The Minefield of Editorial Decision Making

I’ve been thinking some more about the political side of poetry, and specifically, about making editorial decisions. I know there’s a whole website dedicated to exposing poetry contests where the winners are proven to be friendly with the judges (Foetry). It seems unfortunate that completely different standards apply in the arena of general submissions, where not only the name of the poet is firmly attached to the poems, but often a lengthy biography detailing previous publications, prizes and lofty positions held in the educational establishment. How many editors are intimidated into accepting poems because of such bios? Personally I request no bios with submissions for the Barefoot Muse, and so do the QNDs for Up & Under. Nevertheless, many submissions ignore this request.

If only there were a convenient way of making general submissions blind, the editorial process would be fairer and less fraught with anxiety. If it were blind, acquaintances who currently submit to me knowing I am under pressure to accept their work would have no comeback when it gets rejected.

There are several types of submission I shudder to open, knowing I will either have to offend someone or accept substandard work.

  • Second rate poems from a widely published and influential poet. Yes, I know my zine and journal are not among the highly regarded. Still, why would you want your second rate poems to appear anywhere? Revise them, trash them, but don’t send them to me. I take the view that I am always going to write more poetry, so I don’t hang on to my best poems waiting for an acceptance from a big journal. I get them out there to be read. And I don’t send my second rate poems anywhere.
  • Poems from Editors who have published me. Let me reiterate, I know that is how many journals operate. I don’t want to be a part of it. I expect you to publish MY stuff if it’s good enough for your journal, and I will publish YOUR stuff if it’s good enough for mine, not just BECAUSE you published me.
  • Poems from friends and acquaintances. In the Barefoot Muse I do fortunately have the option of simply saying “I’m sorry, it’s not metrical enough.” As I am a soft touch I often add “But if you like I’ll work with you to get the metrics right and THEN I’ll publish it.” Up & Under, where I am one voice of five, occasionally ends up taking an undeserving poem simply because of the politics.

I read another poet’s blog recently in which he said that as a rule he never submits to journals run by friends. I think I’m going to adopt that principle for myself and also make a New Year’s Resolution to accept and reject solely on merit. I shall remain unswayed by your Pushcart Prize nominations and your impressive list of credits. I shall not Google you to see if you are published online. If I know your name I shall attempt to forget it. That way, I can create a Literary Journal for the people it is really meant for, the readers.

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