Tuesday 5 November 2013

Q&S: Responses from Pattie Flint


Pattie Flint is an uprooted Seattle native toughing it out in New England and spends her days as an editor at Medusa's Laugh Press specializing in hand-bound books. She has been published in Five [Quarterly], Ditch, Hippocampus and TAB, amongst others. She is currently working on her second young adult novel.


1. Given the ways contemporary authors have been trying to compose all kinds of poetry, how would you define ‘poetry’?

I would define poetry as any type of writing that focuses on the cadence and musicality of the individual words rather than an arcing plot or theme, and that inspires a sense of emotional inspiration or memory. When I look at a poem; I am asking myself how this piece makes me feel, on a personal level and on a communal level with the poet. What might inspire the poet may not necessarily inspire me, but a good poem will leave room for the reader to recognize that fact.

2. Many people say poetry is dying. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why?
I strongly disagree! I think with the prevalence of the internet society's interest in poetry is growing stronger than ever. We have literally hundreds of magazines online now, that one can read for free. And now you don't have to be a renowned poet or have a degree in creative writing to submit to even the most esteemed literary journals; making the process of being a published poet that much easier. The accessibility of the internet is poetry's best asset, just as the printing press hundreds of years previously.

3. What defining features do you think ‘best’ poetry should possess? In other words, what is your personal or working definition of ‘best’ poetry?
This is an impossible question to answer; since I believe everyone has a different definition of what is "the best" poetry. That's why I think all editors should work in teams; the poetry I like is generally really different from the poetry my co-editor likes. It makes for a lot of arguing, but also a lot of improvement and learning. To me personally, the best poetry is the poetry that invokes a strong feeling of "frisson." Frisson; a french term that translates loosely into "a shudder", or "a sudden strong wave of emotion." To me, a poem should be able to invoke a sense of emotional nostalgia or inspiration in the reader. I want it to be smart, not in an academic sense, but in it's intimate knowledge of the secrets the reader possesses, and the ability of the poem to extract said secrets.

4. What are the most important makings of a ‘great’ poet? – please name 3 greatest poets the world has produced thus far.
A great poet should be able to invoke a widespread change of ideas or a widespread feeling of hope/revival. Three poets that I absolutely adore are William Blake; for being one of the first writers to elevate children from demonized, corrupted beings to innocent ones, with his collection of poems "Songs of Innocence". This is an idea that we still carry with us today. Another poet I love is Elizabeth Bishop; whose use of subtlety really redefines themes of sexuality and love in modern poetry. She broke barriers of social restraint and I really respect that. Finally, I love the surrealism and eroticism that surrounds the work of Pablo Neruda. I believe that he really set some of the foundation for contemporary experimental poetry, as well as popularizing Central and South American poetry.

5. Who are the 3 most important or noteworthy contemporary poets according to your personal/working criteria.
I am in love with Nate Slawson. I would read his grocery lists if he decided to publish them. He has such a beautiful and charming style of imagery; like a junk drawer filled with all the notes I wrote to friends in high school. He makes me feel giddy and in love with I read his poetry. Joshua Marie Wilkinson is much more difficult to define, but he, too, writes poetry that I love. It's creamy and complex, and has a shy, skittish feel to it that makes his words deliciously elusive. The type of poetry I enjoy brooding on. Finally, I have to say that my last choice is Andrea Gibson. She has been a huge influence on my own poetry for the soothing yet passionate cadence of her work; and her ability to hit hard issues with love and firm understanding.

6. Considering the contemporary poetry writing/publishing reality, what are the most important changes do you think should be made to promote poetry as a worthy cause?
More chapbooks. One of the best delights of AWP was seeing how many presses were bringing back the mini-chapbook. Poetry is a form of art, and it always seemed condescending and archaic to me to confine poetry to a dry-sized standard book. I love picking up a mini-chapbook that emphasizes style as much as content. It makes poetry more accessible, because people are much more willing to spend 5$ on a mini-chapbook/pamphlet than they are on a 20$ tome. I think that this model has been proved successful with such work as seen by HOOT, which serves up single poems on postcards, and Ugly Duckling Press; which popularized handmade pocket-sized poetry books.

7. Which 3 poetry editors or magazines would you like to recommend to all poetry lovers? Or, which 3 are your most favorite poetry editors/journals?
I love Greying Ghost Press. Sometimes I feel like they've cloned me five times and used my clones as editors for their press, because everything I have ever read from them is absolutely spot on. Another magazine that always happens to catch my attention is Diode. They always have beautiful work that is extremely "soft" but packs a good punch. Highly recommended. And then, tinywords is a great magazine that focuses on tiny (think haiku or smaller) poems. I had never appreciated the little stuff until I read some of their work; it gives readers a new appreciation for the intricately minuscule.

8. What are the most important or interesting things that you have you learned about poetry writing/publishing as a poetry editor?
I've learned that I'm not going to like all types of poetry. That it is sometimes extremely difficult to distinguish between what I enjoy as my personal poetry flavor versus what constitutes "good poetry" which, while it may not appeal to me, may appeal to my readers. It's kind of a gamble, really; editors put a lot of time and work into pieces that may or may not be received well by their readers. But interestingly enough, I've also learned that what may constitute "good poetry" is sometimes not popular with readers either. To edit is to be a poet in it's own right; it's about feeling the emotions of the words and not being satisfied until you find something that is just right.

9. What is the most or least enjoyable part of being a poetry editor?
The most enjoyable part is being able to send an acceptance letter to someone who really deserved it. I love to get excited about poetry. One thing that I try to do that I am thankful I have the time for, is that I like to write personal comments about each piece. Even if I ultimately reject it, I always take the time to find at least one snippet that I really enjoyed. Inversely, the hardest part of being an editor is realizing that we are limited by costs in terms of time, printing, and mailing, and sometimes it's incredibly painful to let a poet or project go, simply because you didn't have the resources for it. I'm still haunted by poets that I turned down years ago; every once in awhile I'll do a google search on their name to make sure that they're still alive and writing.

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