"Giving Every Writer a Fair Shake." A Chat With Anthony Frame, Editor of Glass: A Poetry Journal
Founded in Toledo, Ohio, the Glass City, by Holly Burnside and Anthony Frame, Glass: A Journal of Poetry was published online twice a year (June and December) from 2008 until 2014 by Glass Poetry Press. Beginning in 2016, it became a weekly online publication.
Editor Anthony Frame is the author of one book, A Generation of Insomniacs (Main Street Rag Press, 2014), and three chapbooks, To Gain the Day (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2015), Everything I Know ...(ELJ Publications, 2014) and Paper Guillotines (Imaginary Friend Press, 2010). His poems have been published in or are forthcoming from Verse Daily, Third Coast, Harpur Palate, diode, North American Review, Blueshift Journal and Gulf Stream, among others.
Interview by Joseph Dante
As the editor of Glass: A Journal of Poetry, you describe how you are interested in “poetry that enacts the artistic and creative purity of glass.” Can you elaborate more on this artistic purity and the writing you’re searching for? Is this aesthetic about precision of language? More translucence as opposed to opaqueness?
Karen Craigo has written on Better View of the Moon about how most literary journals’ mission statements are really badly written and this is probably no exception. I actually had to go to my personal Facebook account and see what others thought about this description. torrin a. greathouse (who will be in the upcoming Orlando feature) said something that I think came really close to what the descriptor means to me: “glass, in different states can be both reflective & razor sharp, can both hold a mirror up to the world, & cut in the most important way.” There’s beauty there, which is important to me, but also an edge, a willingness to risk. And that those are contained together at once, rather than separated, is also something I admire in poetry.
Additionally, when I think of glass, I think of the studio glass movement, which had its start (at least in America) here in Toledo, Ohio, where Glass Poetry Press (and Glass: A Journal of Poetry) is housed. Toledo used to be the glass capital of the world and is still nicknamed The Glass City, which is why Holly and I chose to name the journal Glass. But, back to studio glass, I like to think about the variety of styles and techniques the master glass artists used. I like to think of the fluidity of glass. I like to think of how glass can encompass and take on any shape, form, color, etc. (Also, as a side note, I will say that the descriptor, and the journal’s title, should not be indicative of an editorial preference for poems about glass or that utilize a lot of glass imagery. I got tons of glass-related poems submitted and, well, after the thirtieth poem about glass in one day, it gets tough to read that thirty-first.)
Glass used to be a bi-annual online journal edited by Holly Burnside, but this year you took the helm and turned it into a weekly online journal instead. Can you speak more about the journal’s evolution and the reasons for this change?
Holly and I started Glass in 2008. I had had a couple poems published in a small, brand new online journal which disappeared from the web a day after publishing my work. A bit frustrated, I said something like, “I should start my own journal,” and Holly said, “Then start one.” And that is really the entire conversation that started Glass. We began with a free blogspot website and a yahoo email. Somehow, we managed to attract incredible submissions and a wonderful readership. We got the chance to publish a very young Saeed Jones and Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo and José Angel Araguz, to name just three. It’s an amazing thing to fall in love with a poet through their submission and then to follow their career. But, by 2014, we knew we couldn’t give the journal the attention it needed. I was taking on more responsibilities at my day job. Holly was transitioning out of academia. We were taking from eight to twelve months to respond to submissions, which we both felt was unacceptable. Issues were coming out a week or two late because I couldn't find time to code all the poems into the system. So, we looked at what was happening on our end and agreed that we just couldn't give our readers and our writers the attention they deserved. It was a hard decision for us but I think it was the right one at the time.
