Poetry Critiques with Mid-American Review

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Show Notes

Mid-American Review (MAR) Editor-in-Chief Abigail Cloud and Poetry Editor Megan Borocki shed light on the literary magazine landscape, especially for poets. Cloud and Borocki discuss what kind of work MAR publishes, their editorial approach and process, trends they see in the submission queue, submission tips, preferred fonts (spoiler: poets love Garamond), their perspective on cover letters, the realities of rejection, and more. They also critique three poems submitted to Page Count by Ohio writers.

Learn more about Mid-American Review online follow the journal on Twitter. Finally, Page Count extends special thanks to Sara Shearer, Carole Mertz, and a third, unnamed poet for submitting their poems for this episode.


Abigail Cloud is editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review and a teaching professor at Bowling Green State University, from which she holds an MFA. Her first collection, Sylph, was published by Pleaides Press in 2014.

Megan Borocki (they/them) has an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University. They are poetry editor for Mid-American Review. Their work has recently appeared in Moon City Review, Olney, and The Hunger.

Mentioned in this episode:



Abby Cloud (00:00):
I actually think we probably get more bird poems than dead deer poems.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:06):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the Novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're talking with two editors from Mid-American Review, an international print literary journal based out of Bowling Green State University. Abby Cloud is the Editor-In-Chief of Mid-American Review and the author of the poetry collection, SYLPH. Megan Borocki is the Poetry Editor of Mid-American Review. They are going to offer us an on-air critique of three poems submitted to Page Count by Ohio writers. We'll also discuss publishing in literary magazines at large. Abby and Megan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for being here.

Abby Cloud (01:00):
Thank you so much for having us. Very exciting.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:02):
Well, full disclosure for our listeners, I do already know about Mid-American Review because I received my MFA from Bowling Green State University and as all graduate students in that MFA do, I worked on Mid-American Review, I became the fiction editor my second year and I was also a coordinator for the Winter Wheat Festival of Writing, which if you live in Ohio, especially northwestern Ohio, it is a really fantastic event and you should get there every November and attend. Why don't we start by sharing a bit about the journal with our listeners. So Abby, maybe you could start, let us know a little bit about Mid-American Review.

Abby Cloud (01:38):
Mid-American Review is a continuously publishing journal since about 1980 and we published poetry, fiction, creative, non-fiction and translations. Translations are a major part of what we do. We publish a translation chapbook or two with each issue in which we put the original language alongside the English translation and had all kinds of different languages represented. And that's really important to us because it helps really provide an international recognition of all the great literature that's being published everywhere. Our fiction, we always joke, that it's work with a quirk so it tends to be on the quirky side a little bit unusual or different. And our poetry we tend towards the lyrical as well as creative non-fiction. Same sort of story as you mentioned earlier, we're staffed primarily by our graduate students but we also have undergraduate interns and when possible I like to have a faculty member or two serving on the staff as well. As I am in faculty, it just helps give a little bit of continuity and also further guidance and mentorship for all of our staff, many of whom are working with a Lit Journal for the very first time.

Laura Maylene Walter (02:47):
So Megan, you graduated from the MFA program at Bowling Green and now you are still working with MAR as the poetry editor. Can you tell us a bit about your experience on the graduate student side working for the journal and what it's been like to continue that on today?

Megan Borocki (03:04):
Yeah, it's been a really fun experience because actually before I did my MFA here I was actually a BFA so I had the chance to intern with MAR first, which was something really exciting cause I hadn't really done much literary editing and publishing and it was really helpful I think helping me realize what I like enjoyed doing. So that's why when I got into the MFA I really wanted to be heavily involved with MAR. So working as a grad student was I think really helpful cause a lot of my peers had never done like editing and publishing before. So it was helpful having been an intern before, being able to kind of guide other people and help them feel more comfortable in their editing and publishing voices and like getting confident in like the kind of style that MAR has, which is very kind of I think unique and can be a little struggle sometimes for people getting used to like putting their preferences aside over the what the journal likes. So it's kind of fun doing that and then getting to work as managing editor my second year was really helpful and just fun to get to kind of see all of the like nitty gritty that goes in editing and publishing. And then I graduated and now I'm an adjunct here at the university teaching still. So just kind of helping out and being poetry editor still it's like fun. I don't want to give it up when Abby was like, "Hey you wanna be poetry editor?" I was like <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:17):
Yeah. Oh, I loved working with MAR as well. Mid-American Review or MAR listeners as we refer to it. Probably a lot of people listening to this podcast know this, but for those who might not know that a lot of the literary journals you see, especially the print journals that have been around a long time with an established history like Mid-American Review, are often part of universities either graduate programs or elsewhere in universities, which provides the institutional support for the publication and often they are staffed by graduate students. So there is this interesting mix that maybe Abby you'd like to speak to where the journal itself might have an enduring aesthetic in some way or style, but the incoming graduate students who might only be there for two years or three years can also change the flavor of the journal a bit. So can you talk a bit about that, especially if we are writers who are submitting to journals, what should they be aware of in terms of the staffing of a journal?

Abby Cloud (05:11):
Oh yes. If you are sending work to university affiliated journals, you have to be aware that almost the entire staff will have turned over within two years. There's continuity in the style of what is actually published in the journal, but a lot of times what is sort of brought to the forefront, like what the whole group will talk about changes, that's what really changes when there are so many different people coming in and out because we sort of split up submissions and while we have a senior editor reading every single submission before there's a decline or an acceptance in the middle time or in the beginning what we used to call the slush pile when all the submissions were in post, the stuff that people want to talk about changes, depending on the group, depending on what they're talking about in classes or what they've done before in their undergraduate work or their community writing groups and so on. So that stuff that sort of rises to the top can shift quite a bit and includes current trends or engaging things that are happening. When we started getting a whole lot of sonnets is some years back because there was a resurgence of the sonnet that was a trend that was happening. So we do start to spot the trends over time and and sometimes they're very individual trends. We joke about being the Dead Deer Review because <laugh>, we are Midwestern and they're in middle America and there are many, many deer that get annihilated. So <laugh>

Laura Maylene Walter (06:35):
RIP deer.

