Steven Leyva: The Editor’s Reflections

Three years ago, Laura Shovan called me to offer the position of Editor of the Little Patuxent Review. I was, of course, both flabbergasted and flattered, having only recently been published in LPR through the Enoch Pratt Free Poetry Contest (1st runner up). Laura and I didn’t know each other well, but I knew her reputation as an insightful, kind, and attentive editor of a regional literary journal that always managed to land some pretty big name interviews. That phone call is one of three literary moments that profoundly affected me as a writer. The other two are being selected as a Cave Canem Fellow and finishing my MFA at the University of Baltimore.

Steven Leyva, Editor

From the moment I said yes to the offer, I knew that I was both entering an organization with a good foundation and one that I could help move forward in various ways. I saw my role as twofold – act as a good steward of LPR’s egalitarian ethos and seek out excellent writing from diverse voices. I thought of the literary journal as serving the same purpose as the old town halls. LPR would be a meeting place for the community, by providing an ether of ideas and the physical space for literary events and readings. Get sharp people in the same (metaphorical) room and good things will happen was my unspoken motto.

Looking back on three years of editing with its ebbs and flows, I am most proud of how often LPR had the privilege to publish women of color. One particular issue, Summer 2015, is one where I think LPR grew close to having its pages look like the demographic landscape of central Maryland, and the Mid-Atlantic region as a whole. That issue featured the poets, t’ai freedom ford, Rachel Nelson, Breauna L. Roach, and Mary More Easter, alongside fiction by Nandini Dhar and others. The audience of the launch reading for that issue looked like the 95 corridor from DC to New York. Black, brown, and white faces beamed as authors read their work aloud. People talked, mingled, and shared stories during the reception afterwards. It wasn’t a perfect representation of diversity, but there was growth from where LPR had been. And that growth felt sustainable, without gimmick, and without any whispers of tokenism. And I think beyond any individual examples, honest and equitable growth towards building diverse literary spaces is a goal we reach towards in every issue.

As LPR continues to grow I don’t want to lose sight of the rhizomes that connect the journal to its local communities, but I also want that network of roots to expand. We can to do more to be a welcoming space for LGBTQ artists and writers. We can do more to bring the journal to different economic communities around the region. Not everyone can make it to Columbia, MD, twice a year for a launch event, particularly if you don’t own a car. We can do more to highlight emerging visual artists and put them in conversation with diverse communities. There is always more to be done, but I have come to realize that the literary journal isn’t the finish line. It’s the baton. The goal isn’t to run as hard as you can, passing all others, but rather to hand the baton off well. And anyone who’s ever run a relay can tell you that it requires trust, patience, and practice. I look forward to continuing to cultivate all three in the issues ahead.

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Meet Tafisha, a Cave Canem fellow

Jane Goodall wrote, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.” Our volunteer staff at Little Patuxent Review works tirelessly behind the scenes to read your submissions, edit the draft and create the final printed journal. In other words, it means something to them when your work gets published (almost as much as it does to you). Since our submission period for Winter’s Myth issue opened on August 1, it’s a great opportunity for you to meet them. Over the next several months, look for fun and interesting posts about our stalwart volunteers.

Tafisha Edwards.

Tafisha Edwards.

Today’s highlighted volunteer is Tafisha A. Edwards, a Guyanese Canadian poet and producer who lives in Washington D.C.

How long have you been a volunteer reader for LPR? I’ve been a volunteer reader for LPR since August 2014.

What’s your process for going through submissions? I first have to ensure I’m in a neutral and receptive head space. Then I make a goal for myself about the amount of submissions I plan on reading and set aside an hour or two to get to work, and of course remain flexible about that goal. I take notes on the emotional temperature of a submission as well as its stylistic thumbprints and then give myself a break and return to the submissions for a final check in with myself. It’s very easy to get fatigued.

When you’re reading a submission, what draws you most about a piece? A strong opening line coupled with an uncanny knowledge of how to employ line endings. A poem that forces me to across and down the page and holds me in escrow until the last line and then still doesn’t release me.

What turns you off immediately when you read a submission? Vagueness. There is a distinction between selective obfuscation of the emotional/narrative/structural landscape of a poem and a poem lacking definition.

Also “my lover” poems. My lover does such and such. My lover is at such place doing such vague thing. I’ve written far too many of those, where the lover is a device and not actualized in any significant way. Now I demand details from myself and from the submissions. Why do I care about this unnamed lover? If you won’t tell me a name then I want the most sublime and foul details in that poem.

Who has informed your reading tastes most? Why? It’s not so much who as what has informed my reading tastes. I am drawn to the mystic, for poetry and fiction that is rooted in the intangible as much as it is rooted in the physical and the particulars of its creator’s, speaker’s or characters’ lived experience and/or politics.

What’s on your nightstand right now to be readI’m notorious for beginning a book and then becoming distracted by another books, so it’s not so much what is on my nightstand but what is slowly taking over my house like vines and taking up psychic space. I’ve promised myself by the end of the summer I would finish Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, Mary Ruefle’s Trances of the Blast, Aracelis Girmay’s Teeth and Kingdom Animalia as well as Dawn Paley’s Drug War Capitalism.

Are you also a writer/poet? If so, tell us more. I am a poet. What that actually means in my life is constantly in flux; at this moment poet means I am a truly my mother’s, mother’s mother, mother’s mother’s mother’s daughter. I am my maternal aunts and cousins. The women in my family dream dreams and tap into a non-academic, non-linear, intangible stream of information and can translate it for those who may not have honed that ability, the only difference being I transcribe and publish and they do not. Being a poet also means I am familiar with writing my poems in my own blood.

What’s your Six Word Memoir? Yours in Fury and in Laughter.

Do you have any superpowers? If not, what do you wish you had? I am, at select times, intuitive. Only if I am in diligent in recognizing and avoiding distractions. I come from a family of women who understand the language of dreams, so we ingest information in non-linear and circular ways. And that is essentially my superpower.

Online Editor’s Note: Tafisha A. Edwards is a Guyanese Canadian poet and producer who lives in Washington D.C. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Bodega Magazine, The Little Patuxent Review, Fjords Review, Fledgling Rag, Vinyl Poetry and other publications. She is a Cave Canem fellow, the recipient of a Zoland Poetry Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, and a former educator with the American Poetry Museum.