Michelle Burke's "Horse Loquela"! Thanks to all those who submitted. Michelle's chapbook will appear in its entirety in RMR3 as well as in a stand-alone limited edition. She will also join contest judge Katie Ford for a reading on the campus of the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham in early December, when both the limited edition and RMR3 will be released. More info on all of that in the near future...

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You guys are funny -- several e-mails asking us "You said you'd announce by Aug 1 -- what's wrong?" Uh, it's like, July 31 -- right? All kidding aside, we're glad you're paying attention. Here's the scoop: Katie Ford has, indeed, selected a winner. We have, indeed, notified said winner. We are, however, still waiting for a reply from our winner. Until we hear back from...her...we'll wait to make the official announcement. Thanks to everyone for your patience. We still hope/expect to make good on our Aug 1 promise. On a related note, RMR3 is also now officially full, though we're sorry to say that not everyone who submitted during our last reading period has been notified of the final status of their submission. Our next project will be to do just that. We hope to have that accomplished by Sep 1. Again, thanks for your patience...

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It's April 30, and that means we won't be considering submissions that are postmarked after today (we'll start reading for RMR4 on Oct 1). Truth be known, we've long had our fiction line-up set for RMR3 (as reported here in this space a couple of months ago). We're now almost all set in the other genres as well. And we've been blown away by the number of chapbook entries we've received. (Guess there's a market out there for a free chapbook contest...) Thanks very much for entrusting us with your fine work.

The chapbook contest will work like this: we'll send each entry to our initial readers, poetry editors Jim Murphy and Mary Kaiser, who will score each manuscript anonymously. The five highest-scoring finalists will then proceed to this year's judge, Katie Ford. We hope to have her final decision by no later than August 1. We will announce the finalists and winner in this space as soon as Katie makes her choice. (Please do note: This will be our only means of notification.)

The contest winner will receive a $500 honorarium and ten copies of a limited edition, stand-alone print run of the chapbook itself. The chapbook will also appear in RMR3. We will host the chapbook winner and judge Katie Ford in Birmingham for a joint reading and release reception later on this year.

Thanks to all for your interest in RMR, and please do excuse the radio silence on this blog as we turn our attention to coordinating the chapbook contest and putting out a great-looking third issue of the magazine! Happy summer....

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We were fortunate to enough to be in attendance at the first JARS (Journal Alliance Reading Series) event of 2007 earlier today, when RMR's own Mary Kaiser read from her new chapbook of poems, "Falling Into Velazquez" (Slapering Hol Press, 2006). There were a total of 23 people at the Bottletree Cafe in the lovely, gritty little Avondale neighborhood just east of the Magic City. That's 23 counting the bartenders. And the poet. You could look at that and say, "See...

1) ...poetry is insignificant!" and/or
2) ...the masses are ignorant slobs!"

You'd be wrong on both counts, though, and here's why...

As regards Count #1: Some of the most essential things are relatively small. Germs, for instance. Also kidneys. Wethinks our addiction to big portions stems from an excess of positivistic rationalism (or is that rationalistic positivism?) -- more is better because we can see it, and if we can see it, we can count it, and if we can count it, we can be sure it means something. But poetry's lack of size makes it stealthy, hearty too, and replete with coping strategies. And what is life without stealth and coping strategies? Boring and/or insufferable.

As regards Count #2: Poetry combats ignorance in the only way it can be beaten: that is, hand-to-hand. Sitting with 23 people in what used to be a gay bar, there isn't any such thing as "the masses." That vast shared numbness dissolves away. We will all, soon enough, retake our positions in regards to "the masses" -- among them, stalking their perimeter, etc. The point is 23 people on a Sunday afternoon listened to good poems and good thought and thereby engaged in something not very unlike a worship service. Contemplation. Reflection. Fellowship. Communion. A small moment made larger for its smallness, a brief time to step out of the world, our world: its ignorance, its significance, its sheer mass. Amen.

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Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he was educated in the public schools there. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington where, as a freshman, he took part in the famous Kinsey Report by completing a survey of his sexual history during orientation. Alfred Kinsey, a biology professor at the university, had begun his famous work on human sexual response when he was teaching, after the war, the "marriage" course, an early attempt in the health curriculum to provide information in what was called then sexual hygiene. One day, a co-ed, who was to be married that summer, approached Kinsey after a lecture to ask what she could expect from her husband, and Kinsey, always the scientist, couldn't answer her since he didn't have, he realized, any hard scientific evidence. "I'll get back to you," he told her, and began his decades long project collecting oral interviews, written personal narratives, taped anecdotal commentary, and computer scanned surveys from a vast range of informants in order to build a workable database of sexual behavior.

There, years later, in a crowded lecture room in Ballantine Hall, Michael Martone participated in the very same ongoing effort of data gathering, carefully blackening with the provided No.2 pencil the appropriate bubble corresponding to the numbered response most accurately representing such desired information as his masturbatory habits and history, his sexual preference, his preferred positions (there were illustrations), and the time, to the nearest minute, of his recovery after "performing vigorous coitus." The room fell silent as the freshman class bent to this initial collegian task required of them, the quiet broken only by the scratching of pencil lead on the rigid manila IBM cards and the counterpunctual response of the rubbing of rubber erasers.

