors and readers, and being friendly is the best way to accomplish that.

JR: Two-part question: What’s your favorite poem from the inaugural issue of BOR? And also, what poem has surprised you the most, and why?

MB: You cheated with this question, so I will cheat too. Obviously I love them all, but if I had to choose, my favorite poems accepted thus far would be “[Beat Fast My Heart]” by Erin M. Bertram and “The Canary” by Louise Mathias. I love the way Erin’s poem catapults the reader right into a disorienting, fragmentary narrative—my favorite kind—and alternates between short, halting statements and astonishing enjambments. Louise’s poem is one that I admire immensely because it is so tight and luminous; this is a perfect example of how what’s withheld in a poem is just as essential as what is included. I haven’t been able to shake it. I want to keep it within reach at all times. I’m sure others will too.

As a general observation, I’m surprised by how many themes are shared between the poems we’ve selected, without having a particular theme in mind. It’s great having a number of humorous poems in the mix, as well. I was most surprised by the submissions from Nin Andrews, John Gallaher, and Jeff Newberry because I could not pick one single poem to accept. I’m usually a rather decisive gal, but there was no way I could narrow it down, so we ended up taking two from these three folks. I was especially surprised by the way Jeff Newberry’s poems made me sway and tap my foot when reading them. There’s an organic musicality in his work that I’ve never really seen—or felt—before. I think we’ll be hearing a lot about Jeff Newberry in the future.

JR: How have the submissions BOR has received in its first few months influenced your own poetry?

MB: I’ve been really struck by how many amazing young poets—late twentysomethings to early thirtysomethings—there are today. There should be a revolution! This has given me a kick in the ass when it comes to pushing my own writing. I’ve always worked best under pressure, so seeing all these wonder kids out there, you know, starting their own presses and winning major prizes, is a good reminder that the clock is ticking and the competition is fierce. I was also shocked at how many talented writers there are who I’m not familiar with yet. It’s like stumbling upon a gold mine of poetic brilliance!

The submissions have reminded me that there’s a vast world of poetry outside academe. It’s easy to think that universities are the only places where poetry happens, especially when teaching in an MFA program, but that’s simply not true. It’s everywhere.

JR: In the last year, who has been the most influential poet that you’ve read when it comes to the way you view your own poetry? Conversely, name an oft-praised poet you’ve read and not jived with at all.

MB: I have a copy of Margaret Atwood’s 1974 volume of poetry You Are Happy. I hadn’t looked at it in about ten years until last semester when I loaned it to a student writing a paper about eye imagery in poems. It’s amazing looking through that book—which I bought as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan—and seeing how profoundly Atwood has influenced my poetry. I’ve gone through phases like everyone else, but this one really stuck with me. I felt almost as if I had written the poems myself, and it was eerie but wonderful.

As for the second question, I’m lukewarm about a lot of poets, and I tend to read fiction for fun. I teach the “big names” of contemporary American poetry, but I don’t really enjoy them as much as I like reading first books by emerging authors. Thankfully I’m teaching a MFA Craft & Theory on first books this semester, in addition to a new American poetry class, so I’ll be able to bid adieu to the anthologies and teach the single-author small press collections that I admire.

I will confess that I am much more fond of Ray Carver’s fiction than his poetry, for various reasons. My friends always liked Marge Piercy a lot more than I did, too. There’s no one poet that I actively dislike, however. At least not for reasons of poetics. Just kidding.

JR: Your first book, Prairie Fever, came out in February. What’s your current project and how do you view it in relationship to the work of your debut? In other words, how have the poems you’ve written changed? Why?

MB: Prairie Fever was in so many ways a coming-of-age manuscript for me, with some of the poems written in the 1990s, and it was definitely what I wanted as a debut. Now I’m working on a more focused and specific persona—a contemporary reincarnation of Saint Monica, patron of bad marriages, among other things—which is greatly affecting the architecture of the collection. After PF came out I felt liberated, especially since I needed the book for tenure. Now I can mess around a lot more and take more risks.

One surprise with PF is how readers seem to either love or hate my prose poems. I’m writing more prose poems now because there’s no other way to say some of these things. My new series is probably more cynical than PF, and the sexuality is more straightforward, less obscured by arborvitae and Trans Ams. Though I deal with Saint Monica’s childhood in the series, I hope to write more poems about the mature female experience, and about motherhood. I don’t think I’ll ever write about my own children, though. They’d have to be heavily reinvented.

JR: If characters from TV shows wrote poems, whose work would you be interested in reading (Don’t tell me you don’t watch television)?

MB: Jay, you know that I’m not a big TV watcher or pop culture aficionado. However, I would be quite interested in reading the poetry of Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks. I imagine Cooper’s work would be telegraphic yet straightforward, mystical yet grounded in sumptuous concrete detail. It would be poetry of place, but not to the extent that the body—in all of its florid permutations—would be secondary. He would be an intuitive poet, like Neruda. Fueled by cherry pie and coffee, Cooper’s work would maintain a pithy narrative while occasionally lapsing into the hallucinatory and the sublime. It would be primitive in reasoning and sleek in syntax, a veritable petrified forest of subtle arcs and minute-yet-riveting sensory gestures. Think Rubén Darío meets James Schuyler with a hint of John Donne and a droplet of Jacques Prévert, all bundled up in Whitmanesque waxed paper under a heat lamp fueled by a thousand Lucille Cliftons. Who could resist? Not me.

11 comments:

John Gallaher said...

I enjoyed Louise Mathias's Lark Apprentice quite a bit. I'm looking forward to the issue!

Penultimatina said...

Hee hee...and I have a typeset draft of the issue (thus far) right here on my desk, and y'all can't see it yet...muhahah!

Anne said...

Mmm, I recently read Erin Bertram's chapbook Alluvium and the way you describe her BOR poem seems very apt. Can't wait to read it (and the rest)!

J. Newberry said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mary.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

This is a promising mag; I think you are right in your prediction that there is a poetry revolution. I have always written poetry, but not as intensely as I am doing nowadays, and I see a lot others are writing too. I look forward to the premiere issue of BOR.

Ahmed Ashraf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ahmed Ashraf said...

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Ahmed Ashraf said...

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Your site is very niceeee , this is my site pls , let me show it :
مصراليوم
مشاركة ارباح ادسنس
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اقسام منتديات مصر اليوم :
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