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No Poem Starts Perfect: A Q&A with Pelorus Press

No Poem Starts Perfect: A Q&A with Pelorus Press

Pelorus Press is a new literary magazine based in New York City. The magazine asks contributors to submit their work in a unique way. We got in touch with editor Cahaley Markman to find out more.

Why did you want to establish your own literary magazine?

I started this magazine with my friend and co-founding editor Dylan Debelis. We both really love poetry and wanted to play a role in getting more poetry out into the world; however, it was very important to both of us that this magazine bring something different to the table. There are already so many great literary journals out there, I wanted to make sure that if we were going to enter the publication world it would be because we were doing something different than a standard journal. I thought it would be interesting to bring the focus to the writing process.

What makes Pelorus Press unique?

Our focus on the writing process rather than the product sets us apart from most literary magazines. We do this by publishing several drafts of each poem along with the final draft. The reader gets to see where the poem started, and how it grew over time. It’s also really cool because some of the poems we published have hand written revisions and notes. It feels very intimate to read. As if you get a sneak peek into the poet’s thought process.

I had a taken a poetry class a few years before when a visiting poet brought in three drafts of one of her poems. It was an eye-opening experience for me; it was the first time I got to see the drafts of a professional published poet. Previously, it had been only the drafts of classmates as we critiqued each other’s work. I forgot that professionals also go through a drafting process. It reminded me that no one creates perfect work on the first try. From then on I became much more experimental in my drafts. I no longer worried about perfection for my first draft. I pushed ideas further because I knew I could always return to a previous draft if something wasn’t work. It was freeing.

A year later I was an assistant teacher for a writing class teaching other teachers how to teach writing (so many variations on the word teach in that sentence). Once again, a poet was invited to the classroom (Kristin Fogdall who is actually in our first issue) to share drafts of her work. She brought in 12 drafts spanning 10 years and our students/teachers geeked out over the drafts. This time I got to see that I was not alone in this kind of excitement.

Dylan and I decided to essentially publish this experience and make it accessible to any and all readers interested in the process of writing poetry.

No Poem Starts Perfect: A Q&A with Pelorus Press

Credit: Kristin Fogdall

What do you hope readers get out of reading the Pelorus Press that they wouldn’t get from another literary magazine?

I think that our readers will be reminded that no poem starts perfect. I hope that, like me, being reminded of the revision process brings them a freedom to their own writing; a willingness to take more chances in their drafts.

What informs your choices with regards to what work to include in the magazine? Is it mostly about the final work, or does the journey the writer has taken between first draft and last play a role in your decision-making?

The drafting process absolutely plays a role in our decisions! While it’s important to us that we publish high quality poems, we want to share a variety of processes with our readers. To show them that there are many different techniques to revision so that they can try them out for themselves and find what works for them.

Sometimes that means publishing interesting hand written notes, and sometimes it means a draft that highlights an interesting choice by the poet.

In one of our poems, the poet circled the word “think” and wrote, “Cheap, not enough analysis.” How many times have you heard something similar from an editor? I know I have. What an educational moment to see that a published poet does this for herself. It’s moments like this that we want to share with our readers.

What has surprised you most about the submissions you’ve received so far?

I think what has surprised me most is how attached I got to certain to words or sentences in the drafts. I would read through all the drafts hoping that a certain turn of phrase would make it into the final. Then it would be interesting to see if it made it in, and if not, how it was it changed. It gave me an opportunity to think about why the poet made his or her decisions on an even deeper level.

We were also very lucky to publish American Poet Laureate Donald Hall. His poem ‘Gold’ is one of my favorite poems of all time, and we were able to publish it along with a few of the previously unpublished drafts. This is poem I knew before and felt emotionally attached to. It was such a privilege to see where it began. I loved comparing his first draft to his final. It was probably one of my favorite experiences when we published this journal.

As well as the printed magazine, Pelorus Press is a registered educational literary non-profit. Can you tell us about your work with schools?

We believe that displaying the drafting process is a fabulous educational tool. It gives students a concrete example of what it means when a teacher asks them to edit. It opens up conversations about the poets’ decisions and the writing process as a whole.

Therefore, we have started to work with teachers around the states so that they can utilize our journal in the classroom. We have also begun to work with one New York school to teach poetry and editing workshops. We are a brand new journal so we are still growing in this area, but we hope that as we grow we can build our “visiting poets” program so that we can get more poets into more classrooms. We also hope to eventually provide our journals to public schools for free.

What advice would you give anyone considering submitting work for the next issue of Pelorus Press?

I think the advice we would give is to be ready to risk a little. It can be a scary to share your drafting process. It’s exposing your inner thoughts, your missteps; some might even say your mistakes. I understand when some writers are hesitant; however, I truly believe that sharing your process is an enriching experience for all those who want to learn about poetry. All of these missteps played an invaluable role in bringing the poem to it’s final stage. They cannot be discounted. By publishing the drafts we are not only celebrating the final product, but also honoring the entire process. Please share with us.

Pelorus Press is accepting submissions for its second issue until 1 December; visit its website for further details. For regular updates from the magazine, follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. 20 October 2015 / 2:28 am

    There’s a reading series in Toronto, Ontario, that uses the same premise for its readers and adjoining magazine called DRAFT run by Maria Meindl. The work that’s presented and the emphasis on process is both unique and fascinating!

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