Afterward, Martone remembers racing from the building into a bright fall day, the trees of Dunn Meadow just taking on the color of the season. That night, he called his mother, who had also been a student at Indiana University to ask her if she, too, had been recruited to contribute to Professor Kinsey's report, indicating to her, as best he could, the extent and duration of statistical instrument he had just endured. "No," his mother responded, "they didn't have that when I was there. I did take this facts-of-life course the spring before I married Daddy." She went on to say that she didn't learn much, that the class had been dry and very statistical in nature. "I even asked the professor about it." It hadn't mattered, she concluded, since shortly after that meeting with the professor who had told her he would get back to her about her questions, she and her soon-to-be husband figured out how to go about the very thing that had been so mysterious.

Late one night, in a classroom where, in his senior year at Indiana University, Martone would take a class on Chaucer, his parents, ignorant of contraception in spite of the courses they took, managed to conceive their son. Though when asked, years later, by her son for further details, his mother simply said she couldn't recall much more about that night but that she could make something up if that would help. [From Michael Martone by Michael Martone (FC2, 2005)]


RMR: Cormac McCarthy once said, “Teaching writing is a hustle.” Agree or disagree? Discuss.

MM: So I guess he doesn’t mean that in a good way. And I guess that he is saying two things. First, that writing can’t be taught. And because he believes the first, it follows those who do teach are up to something, are taking advantage of someone. I don’t agree that teaching writing is a “hustle” and I think I disagree because we have different working definitions of “teaching.” I admit I am a teacher of writing. I think Mr. McCarthy’s notion of teaching is fiduciary. By that I mean, that the knowledge of a subject is held in trust by a teacher and one goes to school to have the teacher/trustee transfer that knowledge, the secrets so to speak. This model makes sense for law, say, or medicine. If it is applied to writing—that there are writing secrets mature writers know and can transfer for a fee—if that’s the way you think about teaching and writing well then it is a hustle because it is a commodity exchange. I don’t think about writing that way. I know no secrets. I cannot withhold or dole out wisdom on the matter. Teaching for me is more like helping the writer discover what he or she already knows. I provide what I hope are interesting spaces for people to read and write and talk about writing. The space is protected. The time is given. All my students are paid to come to school. There is no tuition. Let me talk about another hustle. A friend of mine, a writer, got fed up and quit teaching for reasons along Mr. McCarthy’s line. He thought most of his students wouldn’t become great writers. He felt he was deluding them by encouraging these less-than-great writers. Now it turns out David, my grumpy writing/teaching friend, also ran in marathons. And I just asked him if when he lines up at the start in Boston, New York, Chicago does he think he’s going to beat the world class Ethiopians. Well, no, he says. And I say why do you run if you aren’t going to win. The answer is that there are other reasons to run, other benefits besides winning. Ditto writing. Still another hustle. I just heard on the radio that students of medicine and law leave grad school with a debt of $50,000 to $80,000. Sure they will have jobs that will pay that back one-day. But those secrets are costly. Not so my none secrets for my writing students.

RMR: James Frey. Brad Vice. George Bush. All have fudged, fibbed, or fabricated here of late -- with disastrous results. Your work often tiptoes the blurry line between fact and fiction. What’s more, you seem to have a soft spot for the good old-fashioned hoax. Not only did you write The Blue Guide to Indiana but -- correct me if I’m wrong here -- you sought to have it reviewed as a legitimate guidebook, not a work of fiction. Likewise, in Michael Martone, you’ve written fifty fictitious bio notes for yourself -- actually placing many of them in the Contributors sections of literary magazines prior to their collection as a book. I think of the acknowledgments section of Michael Ondaatje’s novel Coming Through Slaughter, an artistic embellishment of the life of real-life jazz forebear Buddy Bolden: “While I have used real names and characters and historical situations I have also used more personal pieces of friends and fathers. There have been some date changes, some characters brought together, and some facts have been expanded or polished to suit the truth of fiction.” When and why should we favor “the truth of fiction” over cold, hard facts, and what responsibilities must we live up to -- as readers, writers, citizens, leaders of the free world -- when we do it?

MM: My feeling is that we should all be very careful. Collectively we have made a cultural choice to live in an empirical world. That is we know things our senses tell us. If you don’t believe we live in an empirical world then why do most of us stay in school so long or go to school so young. We believe that we are born blank slates and then are filled up by our experiences. But our senses can be so easily fooled. Satire begins with the cultural shift in the West to empirical belief. So we have always lived in a world where fact and fiction was supposedly easy to tell apart but at the same time we know it’s not. And remember this. A fact is a thing done. Once it has happened it is over, it does not exist. Instead we have residue of the facts. Facts are not real. Fiction on the other hand is a thing made. It is a fabrication. Even what we call nonfiction is a fiction in that sense. It is a made thing. This made thing, this construction has a reality but it is a constructed reality. So as I said above one must be careful in the making and in the consumption of the made thing.

RMR: Either/Or (Explain or not).

Letterman or Leno?..... Letterman
Jeter or DiMaggio?..... Mantle
Libby (I. Lewis “Scooter”) or Liddy (G. Gordon)?..... G. Gordon
Bones or Spock?..... Kirk the Midwestern boy
Brittany or Madonna?..... Christina
Form or Function?..... Form
Bobby Knight or Dean Smith?..... Knight
Borrowed or Blue?..... Blue
Quayle or Lugar?..... Bayh
Barth or Borges?..... Barthelme

RMR: You are George Steinbrenner for a day. Make a to-do list.

