Editors do a lot of things – we read, we respond, we choose things to publish. We even do actual editing – you know, get into someone else’s words and try to make them better with clarification, brevity, grammar, imagery, and all that. But the very first thing on that list, you may have noticed, was to read.
As in read your submissions.
In fact, an alternative title to this post might be a day in the life of a poetry submission.
So, let’s talk about that. What really happens here at Gyroscope Review when a poetry submission graces our submissions pile?
First of all, our system sends an automatic response to the poet so they can see that the submission was successful in getting to us. They can also, if they pay attention, see whether that submission was properly formatted with the correct title. That is because our submission response email is formatted to automatically include the title of the piece as it is entered in the submissions form. If someone sends us a piece with a lovely title like Spring Fog Has Feet Like a Mountain Lion, but they put Gyroscope Review Submission #1 in the title spot on the form, then they will receive an acknowledgement that says we’ve received Gyroscope Review Submission #1 for publication consideration. And we will probably change that title field at some point during our process so that we know which poem we are referring to among ourselves.
Lesson: put your poem’s actual title in the appropriate spot on the submissions form.
Second, we (the editors) all receive an email from Submittable when a submission hits our system. In that email, we see the cover letter the author included. Let’s talk about cover letters for just a moment. Here at Gyroscope Review, we don’t want to know your entire publication history in that cover letter. We don’t want to read through your entire curriculum vitae. All we want to know are two things: how you found us and why you think this particular submission might fit our journal. Stop there. Unless you have a great joke to share. We like good jokes.
Third, we read the piece. There are three of us on the editorial staff and all three of us will read your work. Three is a nice number. There are no tie votes. Sometimes, one of us will vote “maybe” because we are human and we might need to come back to a piece on a day when we are in a better mood. Or aren’t distracted. Or don’t have a headache. “Maybe” means we are aware it’s there, we’ve looked at it, and we have to give it a fair shake later.
Sometimes we find a piece that makes us say, hold on, what is this? That happens when we find something that is several pages long, something that looks like an essay, an excerpt from a book, is an image rather than words, a piece written in a language other than English. These kinds of things don’t belong in our submissions pile. If you have something that is a hybrid and you don’t know if it counts as poetry, contact us via the contact form on our website. We can talk. But, before you do that, read our guidelines. And read them again. Follow them religiously.
Once we make a decision on any given poem, we notify the author of that piece immediately. We don’t wait until the end of our reading period to make decisions. We try to maintain a constant movement of pieces that come in to us so that authors don’t have to wait. This is especially important if the work isn’t a good fit for us; we want poets to be able to get that work out somewhere else where it is a good fit or be able to rework the piece to make it stronger without delay.
As for the pieces we accept, we work hard to make sure the author knows what our terms are with a contract embedded in the acceptance email. We do not publish work without the author acknowledging that contract. We can’t emphasize this point enough. If someone submits work to us and we accept it, we must receive acknowledgment from the author on that acceptance or we will withdraw our offer to publish it.
Everyone who submits to us should check their email on a regular basis. Email is our official means of communication. We will not hunt you down. If we get no response from you regarding an acceptance, we will not use your work and we will withdraw it from our consideration.
By the way, to get all those acceptances chosen is no small thing. We usually have more things we like than room in the upcoming issue, so that means we have to have a group discussion about which remaining pieces are going to make it into the issue at the end of the reading period. We each rank the “yeses” still hoping for a home with us, then see if we’ve agreed on anything that way. There are usually one or two that all three of us have included in our top five. Those get in. Then we talk about the merits of the rest again, make a final team decision, and go with it. This is also the point at which we sometimes ask poets to send us a piece again during another reading period. This happens with pieces we loved that were more specific to another season than the one for the upcoming issue as well as with pieces that we just plain loved but had no more room for.
Once we have all our acceptances done for the upcoming issue, submissions close and we get to work putting the issue together. This is a massive undertaking when we put the poems in the order in which they will appear in our journal, design the cover, write the opening editorial, and format every single poem to fit our publication’s print style. This is also when we tear our hair out if a poem is formatted in an unusual way. Poetry has a lot of leeway for how it can look, but sometimes we have pieces with colored fonts (don’t!) or bold on the entire poem (don’t!) or a nonstandard font (marker felt, papyrus, etc. – don’t!) and weird margins for no good reason. Let your words do their job and leave the font choice and margins to us. Yes, there are exceptions. They are rare. Very rare.
Once we have the issue put together, we send a PDF proof copy to contributors. This happens about one-two weeks before the issue is due to come out. Why do we do this? Because human beings make mistakes. We might be pretty decent editors, but sometimes a letter gets left out of someone’s name, a poem loses its formatting somewhere in the movement from poet to submissions system to print issue, or a bio has an incorrect reference. That proof is the time to catch those little mistakes before they are send out into the world. The response time is very tight for that proof copy due to our publication schedule. If a contributor misses that window, they are out of luck.
