"I Am Excited When I Find Good Works by New or Emerging Voices." A Chat With Edward Byrne, Editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review
Valparaiso Poetry Review is one of the most read and respected reviews in the country. How does an on line magazine achieve at least 150,000 visits per year? How does a literary journal keep both emerging and established writers as an ongoing source of literary fulfillment? The evolution of this journal and it’s continuing success is well worth exploring! The background story of how this wonderful magazine began is interesting and admirable to say the least. I enjoyed conducting this interview a great deal! This journal’s editor, Edward Byrne, brings a literary feast to each reader, in each and every issue.
Interview by Connie Post
Valparaiso Poetry Review has been publishing literature since 1999. Can you tell me how it started? Were you involved in the beginning of the magazine? If so, how has it changed and evolved over the years?
I had offered to my university the idea of starting a national poetry journal in the late 1980s. However, the price incurred by publishing and distributing a print journal would prove too expensive to obtain approval. Having served in the past as an editor on the staff of a literary journal, I was aware of the costs, and I understood the reluctance of my university to commit the amount necessary for starting such a magazine.
At the same time, I had been involved with online activities as early as the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as writers’ group discussion lists and virtual conferences with poets or fiction writers from around the country. This was in the primitive stage of dial-up and writing coded messages before the World Wide Web. When the Internet world changed with an introduction and then-spreading use of web browsers in the late 1990s, I encouraged its inclusion at my university. After its presence was adopted at Valparaiso University, I conceived the idea of starting an online journal with availability of the work to anyone where a computer was present, far surpassing the limited number of copies offered by print journals. In addition, the electronic journal would not have the many expenses or restrictions included with publishing print editions.
I approached my department chair and proposed beginning Valparaiso Poetry Review, which I explained would be a pioneer publication toward a future where all writing would be accessible online. Not familiar with technology, he asked what I would need as support. I responded that I merely needed permission to attach a site to the English Department URL, and he approved.
After that, I had to figure out how to construct the site. Ironically, my wife and I happened to be shopping at a Staples store for typewriter ribbon when she noticed an introduction to web construction book and bought it for me. I then proceeded to sit at my computer with the book in my lap to teach myself how to write codes in web language.
I invited some of the poets I knew from the online discussion lists to contribute to the first “test” issue, and the journal went live in the fall of 1999. At the start, many writers across the country thought publishing in an online journal was a dubious act. However, gradually over the years any stigma originally attached to electronic publishing lessened, as I thought it would. Indeed, submissions grew with every issue; in recent years, as many as 10,000 poems submitted annually. Now, Valparaiso Poetry Review is an established journal, one of the longest running online poetry magazines.
How is Valparaiso University involved in the existence and maintenance of VPR? Do you have several readers and or screeners? How difficult is it to decide on the final cuts? I am assuming you have the final word on what gets in each issue?
Valparaiso University simply provides a location on its server for VPR. I conduct all construction and maintenance of the journal’s content. Over the years, the university web presence has evolved through different programs, and the journal has been transitioned to those updated systems. Once, a summer intern and I had to move all past issues in the archives to preserve them in the newer format, which is why the appearance of early issues is different from later issues. No screeners read for VPR. I read all submissions and make all the decisions for the journal.
Is the Valparaiso blog something that is kept up on a consistent basis? How does it support the overall operation and existence of the magazine?
The editor’s blog was begun in January 2007, and it presented regular entries of essays, observations, and reviews until July 2013. The blog offered opportunities to add materials not included in the journal and served as a location with topics for continuing literary discussions. The site also helped promote the journal, but it became too time-consuming, particularly as the amount of submitted works to VPR grew so large and demanded more of my time. However, I have kept the blog available for readers who find the numerous entries informative or entertaining, and it has continued to receive very positive responses over the years.
I read that VPR is listed by Google as the number three electronic poetry magazine in the nation and ranked among the top 100 “most relevant and highly regarded sites” in its field. That is quite an accomplishment, to say the least. Can you say more about how you think VPR accomplished this admirable status?
As the journal has been around now for seventeen years, and the high quality of content has remained consistent, Valparaiso Poetry Review has attracted more contributors whose excellent work has drawn greater readership. Credit for the high regard VPR has achieved goes to those who have allowed their work to be published in the journal. After the cumulative number of visits to VPR surpassed one million, I discontinued counting; however, I am pleased to note that those published in VPR are receiving the large readership their fine works deserve.
