Nonpareil: Ursula T. Gibson, poetry editor of Poetic Voices
pd: What motivated you to start your own online poetry publication? Why online as opposed to a print publication? What is the biggest advantage? The biggest disadvantage?
UTG: I'm afraid I must disillusion you. I am merely the Poetry Editor for the publication commenced by Robin Travis-Murphree in 1996, and have never claimed to be the Executive Editor! She and I became acquainted in the old Poetry Place, where poets met online for about three years or more, which is now defunct, and Robin liked the way I dealt with other poets and commented on their work. As a result, she appointed me Poetry Editor in 1997, and I have acted as such since. (You might want to look at her Introduction of me as Featured poet in the October 2004 issue of Poetic Voices at www.poeticvoices.com, where Robin describes in detail how we came together).
The advantage of working online for me is the worldwide exposure and receipt of submissions of poetry from all over the world, and the reasonable expense of money involved in handling the large number of submissions we receive each month. Although we do get some "snailmail" submissions, the largest proportion of contributions (both of poetry and articles and book reviews) is by e-mail. The time spent on response and acknowledgement, review, critique (if requested), and selection would, I think, be about the same in both media, on-line or print, for someone in my position.
pd: What criteria do you use for submissions?
UTG: I use three steps in my evaluations.
1) When the e-mail/snailmail comes in, I acknowledge receipt of the specific poems, tell the author for which issue they are being considered, and promise to read them carefully. At that time, if I notice any grammatical, spelling, syntax, or punctuation problems, I'll ask the author what was intended.
2) The deadline for submissions to Poetic Voices is always the 15th of the month for the succeeding month's issue. On the 16th of the month, I start reading all submissions again, using my Evaluation Sheets covering ten specific characteristics of poetry to keep me on track. Those are: Rhyme/Rhythm; Poetic Devices; Comprehension/Coherence; Mood/Imagery; Word Selection; Scope/Significance; Line Endings/Line Breaks; Punctuation/Spelling/Grammar; Content Realized; and Universality. Each of the ten gets 10 points (100 in all), and submissions scoring 85 or above move on to the final Consider stage. Scores in the high 90's are rare.
3) I review and read aloud all poems that reach the final Consider stage, several times, assessing the power, mood, purpose, and effectiveness of the words and form of the poem -- that is, how it moves me, persuades me in its argument or point of view, and lastly, how proper it would be for our worldwide audience. This work, on the 150 to 340 poems a month that I get to read, takes time and quiet around me and minimal distractions for those ten days before my deadline to submit the completed POETRY PAGES for Poetic Voices.
pd: You've spoken a bit about your submission criteria. What are your specific submission guidelines (when/where to submit, how many pieces to submit, content preferred or not accepted, style preferred or not accepted, compensation, etc.)?
UTG: Poetry: Please e-mail the text of no more than four poems (during any one month) all in the body of one e-mail to the poetry editor, email@example.com. Please do NOT ask for downloads; write your poems in your e-mail letter itself. Mark your Subject Line "SUBMISSION - PV." Please also include your full name in the e-mail. I recommend using no colors and a simple font like Arial 10 for your submissions. We do not accept pornography, obscenities, scatology, racial slurs, or dehumanizing language. . . . In your e-mail submitting your poetry to be considered for publication, please include your full name, your city and state or country if not the U.S.A. We will be indicating the city and state where the poem comes from, so our readers can enjoy the geographic diversity of our contributors.
pd: How many submissions do you receive per issue? Per year?
UTG:I read between 150 and 340 individual poems each month. I have done no analysis on which months are the greatest in number or which months seem to lag behind -- whatever comes in, I read. Since each poet is limited to a maximum of four poems, you can do the math as to how many people submit to our magazine. Since we publish EVERY month, the number of submissions we receive per year is between the minimum of 150 x 12 (1,870) and maximum of 340 x 12 (4,080). :) We are more concerned with the number of poems we get to publish.
pd: What are your favorite poetry publications, whether online or print? Do you take any inspiration from these publications in your own?
UTG:I can't answer this question. In my office at home, I have two bookcases (8 feet high, six shelves, four feet across) full of books about poetry and how to write it, how to read it, how to understand it and books by poets, about poets, including their poetry, chapbooks, books I've reviewed, and miscellaneous commentary in magazines that I've kept. When I need answers or help or information, I'll grab the book most likely to provide the information or help I need.
Obviously, I'm prejudiced in favor of Poetic Voices (www.poeticvoices.com) online, but poeticdiversity, Poetic Arts, Nexus.com, sensitivePoetry.com, Poems Niedergasse.com, Poetry Society of America, and the chatrooms Platinum Poetry, Poetry Tag, and Poetry Workshop receive as much of my time and attention as I can provide.
pd: You obviously invest a great deal of time in your role as a poetry editor. How does that affect your writing, considering the volume of work you are exposed to on a daily basis?