Abby Cloud (06:37):
<laugh> Right? Yeah, RIP. There are a whole bunch of, you know, bits and pieces that come into play there that we see a lot of. And so if you're a beginning reader for a magazine like that, you might not realize at first that that's the thing that we see all the time. So it also takes the continuing stuff like me and like Megan to sort of spot those things and say, okay, we've had a lot of that so we're, we're not going to look at that as much. We'd like to see something different. And you do, you get that experience over time. But it's important for submitters to know that, you know, if they're writing something that has a somewhat trendy idea or something that is you know, really typical of a place, we might have seen it a lot. So the poem might be less likely to rise to the top of the conversation because it's something that we've seen a lot. Nothing about the poem as a whole. The poem may be amazing but it may be something that we've seen a lot already. So it takes both groups working in tandem in order to see the new things but also to maintain kind of an editorial status in order to keep it fresh but also keep it high quality.

Laura Maylene Walter (07:42):
Yeah. And I, in addition to MAR I have worked with a few other journals as well and I edited Gordon Square Review until last year. And in addition to those overarching similar kinds of themes or poems or stories you might come across in the queue, it always fascinated me that sometimes it's as if there's something in the air we will get a lot of maybe stories that are not about a broad theme you would expect. I can't think of an example right now, like I don't know a second person's story told in vignettes that are focusing on a tsunami or something and that hasn't been in the news. And it's interesting, it's like what's happening with our right collective creative imaginations, to have it come through like that.

Abby Cloud (08:19):
We had so many second person stories and so many adultery stories and then darned if our contest winner, the contest winner that year was a second person adultery story <laugh>. I was just like how dare, like how did this, how did we come to this moment? But it is, it's true.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:34):
I always tell writers that. So the adultery story, that's something every journal sees a ton of that. That doesn't mean it can't be good or that you can't make it work, but it has to be that special and that creative and to really put the thought into it I think to make it work.

Abby Cloud (08:48):
Mm-hmm. Yep.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:49):
Megan, maybe you can paint a picture for our listeners of what a MAR editorial meeting might look like because a lot of journals that aren't run by universities, you're in submittable on the backend reading and maybe you have some online meetings but it's sort of individual and distance. So can you share with us what a typical meeting is like for Mid-American Review?

Megan Borocki (09:12):
Yeah, so as far as the poetry side will go as we'll get together once a week for about an hour and before these meetings as far as like what we're talking about as a group, we'll have an Excel sheet where we keep all of our poems and stuff and kind of like a voting spreadsheet and where people are asked to kind of like read and kind of gather some thoughts on pieces before they come in and kind of vote either yes, maybe, or no for discussion. And this kind of helps us kind of focus in maybe if we're like have 15 or 20 on the spreadsheet, like maybe if there's a lot of no's happening, not like focusing discussion time on that or not as much time but we'll open up a packet specifically the poems that we're interested in and we'll take turns like reading them out loud cause we find it's very important to kind of hear the poem cause there's a lot of sound work and music that goes into poetry.

Megan Borocki (09:57):
So we'll do that. And then usually we start off the conversation talking about things that we enjoyed. So like maybe lines, Abby always says like mouth sounds or things that make the mouth feel good when you're reading them. Maybe images that really stuck with us and things like that. And then kind of starts to move it towards like more editorial stuff. So like thinking about like stuff that we've already taken for MAR maybe things that we've been looking at recently, how that's kind of mapping up with that usually is what me and Michael are thinking. And then we're kind of going into maybe things that we're apprehensive about. Like maybe we love a poem but we already have two poems that we're taking that are in a similar topic so maybe it's not a right fit or maybe there's like something craft wise that we aren't quite satisfied with or maybe like endings and stuff are usually a big one we'll talk about. But once we kind of talk about that, we'll kind of do a final vote and then continue on to the next one. And that's usually kind of how it goes. We'll take some breaks in between cause I feel like if you're just talking about poetry straight for an hour, you can kind of go crazy. So we'll kind of have little anecdotes and stuff in between.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:54):
Yeah, you definitely need to rest your brain. Reading submissions is exhausting. It takes a lot of concentration if you're doing it right, you want to do right by the writers. So again, I'm very much a prose person and when I was in MAR the fiction editors would sort of be at one side of the room and the poets on the other side of the room and I always thought I was never involved directly in the poetry discussions, but it always felt to me like the poets had really great collaboration and we're having really lively conversations. So.

Abby Cloud (11:19):
Yeah, sometimes too lively.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:21):
Sometimes Too lively. But it's so much fun to read submissions with other people in the room too. Which I think is something really special for a journal like MAR there is a different feeling when you can just say to your friend and fellow editor right next to you, Hey listen to this line. Isn't this wild? You know? instead of being kind of stuck in your computer all the time. So Abby, how long have you been the editor-in-chief?

Abby Cloud (11:42):
Oh, let's see. Since fall 2012.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:45):
Okay, good. So a good Over a decade.

Abby Cloud (11:47):
A long time.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:47):

Abby Cloud (11:48):
Yeah. From 2001 to 2003 I was a grad student and I've been working with the magazine off and on on in some capacity since then. So it's been a long time that I've worked specifically with Mid-American Review.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:59):
Yeah, it's clearly seems to be a journal that once you get involved you don't wanna leave so, I'm glad you too have held on. So since you are the Editor-In-Chief, you serve as the umbrella, you kind of cover everything. You have your fiction staff, but you're also, you know, working with the fiction team to approve pieces. So what can you tell us, especially for someone like me who's such a prose writer in terms of submitting to a journal like MAR the poetry side, what makes that maybe a bit different or unique? Are there any unique considerations for writers who are submitting poetry versus submitting a short story or an essay?