- Wake
- Evacuate the bowel
- Oatmeal
- Shower, shave, brush and floss teeth
- Read the New York and Florida Newspapers
- Place a call order on General Dynamics, Biomet, Viacom
- Read an hour in the work of Patrick O’Brien
- Confession, Mass
- Lunch at Four Seasons (steak Tartar)
- Circle Line Cruise and visit to Ellis Island reconstruction
- Call to Sports Talk Radio on XM
- Watch TiVo, saved shows of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
- Lou Dobbs and Kramer’s Mad Money
- Drinks at the Century Club
- Attend opening reception for Gees Bend Quilts at the Whitney
- Dinner at Sea
- View Manhattan from the top of the Empire State building
- Greet arriving zeppelin
- Prepare for bed and retire in a continuously cruising Airstream trailer cruising the West Side Highway

RMR: Fill in the blank: Michael Martone is absolutely, positively, unequivocally, 100% NOT...

MM: Serious.

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Hope you've been enjoying 500 Words (More) or Less. Stay tuned in March, when we post a recent e-chat we had with the inimitable Michael Martone. Here's a little teaser: At one point, he assumes the blustery persona of one George Steinbrenner. Hilarity -- with a healthy dollop of keen insight into the human condition -- ensues. You won't want to miss it. Until then, keep sending those chapbooks. And remember: We take e-submissions at RMRsubmissions@gmail.com!

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...this Thursday, Feb 8, on the Shelby campus of Jefferson State Community College! The reading starts at 11 a.m. in Room 211 of RSH Hall. Allison Joseph is the author of five books of poetry: Worldly Pleasure (Word Press, 2004); Imitation of Life (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2002); Soul Train (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1997); In Every Seam (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997); and What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand, 1992), which won the Ampersand Women Poets Series Prize and the John C. Zacharis Award First Book Prize from Ploughshares. Her many awards include a fellowship and a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council, fellowships from Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences, an Academy of American Poets prize, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and an Associated Writing Programs Prize. She is an Associate Professor of English at Southern Illinois University and editor of Crab Orchard Review.

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Just in case you weren't aware, here it is all spelt out for you: Ander Monson is, in fact, the hardest working man in show business. 300+ shows a year. A growing media presence on all the habitable continents. (Stay tuned for an exciting announcement in the very near future regarding Antarctica!) Rabid, cult-like followings germinating out in concentric circles from all the world's major cities...

In all seriousness, the man is and always has been pretty dadgum large-and-in-charge. A phenom, if you will, in the truest sense of the word. A graduate of Knox College (a school that happens to be one of the best-kept secrets in the world of writing academe, by the way), Iowa State, and the University of Alabama, Monson is the author of two books: a novel, Other Electricities, Sarabande Books, 2005, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award; and a poetry collection, Vacationland, Tupelo Press, 2005. Neck Deep, a collection of "weirdo essays," won the Graywolf Press 2006 Nonfiction Prize and will be released TODAY! He edits the online magazine DIAGRAM as well as its comrade-in-arms, New Michigan Press. His individual stories, poems, and essays have been published damn-near everywhere, including (happily for us) the inaugural issue of RMR. To wit, a sampling from RMR1, by way of Vacationland...


The coroner’s best guess as to time of death
is sometime in the earliness
before the light has staked its claim
with hammer-blows and threats of ice
useless, spilled like perfume across roads.

As for cause, you know it’s notoriously
iffy — in this case it is safe to say death
by drowning or by impact of the body
against the windshield, against the radio dial
which left its mark, and then the drowning after,
or death due to after-prom excitement — the occasion
marked by streamers in the rafters
and the crowning of the school’s best
heads and shoulders with a tin-foil
wrapped, fake-bejeweled band.

Death due to lack of the right date
who might have taken the right route
to the after party, who might not have swerved
to miss the fish — the enigmatic trout
frozen in the middle of the lane,
body like a beacon
warning of the impending season’s
weakness, of after-graduation life
in bars and doldrum rum and cokes in glasses.

Death due to lack of escapist training,
no Houdini present, no Tupac, Elvis
surviving death at least in myth
and continuing to release
themselves in beats & language
to critical suspicion.

Death due to loneliness
and books checked out too long ago
from the Public Library
and not returned on time,
death due to accruing, reoccurring fines
that continued to mount like banks of snow
until she returned them on prom night

until I went to check them out again
to have her signature—some vestige
of her neck/her mind/her hands.



RMR: TRUE or FALSE: James Frey is the spawn of Satan. Discuss.

AM: False. Though I don't think we should give him credit for all the ensuing and in its way enjoyable fiction.

RMR: You are large and contain multitudes. Parsed out by project, your enormous productivity -- scads of journal pubs, three books and counting, DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press, etc, etc -- is truly mind-boggling. ("How does he have time?" one wonders.) All well before you hit the big 4-0, no less. Taking a step back from it, I think there might be a more holistic -- and even more impressive, really -- way to look at it: That is, it seems to me that being Ander Monson is more process than product. Would it be a mistake, then, to look at your oeuvre as one continually evolving and expanding "document" -- an inclusive and holistic pastiche that reflects a singular artistic life as it develops in real time? A career arc more akin to Whitman's or Sandburg's than, say, Robert Frost's?