Then, this year, I was awarded an Individual Excellence Grant from the Ohio Arts Council. I had always dreamed of opening a chapbook micro-press and, grant in hand, Holly told me to go for it. We still owned the rights to the website, which we never took offline, so it seemed logical to redevelop Glass: A Journal of Poetry into Glass Poetry Press. Reopening the journal also made logical sense to me and I liked the idea of the weekly format. On the one hand, it is less work, web coding, to put one poem up a week than gathering an issue and coding thirty or forty poems every few months. Also, the weekly format drives traffic to the website, which keeps the journal and the press on people's radar (I hope). I asked Holly if she wanted any involvement in either project but she told me to go ahead, to make this one mine. But she was as much a core part of the founding as I was so I insisted on keeping her on the masthead as editor emeritus.
You are also the poetry editor for The Indianola Review. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background in poetry and why you took on these editorial roles?
I’ve been reading poetry for as long as I can remember. Whether it was Shel Silverstein or Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe as a child, or the many contemporary poets I read now. I got my first taste of formal training in the summer between junior and senior year of high school when I attended the Young Writers at Kenyon workshop at Kenyon College. I decided to study English in college, got a BA and an MA from the University of Toledo, and then went for my MFA at Northern Michigan University. My main teachers/mentors were Rane Arroyo and Allison Hedge Coke, both of whom were also influential on how I approach the literary community and therefore how I approach my job as an editor (both impressed on their students something along the lines of this quote, the language of which here comes from Allison: “there's room in this world for everyone's poetry. Your success is not at the expense of anyone else and other people’s success is not at your expense so celebrate your friends when they do well.”)
I ultimately only completed one year of the MFA program before returning to Toledo for personal reasons but kept as active as I could in the poetry world (it was around this time that Holly and I started Glass). I continued to study independently and continued to read voraciously – books, chapbooks, and journals. I published in journals, found homes for a few chapbooks and eventually found a home for my first full-length book.
After closing Glass, I never lost that love of editing a journal, of being on the front lines of the poetry world. So, I was searching for possible places to submit some of my poems when I came across The Indianola Review. They were looking for a poetry editor so I figured I could either submit to them or apply for the gig. Now, I will admit that I was in a pretty dark place at that point as far as the poetry world was concerned. This was around the time of Michael Derrick Hudson's bullshit in Best American Poetry and around the time of Kate Gale's offensive “AWP Is Us.” And it was right as a poet I greatly admire was being attacked, first through a poem and then via Twitter. The journal that published the offensive poem attacked their critics with some of the most offensive, misogynistic tweets I've ever read (and, yes, I'm aware that my male privilege is showing there). And, look, I think it's important to stand up and address these issues when they occur – very important – vitally important – but I felt like I also wanted to do more. I wanted to add something to the conversation, to the community, to give something back to the community I love and that has given so much to me, so editing Indianola seemed like a way to do that. To be able to say, “Look, here's some really crummy things and here's the reasons they're crummy and we need to do better and maybe here's some ways to do better. But also, over here is something really beautiful.” Amazingly, Danny [Judge], the founding editor, hired me and has helped me put together an awesome team and I think the whole staff are making something really cool. Danny and Amy [Brady], our managing editor, are promoting the hell out of the journal and it feels like something really awesome is building. The fact that they've been 100% supportive of my decision to also do the work over at Glass has been an added bonus to an already great working relationship.
I first heard of Glass through Twitter. Not only did I love the poetry I saw, but I noticed you have a well-curated social media presence. I always discover a lot of new writing and writers this way. You seem to be very supportive of the writers you publish and interested in building a community of poets. Do you think it’s crucial for editors to be very plugged-in and engaged this way now with the wider literary community? In what other ways can editors show their support for their writers?