Abby Cloud (12:33):
That's such a good question cause of course usually on the fiction side we're seeing one piece by someone most likely. Occasionally, you know, we have short collections like maybe three flash or something like that, which we love. We're very fond of that. But usually there's like the one shot for the fiction writers. So that does put a lot of pressure on a story, on one specific story and all its components, which is why it's really good to send to places that accept simultaneous submissions. That's so important because that's the way that you get more eyes on your work. On the poetry side, we have a couple of pieces to look at. Usually four or five pieces per packet. And it's important to understand though that also means that the poetry readers are reading more works of art. Essentially they're spending time with each piece and that can wear the poetry readers out a little bit faster sometimes than the fiction readers.

Abby Cloud (13:25):
Fiction it's volume, like you just have the volume of work to read with the poets, it's the numbers coming past your face, forming an opinion about each individual work can be really exhausting. Usually when we're reading a packet of poetry submissions, it's very seldom that a whole packet will entrust us. Usually it's like one or two things, maybe three. We've been doing a lot of sets of two and three lately, which I prefer. I like that gives us a little something more for each writer. That also means that we could have in discussion, maybe there's three stories on the fiction side, but there might be 10 or 15 poems by you know, 10 different writers that we're talking about. So we use the Excel spreadsheet with the voting on the poetry side. You wouldn't do that on the fiction side. A show of hands is usually enough.

Abby Cloud (14:14):
But when you have that many things to talk about on the poetry side, the yes, no, maybe, in our very complicated system that we, we have evolved over time, that is really crucial because it keeps us organized. It makes sure that, you know, when we're having these far flung poetry conversations that we are still coming back to the center. Like do we feel like this is fitting in? I love working with both. That's kind of why we've changed the structure of our meetings. Poets meet, everybody meets together and we talk about something editing related and then fiction meets. I can now be in both conversations which is amazing. That's a big change. It was very, very overdue and I'm really appreciating being able to be present in, in both conversations. That's been really crucial for me to sort of keep up. And that way again, that umbrella actually works that way I know what's been happening, I know what we have, I know what is going to compliment from the two sides of the table.

Abby Cloud (15:08):
And that also helps us when we're picking creative non-fiction cause we know what we need. We can see all the pieces together. So my status as being that umbrella. And then our managing editor also works primarily with poetry but ultimately also works with fiction. Like we have that bridge to make sure everything collaborates and coheirs. You know, when I was a grad student and working with poets and as I mentioned like everything was postal submissions when I started we just come in and dump out a bin all over the table and read. Read altogether. We're doing so much more reading online that we don't read together as much anymore. We're mainly when we're meeting we're talking about the stuff that everybody has liked already or that some people have liked a lot. So there is a little bit of isolation that has kind of trended in as far as the reading goes, but it also means that we're more efficient, we're more together, we're able to make it through the volume of submissions. So a lot has changed. A lot has changed since I started but I think for the most part I think it's for the better. I think we're magazines that function similarly to how ours works are finding that some of those changes are really working for us and helping us do better work.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:18):
Yeah. Yeah it sounds like there have been a lot of changes since I graduated, which is great. I don't feel old at all. It's fine.

Abby Cloud (16:24):
<laugh> it's fine. It's fine that you moved on. It's fine. It's okay. We're still really behind on reading so we still have that going for us.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:31):
I mean that is eternal in all lit mags I think. So a lot of submissions come pouring in because I'm correct that Mid-American Review, the submissions are still free, right?

Abby Cloud (16:41):
Mm-hmm, yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:42):
Okay. Because a lot of journals charge $3 or so and that was something else I always loved about MAR is that it feels more open and inclusive when no one has to pay a small submission fee. So I think that's great. Can we talk about some of the, the nuts and bolts of submitting that? Writers always want to know, I always hear from writers who want to know how much the cover letter matters. So can you each share your points of view about the writer's cover letter on their submission?

Megan Borocki (17:08):
I have always tried to not really read the cover letter as much as possible. Sometimes I get a little nosy and I want to know a little bit about the person. But usually cover letters are like the last thing we'll look at if we look at 'em at all. Cause we're more focused on the work itself and what it's doing versus like who that person is and like what they're doing. Like if they're like famous or something like that's not stuff that we're like really looking at, at MAR when we're kind of looking in. So usually when I'm like sending out stuff myself too, I put very bare, bare bones in a cover letter as far as that goes. But yeah, usually we don't read it and we always try to tell our grad students when they're first coming in to not pay as much attention to it and just kind of focus on the work. Usually we take it into consideration at certain points for like certain situations obviously, but we try not to read them that much.

Abby Cloud (17:57):
I know on a previous podcast Kirsten talked a little bit about letting editors know if it's going to be your first publication or something like that. We love knowing that. That's the kind of thing that I think is really important because it helps us sort of see where you are in your journey and helps us, you know, feel like we can bring you into the community even more. I don't love, occasionally we get, you know, super, super lengthy lists of where people have been published or like a complete history of where someone's been published. Doesn't matter whether it's your first publication or you've been published a thousand times, like we're going to give your work the same amount of attention and the same sort of energy that we would want our work to receive as well at another publication. So I do read the, the cover letters like once I've read a submission and always before I decline something I'll read it. I think it's really important to see especially you know, it might be someone that I've met or someone whose work I've read elsewhere and I wanna make sure that I am aware of anything special that they wanted to tell me. So we do look at them just usually after the reading process.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:00):
Right. And it's not the defining factor in accepting or rejecting a piece. I always like to share that. I think this is when I was at MAR and we sometimes would get short stories submitted by writers who had stories published in the New Yorker or the Atlantic and legitimately did. Cause I would Google them and I would look to check. And they did and the story they sent wasn't for MAR, it wasn't for us. It wasn't our style. Not good or bad, it just wasn't for us. And frankly the fact that they were published in the New Yorker had no bearing on our decision, you know? So it really is about sending the right work to the right journal. Definitely.