Additionally, each time a new book is released that includes Valparaiso Poetry Review among its acknowledgements, I believe the journal indirectly receives a boost in its stature. Well over 100 books have listed VPR among their acknowledgements.
On the web site, it states the VPR presents new, emerging, and well-known voices. Who are some of the more well-known voices that stand out from past issues? Is there a well-known poet you still hope to feature in the future?
Fortunately, the list of well-known poets who have submitted work to VPR is long and varied, which I had hoped would occur when the first issue was published. At the time, I thought online publishing would become acceptable among all poets. Indeed, a couple of the more famous poets published online for the first time when their work appeared in VPR. Also, a few of those poets didn’t know how to submit online and didn’t even have e-mail at the time, so they insisted on sending their poems and maintaining all correspondence by snail mail. Readers should recognize the following poets (and I apologize in advance for leaving out many others): Sherman Alexie, David Baker, John Balaban, Billy Collins, Alfred Corn, Kwame Dawes, Cornelius Eady, Claudia Emerson, Bernardine Evaristo, Annie Finch, Daisy Fried, Carol Frost, Brendan Galvin, Reginald Gibbons, Jonathan Holden, T.R. Hummer, Allison Joseph, Dorianne Laux, Laurence Lieberman, Frannie Lindsay, William Matthews, Walt McDonald, Alicia Ostriker, Stanley Plumly, Sherod Santos, Margot Schilpp, Dave Smith, Barry Spacks, A.E. Stallings, Virgil Suarez, Brian Turner, Ingrid Wendt, Lesley Wheeler, Charles Wright, etc.
What do you look for in new and emerging voices?
I am excited when I find good works by new or emerging voices, especially those who present poetry displaying both an awareness of craft and an ability to offer new viewpoints. I am delighted when these authors attain a larger audience, and I have been pleased when their careers blossom. In fact, one of the significant elements of having well-known poets in issues of VPR is the further exposure their presence gives to the lesser-known poets.
I am pleased to note that those published in VPR are receiving the large readership their fine works deserve.
How much time do you spend per week or month reading through submissions? What kind of writing will catch your attention right away?
Since there are about 10,000 poems submitted each year, I read and evaluate poems almost every day of the year. I also construct and maintain the journal’s web site, including not just the current issue but also the archive lists. In a recent detailed report to the university, I estimated my time spent editing the journal at about 550 hours per year. Given so much reading of poetry, I am attracted to any work I wish to revisit promptly upon reading the last line.
What is the number one reason a submission will be immediately dismissed?
I don’t know that there is a “number one reason.” When a poem is rejected, the language in the reply honestly states “regret the material does not suit the current need of the journal.” This could be the result of different reasons: the poem seems static, the content is not viewed in a new manner, the craft appears to be lacking something, or simply the poem concerns an issue or setting already in other poems accepted for the issue, etc.
You also serve as co-editor of the Valparaiso Fiction Review. Is this a completely separate review? How it is connected to Valparaiso Poetry Review?
Yes, Valparaiso Fiction Review is a separate publication, which exhibits a different format and has another editing structure that includes a staff of more than a dozen. Due to the continuing success of Valparaiso Poetry Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review was instituted in the fall of 2011 as a complementary journal for VPR. As co-editor with Jon Bull, one of my former students and now a professor at Valparaiso University, I have engaged in many of the same activities with VFR that I have outlined above for VPR—reading, evaluating, and accepting or rejecting submissions. Valparaiso Fiction Review has already achieved a respectable reputation as a leading national/international journal of literary short fiction
I’ve noticed that it is more difficult these days to find literary reviews that publish book reviews, essays and interviews. VPR includes all of these components. I think it makes for a well-rounded pursuit for obvious reasons. Can you say more about these endeavors? Does it increase the workload significantly?
When I envisioned beginning Valparaiso Poetry Review, I decided reviews and author interviews would enhance the issues by allowing further ways to promote poets among the magazine’s readership. Their presence does add to the workload, particularly when constructing the journal.
How do you decide what book reviews to publish and why? What has to stand out about the book review?
