Fiction & Poetry From New Writers in North of England and Beyond. A Chat With John McAuliffe, Editor of The Manchester Review
John McAuliffe is a man of few words. Brevity is his brief. This is clear from both his emails and his answers. Tersely, he conveys what he wants to. Yes, his laconic replies have latitude. He is a gifted poet, a talented editor who is known to spot and shape talent. The Manchester Review is an indicator of this.
Over to the short-spoken John McAuliffe.
Interview by Sanjeev Sethi
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an Irish poet who has been based in the UK for 14 years, in Manchester for 12. I co-direct the university’s Centre for New Writing, where I teach creative writing workshops and poetry courses. It’s also where the journal is published from. I’ve published four books with The Gallery Press, been involved with editing different journals for more than 20 years and I also co-edit an online digest of online poetry and criticism called The Page.
When you began The Manchester Review what was the drive? Is it the same or has it changed, evolved over the years?
My co-editor Ian McGuire and I wanted to publish excellent new work by new writers and by writers from the north of England alongside an international and more well-known roster of writers. We also wanted to publish fiction that poets would be interested in reading and vice versa. Those are still our ambitions although we have also developed a more current review section where we cover events, theatre, art, music and film alongside literature.
Recently there was a change in the website. What prompted that?
Online journals seem to have a fast turnover in terms of what looks clean and fresh, so we like to make sure that we update the site every couple of years. It’s important that our readers share the work they enjoy reading: the downside of online work is that there is no bookshop or event with which we can draw a reader’s attention. We occasionally get associated coverage, like this piece, which draws the attention of your readers to what we do, and that is the lifeblood of the journal as we hope that casual browsers will bookmark us and keep coming back for the weekly reviews and the new issues we publish twice a year.
When you peruse a submission what do you look for?
We read a few hundred pieces of fiction and of poetry for each issue so we are always on the lookout for a poem or story that has a feel for language, a style or tone which is then sustained.
Reading a piece, can you gauge the nationality of the writer or poet?
I’ve never thought about that, but I guess you can. More than half of our submissions come from North America. Online submissions really open up any literary journal to a sort of borderless world of Anglophone writing. We’ve been delighted to publish some brilliant Canadian and American writing, as well as Australian, New Zealand and Irish writers alongside many British writers and occasional pieces in translation.
We are always on the lookout for a poem or story that has a feel for language, a style or tone which is then sustained.
In the arts, let us say poetry, is there a cookie cutter standard or is it vast as humanity?
There’s only one answer to a question like that, isn’t there?
And that is (smile) please expand?
Some poems work in modes that are well known, or in a mode that the poet has developed and refined, and then there are those poems that risk the embarrassment of trying something new. We, of course, like each of these...
As editor what are your pet peeves?
We find it difficult to format poems which use the whole page with our html formatting, but our recent PhD students and co-editors Valerie O’Riordan and Lucy Burns have very ably resolved that for some tricky looking poems.
Do personal biases impact a decision? Or, can you look at a piece dispassionately?
No getting away from personal biases, I think. As we have an editorial team, we think we are fairly catholic in our tastes: there is always debate over some poems and stories, and if one of us insists on the value of a piece, that can carry the day. As an editor or reviewer, all you can do is register that yours is one way of looking at something and then make the case, backing up what you like with good examples.
Give us a secret: what is it in a submission that will ensure an absolute yes?
I like the sound of writing so poems and stories that show off a good ear always go to the front of the list I bring to our editorial meetings.
Lastly, can you throw some light on The Page?
It's a selection of interesting new poems and essays and news items about poetry which have been published online around the world. The team who work on it now, me, Canadian poet Evan Jones and Manila poet Vincenz Serrano, post links most weekdays.
Sanjeev Sethi has published three books of poetry. This Summer and That Summer (Bloomsbury, 2015) is his latest. His poems have found a home in Solstice Literary Magazine, Off the Coast Literary Journal, Hamilton Stone Review, Literary Orphans, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Pyrokinection, Café Dissensus Everyday, Section 8 Magazine, The Jawline Review, The Helios Mss, Right Hand Pointing, Revolution John, Futures Trading, The Aerogram, The Mind[less] Muse, Creative Talents Unleashed, Chronogram, Duane’s Poe Tree, The London Magazine, The Fortnightly Review, Ink Sweat and Tears, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Amaryllis Poetry, New English Review, The Galway Review, A New Ulster, In Between Hangovers, The Open Mouse, Otoliths, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.