Abby Cloud (19:38):
Right. And we get the same thing with degrees. You know, if someone has a degree or they don't or they have a certificate or they've just been writing as a hobby, it doesn't really matter to the decision process at all. You know it's good for you, you know, it's like great, I celebrate that journey with you but also it's not going to affect my decision about your work.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:56):
In terms of poets submitting their poetry to MAR, what are some best practices for the actual submission or any common mistakes you see in terms of how writers are submitting their work?

Abby Cloud (20:08):
What do you love recently Megan?

Megan Borocki (20:10):
Oh, are you talking about font?

Abby Cloud (20:11):
I am talking about font.

Megan Borocki (20:14):
So I have like a font bias, which is if I open up a submission and it's in Garamond, I'm immediately inclined to enjoy it more. For some reason I just visually.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:22):
I knew you were going to say Garamond. Poets and Garamond cause it's so graceful. Yeah.

Megan Borocki (20:27):
I love Garamond but sometimes you'll open up a submission and if it's in like a kind of weirder, like not like a normal font that you would see it in like Times New Roman, Arial, or Garamond or something like that. I've had grad students before send me pieces and be like, this is hard to read in this font or something like that. So kind of being I guess mindful of the formatting and like, like legibility of a piece and like how you want that to be like portrayed as far as like spacing, especially with poems. Are you double spacing it, single spacing it? What are the margins kind of looking like? How's that going to transfer to somebody else? Visually it's like a off the bat kind of thing. I'll notice.

Abby Cloud (21:02):
We have a specific size and often we'll get poems with really long lines and that's just not going to look that way in our journal. We don't typically turn the page around. We could but we don't normally. So anything that's going to have extra long lines, it's not really going to fit with our particular page width of six inches. So we have to be really mindful of that and occasionally if it's really close we'll test it. We'll actually break out the template and test it if it's something that we're kind of interested in. So being aware of what the page looks like in the publication that you're after is really crucial. And to that end too, like we get lots of poems that experiment with spacing and typography and stuff like that. I think it's important to send that kind of thing as PDFs. A lot of folks don't realize that from computer to computer it's going to change.

Abby Cloud (21:50):
So PDF is the most stable, especially if it has the fonts embedded because you know, if you put something in a font that I don't have, it's not going to be in that font on my computer if you send it as a word doc or something. So you know, little technical things like that can make a big difference in terms of how we see the poem with that first look, with that very first opening, we want to see it the way that you want us to see it. So thinking about that is really crucial as well. Having a good sense for how things look from place to place.

Laura Maylene Walter (22:20):
Yeah, absolutely. And I think with literary journals they all get so many submissions. I mean editors are just consumed by submissions at all times that it does make a difference when you open the document. If the font is maybe less standard. And I know this can be subjective, but if it seems like an unattractive font, I don't think an editor would reject it for that. But it creates an impression and when you have so many things you just don't want to give the editor any kind of negative impression at all. So yeah, that's a really smart advice to make sure it looks good on the page and be aware of the standards. You know, Garamond and poetry seems to usually be pretty safe. Um, I like Garamond and prose too, but for longer stories sometimes it's harder to read and Times New Roman is better, you know, so writers should just kind of do their research and be aware of what will look good. Which kind of brings us to rejection, which is any lit mag editor and any writer who's ever submitted to a lit mag rejection is a big part of the process. Can you talk a bit about sending rejections from Mid-American Review? And I don't know if this has changed since I've been there, but when I was there there was a tiered rejection process. So if that's still in place, can you explain to our listeners what that is and what is happening behind the scenes when a writer gets that dreaded, "No thank you."

Megan Borocki (23:36):
I'm guessing Abby you probably want me to talk about it.

Abby Cloud (23:38):
I do <laugh>. I sure do.

Megan Borocki (23:41):
Yeah, I'm the person that does most of the rejections as far as poetry goes cause I did it during managing editor and I do it now as poetry editor. It's never fun. It can be kind of sad and disheartening to get a rejection letter but there's also like sending it as someone who is a writer themselves is always like a process that has to be done on my end but doesn't really make me happy I guess. But I try to personalize. I know it's hard cause we get so many poetry submissions to like personalize rejections. So I always try to like, this is something I picked up from Abby, which is always trying to find one poem that somebody liked in the reading chain or something like that to let them know that we are actually like seeing them as a writer and as like a person and like we try to take as much time as possible with each submission and give them the respect it deserves.

Megan Borocki (24:21):
So I do a lot of tier one rejections cause I get sent a lot from like the reading circles and stuff. So there'll be like people that are doing individual readings outside of group. But usually if we take it to discussion as a group it'll automatically get a second tier, which usually it's asking them to submit again talking a little bit more in depth about some of the things that we enjoyed about it, particularly maybe the ones we've talked about as a group. And then we have a third tier rejection which is essentially like it was so close but then we just like there was something that kept us from taking it. I usually take a lot of time with those and like let them know like what we really liked and like how excited we are for them to see it somewhere else and like them to find the right fit for it.