After all that, we upload the final version of the issue to our publishing platform. Once we have it formatted there, it goes under another review. The people doing that review are not us; they are people connected with KDP, the publishing arm of Amazon. They make sure that the issue is going to look right in its print version, and help us make that print version available all over the world. It takes a few days for this process to be complete and we always have to make sure we’ve left enough time to correct any issues that crop up at this point. While the issue is going through its review, we get the PDF version uploaded to our website for those who depend on the free version’s availability. Once we get the okay from KDP, we tell the world about the new issue of Gyroscope Review via our website, our social media, and our contributors. And we wipe our brows, have a beer, and get ready for the next reading period. And we keep our fingers crossed that enough of those print editions sell to pay for our website and our submissions system.
Over the past year, we’ve had quite an uptick in the number of submissions sent to us. That means it might take longer than it used to for us to get responses out to submitters – but never more than three months due to the structure of our publication schedule. It means sometimes submissions get closed unexpectedly because we have more than our submissions system can handle. It means that we’ve had to decline really good work because there is no room left in the upcoming issue. All of these things are okay problems to have because it means people know we’re here. It means we’ve produced decent issues that make people want to be a part of what we’re doing here. But it does create challenges that we do our best to resolve with the resources we have.
One of the things we are considering is a change to the way we take submissions. We have, from the beginning, asked for people to submit each poem as an individual submission for ease in voting on each of those submissions. For this next reading period, that process will stand, but we are exploring alternatives in order to keep the ever-expanding number of submissions we get flowing smoothly. We will keep you all informed when we do make a change.
We hope you continue to send us work, read our journal, share us with your friends. The whole point of Gyroscope Review is to share fine contemporary poetry that turns your world – and ours – around. It’s been a fine four years since we’ve released our first issue. The poetry community is just the best. Thank you. All of you.
Happy 2019! Gyroscope Review had a good year, and hopes our poets and readers did also. We put out our Third Anniversary Issue in the Spring, with a special category, ‘Planting Ourselves’, and had a another special issue, ‘The Crone Edition’, in the Fall of 2018. We also had three handmade art covers for the year, and hope to do more in the future. We continue to offer Gyroscope Review in PDF format, and as a purchasable print edition or Kindle edition for our reader’s convenience. Your support keeps us going forward.
Our submissions numbers for all 2018 editions were 2966 submissions total, including so many for the Crone Issue that it overwhelmed our submissions system. We offer weekly poetry prompts through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and love to see the results appear in our slush pile. We are thankful for the support of all our poets and readers as we move into a new year, and hope to keep growing and bringing you Fine Contemporary Poetry.
So onwards to 2019. Have you set goals for the upcoming year? Submissions goals, number of poems written in a week/month/year goals? Are you wanting to attend a workshop, hone your skills? Maybe put together a book and get it out there, circulating? Let us know on Facebook what you have planned for 2019.
There are all sorts of things out there to keep your poetry production humming along. Join a critique group, it thickens your skin and teaches perspective. Learn new forms. Work with a partner (or two or three) and co-write poems. It’s a lot of fun, and the poems take twists and turns you never expected. Co-writing, I learned how to do an Abecedarian, American Sentences, Couplets, as well as writing alternating lines, stanzas, and poems that respond to partner poems.
You political poets out there, keep writing. We need your take on things now more than ever. We don’t know where 2019 is taking us, but I suspect it will be a wild ride. Poetry grounds us, poetry motivates us. Poetry keeps us real. Go forth, create, and share with the world. Gyroscope Review is a place to get your ideas before the public. Online, print, podcast and video, let’s do what poets do best. Raise our voices and be heard.
CELEBRATING MIDWEST LITERATURE, REMINDING MYSELF WHAT IT IS TO BE A WRITER
I don’t know if you know this, but Gyroscope Review’s three editors live nowhere near an ocean. Constance Brewer and I, the two founding editors, are firmly planted in what some consider fly-over country: Wyoming and Minnesota, respectively. Our Assistant Editor, Josh Colwell, lives near Pennsylvania’s border with Ohio.
I’ve been thinking a bit about this lately, and about the way literature from New York or Los Angeles might be embraced more quickly than that from elsewhere. I’m firmly planted in the heart of the Midwest, but let me tell you – literary tradition in Minnesota is strong. Its roots are deep. Most people know Bob Dylan and Prince came from Minnesota, but there are so many poets and writers who lived and still live here to celebrate: Robert Bly, Patricia Hampl, Phoebe Hanson, Bill Holmes, Louis Jenkins, Deborah Keenan, Freya Manfred, James Moore, Jim Northrup, Joyce Sutphen, Connie Wanek, James Wright, and more. We have Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, and Holy Cow! Press among other small presses. The literary tradition here is varied and rich.
