Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Komal Mathew
Of Josephine Quarterly
In Conversation with Kallie Falanday
Komal Mathew’s work has appeared in The New Republic, The Southern Review,The Atlanta Review, and The Comstock Review. Her poetry collection, Dressing for Diwali, has also been a finalist for the National Poetry Series Open Competition and a semifinalist for the Alice James Books' Beatrice Hawley Award. She is a Lecturer of English at Kennesaw State University and co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly. Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather and four chapbooks. Recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Tammy, Linebreak, Redivider, Eleven Eleven, and Thrush Poetry Journal. Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, The Toast, and Los Angeles Review. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University. Below, they discuss why Josephine Quarterly was started and what strange literary advice they’ve received.
KF: Why did you start Josephine Quarterly?
JS-O & KM: We started compiling an anthology that showcased established and new poets, but when we were unable to find a home for the book, we were extremely disappointed that good work would not be seen or celebrated. Starting our own journal allowed us to have creative freedom and gave us a space to showcase the poets directly. Also, we really wanted to contribute to a larger conversation about contemporary poetry and be advocates for other poets. And, there was a real desire to celebrate good work.
KF: What is the worst part about running a literary journal?
JS-O & KM: Not having enough time to personally respond to each submission we receive.
KF: What is the most memorable poem/prose/fiction piece you've published?
JS-O: Most recently, Ansley Moon’s “Death Certificate” (Fall/Winter 2014). I go back to it again and again and again. It’s magnificent.
KM: Even still, Lauren Camp’s “Praise Poem (for Leona)” (Spring 2013)—I still remember the ache I felt when I first read it.
KF: Where do you see Josephine Quarterly in 5 years?
JS-O & KM: In our mission to promote our contributors, we’re hoping to develop a wider social media presence and publish an annual print issue. We’d also like to be a part of the AWP book fair and host an off-site reading.
KF: What is a day-in-the-life like for the editors of Josephine Quarterly?
JS-O: I teach three courses every semester (two courses are online), so I spend some time reading students’ e-mails and responding to their work. I also try to read and write a little every day. I check Josephine submissions at least once a day because I’m always eager to see if we’ve received any new submissions. If the day allows it, I’ll sit down with the poems, really spending some time reading them and then casting my vote on whether or not they should be considered for a future issue.
KM: When we started Josephine Quarterly, I was teaching full-time with a 4/5 course load each semester, so most of life was planning, grading, editing, and teaching. After I gave birth to my now two-year-old twins, I entered a stretched season where little had my full and best attention. I am now on a leave of absence from teaching and at home with my children, a different challenge of time and circumstance. Although opportunities to write and review submissions are limited, I actively seize every naptime to write and review submissions. Although sporadic, those moments of “work” have been extremely life giving and encouraging.
KF: What kind of work are you looking to publish?
JS-O: I like poetry that surprises me and that pushes past what I think poetry is.
KM: I also like work that is strange while being grounded—something that still has an emotional arc and depth.
KF: What advice do you have for people looking to publish?
JS-O & KM: Like with any journal, really study back issues of the journal you’re submitting to. It shows that your submission and interest is deliberate. It’s just a good practice to adopt. Blindly submitting isn’t even possible anymore since nearly all journals offer at the very least sample poems from past issues. When we receive a submission from someone who clearly hasn’t read an issue, it shows.
KF: What are you currently reading?
JS-O: Even though I’m still recovering from Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, I’m reading Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness and Mary Ruefle’s Trances of the Blast.
KM: I am rereading some books: Bret Lott’s Before We Get Started and Beth Ann Fennelly’s Tender Hooks.
KF: What is your literary background like? What got you interested in starting a literary journal?
JS-O: My first experience was serving as an editorial assistant for Lily in 2005. I really enjoyed reading submissions and having discussions about what was strong about particular poems. I then went on to serve as Senior Poetry Editor for JMWW for seven years and New South for two years. After having such rewarding experiences at both print and online journals, I knew that I wanted to contribute in an even larger way, so I approached Komal about starting Josephine together.
KF: What are your favorite literary journals?
JS-O & KM: American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, Coconut, Columbia Poetry Review, Drunken Boat, H_NGM_N, Jellyfish, The Offing, Sixth Finch, Third Coast, Thrush Poetry Journal.
KF: If you could only read one literary journal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
JS-O: That’s tough. Most likely Columbia Poetry Review. It’s the literary journal I read every issue and cover-to-cover.
KF: What is the best way for a small literary journal to get noticed?
JS-O & KM: To consistently publish work that pushes past expectations of what poetry is and what it can do.
KF: If you could take over and run any literary journal, which would you take over and why?
JS-O & KM: The Offing but not to take over the journal because we think we could do it better. Rather, we’d love to learn and observe from their editors because we find their mission to “actively seek out and support work by those who are marginalized” similar to our goals. We also find the work they publish incredibly exciting and smart.
KF: What is the weirdest type of literary advice you’ve ever received?
KM: A creative writing professor once told me that you can’t live and write well. It was the strangest literary advice I heard, and honestly, I believed it for many years. Now, I see that good writing doesn’t exist unless you are living to tell about something. I believe (and maybe what he really meant) is that writing well requires discipline, a sacrifice of time, to sit still.