UTG: Yes, poetry editing does take time, but I'm fortunate to be 74 years of age and not working full-time in a law office any longer. I serve five attorneys' offices from my home, transcribing their dictation of motions, briefs, letters, legal forms, and the like, but it isn't full-time work, just enough to earn the purchase of opera season tickets and concerts we want to attend, movie tickets ($7.50 even with senior discounts -- I remember going to the movies for 25 cents!) and small trips we like to take. None of that activity affects my writing. When the Muse visits me, there is plenty of paper and always a pen at hand, in almost every room in the house, and I can jot down the impulse/realization as it occurs. Since we get up at about 7:30 (when the cats want to go outside) and don't retire until 12:00 midnight or 1 a.m., the long day offers many opportunities to write in addition to my editor or legal duties.
pd: I know you have extremely high standards for presentation, both on the page, and in performance. I (Marie speaking here) was fortunate enough to hear you on October 11th at Don K. Campbell's Pasadena reading. You read your poem "America" from the Push and Carry (or neither) Anthology (sponsored by the San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly). Your recitation was clear, your words compelling, and you maintained constant eye contact with the audience. It definitely grabbed my attention! How did this standard develop? I know you've written a book about it (Be Prepared, Don't Mumble, Look UP! or How to Read Poetry Aloud, Dry Creek Press, 2003, 56 pages) Do you find oration to be a lost art? What (other than reading your book) can be done to regain this skill for contemporary poets?
UTG: In college, I was required to take a certain number of classes in English to support my English minor choice. One semester, I lacked two units of English and searched for some class I could take, and I found something called "Oral Interpretation," taught by Dorothy Kaucher, Ph.D. I had NO idea what it was about; it was really a class designed for speech and drama majors, and I, a Music major, felt very out of place among those dedicated thespians. But I listened and read and absorbed what Dr. Kaucher was offering. I did all the exercises, learned to edit material to suit time and occasion, learned to enunciate, learned inflection, learned to project my voice, learned about eye contact and its impact and value, learned pace and timing, learned what a pause does, learned how to shape a reading toward its ending, and learned how to prepare a program. I figured if I should turn out to be a teacher, my ability to read well might come in handy. The final assignment for the class was to edit a short story down to a 15-minute reading and present it in class. I chose "Was It a Dream" by Guy de Maupassant, a horror story told in vivid terms. I got an "A" in the class.
Some time during the next semester, I saw Dr. Kaucher between classes and greeted her. "Oh," she said, "I was looking for you. You're coming to the celebration tonight, aren't you?" I had heard the Speech and Drama people were celebrating something, but hadn't thought of going. "Oh, you MUST come!" she said. "Many of the Oral Interp people are going to be there, too." Okay, I thought; nice evening.
So there I was, sitting among all these Speech and Drama majors in the auditorium, listening to various skits and play fragments they'd written. Then the chairman of the Speech and Drama Department got up and said they were going to award the first Dorothy Kaucher Award for Excellence in Oral Interpretation that night. Well, I thought, that's good! I wonder who will win it. And then he called my name!
I've done my best since then, to honor the receipt of that award and Dr. Kaucher by my own oral interpretations, not only of my poetry, but other readings -- segments of novels, historical speeches, birthday greetings, anything in writing that needs to be read aloud. The book, Be Prepared, Don't Mumble, Look UP! or How to Read Poetry Aloud attempts to provide insight into what makes reading aloud effective. Jack Fulbeck wrote the back cover note: " . . . Adopting the book's suggestions may transform a reader from one of the many who do public presentations to one of the few who do them well." :) I'm so proud!
Besides reading that book, what can be done to regain this skill for the contemporary poets? There are about 28 other books that deal with the subject of oral interpretation, at all levels of aspiration. But practicing your own material aloud, avoiding getting in the way of its communication by self-centered practices of body gestures, exaggerated hand movements, overuse of the voice, and other current irritants, remains the best way to be sure that you convey the meaning of your poem, not just the sounds or noises it makes. Poems contain feelings and ideas; that's what you want to express.
pd: Who are some of your favorite poets, both classic and contemporary? How have these poets influenced your work?