AM: Interesting. There’s a kind of kinship between the work, a point of common departure for the diaspora, and a shared mythology being created that includes the idea of author, and "author", and text (and hopefully even expands the idea of the "book"; see also Neck Deep and the website extension of it). One of the pieces in Neck Deep, the big index, was originally housed in Other Electricities, though it has found its new home as nonfiction, and in a way that's what it always was. It's really not all that interesting being a writer who simply produces product. Not that I'd disclaim any individual book, or the book as a technology that we as a culture really enjoy -- it offers a whole lot of advantages and that's the medium I work in, mostly. But it's also limiting (as genre is in its way -- it provides a sort of pressure which can be responded to in a number of ways). And I am more interested, finally in creation, not exhaustion. Though that sounds totally pompous.

RMR: Ten Either/Or’s. (Explain or not.)

BALL OR DISC? Disc. See also: [this right here].
TIGER OR JACK? Jack. Though Tiger can compete on Xbox.
PAGEMAKER OR QUARK? InDesign. But not Quark. Definitely not Quark, though it's always had the better name.
JEN OR ANGELINA? Who are these people?
POL POT OR MANUEL NORIEGA? I do not understand your modern ways.
CIA OR FBI? I’ve only met the FBI so am not qualified to decide.
SKITTLES OR M&Ms? Skittles blow.

RMR: You are poet-king for a day. Make a to-do list.

AM: Play Katamari Damacy for a while. Roll things into a large ball. Crunch it down and throw it in the sky, which makes people smarter.

RMR: Michigan's Upper Peninsula is...

AM: A place that I'm not even sure still exists. Is it there at all? Look at it on google earth and it's all blurred out. That's suspicious. Who's actually from there? Who goes there? Who makes it their home? And do they read? See also Tom Bissell. See also Catie Rosemurgy. See also Beth Roberts, and Jonathan Johnson. Did I tell you I killed Hemingway? Most people don't know that. I had to cut his heart out. I'm serious. I read about it on the Internet and it made me feel so good.

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Well, here's another example of us screwing up...

[- "Do you think we should be so forthcoming with our many missteps?"
- "Forget it, he's on a roll."]

Click here for the bio information on Mark Terrill's website. Seems we left it out of the contributors notes in RMR2. Sorry, Mark. Great poems, though. Here's one of them, for those of you who haven't had a chance to get your hands on the issue yet...


The thin line of casualties
that runs accross your face.
The masks in the streets
and the panic they allow.
I only came
to pine in your woods
and now I'm lost here,
a hardened artery in
your radial grid.
Your countenance rusts
in televised anquish.
The medicine and the poison
look so much alike in this light.

Want to read the other two? Buy RMR2! And buy Mark's latest book while you're at it!

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Wouldn't you like to be a-culpa too? As promised, here's a self-flagellatory post regarding RMR's til-now somewhat spotty turnaround times. With a tiny caveat and, as always, a call-to-arms...

We were going to print, verbatim, some of the letters we've received on this subject...but we lost them! (Sadly, that's the god's honest truth. Proof positive that we can't keep track of any correspondence, even when we want to use it. Not really, but the method in our madness is -- as it is with a lot of publishing venues -- only apparent to a very select few, and even that select few has trouble deciphering it sometimes. Alas, that seems to be endemic to the beast known as "Editor.")

Actually, maybe it's better this way, because all the correspondence hits a similar note. Allow us to paraphrase the letters in question: A few writers have railed against us for not returning their manuscripts even though they had provided return postage. One of them even threatened to badmouth us at all the writers conferences he attends and teaches -- "Don't send them your work!" Another writer gave us props for running a free chapbook contest but was disappointed that he had to discover on the blog that his manuscript didn't win the contest -- this after he sent us a SASE that we requested for notification purposes. There have been letters and e-mails -- even phone calls -- checking on submission status, some cordial and empathetic, some short and not-so-sweet.

And we have to plead guilty as charged. Our turnaround time has not been what we'd like it to be. There's no way to sugar-coat it.

All-in-all, we're very proud of what we've achieved in our first two years of existence: Our publications are beautiful, thanks to Russell and Travis at
www.absnth.com. We've published first-time authors alongside writers who've been nominated for Pulitzers, Pushcarts, and National Book Awards. We've worked with friends and strangers and strangers-turned-friends. We've produced two great -- and very different -- chapbooks. We now publish a stand-alone version of the chapbook, and we've been able to double the contest honorarium and add a public reading to the award package. All while keeping the contest free to enter.

That doesn't mean that we haven't hit a few bumps along the way, and as far as we're concerned, the biggest bump has to be our inconsistent turnaround times. Our goal is to be writer-friendly, and this is the one area where we've made a few -- but vocal -- enemies.

