Dear Poetry Editor

Elizabeth Scanlon

On perspectives about poetry

The most common misconception I encounter about poetry or poets is that you have to be deep all the time to write it or enjoy it. I mean, I do value introspection and abstract thought in poetry, but it’s only one element. We also want blood, guts, Cheetos, Chuck Taylors, waiting for the bus, folding your laundry, all of it. A poetry that pretends to be only thoughts in a vacuum is not of much interest to me.

On poetry

Poetry for me is one that allows me into the thinking. That may sound like too broad a qualification but in my experience of reading many poems, I find that too many are what I think of as “facing the wall” — they may be speaking but they’re not looking outward, not connecting. Examples of poems that I think are really excellent in their outwardness (some of which I published, some not): “The Sadness of Antonio” by Jason Schneiderman, “dependencies” by Evie Shockley, Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “Praise House,” Pattie McCarthy’s “Domestic Cryptography Survey I,” Reginald Dwayne Betts’ “I’m Learning Nothing This Night” — these are poems that spring to my mind that exemplify the invitation-to-the-thought-process-of-the-writer writing that I find really appealing.

On publishing

You know, I worry that people might think APR is stodgy or out of it given that we function primarily as a print journal and have only recently upped our digital presence — and still have far to go. I hope and on my better days believe that our readers appreciate our scrappiness and eclecticism and recognize that we have thrived as an independent non-profit for 44 years in part because we have stayed rough, kept with the inexpensive newsprint means of production that allows us to give the most page-presence to poets.

On regret

There are many things that have appeared in the magazine that I wasn’t wild about, but that’s because each APR editor has a certain amount of prerogative in choosing work. We strive for consensus but if an editor feels strongly about something that they didn’t get the votes to publish, they can choose to push it through on prerogative. For example,  a few years back APR published a series on muscle cars that were tenuously related to literature; I wanted nothing to do with those articles but founding editor Steve Berg was into it. So that was his prerogative. So yes, sometimes I am not 100% behind everything we run. But I have no regrets about any of the work for which I have personally advocated.

Elizabeth Scanlon is the Editor of The American Poetry Review. She is the author of The Brain Is Not the United States/The Brain Is the Ocean (The Head & The Hand Press, 2016) and Odd Regard (Ixnay Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including Boston Review, Ploughshares, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, and others. She lives in Philadelphia.

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