I look for book reviews that are objective yet supportive and substantive in a way that will assist the poet reviewed. I prefer reviews that offer examples from the book as evidence of merit instead of mere opinion. Since the number of reviews in an issue is limited, and there are many poetry books worthy of attaining attention, I see no need to publish reviews with completely negative commentary.
Can you say more about essays and interviews? What dimensions do you feel they add to VPR?
I like interviews and essays because they frequently present a glimpse at the processes of composition or evaluation that expand upon content in poems. In addition, readers often like to discover new ways of considering works or their authors through biographical information or a critic’s unique perspective.
The web site is attractive, smart, laid out well, and easy to navigate. As a personal observation, I believe that a poorly executed web site can be the downfall for many online magazines. How do you keep the web site running so smoothly? Do you have a web master and do you work with that individual closely and often? Is there something you’d like to add to the web site that is not already there?
As I have mentioned previously, I have been the sole person responsible for designing and constructing VPR ever since its initial issue. The journal has a distinctive, perhaps idiosyncratic, appearance that emphasizes ease of navigation and reading. In recent years I have considered the possibility of incorporating video in the journal; however, the increase of workload and complications in construction required have prevented me from taking that step yet.
Can you tell us more about your readership? How many visitors do you get on average per day or week?
Statistics indicate the number of visits to the pages of VPR and its blog has risen at a steady rate since the first issue. In any given year visits top 150,000, although it is unclear how much time visitors stay or how many poems are read per visit. Nevertheless, the total number of visits through the years has surpassed 1 million. On the other hand, because Valparaiso Fiction Review is constructed and maintained by my co-editor Jon Bull—who has advanced training in web design—it has a more intricate way of logging visitors and detailing how long they stay or how many times individual works are downloaded. It even has a map in each issue that shows where any short story from VFR is being read anywhere in the world.
Your response time for submissions is up to two months. As I’m sure you know, that is a very quick turnaround in the literary world. How are you able to achieve this remarkable standard?
As a writer who submitted to journals, I always felt a sense of frustration when works were held for six months or more. Therefore, one goal as an editor has been to be disciplined and respond in a timely manner. In fact, most poetry submissions to VPR receive a response in less than a month. The policy switch at VPR to considering online submissions only that happened about seven years ago also helped to expedite the process.
I’ve read that online magazines don’t have to contend with the same kinds of size/space limits that print magazines do. I’ve often heard this referred to as “real estate.” How does this whole concept apply for VPR? Do you feel you are able to be more inclusive of longer poems or different types of work, since you are not limited by the “page” in the traditional sense? Or do you have your own preferences about poems and length?
When a poem is worthy but is also very long, I appreciate the ability to publish it without concern that other works would be lost due to the limitation of page numbers, such as when I edited print journals. This luxury has been especially fortunate when very long essays, reviews, or interviews were included in an issue, and no poems had to be sacrificed.
What hopes do you have for the future of Valparaiso Poetry Review?
As the journal moves forward, I hope to see a continued introduction of new or emerging poets alongside well-known authors so that the audience for all those writers becomes larger. In addition, I would like to see the greater readership further establish and sustain VPR as a significant well-respected source of fine poetry.
Is there anything more about Valparaiso Poetry Review you want the readers of this interview to know about the journal?
I would just ask readers to visit the journal, as well as its archives—which now include more than 1,000 poems and numerous reviews, essays, or interviews—and share with others the good work found within the various issues.
Connie Post served as the first Poet Laureate of Livermore, California from 2005 - 2009. Her work has appeared in The Big Muddy, Calyx, Cold Mountain Review, Crab Creek Review, Comstock Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Slipstream, Spoon River Poetry Review and The Valparaiso Poetry Review . Her poetry awards include the Caesura Poetry Award and Second Prize in the Jack Kerouac Poetry Contest. Her poetry has received praise from Al Young, Ursula LeGuin and Ellen Bass. She has been short listed for the Muriel Craft Bailey awards (Comstock Review) Lois Cranston Memorial Awards (Calyx), Blood Root Literary Magazine, and the Gary Gildner Award (I 70 Review). Her Chapbook “And When the Sun Drops (Finishing Line Press) won the 2012 Aurorean Editor’s Choice Award. Her first full length book “Floodwater” was released by Glass Lyre Press in 2014 and won the 2014 Lyrebird award.