I love that you love the poetry you found. And I love that you think the social media presence is well curated. Because, honestly, I don't know what I'm doing on Twitter and Facebook. I think community is really vital. The literary arts aren't exactly treated as all that important within the larger culture so the more we can do to help each other the better. I love promoting the work written by the poets I’ve been lucky to publish. I'm happy to try to help their work find new audiences and to help the presses/journals that publish them. But I'm also happy to promote any work I admire. So, I'll often use the press Twitter account to share a poem or a journal that speaks to me, whether it's by a poet I've published or not. I try my best to spread the word within the little cycle of readers I've managed to build. So, if a press I admire, like Hermeneutic Chaos Press, is putting together an anthology of Orlando-inspired poems (and they are; it's being edited by the phenomenal Roy Guzmán and Miguel M. Morales, so good, check it out), then I'm going to retweet that call for submissions or write my own tweet encouraging people to support the project. And, honestly, I think that's the least we can do as members of the community, if we have the time to do so (and some days I have more time to spend on social media than on others). I'm not sure what other methods editors/journals/presses can do to help support writers other than trying to bring readers and writers together as often as possible. Well, we can pay our authors, but most of us don't have the ability to do that. We can also promote a literary culture that treats authors with respect (such as by not supporting reading fees). I'm sure there are many other ways, and hopefully I’ll discover them and incorporate them into how I run the press.
I love promoting the work written by the poets I’ve been lucky to publish.
You’ve recently put out a call for submissions from queer poets of color in response to the Pulse Nightclub tragedy in Orlando, Florida. The resulting issue will be published in August of 2016. It seems as if you’re very interested in seeking out underrepresented voices to publish. Aside from theme issues like these and asking for more unsolicited submissions from marginalized groups, what else do you think editors can do in order to address the very pervasive diversity problem in publishing?
Well, let me first clarify that my call for Orlando poems was not limited to LGBTQ poets of color. The special feature will feature white LGBTQ poets. Though it was a tough decision of whether or not to limit it only to queer poets of color. For better or for worse, I didn't choose that route. But I am glad that Miguel M. Morales and Roy Guzmán's anthology with HCP, as mentioned above, will only highlight queer poets of color, which I think is very important.
The second point I'd like to make here is that I really don't think themed issues are an acceptable method for addressing the lack of inclusion in the literary world. I think themed issues tend to be a cop out – an easy way for an editor or journal to say they've done their diversity work so all you critics should leave them alone now. I don't accept that. I don't accept that inclusion means special spaces every once in a while for marginalized voices (though, I want to say that, here, I'm not talking about journals or presses that are exclusively for authors of certain backgrounds, like Nepantla, which is devoted to publishing queer voices of color – those kinds of journals are essential and doing exceptional and important work). No, I think equity in publishing has to mean transgender voices published alongside cis-gender voices, voices of all colors alongside white voices, women's voices alongside male voices (assuming straight, white, cis-gender, male voices make the cut).
I also worry that themed issues tend to be limited in their subject matter, that a Latinx themed issue will end up only publishing work that addresses what the (usually white) editor deems to be “the Latinx experience,” even though Latinxpoets, like white poets, write about all manner of subjects. So I'm wary of themed issues as the/a solution to the diversity problem. To me, praising the use of themed issues as proof of a journal’s commitment to inclusion, thought probably well-intentioned, often feels a bit like praising McDonald's as a good option for vegetarians because, you know, french fries.
Honestly, if I publish this Orlando feature [which is live now] and then never (or barely) publish LGBTQ authors afterword, then I'll have failed as an editor and publisher. I'll have failed my readers and I'll have failed the authors who so generously trusted me with their work. I mean, what kind of message would that send? That you can come out and have your voices heard – but only if your community has suffered the greatest mass shooting in the history of the nation? So, I kind of feel like, as a straight white cis-gender male editor, the pressure is greater for me now to do the work of attracting general submissions from the LGBTQ community. Because I don’t want this special feature to be yet another instance of a straight white dude tokenizing and capitalizing on a marginalized community’s tragedy.