Knowing what we know about publishing literary magazines, it's not a question of avoiding bumps. It's all about what you do once you hit them. So here's what we're doing:

  • We take e-submissions now. That, coupled with our "Yes-yes-a-thousand-times-yes!" policy regarding simultaneous submissions, helps give writers more freedom when it comes to where, when, and how they submit their work.
  • We're redoubling our efforts to make decisions in a more timely fashion. Prose (fiction and nonfiction) is read and decided upon in a central location, so those turnaround times should be faster -- we're aiming for within sixty days. There are more steps to our poetry process because our poetry editors are spread out. Rest assured all poems will be decided upon by the end of each academic year (May). And as a general rule, the longer we have it, the more likely we are to publish it (or at least to ask to see more work).
  • The blog will be a vital source of submissions-related information. To wit, the recent post announcing that fiction submissions for RMR3 are effectively closed now. Perhaps as useful, we're providing more regular content on the blog, which will give writers a sense of our overall aesthetic, our predilections, our current and/or abiding obsessions.
  • Chapbook contest results will be posted here and at the website by August 1 each year. No need to send a SASE.

Okay, so we promised a caveat and here it is: Writers need to step up to the plate with some personal accountability as well. Some uninvited advice and/or requests:
  1. Know the basic trends in literary publishing. Here's a biggie: Print manuscripts are recycled nowadays. Get a jump drive and save the extra postage. A 39-cent SASE will suffice for response to general submissions, and it saves you money in the long run.
  2. If you notoriously and indiscriminately sling your poems to the far reaches (yes, we do know who you are; you'd be surprised how easy it is to make a "name" for yourself in this regard) please take a moment and ask yourself why you do it. There may be a legitimate reason. We can't think of one right off the top of our heads, but we're willing to change our minds if somebody will present a compelling reason.
  3. Please think of literary magazines -- and their editors -- as your partners, not your enemies. In a world where it's too easy to feel disconnected and ignored, we understand it can be difficult to stomach an interminable reading period followed by an anonymous rejection. We get our fair share of those too in our other lives as writers-just-like-you.
  4. Understand, however, that anonymous, assembly-line submissions (and by that we mean sending work to any address you can find in the 2002 Literary Marketplace) are likely to yield anonymous, assembly-line rejections. Sadly, the system feeds itself. Too few editors and readers, too many writers and manuscripts. We're not complaining. Editing a lit mag is fun or else we wouldn't do it. We're just suggesting that we're in this together and that if we acknowledge we're all a part of the problem, we can all be a part of the solution.
  5. To dip back into the mailbag, from the day we hung out our shingle in 2004, we've received cover letters praising our "distinguished" publication -- even before we'd printed a single issue. In football, there's a saying: see what you hit. It's the safest way to tackle, for both the ball carrier and for the tackler. Well, see where you're sending your work -- it's better for everybody. Most notably, you.
  6. Submit less, write, read, and think more.
  7. Instead of sending work out in waves to all directions, send it out piece-by-piece to a magazine you've actually held in your hands. Just because you get rejected once, doesn't necessarily mean you should give up on that publication. Send something else -- something better. Don't have something better? Write it. If you are a good writer and your work fits the publication, you'll probably get in sooner or later. You're at least more likely to get some valuable and substantial editorial feedback. In our experience, that sort of feedback is at least as valuable as a single publication in a lit mag you've never even seen prior to receiving your obligatory two contributors copies.
  8. Try to resist the idea that literary magazines are anonymous gatekeeping meritocracies. Good work gets rejected more often than it gets accepted. And, yes, lots of mediocre work gets published each year. Individual editorial aesthetics play a big part in what gets selected, as does the phenomenon of solicited submissions. Artistic merit, while important, simply can't be the only consideration because there's more meritorious work than could ever possibly be published.
  9. Do submit work simultaneously; it's only fair. But sim-subs allow you to be more -- not less -- discriminate with where you send your work. Instead of sending a single story to thirty-nine magazines all at once, send it to two or three places at a time, places with which you've established some kind of connection. And the greatest connection you can make with any publication is to read it! You don't even have to buy it -- go find it in the library, or read its on-line counterpart regularly. You're more likely to get published in a publication you read religiously.
  10. Last-not-least, get involved in literary publishing. Start a zine or volunteer to work at a lit mag near you -- we guarantee there is one, even if you don't know it. Find it. Give it some of your time, effort, and energy. It will change your entire approach to publishing your own work, both practically and philosophically. It's like waiting tables -- everybody should have to do it at least once, if only for a little while.

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Pass it on.

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One of the cool things about being a lit mag is you get to swap subscriptions with other lit mags. To wit, we just got our copy of the most recent Southeast Review. We were impressed. Here are five reasons why you should be too...

1. How awesome is that cover image? Two dudes in tights, doing the symbiotic acrobatics, with the oddly disconcerting grin-and-gaze-deeply-into-each-other's-eyes thing going on. Mesmerizing.

2. Lots of cool stuff in between the covers. Admittedly, our own particular brand of narcissism had us perk up at the fact that there were so many folks RMR has either published and/or hosted at past readings:

  • Charles Jensen, winner of our inaugural chapbook contest, interviews...
  • Beth Ann Fennelly, who's read for us and whose Tender Hooks we reviewed in this very space.
  • John Pursley III, who has work in RMR2 and who took part in the very first Birmingham JARS (Journal Alliance Reading Series) event this past fall, hosted by the five giants of literary publishing in the Magic City: RMR, PMS, Birmingham Poetry Review, Birmingham Arts Journal, and Aura.
  • And Josh Russell -- whose essay on New Orleans' Hubig's Pies appears in RMR1 -- has a story currently up on the on-line version of this issue.

