Dear Poetry Editor

Gowri Koneswaran

On perspectives about poetry

A misconception some people outside of the literary community have about poetry is that it is a clearly defined genre—that there is a way to do poetry. One misconception some people in the literary community also have about poetry is that there is a way to do poetry. I’m a writer, performing artist, poetry editor for two arts journals, and open mic and poetry slam host. I have heard the descriptor “spoken word” intoned in both aspirational and condescending ways. I’ve heard the same of “page poetry.”

On poetry

Some of the folks with whom I most enjoy discussing poetry are elementary school students. I like to start our conversations by asking “what makes something poetry?” The list of characteristics they brainstorm together typically includes a range of ingredients, like feelings, pictures, and imagination. We talk about being “allowed” to break all the usual rules of writing.

My friends are used to me interrupting them mid-phrase in casual conversation to opine, “that comment right there was a poem.” So I’m with the elementary school students on this one. For me, poetry is feelings, images, imagination, a cascade of syllables and sensations that holds me or throws me for a moment.

On publishing

Some people may think that Beltway Poetry Quarterly focuses on previously published writers rather than those whose work has not appeared in print before—either because they’ve not publicized their work or because they’ve primarily done it through performance. Actually, five years before the journal’s founder, Kim Roberts, invited me to join as co-editor, it was one of the first to publish my work. Among Kim’s many book credits is also one entitled Lip Smack: A History of Spoken Word Poetry in DC

In my first two issues as co-editor, we’ve included several previously unpublished writers and I look forward to continuing that effort. Some of them appear in our next issue, featuring poets who identify under the LGBTQ umbrella (with guest co-editor Venus Thrash) and I anticipate we’ll have others in the fall issue (with guest co-editor Elizabeth Acevedo), devoted to writers who have represented “the DMV” (DC, MD, VA) at regional and national poetry slams.

Turning to Jaggery, many people believe that we only publish writers who identify as “South Asian.” We’re on Issue 7 now and have published writers of various backgrounds. As our poetry guidelines say, “Poets submitting pieces for consideration need not identify as South Asian or South Asian hyphenates; however, the poems submitted should.”

On regret

I’ve been with Jaggery since its inception and Beltway Poetry Quarterly since May (fifteen years into the journal’s life). Thankfully, there isn’t (yet) anything I’ve published that I wish I hadn’t. As for my own poetry, I absolutely wish that some of my older pieces were no longer available online. That said, I am resigned to the fact that I’m living in the 21st century.

Gowri Koneswaran is a Tamil American poet, performing artist, teaching artist, and lawyer in Washington, DC. She serves as co-editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, a poetry events host at Busboys and Poets, poetry coordinator at BloomBars, and senior poetry editor at Jaggery. Gowri has performed her poetry and devised theater productions at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Atlas Performing Arts Center, Capital Fringe Festival, and universities in the U.S. and Canada. She shares haiku on Twitter and Instagram at @gowricurry.

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