Megan Borocki (25:01):
We also have a tier four which is just kind of like a blank one if for any other reason if we feel the need to personalize it and stuff. So that's kind of usually the process for the rejections go. As far as poetry, I do each of them by hand. I don't like mass send them out or anything. I do each one individually. I always find my name. I always type it out rather than copying pasting. I feel like it gives me a second to kind of think about that packet as well. Like the act of writing my name out and like writing a sincerely, or all the best kind of helps me keep in the moment and keep it from being like a repetitive task or something but kind of keeps it human for me at least. But yeah and then also like we've been adding because we're a little bit behind on reading just because of Covid and everything, we're still kind of catching up. I usually will uh, say something about that and like apologize for the delay as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (25:49):
Yeah, yeah, Writers. Another really common thing is editors often get behind for a lot of reasons so that's normal. Yeah. And hearing you mention the tier four rejection completely reminded me I think the first tier four rejection I sent at MAR, which is just the blank email that you have to fill in yourself with a personal note because it was a story I really, really loved and for whatever reason we didn't take it and there could be so many, so many reasons we had something similar or just we couldn't come to agreement, whatever it was. And so I sent a personal rejection and the writer wrote me back later to tell me that story got picked up by the Kenyon review. I mean I was thrilled. I was thrilled for the writer. So I think editors have to pass on things all the time and we want you to succeed, you know, and I think from hearing both of you, it sounds like you're both in agreement on that as well. Like you want the writers to do well.

Abby Cloud (26:38):
Absolutely. People always apologize for the extra work when they have to send us a withdrawal because something got taken elsewhere. But it is a routine part of what we do and we are all about that because writers getting published is good for us as writers so you know, it just adds to the literary landscape and we are very happy about that. That's good for everybody in our field.

Megan Borocki (26:59):
Yeah, as we're like finishing up our issue too, we're sending out a lot of acceptances and we've been getting some back from people saying like, oh I'm so sorry, like I forgot to withdraw this. Like it's been published somewhere else and like it's always super exciting to be able to email them and be like, Hey, where is it getting published? So like I put it onto the grad students that were like really jazzed about it. We're always rooting for people even if we don't get the piece and we want it. Like we're just really excited to see it out in the world and other people reading it is always just a great time I think.

Laura Maylene Walter (27:24):
Yeah. Well ,so speaking of poetry, we have three poems here that we should turn to because I could talk about lit journal stuff all day and I'm already realizing how much time we've spent. So for our listeners we have three poems that were submitted to page count by Ohio writers and we're going to discuss these poems pretending as if they came through a queue at a literary journal. And so what would their reactions be as editors? So the first poem I believe Megan you said you would like to read. Would you like to go ahead and read it?

Megan Borocki (27:57):
Alright, so "Plague Doctor" by Sara Shearer. [text redacted from transcript]

Laura Maylene Walter (28:39):
Great, thank you for reading that. So I'm going to let the two of you take it away. If you had received this in the MAR queue or what do you anticipate maybe your editorial discussions might surround?

Abby Cloud (28:49):
Well first Megan would ask what are some things that we appreciated or enjoyed or we always like to start with the positive components that really drew our attention because of course at this point these are things that at least someone in the group has liked. So for instance, we talked about mouth feel earlier and my immediate reaction especially to this third stanza is the mouth feel of those words. Dull, hollow tally, also dull and drum. They just feel good to say and they mesh really well linguistically for me, I'm a big fan of that. I don't have to have alliteration or anything like that but I like to have words that just feel good to say. Having a grouping like that is really nice.

Megan Borocki (29:30):
Yeah, I also really enjoy, I asked to read it out loud cause I was reading it at home by myself the other day and I was like really interested in the way that it sounds out loud, specifically with like the, the bald and eyeless and wet. I think really I was enjoying as well as the ending of kind of been into the kind of like repetition echo thing at the end of poems. Um, so that kind of immediately drew my eyes personally and I like that as well.

Abby Cloud (29:54):
Yeah, the repetition of the, again gives us that it kind of highlights the worry that is inherent in the plague of Covid. Like having the, having a repetition like that can be a hard sell editorially, but it is really driven. It has a meaning to it. That's really crucial too. So having that kind of driving force at the end there, like scoring over the worry that we are experiencing was really powerful. Megan, did you have a least favorite stanza?

Megan Borocki (30:22):
Um, I think maybe my least favorite was probably the second stanza and the only reason I say that was because I felt like the duck bill N95 stood out to me. I don't know, I'm still trying to figure out if it was like maybe a syllable thing for me cause sometimes when there's maybe two or one syllable words next to like a really long multi syllable word, it usually kind of sticks out a little bit because it was really technical in consideration to the around stuff which was a not as hyper-specific in like that kind of, I don't, I don't want to say scientific or like medical like way, but kind of that and also with like the whole N95 mix with the plague doctor. Was kind of for me but I did like the lavender scented garbage bags.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:04):
I love that it elevated it from just imagining a generic garbage bag until I could really picture what that was. Yeah.

Abby Cloud (31:12):
Because it's an awful smell too. Like it's a weird choice.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:15):

Abby Cloud (31:15):
For garbage bags. I have that too whenever I pick out accidentally. Like I never get scented ones because of that reason. Like it's a weird sort of sickly smell. So it seemed appropriate in that moment <laugh>. Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:26):
Yep. I wondered, I noticed the duck bill N95 stuck out for me a bit too and I wondered if, does it feel like too much attempt to echo the bird theme of calling it a duck bell? But I'm not sure. But that did cross my mind. But speaking of birds, again I am a non poet so you're getting questions from a non poet here. But that's one of the things I remember from my poetry cohort at Bowling Green and even in MAR discussions talking about how many poems are about birds. It is just a common topic which is not a problem on its own. But I'm wondering if you can speak to that. If birds are a common image or theme in poems, what is this poem maybe doing or not doing that that helps it rise above that?

