Carve is happy to announce that Ellie Francis Douglass, a member of our reading committee, has been promoted to Poetry Editor. With poetry submissions opening February 1, I got the inside scoop on how she knows a poem belongs in Carve, the most common mistake poets make, and the distinction between writing that is difficult versus writing that feels like work.
Congratulations on your new role! How did you first get involved with Carve?
I approached Matthew Limpede and Kristin vanNamen (the former managing editor) after hearing Matthew present on a panel about online journals at AWP 2014. Kristin mentioned that they were looking for reading committee members for poetry, so I applied.
What led to your promotion as Poetry Editor? What are the main responsibilities of this new role?
Well I think my history with the journal as a reading committee member helped a lot. I’d always done my best to finish my readings on time and be specific in my feedback.
I also think this is an opportune time for me to take on a position like Poetry Editor. In the MFA program at Oregon State, I was regularly presented with all of these wonderful literary events, such as readings and craft talks, and we talked about writing almost all the time. I quickly grew accustomed to that community. After graduating and moving to a city with much less literary activity, I have had to actively pursue opportunities to interact with other writers, which has been an exciting challenge. So when Matthew included the call for a poetry editor in the staff newsletter, I jumped at the chance. I love working with Carve, and I’m glad to be able to work more closely with its staff and writers.
As Poetry Editor, I think my first responsibility is to facilitate the movement of submissions--send them to readers, work with my reading committee and Anna Zumbahlen to make decisions, and deliver news to the poets. My second is to promote the poetry section and Carve in general. As you know, Carve started as a fiction journal and is very established and prominent in that genre. Poetry is still fairly new to it, and Matthew, Anna, and I want to increase the prominence of the section. So I’m going to be doing a lot of emailing and social media posting, as well as representing Carve at literary events in my region (South Texas) and any national events I’m able to attend.
What are you looking for when you first read a poetry submission? How do you know if it belongs in Carve?
There are certain things I feel immediately drawn to in poems. I love concision: saying more in fewer words. I think it is harder to sustain your reader’s attention in a very long poem (and, honestly, we don’t have room in our section for poems longer than three pages). The other thing I am crazy about is figurative language. I am a sucker for fantastic similes or metaphors.
Of course, some poets surprise me, and I fall in love with their long poems that contain very little or no figurative language, so my recommendation to anyone interested in submitting would be to send what you feel most confident about. Also, my voice is not the only one that matters; my readers’ opinions matter very much, and our aesthetics vary. We love both narrative and lyric poems and prose and lineated forms.
You have publishing credits for both poetry and fiction. As a writer, how would you describe your relationship to poetry versus fiction?
I enjoy reading and writing both genres, but fiction feels more like work for me. When I do write it, I write flash-stories. I’m just a short form kind of person. Poetry is difficult, but it doesn’t feel like work. Even revising it doesn’t feel like work. I actually love revising, and I do it a lot when I’m having trouble writing a new poem. It feels just as creative, but it gives me something to start with.
In the past, you've taught Introductory Poetry Writing to college freshmen. What were the most rewarding and challenging parts of working with young writers? Did your students make any mistakes that you also see writers who submit to Carve making?
Yes, I had the chance to teach Intro Poetry Writing while in my MFA at Oregon State. That course was actually a sophomore level class, and I had students from every grade level, as well as nontraditional students. Teaching that class was definitely rewarding. My favorite thing about it was how quickly the students supported each other in their writing and how, after they learned about the tools we use in writing and could more specifically explain what they liked about poems, we geeked out together over the readings all the time.
I think one struggle I’ve seen in teaching, in Carve, and from my own experience as a poet is that we don’t always know how much “information” to give to the reader to help them see our intention. Sometimes you give too much, and the reader feels like you’re holding their hand or not leaving any mystery in the poem, other times you put too little, and the reader feels totally ungrounded. It is a very difficult balance, and, of course, reading and revising are good solutions. Pay attention to how other poets stealthily imbed meaning in the word choice of a phrase, or the details of an image or metaphor, for example. People are going to read poems differently; that’s one beautiful thing about poetry, but my favorite reading experiences are with poems that give some guidance and some purposeful ambiguity.
When not reading for Carve, how do you enjoy spending your time?
I enjoy reading, writing, and submitting to journals and book presses. I recently started publishing interviews with women writers on my website, which has been a really fun way to get to know people I admire.
I’m also a newlywed, so I hang out with my husband a lot (his name is Matt). We like cooking, going on walks, snuggling, visiting family, etc...
Is there anything else you'd like Carve readers to know?
Just that I’m thankful for their interest in Carve, and I hope they will continue to be our readers for a very long time!