As for other methods … well, not to sound facetious but if editors really want to publish more women writers or writers of color or LGBTQ writers, etc… then they should publish more women writers and more writers of color and more LGBTQ writers, etc. Because, ultimately, it comes down to what's in between the pages. And if you don't publish marginalized voices (or barely publish them), then how can you expect them to trust you with their work? Now, some people might (and have) accuse(d) me of arguing for affirmative action, or for giving special treatment to marginalized voices, which is bullshit – and, quite frankly, I’d say it's a racist (or other-ist) argument to say writers of color (or other marginalized writers) need special treatment in order to achieve publishing success. What I'm arguing for is reading openly and honestly, for giving every writer a fair shake, for careful examination of why you’re having trouble attracting quality submissions from varied voices. Because if you're not getting those submissions, that's on you, not the writers.
There are, of course, ways to attract submissions from varied voices. I don't know all of them (and I can't be certain that my suggestions are actually successful/useful).
If you have a team, look to see how diverse that team is. If your masthead is nothing but white dudes, then you're probably going to attract submissions from mostly white dudes. If you have a team and you're finding that the team is only recommending submissions from white writers, then maybe you need to open up a conversation within the team about why that might be happening (and if you and/or your team find those conversations uncomfortable, then you definitely need to be having those conversations). And it's very easy to educate yourself and your staff on these issues. There have been plenty of marginalized writers who have opened up about their experiences. Read these and share them with your staff and examine your practices to see if you are inadvertently perpetuating bad behaviors.
Also, who are you soliciting, if you are soliciting? With the wealth of great online journals, it's really easy to find writers who are early in their careers. Reach out to them and let them know you'd be interested in reading their work. Maybe they'll send you something. Maybe they won't. Maybe they'll tell their friends.
What writers do you talk about? Because if your Twitter feed is nothing but Hemingway and Bukowski, you're likely to attract a bunch of broets. And what about your contracts? Are the pronouns inclusive or at least neutral?
When issues within the literary community come up, what do you do? Do you respond to a horribly transphobic article by tweeting/Facebooking your support for transgender writers? Do you post links to transgender writers to direct your readers to these writers? Do you sign the open letter of condemnation written to the publisher who published the article? Or do you sit on the sidelines and let other people take care of it? In these situations, how do you use your privilege? Do you use it to try to make the situation better or do you use it to protect yourself from having to get involved?
I think the jury is still out over whether or not blind submissions are helpful here. There are plenty of great journals that use them (The James Franco Review, The Boiler, and ThePittsburgh Poetry Review are three quick ones that come to mind, all of which I love). I ultimately defer to Claudia Rankine and her argument that blind submissions tend to favor the reproduction of dominant culture at the expense of marginalized voices, which is why I've opted against them.
And recognize that you are probably going to screw up. I certainly expect to screw up. I expect to stick my foot in my mouth at some point (I probably have done that somewhere within this very long answer to your question). That's okay. But when it happens and people point it out to you, don't throw up giant defensive walls. Perhaps, instead, listen. Hear people's concerns. Believe them. Thank them for their honesty. Say you'll try to do better, you'll try to examine the causes of your mistake so it doesn't happen again. And then, examine the causes of the mistake and try not to do it again. But don't, please, for the love of Tori Amos, post a Mean Girls meme about how you can't ask people why they're white (sadly, a true story).
But, I think, the most important thing, especially if like me you are part of the dominant culture, is to ask yourself why you're doing all this work to specifically and directly try to bring underrepresented voices into the spotlight. Is it because you think it is right and important? Or is it so people will call you a swell guy? Because if this is about you, then you are doing a terrible disservice to your writers, your readers, your publication, and the community. In the end, just try to be a decent human being, don't expect applause for being a decent human being, and try not to do stupid shit (to steal from President Obama).
You feature an excellent roundup of journals and presses on your site. Did you look towards any of these other journals when taking on your role as editor?