Abby Cloud (32:10):
I think. Yeah. I actually think we probably get more bird poems than dead deer poems, but it's just so common. I write about birds all the time. I write about birds and wings, they're everywhere and my poetry. So I fit in with that trend also or that fact it's not even trend anymore, it's just a fact. I think in this case, because we start off, you know, the corpse, it's a corpse, it's dead immediately and the focus becomes the body, the empty body. So I didn't mind that it was a bird poem because it was automatically going in a different direction. I don't know. Megan, how did you feel about that?

Megan Borocki (32:45):
Yeah, I actually agree with that cause I, I'm kind of impartial to bird poems cause we do get a lot of them. So it is something that is cycled a lot but I think by the use of making it about the body and it's not focusing on like the wings itself or flight, which is like a common thing that I don't want to say like a cliché that people will use but referring to birds in flight and like freedom and stuff, it's talking about the body and it being on the ground I think really already like switches our perspective of what we're used to seeing with a bird poem. So I think actually piqued my interest and I was like, oh this is doing something different that I, that I don't normally kind of see with this kind of stuff. So I think it made it, I wasn't concerned about it being a bird as much as I would've maybe been in a different situation.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:28):
Yeah. And there's something about that final stanza and the repetition that for me made me think of beyond the fact of the bird, there's this underlying anxiety coursing through it. So that seemed to take it in a different sort of direction. Which I thought was really good. Okay, well before we move onto the next poem, is there anything else either of you would like to share about this or any suggestions for the writer?

Abby Cloud (33:50):
I just want to highlight the movement from, with only a few feathers left to suggest a body. You know, it continues once capable of flight, et cetera, et cetera. But that one line to suggest a body is really powerful cause like we had a corpse and then now we're suggesting a body, it's almost like the remnants as opposed to an actual shape, which I really appreciate it. It's sort of erased the picture that we already had, which I think is is often a really good move.

Laura Maylene Walter (34:16):
Very vivid, very evocative. We'll move onto the second poem, which I will read. "That This Blue Exists..." By Carole Mertz. [text redacted from transcript].

Laura Maylene Walter (35:00):
So before we get into this one, we talked about cover letters earlier and I actually have a bit of some background information about this poem that I didn't share with you in the beginning because I wanted to receive your authentic reaction as if it just came across in the queue. So I'll just open it up for your first impressions about this poem.

Abby Cloud (35:18):
You want to start Megan?

Megan Borocki (35:20):
Yeah, I was immediately picking out like a lot of use of alliteration and sound work so I was noticing that the author was aware of that and like their choice of line breaks and stuff. I love the use of bluets, bluets. There's this book that I really like that's titled that so I was immediately kind of like, oh blue, yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:36):
Maggie Nelson, right?

Megan Borocki (35:37):
Maggie Nelson. Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:38):
Yeah that's a great book.

Abby Cloud (35:39):
Yep. Maggie Nelson. Wave Books, 2009 everyone. Yeah if anyone wants to find it.

Megan Borocki (35:44):
It's great book though. Really good. So it kind of already I think did that for me in like the use of like image and color was a nice start I think for me to get me into it.

Abby Cloud (35:52):
Yeah, there's some really lovely concepts here. Like the, I oriented myself to the trying to tie together the sleeper and the spindle, which was a really evocative moment. It gave me pause, made me sort of stop and picture something and felt kind of magical in a way, not in you know, a really overt way but sort of like the natural magic I think that comes out of those concepts together. I really enjoyed that.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:16):
I did ask this author how, how she would like to pronounce bluet. Maggie Nelson, does she pronounce it?

Abby Cloud (36:22):
I think it's "blue-it" for her.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:23):
"Blue-it" is the the dictionary but I think "blue-ay" is another pronunciation. Anyway, I just wanted to clarify that. That's what the author wanted. The author when she first sent me this poem said that it is built from titles used by other authors and other poets and you could probably see that scattered throughout. I know the empathy exams jumped right out at me and I wanted to have the writer kind of hear reactions without the editors maybe knowing that information because editors don't always read the cover letters first.

Abby Cloud (36:52):

Laura Maylene Walter (36:53):
So if you weren't aware of that, when you read the poem, does that change how you feel about the poem or how useful do you think it is to even have this information? Is it better to just experience the poem first on its own without having that information?

Abby Cloud (37:06):
I don't think it changes my perception of the poem, but it does give a clearer reason for a couple of the moments where I was like, this takes me out of the poem. So like the phrases, some really specific phrases like, 'empathy exams' or 'homesick restaurant' or 'St. maybe' they felt sort of too sign posted I guess if that makes sense. In much the same way that the duck bill N95 does in the previous poem. Like here we get these really specific statements when we're really kind of doing something different I think in the poem that's well beyond that sort of idea or that really specific signpost. Whereas others are more subtle like 'breathing lessons' is always a kind of evocative and it has a beautiful sound in it as well. And you know, 'patchwork planet' also works at the end I think.

Abby Cloud (37:53):
So it's sort of testing what works and what doesn't in the sense of is it too specific for this particular poem, which I think is taking on a different life. But the great thing is you can cut out the stuff that doesn't resonate with the poem. You can do something a little different with it and start, you know, filling things in with your own language. It's so interesting that you say that cause it's sort of a different sort of cento. Usually a cento is lines from other poems and we don't see a whole lot of those. Occasionally we do. So I wouldn't have spotted this I think as a title cento, but like I said it sort of underscores that the bits that didn't read as the poet's sort of inner voice, there's a reason for that <laugh>. Right. So it's, it's kind of affirmational as a matter of fact in a weird way I would feel. Yeah. That's an interesting strategy though. I'm going to have to think about that.