UTG: Robinson Jeffers (poems of his like "The Purse Seine," and "October Night" are unforgettable); Edna St. Vincent Millay (because she was a rebel); Emily Dickinson (because she wasn't); Rudyard Kipling (the Jungle Book stories, If, The Explorer, etc.), William Shakespeare (because he created real people out of words and spoke the truth); Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (for his intimacy and recognition of the human condition). I enjoyed Howard Nemerov's humor and sensitivity; I like Billy Collins forthright approach to life and people (and his helpfulness to poets). And of course, I love the poets who send me their work to consider and especially those whose work gets chosen to be included in Poetic Voices!
I think what I've absorbed from the poets whose work echoes in my mind is the condensed emotion they have packed into their words -- that it's all right to feel; it's all right to be human; it's all right to live intensely. The difficulty in writing a poem rests in the fact that a poem deals with one aspect at a time -- even The Iliad is only about the war against Troy, though it examines the participants in detail; it does not tell us much about what happened afterwards to the people involved. The Odyssey does that. And the poet needs to be disciplined enough to focus on that one aspect to be presented. Many of my own original manuscripts show how I wander to other subjects and have to go back and strike out the extraneous ideas to get to what the poem is really supposed to be about.
During the "creative" phase of writing, of course, I let the words come as they may. But you'll never find me sharing a poem I've written until I've let it sit for a day or two or even a week, and then gone back and read it aloud to find and eliminate the extraneous words, the unnecessary lines, the clutter and overwriting that I tend to do. That editing, revision, fine-tuning, I think, is absolutely essential. I don't mean just eliminating unnecessary "the," "and", and similar current practices. I mean making sure the poem focuses on its subject and leads to its ending.
In addition, reading the poetry of others has encouraged me to write, myself. In 1988, I discovered a poetry chat room on the GEnie network, Poetry Corner, with a lot of people actually writing their poetry out for each other to read! Amazing! One day, the host IM'd me, asking if I had a poem ready to read. I said I didn't. He said, 'Write one! I'll call on you in two minutes." And indeed, in two minutes, he IM'd, "Are you ready?" to which I replied "Yes" and presented what has become my signature poem, with which I end all my formal "feature" readings:
Ants in my parlor plants, trail away;
I don't want to kill you!
Moth in the reading lamp, flutter outside;
Fly in the computer room, buzz elsewhere;
Mosquito in the bedroom, hum another tune;
I don't want to kill you!
Cockroach in my kitchen? You --
Haven't got a prayer!!
Ursula T. Gibson, © 1988
pd: Given your training and high standards, how do you feel about the slam poetry movement? How do you view the growth of slam and do you feel it can/should be included as a part of the modern poetry scene, or should it be considered it's own separate genre? If so, why?
UTG:Slams are fun, but I don't think they demonstrate or produce top-quality poetry. The effort to be sensational seems to dominate, and craftsmanship, artistry, thoughtfulness, or human insight seem to become secondary to "winning". I think slams undoubtedly are part of the modern poetry scene, but I don't think winning a slam indicates quality or significance any more than a winning lottery ticket does.
pd: In what direction do you see the Los Angeles poetry scene heading? In five years? In ten years? Do you think print publications will be absorbed by webzines like ours, in the same way the electronic media (tv, internet journalism) has taken over print media (newsprint, magazine)?
UTG:I'm not exposed to enough of Los Angeles poetry to make any predictions on its direction or purpose. Influences like the national Poets Laureate, rebel poets like Bukowski and Ginsberg and current front-line protestors, and the underswell of simple people expressing themselves about the current human condition just indicate that poetry remains one of the most concise ways for people to let their feelings and knowledge be known. I have no doubt that in one way or another, poetry will remain vital and alive, because the ability to convey condensed emotion so that a person listening to it is moved and influenced to think about life remains one of humankind's "searches" for better, happier, more fully understood ways of living. I suspect that print magazines (like Poets & Writers, or Poetry) will find funding for their efforts, no matter what the Internet does, but the Internet will make more poetry (both good and poor) available to more people than books have done recently. Both are needed; it's up to the poets to support their outlets; if they don't, there won't be any place for their poems to be printed and available to the non-computer-users of the world. We can't assume that, even in ten years, the whole world will be computerized or connected to the Internet-most countries are too poor to afford a total conversion like that, and even the United States has millions of people who still read books, rather than computer screens. It would be unwise to focus on only one means of publication. If we poets want to be heard, we'll have to accommodate more than the Internet.
Ursula T. Gibson has been the Poetry Editor for Poetic Voices (www.poeticvoices.com) since 1997. She and her astronomer husband have lived in Tujunga, CA since 1979, after many overseas adventures. She is a member and State Treasurer for California Federation of Chaparral Poets, and belongs to the California State Poetry Society. Her works have been published widely, including in U.S.A., as well as in Canada, England, India, South Africa, and Australia.
Marie Lecrivain &
Laura A. Lionello