3. Speaking of websites, Southeast Review's is so, so good. They bill it as the companion to the magazine, and it truly is. Lots of great content. A true presence on the web, not just a space filling dead-letter-office sort of thing. (We're not exactly sure what a dead-letter office is, but we must admit it certainly sounds pretty cool. And, hey, who doesn't love R.E.M.?)

4. A triumph in the book arts. Clean. Stylish. Navigable. Nice paper. Thumbs up!

5. An "Apocalyptic Penis Poem"...what more can you ask for?

Okay, so they have some pay-to-play contests, and we've gone on record as saying we're agin' 'em. We're still agin' 'em -- pay-to-plays, that is. But as such things go, The Southeast Review's is one of the more responsible ones: pretty strict ethics policy and everybody who enters gets a copy of the magazine. At least it's not money for nothing.

So, all in all, a net plus, big-time. Howz about you go out and buy you one? Easy enough to do: Just click here!

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...are just about closed. That was quick, we know. Still, we've got a bit of a back-log, and we want to start giving folks the heads-up about our reading process in real time.

Does that mean you shouldn't submit fiction? Not necessarily. It just means that everything we get from this date forward is going to be considered for RMR4, which will be released in far-off ought-eight.

Now, we are always open to sim-subs, so if you really want to send us a story while it makes the rounds, please do. Just know that it'll take a while for its status to be resolved -- likely this time next year. You can also, of course, wait until our next reading period, which will start October 1, 2007. Thanks, as always, for your patience -- and for entrusting us with your work.

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Whether or not Katie Ford is a "God-fearing soul," we can’t say for sure. We suspect, however, that God has fixed at least one wary eye on her. Somebody’d better -- she’s got the chops to take over the world (at least that small corner of it known as Po-Biz): Harvard M.Div. Iowa M.F.A. Latin honors from Whitman College. Good thing for us slack-ass mortals, she seems pretty benevolent.

Ford is the author of
Deposition, published by Graywolf, and her individual poems have appeared anywhere and everywhere that matters. She has received an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Prairie Lights Prize, and she has contributed to the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century. Currently the Poetry Editor of New Orleans Review, she has taught most recently at Loyola University, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and Reed College.

Lucky for RMR, she’s agreed to judge the 2007 Red Mountain Chapbook Contest (!) and -- ├╝ber–Good Sport that she is -- she’s submitted herself to the inaugural 500 Words (More) or Less [read the interview after the jump!]. This new feature will bring you the insights and musings of various writers, readers, and thinkers of note, all in 500 words (more) or less...

First, a morsel from Deposition:

Last Breath with No Proof

What is unremembered may be lodged she said a child may not
recall but will act it out in play doll on ground face against tile see how he takes it

by the hair by the foot by the tangled legs sweet mind made of tangled legs
and a patterned dress oh to have evidence to have the scent explained

birds trapped in chimney rustle of wings and fire or numbers etched into an arm
show me where you were hurt I am asked but I am simple unmarked remembering how

can one act out what happened in the mind how make the mind alone in a house
how show long silence what clock what song is there for hollowness who hurt you

once the ticking the voices start she did he did my mind did
and the trespass it begins again?



RMR: TRUE or FALSE: Contemporary American poetry is kissin’ cousins with Christian Gnosticism of old, stingy with its secret handshakes, its extinction hard-wired into its own genetic code. Discuss.

KF: The heart of your question is whether or not American poetry will go “extinct” because it is written by a group of insiders — mean, wise, and tight. We should be more concerned that we are writing poems that will last than we are with the movement called “Contemporary American Poetry.” The poems that will last in time, and that move us now, are written because a poet is trying to write something that someone else can utter as if it came from them. When I recite a lyric by Rilke, if I attend to its music and thinking and emotions, it feels as if it is my utterance. That is a form of lyric ecstasy. A fusion, an intimacy. There can be no stinginess in the poetic task. There can be no selfishness. Individual poets might be this way, but they are human beings, so forgive them. Where would we be without T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes”? Yet he was a part of perhaps the tightest, most elite poetic circle of history. But, for the “Preludes,” I would forgive him anything. To be able to have on my lips, “I am moved by fancies that are curled / Around these images, and cling: / The notion of some infinitely gentle / Infinitely suffering thing.” There are extinctions in poetry all of the time—good extinctions. Poems published that are not memorable die off sometimes because of compositional haste, because they are not strenuous in their language, because they are anecdotal, etc. That is an extinction. But poems that will last press against and through this — it doesn’t matter who writes them.

When you are alone, you are with a poem, not with “Contemporary American Poetry.” If the poem slays you, you will be a little more alive, a little less extinguished. When I feel this way, I am full of gratitude toward the poet who struggled and thrashed about to write that poem.

As for the “Christian Gnostics,” their texts were lost to us because they were deemed a heretical threat to the political and religious powers of what was being named “orthodox Christianity.” We have them now because they were discovered centuries later in a sand-buried library in Egypt. They are gorgeous, complicated texts. In the same way, Contemporary Poetry, if it is foolish and threatened by new genius, if it allows power — political and literary — to publish only poems of the inner circle, we could bury the poems that would have otherwise brought us new utterance, ecstasy, and lasting literature.

RMR: A couple of years ago, in the Q&A after a
reading at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City [scroll down to July 20], you explained your decision to pursue the study of Divinity by quoting Tony Hoagland’s poem, “When Dean Young Talks About Wine”:

When a beast is hurt it roars in incomprehension.
When a bird is hurt it huddles in its nest.