Megan Borocki (38:42):
It's not usually something that bothers me as an editor when I'm reading. It's nice to know like Abby said, I think as far as to help understand certain things as far, cause like when I was reading it did kind of feel like there was maybe like two voices at times. The inner poet voice and then this hyper specific almost like formal voice it almost felt like at times. So kind of threading between those moments and thinking about the intentionality between those, if it's like intentional, how are you switching between those two and how are you bringing the like reader along with you on that journey to also be like, yeah this is totally, I'm here for it and I understand why we're doing this. Kind of giving it the context.

Laura Maylene Walter (39:21):
And as a writer I can see the draw to creating something out of titles like this because it does in a way it sets your creativity free in a whole new way then it creates that extra challenge of making it work as its own thing that rises above the other titles. So it is challenging. So if you were to get a poem like this in your queue, do you think the writer should mention like under the title what it is or do you think it's better you would rather have everything stand on its own without knowing that it's a title cento?

Abby Cloud (39:54):
I think we would need an epigraph. Yeah we would expect an epigraph.

Laura Maylene Walter (39:57):

Abby Cloud (39:57):
Just a brief explanatory one. It's sort of like what you do with a golden shovel. Like you wanna give the alert to what that's from since it's titles I wouldn't wanna list like you would normally do with as cento. I wouldn't need a list but I would like a little epigraph that just sort of explains that and it wouldn't sway my opinion of the piece. But it would just give me a reason if there was something that didn't hit my ear quite right, it would help me understand why that was true and then decide whether it was working or not. Like you could see like both of us had an instinct.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:27):
Yeah. <laugh>. Yeah.

Abby Cloud (40:28):
In our initial comments like there's always going to be an editorial instinct in there somewhere, whether you know why or not.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:34):

Abby Cloud (40:34):
So I think that's really interesting

Laura Maylene Walter (40:36):
And I think it is good for writers to know. As you said earlier, you don't always read the cover letter before you read the piece. And so if there is something about the piece, it's structure or how it's made that is that important then putting the epigraph is the good move.

Abby Cloud (40:51):
Yeah. Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:52):
Anything else on this one before we move on?

Abby Cloud (40:54):
I'm just really glad that we had a call out to Maggie Nelson there.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:57):

Abby Cloud (40:57):
And then we have something kind of an interesting form. That's something that I'm going to think about probably all day now.

Laura Maylene Walter (41:03):
More Maggie Nelson <laugh>. Okay. Abby, would you like to read our final poem?

Abby Cloud (41:08):
Yes. Okay. This poem is entitled, "Let Me Be The First." [text redacted from transcript]

Abby Cloud (41:46):
This is a good example of Megan and I having completely opposite reactions to something.

Laura Maylene Walter (41:51):

Abby Cloud (41:52):
Yeah. We were just talking about this earlier because the motor vehicle threw you out, right? Whereas I liked that. What struck you about it?

Megan Borocki (41:59):
I don't know if it was just because I'm used to seeing in a poem. I would just see vehicle. I'm not used to seeing motor before it and maybe that's just my age showing, <laugh>. It could be as simple as that. But yeah, that was something I noticed that we were on different ends about, which is not normal but does happen a bit as well.

Abby Cloud (42:17):
I love it when it happens because it's sort of like it's a good revelation that editors are going to have completely different opposing viewpoints to something, to anything.

Laura Maylene Walter (42:27):
I read motor vehicle as being, not that the writer is from an era where you call cars "motor vehicles," but more, it's almost like a vintage throwback. Like we're going to describe it in this way. That's a little out of time. That adds to a kind of the vibe of the piece, but can see how that could throw you off. Especially with all the kissing green imagery of trees beforehand. Yeah.

Abby Cloud (42:52):
Yeah, I like it because it also echoes later with operate heavy machinery and a scientific breakthrough. Like it has that sort of technical manual language that repeats. So it's sort of like setting you up for that later and I don't know why I like that this is sort of a poem of surprise in that way. Things are kind of unexpected. I was into that with this one. The idea that we have these sort of unexpected little phrases popping up. I really enjoyed that.

Laura Maylene Walter (43:20):
What else Megan struck you about this one? Either things you liked or things that pulled you out. What else did you think about this?

Megan Borocki (43:27):
While motor vehicle kind of pulled me out, I feel like there was a lot of moments that really like kind of pulled me in. In this piece, I am partial to couplets, so visually on the page it's like. This is like a joke that everyone has. But if I see a poem in couplets I'm automatically, cause I write a lot in couplets. So I feel like that form, putting my bias aside is working fairly well for this piece to give it some space and like really helps some of these line breaks which are, I don't know, some of the line breaks are just so good and then like when we're reading them out loud, I'm just kind of brought back to them and like how disappointing to be so thoroughly horizontal is such an interesting way to break up that line and not something that I would've thought to do but is working really well. I think for that, I love a poem that surprises me. Especially when you're reading so much. Sometimes it's fun to kind of see something that like brings you by surprise. And I've been really drawn to strange pieces recently as well. Something about 'I'm a sad grape'. I was thinking about all morning. I like was reading it again when I was brushing my teeth before coming to the office today and I was like, there's nothing about that. And like just like really had me thinking,

Laura Maylene Walter (44:27):
Yeah there is something about that. I'm so drawn to that simple, 'I'm a sad grape'. It's so kind of, and I mean this in the best of ways. It's sort of pathetic but really it does evoke that feeling when you're wallowing or when you are so disappointed in yourself. Yeah.

Megan Borocki (44:43):
It's like so perfect for the poem. It just makes it like makes sense at that point in the piece too. Like of course it's a grape, of course it's a sad grape. I can't explain of course. Like.

Abby Cloud (44:53):
Of course it's a grape.

Laura Maylene Walter (44:54):
Yeah, of course. And just one, not a bunch. Just one grape, one sad little grape. Yeah.

