I recently had a lovely Internet chat with the esteemed and gracious Stevie Edwards about the impetus for starting the booming Muzzle Magazine; her favorite spirits (not like Hemingway, but more like his drinks); the magazine’s herculean editorial board; some of her favorite emerging writers; cats in cover letters; and the magazine’s push to marry slam poetry with arguably more traditional poetry. Muzzle accepts rolling submissions, so get after it! And be sure to check back on Thursday for the second part of the interview!
What was the impetus for starting Muzzle Magazine?
I founded Muzzle Magazine about a year after I finished undergrad. One of the reasons I did this was that I was a writer-in-residence for an organization in Chicago called Vox Ferus, (http://martyoutloud.com/vox-ferus/) and I was supposed to start a “community” based project. Most of the other writers-in-residence were very involved with the slam poetry scene in Chicago and had projects that involved community events and readings. However, that all terrified me. Having my toes in the water of both groups, I thought a literary magazine that provided a dialogue between poets from the poetry slam community and academic poets could be exciting. Also, after learning in a publishing workshop from Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz (http://aptowicz.com/) about the bias that exists in the publishing industry against poets with slam and performance backgrounds, I thought the magazine could be very necessary and wanted.
(Note: Vox Ferus still exists and hosts an amazing pay-as-you-can workshop series in Chicago and some other events, the but writers-in-residence initiative is no more).
Outside of the impetus for starting Muzzle, what was your vision for Muzzle, and what is your vision moving forward following your last beautiful issue?
3.5 years later, we still publish a mix of poets from the slam poetry and academic communities. I have also somewhat widened the vision from focusing on that dynamic to focusing on diversity of voices, both in style and lived experience. I want to keep having “academic” and “non-academic” poets published along side ago. I want to keep publishing poems that move people, poems that resonate.
What did/do you look for in the members of your editorial board?
I look for people whom I admire. I look for people who are doing things in their poems that I don’t know how to do. I look for people with different backgrounds, different reading lists than me. Although, I also look for people whose tastes I think are somewhat compatible with mine. I don’t think we’re likely to become a highly experimental journal any time soon.
Also, as a volunteer only staff, it’s very important to me that people are independent and self-motivated. I don’t have the energy to be constantly nagging people about deadlines.
When you state that Muzzle aims to pay “special homage to those from communities that are historically underrepresented in literary magazines,” what are those communities precisely?
Originally, I had a specific vision of putting slam poets and academic poets side by side. However, I have since widened that vision. There are lots of underrepresented communities: writers of color, women, queer writers, writers from working class communities, the mentally ill. I want to hear voices that I’m not hearing enough of in major publications, like The New Yorker and Poetry Magazine —although Poetry recently got a new editor (Don Share, formerly their managing editor) who seems to be interested in broader aesthetics and backgrounds.
I have to admit, on my to-do list is re-rewriting that dang mission statement so it’s less vague. And redesigning the website, so it’s more 2013.
What kind of benefits or hindrances have you faced as primarily an online publication?
Benefits: low cost, easy to share on social media, easy to make edits
Hindrances: Some people don’t take online publications as seriously as print. I think we’re established enough that it’s less of a problem. I admit, when I see a new magazine pop up; I’m a little hesitant to submit to the first couple issues because so many close their doors relatively quickly.
Would you ever like to move Muzzle into a print publication? Why or why not?
We did a print “Best of the First Year” issue. I lost about $700 (I think) of my own money. Unless we had a grant or became connected to a university, I’d be hesitant to try print again. Although, maybe we’d have better luck now that we’re more established.
What advice would you have for young/new/blooming contributors or editors?
Unless you feel incapable of not being a writer, don’t do it. It’s endless work and rejection and politics and not a lot of pay. If you seem to be permanently a writer from best you can tell, read and write your butt off. Give yourself permission to write terrible things that you don’t have to show anyone. Give yourself permission to read hard things that you don’t fully understand. But do it. And read widely, not just the most popular whomever all your friends like. Read some stuff that is really difficult for you; that’s how you grow. I always try to have at least one of the books I’m reading be something that takes a considerable amount of effort. You can’t really be great at editing or writing in a genre you don’t understand, and we’re always growing in our understanding; that’s not something that stops (at least from best I can tell). I’m still working on the being great part, but I try really hard and think I’ve at least moved past terrible.
Also, if you want to be a literary editor but not a writer, at least go read your patooty off, though I think dabbling a little at writing can be helpful to editors. Trying to write in a genre makes you more aware of the form.
What do you look for in cover letters, if anything at all?
When our editors read submissions, they read them blindly. I do have a special admin account I login to when I need to send rejections or acceptances. I really try my best not to look at cover letters at all. However, having worked for EPOCH (a print literary journal out of Cornell), I suppose I could give a list of no-no’s:
- Don’t spend a lot (if any) time explaining the meaning of your work or where the ideas of it came from.
- Don’t use a weird font, especially not the one that looks like a typewriter.
- Do not include a picture of yourself or your cat. Definitely not yourself with your cat.
- Don’t list more than a half-dozen lit mags you’ve been in, especially if they aren’t really prestigious ones.
- Don’t list self-published work.
- Don’t get the name of the journal or editors wrong.
- Really, there’s not reason to write more than a page. Just be polite and straight to the point.
- Read the dang submission guidelines and follow them.
If you could compile a dream team of contributors/poets, whom would that team be comprised of?
I really do believe our editorial board is a dream team. I couldn’t respect the people I get to work with more. I also am really happy with the poets I’ve gotten to publish thus far.
What would you qualify Muzzle’s aesthetic as?
Be sure to check back on Thursday for part 2 (of 2) of the interview!