But when a man is hurt,
he makes himself an expert.

Interestingly enough -- nearly as interesting as the fact that you know those lines by heart -- you left off the poem’s three-line dismount, which goes like this:

Then he stands there with a glass in his hand
staring at nothing
as if he was forming an opinion
All of this makes me think of Auden, addressing Yeats:

...Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

The same might be said of religion: not a thing but a way; not a noun but a verb. A means of addressing hurt, responding to it. A method of survival.

On the other hand, there’s something calcified in expertise, or perhaps cauterized. Product over process. Safe, confined, contained -- and trapped.

Your work, specifically Deposition, seems more unleashed than that. There’s a helluva lot of roaring involved. Incomprehension, too: the powerful, growling -- yes -- ferocious kind. There’s also huddling, nesting. Indeed, there’s “nothing,” as well -- “...how show long silence what clock what song / is there for hollowness who hurt you” -- but it’s the kind of nothing that won’t suffer to be blinked at dumbly. It demands an opinion, a stance, if only as a mechanism of self-defense.

Messy, yes. Painful and incomprehensible, too. I suspect (who can say for sure?) those things are part and parcel of transcendence: “Why hast thou forsaken me?” pleads the bloody Nazarene (and here’s the kicker) the moment before his spirit ascends. Last breath with no proof.

Here’s something I notice: There’s some measure of resignation in Hoagland’s sentiment, and defeat. Secular and still. But I daresay there’s a roar of religiosity in the Auden, as in Matthew 27:46. And I already said I hear that roar -- lots of them, actually -- in Deposition.

So here, finally, is the question -- loaded and unanswerable though it might be:

Where would you locate your study of Divinity and -- if I may be so bold as to ask them to join hands -- your poetry on the continuum of secular to religious, of sacred to profane?

KF: Divinity School and Deposition were part of the same time period in my life, but there is a distinction between them, and that is why I quoted Hoagland’s beautiful lines, “But when a man is hurt/he makes himself an expert,” when asked why I went to Divinity School. Expertise is a pursuit of the intellect, and, in some cases, the body. So, yes, it holds itself at a distance, a distance religious seekers don’t usually want. They want intimacy, submersion. Studying theology (trying to gain some intellectual expertise) was a way for me to contend with the powerful and destructive elements of religion, elements I had experienced in my earlier, younger religiosity. Deposition stems from those emotions, which were, I believe, flamed a bit by things I was learning in my intellectual studies. For example, I began to find clear correlations between the ways theologians and religious leaders wrote and spoke and the ways humans perpetrate violence. Both forcefully define the reality of another person, both control another, both thrive by moments of threat and moments of mercy. I have a long essay on this and can’t go into it all now. I used up too many words above! But, having this theory made Deposition even stormier. My work engages the metaphors of my tradition — God, world, human, salvation, etc. — and in that way, my work is not fully secular. If being called a “religious” poet means the questions I most often contend with in my poems concern those metaphors, then I lean towards what you call the sacred. That said, the human is included in my list of metaphors.

I am not a Christian poet. I am just a poet, and it means very little to me to say or not say I am religious. I don’t believe in God, I do believe in God. I have no interest in reading poetry that claims to be Christian or religious, in the same way I have no interest in surrounding myself with people who are eager to claim those things.

RMR: Ten Either/Or’s. (Explain or not.)

Barack or Hillary? Barack.
Clooney or Johansson? This is not an interesting either/or.
John or Paul? Small parts of both.
Psalm 23 or Sonnet 18? The psalm, I dare say.
East or West? Northwest near the East.
Elvis or Frank? Elvis.
Emily or Walt? Emily.
Martin Luther or Martin Luther King? MLK.
Audrey or Katharine? Katharine in “Bringing Up Baby.”
Loaves or Fishes? Fishes, currently Japanese varieties.

RMR: You are poet-king for a day. Make a to-do list.

KF: 1. Depose some people.

RMR: Katie Ford poems as prophecies, as tongues, as baptisms, as ablutions, as all or none of these. Discuss.

KF: One becomes ugly when one claims these things. I will say this: there are rhetorical and musical techniques in the voices, liturgies, and manners of speech you list in your question. Sometimes I use them.

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Recently, we received an e-mail from a frantic MFA student who had a big-time bee in his bonnet to get his hands on a copy of RMR. Seems he'd been assigned one of those mind-numbing reports for his poetry workshop. His mission: Drone about chapbook contests -- particularly those which feature the winner embedded in a literary magazine. At least that's what he told us. Could be he was a spy for the government.

At any rate, since we're no strangers to all things half-assed and last-minute, we obliged the poor guy. No charge, even -- but there was a catch. He had to disseminate the following screed to any and all who would listen. Did he do it? You'll have to ask the folks in State College, PA. But just in case you don't get to Happy Valley any time soon, here it is, in its glorious entirety (albeit slightly edited for readability)...


One thing of note on chapbook contests: Ours is free to enter. It's one of the only such contests (free entry, that is) I know about.