Abby Cloud (44:59):
I think too like that last stands out. I don't know Megan, you might not agree with us, but I would've loved to see like one more thought in that last couplet after the grape and then before if only I could stay mad at me. I would love to say like, just one more. I'm really rhythm-oriented while the rhythm works there, like I still feel like a little bit of extra, like a little bit more would be really nice there to fill that. But the same way like I would love the title just to read into the poem. Like I don't need it to be repeated at the beginning. There's also this sort of like argument for symmetry in my brain to sort of trim that at the opening, add a little bit at the ending. Not super, super crazy oriented about shape on the page. But in this case I think it would work to have that little shift.

Laura Maylene Walter (45:41):
"I'm a sad grape" is such a showstopper and then the final line, "If only I could stay mad at me." I could see how adding something more could help the development of the poem. Yeah. And it's interesting that Megan brought up its couplets because this is a podcast audio-only, we're just reading them out loud for our listeners. But of course for editors, how things appear on the page, as we mentioned earlier, does matter. And this poem is in couplets. Maybe I should have described the stanzas for all of them, but I agree I like couplets too. There's something about them that is so it feels satisfying.

Megan Borocki (46:12):
Yeah. It's especially like interesting cause like couplets are supposed to be like romantic. They're like from the sonnet. Right. And there's two, it's a couple, but it's like also a very lonely poem. So it's working I think in the form itself to kind of contrast what's going on in the poem, which I think is doing something very self-aware and interesting in that way as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (46:30):
Is there anything you would like to add that you didn't quite get to for this poem?

Abby Cloud (46:34):
I think I hit all my moments. I just really like thinking about 'new trees are kissing green'. I have been thinking about that for a while too. That's my kind of little show stopper there. So we love a moment. We love a moment.

Laura Maylene Walter (46:46):
Well and I do want to say thank you to the writers who sent in their poems.

Abby Cloud (46:50):
Thank you very much.

Laura Maylene Walter (46:50):
It is always an act of bravery to have your work critiqued in general, much less on a podcast that other people can listen to. But I think your insights were so fascinating and I think will really help other poets who are hoping to submit to Mid-American Review or to submit to other journals. So that's really great. And I know we're almost out of time, but I just have one final question for both of you, you're both writers as well, in addition to being editors. Can you talk a bit about your own writing and maybe how editing poetry at MAR, how that influences or informs your own writing?

Abby Cloud (47:23):
Take it away, Megan.

Megan Borocki (47:24):
I personally write a lot about grotesque imagery and bugs are like a big thing for me, specifically earthworms.

Laura Maylene Walter (47:33):

Megan Borocki (47:33):
It's kind of like my thing, I guess a lot of people know me for around here.

Laura Maylene Walter (47:37):
This is what I love about universities and graduate programs. I know you've already graduated, but people know you for earthworms. Yeah. Amazing. Amazing. Go on.

Megan Borocki (47:46):
It's like beautiful because like one of my friends is still in the program and he put an earthworm in a poem and he was like, he came to me, he is like, do you want credit for this? And I was like, what do you mean? It's just an earthworm. So

Abby Cloud (47:56):

Laura Maylene Walter (47:56):
It sounds like you can now take credit for the existence of earthworms in general. So.

Megan Borocki (48:00):
Honestly, I'm bringing them back on my map it feels like. Yeah. So that as well as like, I write a lot about my mother and like family relations and stuff, so that's kind of like where I come from and what I'm writing. I've noticed like when we put together the most recent issue, the double issue, 41, there was something that ended up happening there cause I was there for the whole process and working very heavily where there was a lot of, for some reason just mom poems that were coming in that were just so good and they kept getting brought up and we kept taking them. And like, just interesting imagery. I feel like every issue, I can always convince Abby, like of taking one weird out-of-pocket poem, that kind of like, brings something just like kind of crazy I guess. Or abnormal, I guess. It's something fun. I like to have fun when I'm writing.

Abby Cloud (48:48):
We have published a couple of really fun poems that like, I wouldn't have chosen myself or I wouldn't have picked out of the pile, but in hearing like discussion and I've been sort of swayed. Not that I'm necessarily a really traditional writer, but I'm not super good with like humorous poems or poems that have that aspect of the wild about them. Like just like wild linguistically. My own work tends to be lyrical and image oriented and writing a lot about divination right now. Different forms of divination and interesting writing. Some semi persona poems, like they're personas, but they're also like facets of my own character. Weirdly. I would love to be able to write more and submit more, but editorial work really takes it out of you sometimes. Yeah. So a lot of times I'll put aside time specifically for the writing or the submitting the business of writing and then the writing, like they have to happen separately for me. I've never successfully overlayed all of these aspects. I have to divide them into times. I don't mind that though. That's okay. It's, it's makes my my brain a little bit more organized and happier about it. So yeah, I'm okay with that.

Laura Maylene Walter (49:51):
Great. Well, you both have been so generous with your time and your insights. Can you let our listeners know where they can go to learn more about Mid-American Review or the Bowling Green MFA?

Abby Cloud (50:02):
So our website for Mid-American Review can be found at bgsu.edu/midamericanreview. We also have a Twitter, which is @MidAm_Review, something like that.

Laura Maylene Walter (50:14):
I'll link to that.

Abby Cloud (50:15):
Yeah, thank you. Laura mentioned our festival earlier Winter Wheat, which is bgsu.edu/winterwheat. It's as you say, every November pretty much. And we do have some online offerings as well, not just local ones so people can attend from anywhere, which is really fun, really exciting.

Laura Maylene Walter (50:31):
Well, thank you both so much for being here and for putting a little poetry in my day. Thank you.

Abby Cloud (50:37):
Woo, poetry <laugh>. Thanks, Laura.

Laura Maylene Walter (50:41):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at ohiocenterforthebook.org, follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email ohiocenterforthebook@cpl.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count

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