Bone Bouquet is an independent bi-annual print journal that features underrepresented voices and publishes both established and emerging writers. Bone Bouquet is staffed by volunteers who are truly dedicated to their mission. This is clear to the reader immediately upon cracking the cover; the work within is charged, experimental, and authentic. To learn more about Bone Bouquet, go ahead and click that hyperlink and then dive into this interview!
I first learned about Bone Bouquet from Noemi Press Publisher Carmen Giménez Smith while enrolled in the minnesota review editing and publishing course, which she was teaching that semester. On one of our first days, she passed around several different journals for keepsies, and while I’d like to say I hawkeyed and grabbed at Bone Bouquet, but the truth is I took the first one off the top of the passed pile which just happened to be Bone Bouquet. I got home with it and really had no idea what the journal was about. I did not know that its MO was publishing women-identified and non-binary peoples. I did not realize how open to form and style it was. I did not see it coming that months later, one of my oldest friends would publish a piece in Bone Bouquet, or that I would warmly connect with Bone Bouquet Editor-in-Chief Krystal Languell and Poetry Editor Trina Burke. Cool and important stuff all around!
Both Krystal and Trina graciously answered several questions I sent their way about Bone Bouquet’s submission, editing and publishing processes. Check out how and why they do what they do:
Adele Elise Williams (AEW): How do you approach the ‘first round’ of reading when it comes to the slush pile? Do you have a ‘maybe’ pile?
Trina Burke (TB): I can’t praise Submittable enough. Through its handy labels feature, we’ve established a scale for first-read impressions that works for us:Yes, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, and No. Multiple readers are able to leave comments in the system, ask questions about their understanding of the poems, and come to a consensus on the final disposition of a submission.
Krystal Languell (KL): I’d only add here that these features make it really feasible to have a staff that’s dispersed across the country or around the world.
AEW: How do you handle or think about issues of diversity?
TB: As a journal devoted to women-identified and nonbinary poets, diversity is pretty central to what we do. We’ve always sought to provide a platform for underrepresented voices and, in the past three years or so, we’ve particularly focused on ways we can make sure more writers of color are prominently featured in our pages. We’d love to diversify our masthead, which is a challenge since we’re a small journal and can’t promise regular compensation. Our editors are all volunteers and we are acutely aware of the problems inherent in asking writers of color to work without compensation.
In terms of how we read work, I can only speak for myself. I try to be aware of my aesthetic biases as I’m reading submissions, and how they might be a result of living and writing in a system of structural racism, including an MFA system that still favors a white male canon. I’ve been working with various literary journals for over a decade. When I began reading for journals, I think I approached the poems as a sort of adversarial gatekeeper, batting away the ones I perceived as bad or unworthy. Which is embarrassing to think of now, as I was such a new poet at the time. I don’t know where I thought my authority to do that came from. I’d like to think I’m a more sympathetic reader now, respectful of each writer’s project on its own terms, even as it challenges my predispositions.
KL: I hate seeing small magazines asking for applications to become an unpaid reader of submissions. So we’ve never asked for anything like that. When we are in need of new or more editors, we ask around or post on social media and see who responds. Responding doesn’t automatically mean someone is invited aboard, but I feel queasy about setting criteria for an unpaid role. I’m on the lookout for people of color interested in reading submissions but I resist participating in the pressurization and damage of tokenism. And this feeds into what the content of the magazine is as well–we create a publication whose contents communicate openness, porousness, a welcome environment for a broad range of identities, experiences, poetics, et cetera. Our Submittable account currently has room to add two more editors!
Whether for editors or for submissions, when I am trying to put the word out I reach out to particular individuals in leadership roles who have lots of contact with poets. So I’ll post a call in some poetry Facebook groups and send it to leaders or members of organizations like AAWW, CantoMundo, Kundiman, Cave Canem, others, and ask for it to be shared among members, for example.
AEW: Where does your funding come from? / Do you pay your authors?
KL: We had grant funding in 2014 and 2015 specifically to fund author payment, and during that period I did not successfully grow our income to be able to sustain that once the grant ran out. Then I missed a deadline notification, and one thing led to another. Since the backup funding source is my personal checking account, the finances of the magazine fluctuate based on my personal life, which is not a great model but is the price of total independence from institutional control. This winter, after a dormancy period of a couple of years, I made the time to submit several grant proposals for new funding for the magazine. So far, we’ve heard back from one and the answer was yes! This year, we’ll have support from CLMP’s NYSCA regrant program. Also this year, we’re reinstituting a payment policy, starting with a very modest $10 per poet. I hope that number can grow, and it will if the other applications were successful. We’ll know more in a few months.
AEW: Do you charge a reading fee for submissions? What do you do with submissions fees?
KL: We don’t charge a reading fee. Currently, I have it set up so that submitters can either submit for free or choose to make a $3 donation, and the guidelines clearly state that the $3 purchases nothing–it’s not a fast track to a quicker response. I’m trying it out this way after having done several different models in the past. I agree with everyone who hates submission fees. I also hate contest fees, residency application fees–I hate fees! When I first got involved with literary magazines, the going advice was to subscribe first and then submit if it seemed like a good fit. I don’t think many people go this route anymore. So in one sense, I created the $3 fee option for anyone who wanted to support financially but couldn’t or wouldn’t buy a subscription. It’s an alternative avenue that supports the mag. And it’s used to offset the $10/month fee Submittable charges us. We were early adopters, so we have a very low rate. Anything in excess of $10/month goes toward postage, which is otherwise funded by sales income and me personally.
AEW: Anything you would like to add that would be valuable to share with a class on editing a literary journal?
TB: Since our funding goes to printing and postal costs, and paying contributors when we can, we’ve had to get creative about other ways to support contributors. Social media has been a great tool for sharing their work with others, celebrating their successes, and letting them know about opportunities.
Adele is an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. She is a pastry chef and dog mother to an ornery and manipulative English Bulldog.