Five editors have generously agreed to help me with the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge, by providing, for a modest donation of $20, critiques of poetry. Karen Craigo, author of the poetry collection No More Milk, nonfiction editor and former editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review, reviews editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, an editor of Gingko Tree Review, and the managing editor of ELJ Publications, answers a few questions for us.
Which three words best describe your favorite poetry?
Something to say. I like poetry that tries to express something important or deeply felt—an emotion, say, or a philosophy—more than I like poetry that is merely showy. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy some language-centered work, and I definitely feel that an openness to experimentation and play benefits all poetry.
Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I’m from Ohio, and I was raised in Gallipolis, a small river town in the Appalachian part of the state. I was a journalist for almost a decade before heading off to get an MFA, and small-town journalism is where my heart is, although I’ve been teaching college writing ever since. When I’m not working, I enjoy my home and my family, and I love to read mystery novels and watch classic TV.
What sets apart the poems you accept from those you turn down?
It’s a little hard to say, actually. Occasionally, I just really like it—meaning that I connect with it on a personal level. A poet can’t really write toward that; sometimes things just click, and maybe those writers just get lucky because I’m especially receptive toward what they’re doing. But more generally, I like to be surprised by something—an image, a rare insight—and I like utter control of form and diction. Any form will do, mind you—I’ve accepted formal poems and sprawling, irregular-looking poems. Form can’t be an afterthought, though, and it can’t be accidental. I need to see that the artist has thought form through.
If you were a poetic form, which would you be?
I think I’d be an unfinished villanelle—it’s the obsession, the same thoughts turning back on themselves again and again, but without the healing resolution of that final decisive quatrain.
Do you pay much attention to cover letters? What do you like/dislike about them?
I don’t. I used to, when the submissions came in paper form, but now that they’re electronic, it’s an added step to look at bios. They’re necessary; they’re a polite convention, and I like to keep things cordial. I actually think something is lost when poets aren’t permitted to present themselves the way they want to—sort of like how something is lost when with singles instead of albums. It’s not a big deal, though—the poems end up speaking for themselves, and when I’m feeling interested, I look at the whole shebang.
List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
Carl Phillips, Michelle Boisseau, and Ocean Vuong.
The noble narwhal.
Karen Craigo is the author of the poetry collection No More Milk (Sundress, 2016) and the forthcoming collection Passing Through Humansville (ELJ, 2017). She maintains Better View of the Moon, a daily blog on writing, editing, and creativity, and she teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri. She is the nonfiction editor and former editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review, the reviews editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, an editor of Gingko Tree Review, and the managing editor of ELJ Publications.
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