And I recently reminded myself just how rich by visiting the Prairie Poets & Press exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Elmer L. Anderson Library. My own road trip to the prairie this summer put me in awe of its inspiration, its space, its quiet that is perfect for the writer or the artist who wants solitude in which to work. I wanted to know more about the writers who sought ideas from that landscape and remembered that the exhibit at the U of M was still open. Off I went.
The Prairie Poets & Press exhibit covers more than just the prairie. It divides Minnesota into five regions: Superior North, Northern Prairie, Out West, River Valley, and Twin Cities. Examples of poets’ work from each area is offered, along with snippets of personal correspondence, marked-up copy, publication covers, newspaper articles, and photos. Robert Bly loomed large in the Out West section, shown with his old farmhouse and offering marked up bits of his work, covers from his little literary magazine that started in the late 1950s and lasted into the 1970s. Bly gave a reading a in 2015 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis as part of their Literary Witnesses program and I went to hear him. As I looked at what the exhibit displayed about Bly, I could hear his voice in my head, and appreciated his work as one of the poets who sought to move on from what has been called “old-fashioned verse.” In other words, verse that is less formal, uses plain language, does not rhyme, uses the poet’s individual voice. The definition may sound a bit familiar to those of you who have read our journal; that’s the kind of poetry we publish at Gyroscope Review.
Other parts of the exhibit that I especially enjoyed were the handwritten copies that came from the poets themselves that showed how they worked. My favorite was a page from one of Louis Jenkins’ notebooks that showed the same prose poem written twice, words crossed out in both versions, the endings entirely different. This little look into how poets work made my own messy notebooks feel a little more valuable, a little less like unimportant scribbling. And it reminded me how revision might take the writer far from the original idea.
And, of course, I paid attention to the number of small literary magazines that have come from this area. Robert Bly’s The Fifties (which changed names in subsequent decades: The Sixties, The Seventies). Dacotah Territory. North Coast Review. Since Gyroscope Review spans far more than just Minnesota thanks for our far-flung staff, I wondered if we would ever fit in an exhibit like this; maybe just a little?
After I had walked through the entire exhibit, feeling lucky to have either heard or worked with several of the poets mentioned, such as Deborah Keenan who taught at Hamline University when I was working on my MFA, I thought about how any landscape has potential to produce a diverse mix of writers. Any place where people feel rooted, inspired, and pay attention is a good place to make art, write poems, tell stories. What is it about Minnesota that created this abundance? What is it about the coasts that do the same?
Whatever it is, I celebrate these Midwest writers who came before me, who inspire so many, who put us on the literary map. If you’re anywhere near Minneapolis this summer, the Prairie Poets & Press exhibit just might give you a little something you didn’t know you needed. And if you can’t make it to Minneapolis, at least get to the prairie, where the vast sky and open land will encourage you to listen to yourself.
In honor of the current special theme for Gyroscope Review, “The Crone Issue”, let’s talk a bit about the theme. When we put out the call, we decided to limit it to an underserved section of the population, women and those that identify as women over the age of 50. It’s around that age that women really start to disappear in society. They are not valued any longer. Having outlived their usefulness as mothers or sexual objects, they are discarded and disregarded. From the heartfelt cover letters we are getting, it’s apparent older women are eager to have an opportunity to submit, and disappointed that this kind of opportunity doesn’t present itself more often. Older women need to be include, invited, and embraced.
Older women contain a wealth of wisdom. This is what we want to celebrate. Crone has been turned into a derogatory term. Let’s take it back. The dictionary defines a crone as ‘a cruel or ugly old woman’. The dictionary was not written by the enlightened. We prefer the more modern take, as identified in Wikipedia. “In New Age and feminist spiritual circles, a “Croning” is a ritual rite of passage into an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power. Some feminist authors have defined the crone archetype in a positive light, as a powerful and wise old woman.”
By taking back the word Crone, women are recognizing the power, wisdom, and abilities of aging. We want work that celebrates the ideas of crone: wise woman, matriarch, post-menopause, grandmother, elders with strength and experience. Tell your story. Tell what has been digging at you the past 50 years. What are you not going to stand for anymore? What is your source of power and strength, be it quiet or fierce?
Women have a wealth of life experiences to share with others. Remain silent no longer.
Here is a poem that resonates with the theme of Crone.
by Marge Piercy
It happens in an instant.
My grandma used to say
someone is walking on your grave.
It’s that moment when your life
is suddenly strange to you
as someone else’s coat
you have slipped on at a party
by accident, and it is far
too big or too tight for you.
Your life feels awkward, ill
fitting. You remember why you
came into this kitchen, but you
feel you don’t belong here.
It scares you in a remote
numb way. You fear that you—
whatever you means, this mind,
this entity stuck into a name
like mercury dropped into water—
have lost the ability to enter your
self, a key that no longer works.
Perhaps you will be locked
out here forever peering in
at your body, if that self is really
what you are. If you are at all.
“Dislocation” by Marge Piercy from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.