Woodrat Podcast 21: In which I talk about poetry and technology

Poet and publisher Dave Bonta spoke to me on the phone awhile back for his “Woodrat” podcast. He got me to talk about everything from how I handle submissions to tinywords, what my publishing philosophy is, why haiku is important, and what I learned from studying poetry with Louise Glück. We also talked about Twitter, of course, and how haiku is well-suited to distribution via that and other modern technologies.

It’s about 35 minutes long. Dave’s post also includes links to some of my favorite haiku and other micropoems published on tinywords.

Link: Woodrat Podcast 21: Dylan Tweney.

A day in the life of a haiku editor.

The haiku and micropoetry journal I edit, tinywords, got 875 submissions in the course of 2 weeks for our upcoming summer issue. Since I expect I’ll be able to publish about 50 or 60 poems in this issue, that means the acceptance rate is going to be significantly less than 10%. It also means I have been spending a lot of time sending rejection notes the past couple of evenings.

tinywords is set up a bit differently than almost every other literary journal. Poets submit their work using a web form, which puts each poem into a review queue where the editors — myself and several others — can read and rate them. Every poem is read several times by several different editors. In this queue, all poems are presented anonymously or “blind”: we don’t see the name of the author.

In my experience, switching to anonymously reviewing haiku has made a huge difference. Each poem has to stand on its own, without the benefit or hindrance of an author’s reputation. Previous appearances in prestigious journals don’t help, since that information is also hidden.

This system means that widely-published poets have no more advantage than rank beginners. Nobody can rest on their laurels. Nobody gets less consideration because they lack a reputation.

It also makes it easier to give each poem fair consideration. Sometimes a poet will submit an excellent poem in the middle of a handful of mediocre work — or a stinker hidden in the middle of otherwise excellent poems. In the past, when I reviewed incoming haiku via email, it was easier to issue a blanket acceptance or rejection. The anomalies were carried along with, and shared the fate of, the poems that surrounded them. Now, each poem stands or falls on its own merits.

An unfortunate side effect is that poets get an individual rejection or acceptance e-mail for each poem they’ve submitted. Unfortunately these are almost all form letters (there’s no way I could practically write 800 individual responses in the course of a week or two). That can seem hurtful or insensitive to some. But I think the benefit of individual, anonymous consideration of each poem outweighs this downside.

My objective with tinywords is to publish excellent poetry, and the publishing system is set up to serve that goal.

25 Canadian Tanka Poets in French and English : Atlas Poetica

I’m amazed and honored to see a poem I wrote included in this collection of Canadian tanka. There is even a translation into French (not by me) — a first for me.

one petal
from the princess tree
clings to the windshield—
I drive away
looking in the mirror

un pétale
de l’arbre impérial
s’accroche au pare-brise
je démarre
en regardant dans le rétroviseur

via 25 Canadian Tanka Poets in French and English : Atlas Poetica.

in conversation with norbert blei

From my own experience, and the experience of friends who had spent months to years to a lifetime devoted to little magazines and small presses, I knew in my bones that tinywords had become overwhelming. This stuff eats you alive. But I also knew, it’s damn hard to let go once you made your mark. There’s that little voice that keeps calling you back.

From a long interview about tinywords, between me and poet and publisher Norbert Blei.

Some haiku from November

after the last train a man works the floor polisher alone almost

snow calculus — the slow accumulation
of almost nothing

turning the corner into the sudden warmth of sunlight

in a light rain
a woman pushes a shopping cart, singing “Wish You Were Here”

new glasses: all of my mistakes now painfully clear

the wool smell
of grandfather’s army coat —
frost-tipped leaves

(contributed to the 1,000 Verse Renga Project)