As a fiction writer who rarely reads poetry, I decided to correspond with Anna Leahy, the editor of TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics, a literary magazine that focuses on poetry exclusively, both in terms of poems and art and writing about poetry. Anna is also the Director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Chapman University. As a publication, TAB is a part of Chapman University’s Tabula Poetica: The Center for Poetry and is an international journal that aims to publish both emerging and established voices and broaden the appreciation of poetry.
TA: How do you start a literary journal? (electronic/paper)
AL: In many ways, starting with why instead of with how makes a lot of sense. Your reasons for producing a literary journal can guide how you go about it. What can you do that doesn’t already exist? How does the project fit into your own goals and schedule? Why do you want to put your time, energy, and money into a literary journal instead of another kind of literary citizenship or literary production, including perhaps your own writing?
For TAB, my Creative Director (graphic designer Claudine Jaenichen) and I wanted to create something that explored the reading experience in both print and digital formats, so that shaped how we looked at our budget constraints, existing software platforms, and the ways we look at submissions in relation to how they will appear in the journal. We wanted a vehicle for poetry that wasn’t like other journals, that challenged what we think of as poetry on the page. In addition, we wanted to offer MFA students opportunities to read submissions and write book reviews. All this focused us initially on producing more than disseminating, especially for the first couple of years, but it’s crucial that the question about how to start include attention to how to distribute the work and to sustaining a journal over time.
TA: How do you handle or think about issues of diversity? Do you do anything to ensure a diverse pool of authors?
AL: TAB aims to be inclusive, and that needs to be more than a buzzword. It’s easy for a literary journal to claim that the doors are open for everyone, but more difficult to ensure that the content puts that inclusiveness into practice. For the print issue of TAB each January, we come up with a new design concept and solicit work so that we can develop the design and content in tandem. Only a very few journals do anything like this, and it creates an awareness of who and what is being included based on specific structural constraints. For TAB, that print issue sets the stage for the electronic issues that year, so we put effort into including a variety of voices, reaching out, and trying new things. In 2016, we featured a bunch of translations in the print issue, for instance. In 2017, we did an amazing feature of participants in AWP’s Writer-to-Writer program. We work to celebrate a wide range of poetry and poets, and I’d like to do even better in the future.
TA: How and where do you solicit for submissions? What’s been effective in getting quality submissions, rather than just volume?
AL: Social media, word of mouth, and AWP are probably our most effective means of encouraging submissions. Classified ads in Poets & Writers lead to an uptick in submission numbers, but distributing the print issue at no cost to readers at AWP is probably our best advertising. In other words, circulation and submissions feed each other, and my guess is that’s the case for most literary journals. Editors should be aware that this can be a problem, that it creates a somewhat closed loop, that it reinforces the status quo of a network. We’re now working with The 1888 Center that opened in our community, we give copies to the Young Writers Workshop my colleague runs at the local high school, and we reach out elsewhere too. I’ve written about how we can get stuck in our neighborhood with people like us, so encouraging submissions and readers is a big question that I’d like editors to discuss more openly.
TA: What was the origin of the decision to focus on poetry, rather than poetry and fiction, in TAB?
AL: I hope all editors actively think through what content their journal will contain. Why not poetry only? Why poetry and fiction? Why poetry and fiction but not nonfiction? Why not art too? I’m thrilled that we now include audio for each poet, something more electronic journals might consider to take advantage of the electronic medium. Whatever a journal’s focus, that decision establishes some of the constraints that shape the journal over the long term.
Because my Creative Director and I were interested in the reading experience of a journal, poetry is a good fit for TAB because poetry is a genre in which writers—and readers—give a lot of consideration to form, structure, shape. I had already established the Tabula Poetica reading series, so it made sense to build a complementary journal project. We wanted to focus entirely on poetry because of its consciousness of form, but on all things poetry, including criticism and artwork—and I can hardly believe we’re into Volume 6 this year.
Tolu Adeyeye is a first year fiction writer at Virginia Tech. She is the managing editor for the minnesota review.