Oh, geez, I don't know. Maybe. Probably. Mostly, it's because I started making amateur websites in the 90s when you pretty much either posted porn or links to all the cool websites that you dig. And I wasn’t going to post porn so … But I do think it goes hand in hand with how I try to use the press' social media accounts. Community building, you know. I guess I just figure that I love Hyacinth Girl Press and they make amazingly beautiful chapbooks and I think you'll feel the same so here's the link. Check them out. As for the effect these journals and presses have on my approach as an editor – I don't approach a situation and consciously think, “What would Adroit do?” or approach a submission and wonder, “How would Winter Tangerine deal with this?” But I'm sure the influence is there because I love these journals and aspire to create a journal as good as these. So, if you look at, say, Thrush or Boxcar or Up The Staircase Quarterly, three journals I absolutely adore and read religiously, I think it's safe to say that those journals and the work they publish have a level of influence on my tastes and approach as an editor.
Although you are currently a weekly online journal, would you ever be interested in doing print issues or perhaps compiling a “best of” anthology?
I doubt I’ll do print issues, mostly because Indianola is a print journal so I figure I’ll leave the hassles of that format to Danny and Amy. Plus, between the online journal, Indianola, and the Glass Chapbook Series (which is a print series), I've got my hands pretty full. I like the idea of a best of anthology but if I do one it'll probably be many years from now. And, again, hassles and hands full. I will say that I love the idea of broadsides and think that would be a really cool addition to the press. But buying an old style printing press, plus all the materials like ink and type, etc., would be a huge investment and I'm not sure it's something I would (or could) commit the time and effort necessary to do it really well. So, for the immediate future, I think I’ll stick to the weekly web format and the chapbooks.
Through Glass Poetry Press, you publish chapbooks received from open submission calls each year during the month of March. Can you tell us more about the submission process? Anything writers should keep in mind before submitting?
Well, it would probably be better to ask me in April or May when I've read through my first collection of submissions. For the first year’s run, I solicited the five manuscripts. Starting the press seemed daunting enough without also opening up to, reading, and choosing manuscripts. So, to make it easier on myself, I asked five really amazing poets if they had anything and if they wanted to give me the opportunity to publish it. Amazingly, all five poets I asked had a chapbook length manuscript and were willing to risk it with a completely unknown entity. I feel really blessed. The first chapbook, Before Snowfall, After Rain by Ariel Francisco, is coming out in late August or early September and I'm really excited about it. It's a gorgeous manuscript.
So, right now, here's what I can say: read the journal. Read Indianola. Buy one of the chapbooks (or buy a subscription, which saves you time, money and effort and makes you one of my super friends). This will give you a sense of the poetry I'm interested in. Then, put together a manuscript and send it in. I tend to like chapbooks that feel cohesive, where the poems feel like they belong together, but I'm also really open to bring surprised by a manuscript that approaches the chapbook form in ways I never would have imagined. So send it in. I don't charge reading fees so you have nothing to lose. I want to read it. If you've got a collection of twenty-five independent but interrelated couplets, send it my way. A nineteen-page poem that is an ode to Tori Amos? Send it my way (seriously, I’d love to read that). There are guidelines, so do try to follow them, but otherwise, send in the manuscript. And support small, independent presses. There's an excellent round up of presses on the Glass site (or so I’m toldJ) and chapbooks are (or should be), by definition, inexpensive (chapbook literally means “cheap book”). So throw a little money toward the tiny, indie presses. If you want us to publish you, which means we have to make a financial commitment to your work, you really owe it to the community to help keep us financially solvent. None of the editors I know, at Hyacinth or Hermeneutic or Yellow Flag or Imaginary Friend (when they were still publishing) etc… are trying to get rich with these presses. None of us have Mitt Romney money. We’re lucky if we have Mitt the Checkout Guy at the Grocery Store money. We do it because we love the art form – both the poetry and the chapbook – and love bringing these works into the world. But we can't do that without readers. So, find presses – I don't care if it's mine or someone else's – and fall in love with the work they do. And support the work they do by buying the books they publish.
Joseph Dante lives in South Florida. His work has appeared in Permafrost, The Rumpus, Best Gay Stories 2015, PANK, Corium, and elsewh