Let’s play a game. Pick your favorite literary journal. Look at their masthead. Count how many people of color there are, how many women, how many queer people, how many people with disabilities. If you do this, you’re more than likely to discover its poetry editor is a man, who is also white, and who is likely straight. Nothing against straight people—at one point they were necessary for most of us to be created. But the world is changing, and the dominant mode of reproduction is changing. In TIME last year, Dr. Guy Ringler’s article, “Get Ready for Embryos From Two Men or Two Women,” stated “there likely will be a time when reproductive science could create an embryo from the cells of two men or two women.” So many things are changing in the world. It’s time the poetry community changed with it.
We need to be more inclusive.
I have been reading literary magazines since at least the mid-90s, and I’ve witnessed the growth of a more inclusive literary community that reflects the diversity of its readership, myself included. But there is still much more that needs to be done—especially within the poetry community. Poets are the curators of history, and the medium of their expression is boundless. This has always been a core belief of mine. I try to read everything and everyone—traditional, free form, experimental, lost & found, sound, visual poetry, and beyond. If creative writing is the story of our lives, then that story must be told by any means possible because what matters in the end is that the content can be understood and preserved.
How do we define poetry? What is a poem? As editors we must imagine a multiplicity of forms, a multiplicity of poetry, which use any number of languages and experiences. There is not just one form of poetry. In Technology Matters, professor of American History David E. Nye examines contemporary and ancient notions of technology. In his chapter “Can We Define ‘Technology’?” Nye states, “To improvise with tools or to tell stories requires the ability to imagine not just one outcome but several.” The same examination must be made of poetry.
Poets of color demand their work be equally valued as the work of straight, white poets. Many of us have had enough “special issues” and “guest editorships”. We’re not part of a “special” class or “guests” in the literary community—we are a rapidly growing, essential part of the literary community, as evident in Juan Felipe Herrera’s appointment as the United States’ first Latino poet laureate. The lack of inclusion of people of color at literary magazines must change.
This phenomenon has been on the minds of writers of color for some time, and the Internet has functioned as a town hall for this issue. It’s time we ask ourselves what is standing in the way of POC finding their place among the mastheads and contributor lists of contemporary literary magazines? Is it simply institutional racism? Editors’ narrow perspectives of what defines poetry? Diversity and representation of writers of color within the literary community is hard to find. A concern for some institutions (see AWP), change is happening, albeit slowly.
So why do I care?
I’m currently editing an anthology of essays by Latinos on the art of poetry. This project has me rethinking my own views on what defines a poem and what goes into my editorial process with the magazines I edit. Naturally, I’m curious to know what my fellow editors think on the subject, and I think CHIRB’s readers are, too. To offer a glimpse into who is shaping the content in literary magazines, I’m asking poetry editors about their perspective on poetry and the details of their own editorial process, reaching from established traditional publications to new indie literary journals: Adrienne, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Boxcar Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, Granta, Guernica, Poetry, New York Times Magazine, The Rumpus, and many more.
This is an ongoing series. If you’re a poetry editor and haven’t heard from me personally yet, I welcome your contribution. You can reach me via email. This series will appear at least once a month. Enjoy!
Ruben Quesada is a poet and translator. His chapbook of poetry and translations, Revelations, is available from Sibling Rivalry Press. He teaches poetry for UCLA Writers' Program and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Arte Américas, one of the largest Latino cultural centers in California.