Welcome to May’s edition of “Dear Poetry Editor” at the Chicago Review of Books. This continuing series offers readers an introduction to editors who shape the content in literary magazines around the world. This month we have Stuart Barnes, poetry editor for Tincture Journal. He was born in Hobart, Tasmania, and educated at Monash University, Victoria. Since 2013 he has lived in Queensland. Barnes’s Glasshouses won the 2015 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. He tweets @StuartABarnes.
On Perspectives of Poetry
The one that threatens to inherit the earth like Sylvia Plath’s mushrooms is “I’m not intelligent enough to understand it.” The implication is that there’s a right way—only one way—to read a poem. This is as odd a notion to me as the idea that each of us has only one true love. A poem may have several true meanings. It may have none. “Money,” said Jerry Saltz, “is something that can be measured; art is not. It’s all subjective.”
The phrase “right way” suggests mathematics, and, although a poem can be mathematical, it is not a mathematical equation. I believe the understanding of poetry has more to do with knowledge than intelligence. In the introduction to Plath’s Collected Poems, Ted Hughes writes, “how exclusively her writing depended on a supercharged system of inner symbols and images.” Crack the code, crack the poetry. Code cracking—gathering knowledge—requires time, patience, energy. A poem may not unveil one or more of its mysteries at first sitting. Reading a poet’s letters, journals, or biographies can unlock these mysteries.
First, poetry is a theater for universal concerns. Australian poet and librettist Gwen Harwood—who befriended me when I was a child and encouraged me to read and to write poetry—once said that her themes are the old ones: love, friendship, art, memory. I’m most attracted to poetry that explores these and other old themes such as history, recovery from illness, and sexuality. I find my own poetry tends to lean towards these, too. Gwen also said, “Sometimes my poetry. . . is a grappling with philosophical problems, sometimes it is just fun.” Wrestling and playfulness are very important to me, with respect to the reading of and the writing of poetry.
Second, it’s a theater for personal concerns, but not those which are cynical, hopeless, negative, self-indulgent, or ungenerous. Nothing, I think, that should be committed to a private journal or a psychologist’s practice. I’m very much interested in poetry occasioned by others’ personal concerns so long as it’s transformative. “I think that personal experience is very important,” said Plath, in an interview with the BBC’s Peter Orr, “but certainly it shouldn’t be a kind of shut-box and sort of mirror looking, narcissistic experience. I believe it should be relevant, and relevant to the larger things.”
Tincture Journal is a quarterly e-book literary journal founded and edited by Brisbane-based Daniel Young in early 2013; later the same year, I became poetry editor. Kirby Fenwick and Michelle McLaren, Tincture’s prose submission readers, are based in Melbourne, as is our editorial assistant Jessica Hoadley. Quite a few people have commented on our mutual online affection and assumed we’re old friends, but I’ve met Daniel and Kirby—who are even lovelier in real life—just once, and I’ve not yet met Michelle or Jessica. Perhaps potential contributors respond to this visible affection.
Early on (maybe even still now), some writers and readers thought Tincture was an inferior publication to print or online journals because of its e-book format—one that wouldn’t last. But here we are, four years and sixteen issues later, publishing what we believe are some of the most talented poets writing today.
We’ve received excellent feedback from contributors and readers over the years: our poetry is varied; our paying each writer is appreciated; our rejection letters are more detailed and friendlier than many other journals’; our featured writer interview questions are thoughtful, their responses insightful; our publishing new and established writers, with an emphasis on diversity of race, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation, is refreshing.
We work hard to keep the Tincture wheels turning so to receive positive responses to the journal and its content is very gratifying. Usually Daniel writes the editorials. I’ve written a couple. Kirby wrote a terrific one for Issue 16, about the literary journal as dissenter.
I stand by every poem published in Tincture. Each has truly moved me and felt important to broadcast to a wide audience. I enjoy the challenge of selecting ten poems for each issue from the hundreds we receive every quarter. Reading and editing other poets’ work is such a privilege. I came to Tincture with little editing experience, and in three and a half years I’ve learned a lot about editing others’ poetry and my own, about the interplay between editor and poet, about about interviewing poets.
With respect to my own poems, today’s wouldn’t exist without yesterday’s. Though when I’ve reread some of the earlier ones I’ve flushed at their clunkiness, over-earnestness, and irrelevance to the larger things. Some of my poems are semi-autobiographical, some are semi-biographical, some are both. I’ve always felt entirely comfortable sending these to journals—my personal experience isn’t a source of embarrassment for me, and those poems that disclose others’ personal experiences have received clearance prior to submission.
I have only one poetry-related regret—I wish I hadn’t refused my parents’ offer to fly me from Hobart to Melbourne to see The Cure live on their 1992 Wish Tour. Then, age 15, I was most in love with the band. I’d pore over Robert Smith’s lyrics and then write songs on my guitar. What impact would going to that show have had on my poetry, I wonder. . .
To Submit: Tincture Journal accepts submissions on a rolling issue-by-issue basis. More information is available here.
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