I mention that because I think it's worthwhile for us writers and editors to consider the repercussions of the "pay-to-play" publication model, which has a stranglehold on contemporary poetry in particular. Book contests, first-book contests, chapbook contests -- now lit mags are increasingly sponsoring contests for individual poems, stories, or essays. One could easily spend hundreds of dollars a year in pursuit of a "win" in one of the Big Fish contests -- even more than that if a little fish will do. To what end, though? To be read? Or -- more likely, I fear -- for a noteworthy line on a vita?

I certainly don't have a magic solution to the problem, but I think it's insidious and important. What does it say about us writers of contemporary literature? How much will we shell out in an effort to be published before we realize that we're just so many Wile E. Coyotes running madly in thin air?

I also wonder what it says about us as (non)readers of contemporary literature. If small presses and magazines can't support themselves through subscriptions and sales -- if we have far more submissions than we do subscriptions, and we do -- what exactly are we up to here? Almost by definition, that means more people are writing than reading. Why? And what, then, is the role for the contemporary literary magazine in such a landscape?

The Faux-Capitalist approach -- market-driven business plans aimed at increasing readership, for instance -- is just that: faux. Why? Because the real market isn't readers, it's writers.

Readers don't value us nearly as much as writers do. That's a fact. (Feel free to banty about the chicken-or-egg question of what's a reader, what's a writer, and where they intersect. To me, writing is best served if it aspires past onanism [i.e., writing for other writers], but that might just be me. PS...Raise your hand if the first place you look in a lit mag is the contributors section.)

Case in point: When I edited Black Warrior Review -- one of the older, more reputable lit mags around -- guess how many subscribers we had. About 350, give or take. Just under $5,000 gross income per year. We got that many submissions (350) in a month -- often more. With a yearly budget of around $20,000, my successors at the moderately cash-strapped BWR have recently instituted a wildly successful pay-to-play fiction contest, whereby the winner gets $1000 and his/her winning story published in the magazine. It grossed $9,000 last year. Can you blame them? Clearly, from a strictly quantitative perspective, that's a market to mine. In our system, publication is worth more to the writer than it is to the reader.

But do we realize there's some troubling morality at play in that equation? At best, it's built on circular logic: there aren't enough readers who want to buy all this writing so we're going to sell it back to the writers, who can then show university hiring committees that, indeed, they are significant enough writers to serve on a faculty that is charged with...creating more writers. Or at least they can teach the service courses the creative writing and literature faculty doesn't want to teach. (Don't look now, but isn't that us dropping towards the canyon floor faster than an ACME anvil?)

I say we, as lit mags, need to redefine our purpose. We should aim to serve, not solicit, writers. Why serve writers -- why embrace them as a constituency?

Because, damn it, they -- we -- need it and nobody else is going to do it but us. Because lit mags and small presses aren't mini-corporations; they're activist organizations. Because writers still have an important role in the body politic: to keep our culture evolving, to encourage good, provocative thought, and to inspire action -- directly or indirectly--based upon that enlightened thought.

Therefore, a lit mag's goal should be to publish and distribute work that would not otherwise see the light of day. To provoke thought. To provide an energetic, active, tangible space for said endeavors. And to do it in the most writer-friendly way possible. Free contests, openness to simultaneous submissions, and quick turnaround times are a few tangible ways to be writer friendly. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Please stay tuned to this space for another mailbag where folks rail against us for our own shortcomings in this regard. It's like the Dalai Lama says--we never said all this moralizing and compassion was easy. Necessary, yes. Easy, no.]

We need to rethink distribution and funding as well. Is
Ingram's anonymous, hands-off distribution model the right one to aspire to? And practically speaking, does it even matter if it is -- few lit mags can count themselves "lucky" enough to be taken into the Ingram fold.

I think our lit mags and small presses need to "think global, act local." Or hell, think local, act local. Every community has writers in it. Writers make a community richer, smarter, more thoughtful, more empathetic, more introspective. A lit mag can -- and should -- be a local nexus for the literary arts. One that both provides a supportive common environment for literary artists but that also stakes its ground within the larger community. Poets in the schools. Public readings. Community workshops. Reading groups...

How do you pay for it? Ask for money from people who actually have it. Write grant proposals. Get shrewd about in-kind services. Publish fewer issues, smaller issues, use the web to complement content as well as to augment sales & distribution.

Clearly I'm getting carried away in a Utopian fervor. And I'm not really sure what this has to do with chapbook contests -- other than maybe this bit of advice for you and your peers: Beware the literary-industrial complex! I'll go back to my padded room now...

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Katie Ford! No, not the one responsible for the Miss Congeniality franchise. The one who wrote Deposition, about which the NY Times Book Review wrote: “Moving and mysterious, the poems in Ford’s first collection possess the veiled brilliance of stained glass windows seen at night.”

And we're willing to bet John Shelby Spong never referred to you as "young, vibrant, evocative and brilliant." He certainly never called us that, so we're pretty darned stoked that Katie has agreed to judge our contest.

Check back for an interview with her later this month. Between now and then, order up your copy of Deposition for a glimpse at a remarkable young poet on the ascent.

Also check out the RMR
website for our chapbook contest guidelines, complete with a fabulous array of new perks: a larger honorarium ($500!), a stand-alone limited edition version of the winning manuscript, and an all-expenses-paid visit to Birmingham to read at the release of RMR3!

And -- oh yeah -- to quote David Byrne, the entry fee's the
same as it ever was: Nothing! Zero! Zilch! Nada! If you ask us, there ain't a better chapbook deal around.

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