Okay, poets, raise your hand if you’ve ever bitched about a journal because it rejected your poems or it took forever to make a decision or the editor didn’t immediately answer your “Are you taking my poem or not?” e-mail or…. Yeah, my hand is up, too. But in the past 2 years I’ve learned a big lesson from working at CavanKerry Press: it takes a surprising amount of work to publish a book. This knowledge has made me much more sympathetic to the plight of those who publish journals because I can’t imagine how they manage, with even smaller staffs and even less money, to survive (and, yes, many don’t) at any time but particularly in the current publishing environment.
I met the poet Gina Larkin, who is the founder and editor of The Edison Literary Review, at the Frost Place Festival in 1997. Don Sheehan always began the Festival with a talk about community, about taking care of each other, about taking care of each other’s work. Gina obviously took Don’s words to heart because she has taken care of, and continues to take care of, the poetry community by publishing a high quality annual journal filled with wonderful poems. Thus, she seemed the perfect person to ask about the joys and struggles of this very important aspect of the poetry life.
Teresa Carson: First, congratulations on celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Edison Literary Review in 2011. What prompted you to start the journal?
Gina Larkin: We were members of the Edison Arts Society and there was no designated section for Literature – so I offered to start a journal to offer local poets a place to publish their poems.
Teresa: How do you manage to do all the work involved in putting out a journal?
Gina: I really don’t do all the work that is required to put the journal out. I may be the “face” of ELR because I am the editor and I do have final choice in the selection of poems that appear in the journal, but Tony Gruenewald who is the Production Manager and John Larkin who is Production Support do most of the actual work of putting the magazine into the hands of the readers. It would not happen without them.
Teresa: How has the journal evolved over the years?
Gina: The first issues we published were 50 pages, center stapled and featured 30, mostly local, poets. Now, ten years later, we produce a perfect bound journal of 95 pages with more than 50 poets included. We have always published both established poets and new voices; now we also publish not only local poets, but poets from all over the United States and the world.
Teresa: On the average, how many submissions do you receive for each issue?
Gina: We are averaging submissions from 200 to 250 poets an issue or 1000+ poems an issue.
Teresa: What do you look for in a poem? What makes you say: I want to publish this poem?
Gina: Mostly I look for accessibility in a poem. I want a poem that makes me think as well as react on an emotional level. I love a poem that I wish I had written.
Teresa: What one piece of advice would you give to a poet who is thinking about submitting to ELR (or any journal for that matter)?
Gina: Please read the magazine, if possible, to see the kind of poems we print. Look at the web site and follow the guidelines; there are also poems from the magazine for you to look at if you can’t read the magazine itself. Most of all – send poems you have invested time in and have come to love – they stand the best chance.
Teresa: In this topsy-turvy publishing environment, what do you see in the future for independent journals such as ELR?
Gina: From the first day I suggested that we publish this journal – people said that it would never last. After Volume 5, they said well five years is the usual lifespan of a small independent journal. Volume 11 comes out in August. I am concerned about the fate of printed journal/books in general – but I think there will always be people who want to actually hold the words in their hands. If there are not enough to keep us going in print form – I hope we will be able to adapt.
Teresa: How does an event such as the Celebration of Literary Journals help ELR?
Gina: The Celebration of Literary Journals certainly helps with sales and with exposure; we have a chance to meet poets who have been published in the past and to hear the poems of poets we may publish in the future.
Teresa: Now for a personal question: You were one of the few, maybe the only, private student of the late, great CavanKerry Press poet Jack Wiler. What was it like to work with him?
Gina: Working with Jack was the same as sitting and talking at the bar after midnight discussing the reading we had attended. He was never overbearing, never a “know-it-all”, generous with help and suggestions. He never tried to write the poem for me. He could be infuriating – he never let me get away with anything, never allowed cutting corners. He taught me one thing I needed to learn: never be afraid of what you write.
Want to support twelve literary journals based in New Jersey?
Then stop the ninth annual Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals on Sunday, May 20 at the West Caldwell Library. Stop by The Edison Literary Review table, say hello to Gina and buy a copy of the journal. For more info go to http://www.dianelockward.com/fest.html