Rachel Nix: Up the Staircase Quarterly, in my opinion, is one of the most consistently solid journals in independent publishing.
What made you get into editing? And more importantly, how do you keep the momentum going with your publication when so many other journals fizzle out or lose focus fairly early in their existence?
April Michelle Bratten: Thank you, Rachel! It’s surreal that we are quickly approaching our 10th Year Anniversary Issue (due out February 2018).
I was quite young at the start of UtSQ. I was also in a difficult place in my personal life—I felt trapped in an abusive marriage, my schooling was on hold, and although I had been publishing my own work for years, I felt I was lacking community. The idea of editing an online journal was just as enticing as it was ambitious. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into, but felt drawn to the work.
Over the years my passion for editing has matured. It’s a major responsibility and necessity for me. I have worked very hard to keep UtSQ fresh, interesting, and socially conscious. Four years ago, I completely revamped the journal, focusing primarily on poetry and art. I have since added on a staff of poetry readers, interviewers, and reviewers. We also introduced a new interview series (The Landing) and feature artists in every issue. I’m proud of the work we have published, and I look forward to UtSQ’s future.
RN: While there isn’t a clear aesthetic that Up the Staircase Quarterly tends to portray, there’s a cohesiveness to each issue that never seems compromised; what, if anything particularly, does the editorial team look for in submissions to round out the issues?
AB: I once came across a post online that called UtSQ “eclectic”. I ran with that idea for a while. It appeals to me. Still, I don’t feel it is entirely accurate. I think readers can get a great idea of the work we love by checking out our current issue and archives.
As for rounding out our issues, I do have a process, however, it isn’t clearly defined. I’m sure that explanation isn’t much help for readers of this interview! It’s a feeling—particular poems are excellent additions that lift the issue, but also give a sense of completion.
RN: You and I seem to have similar taste in regard to poetry, so editor to editor, let’s talk pet peeves. I’m the fussy sort and immediately write a piece off if the poet mentions stardust or crimson anything. Unnecessary formatting is another quick route to Declineville. What sort of overused wording or writing gimmicks make you want to print a submission out just to tear it to bits?
AB: Goblet. Chalice. Basically any type of fancy cup. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen this!
Like you, I also have a tendency to squeak at fancy words for colors. Turquoise. Chartreuse. I’ve loosened up a little on this one, but the poem has to be really good to get a pass!
RN: Is there a poem you’re dying to read—a piece no one’s submitted yet, but you’re waiting to get your hands on? With our quarterly issues being themed, we get our itches scratched pretty well, but we’re always curious what other editors want to read.
AB: We’ve received some of this work over the years, but I would love to see MORE—a really great poem about bi or pan sexuality. I’m working on a series like this myself, and I want to be schooled by an amazing submission on the same topic.
RN: Speaking of that, which magazines, online or print, do you admire and follow regularly? We’re always on the hunt for publications to dig into and are curious where other editors’ attention goes.
AB: I love cahoodaloodaling!!! I always try to check out your new issues. I also make sure to try to catch the latest issues of The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among many others.
RN: And who are some of your favorite writers? Whose work can you not get enough of lately?
AB: I recently read E.J. Koh’s A Lesser Love and Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things. I was completely knocked out by both. I have also recently read the work of the poet Kristin Chang. She’s fantastic! A couple of her poems are in the newest issue of UtSQ. Check her out.
RN: In regard to your own writing, your work has an obvious affection for imagery and detail, and also tends to balance the tender with the bold. This gives added depth and curiosity, especially in persona poetry. A strong case for this is found in your most recent collection, Anne with an E, which brings to readers a re-imagining of Anne of Green Gables’ Anne Shirley that might leave L.M. Montgomery fans blushing.
For those who haven’t read the chapbook, can you tell us about your Anne and what urged you to put this book together?
AB: A friend and fellow poet, Lauren Gordon, shared with me that she was working on a series of persona poems centered around The Little House on the Prairie series (which has now become the chapbook Fiddle is Flood). I soon became enamored with the idea of taking a childhood book and turning it completely on its head through the use of persona poetry. I ended up re-watching the Anne of Green Gables movies, and re-reading the Anne book series while taking a million notes.
My Anne is darker, bolder. She is not afraid to explore her sexuality, or to tell you to go fuck yourself. I borrowed Anne’s essence as well as her experiences from the books and twisted them into 22 corrupt little poems. The poems undoubtedly embody Anne, but a side of Anne that we have never seen before.
RN: And because we’re needy, would you mind sharing with us your favorite poem in the Anne with an E chapbook? Tell us where to get the collection, too. By us, I mean them—I have my copy and because I’m stingy and territorial, won’t loan it out. ;)
What do you think of when you think of Diana?
Clever dress more clever than I
her full breasts were a triumph
over the fallen cherry bough she left us
after the currant wine was sucked down
white throat between drunk lips
I thought I knew her
secrets like a mother knows her children
she left us
Canadian wind cannot hide her like a tree
she slipped her fingers
into my sky-places where the earth is forgotten
Her black braid plump clam are hauntings
in the middle of spring I flush
between legs and want
to die in the endless water
of she left us
so thirsty more thirsty than I
virgin crow flew from the many ways
she loved me.
RN: We ask this in every interview because it seems like each editor has one book that’s defined them in some way. Any genre, and subject; what’s your favorite book? What book matters to you?
AB: This is a surprisingly difficult question. I have a lot of books that could potentially fit this answer. Tonight, as I complete this interview, I’m feeling The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. This book was mentioned in the movie A Love Song for Bobby Long, one of my favorites: “This is a story about misfits. Invisible people. It’s beautiful.”
I soon picked it up and was blown away. I read it at a pivotal time in my life, several years ago. The discovery of McCullers’ work has been integral to my writing and continuing love of literature.
RN: Got a question for us? About the publication, the staff, which Gallagher brother we think ought to rule the free world?
AB: Hrmmmm….the opportunities here are endless.
I feel like asking you a question I always ask in my own interviews:
Rachel, if you could have a meal with anyone, dead or alive, real or imaginary, whom would it be, what would you talk about, and what on earth would the two of you eat?
RN: I think I’d go with Mary Oliver. Something tells me she’d emit this incredible energy, calm but mighty. I’ve always found her poetry and essays to be both brave and graceful, very much a place to go to for readying me to grab at my own perspective. I even have a tattoo on my calf based on her “Wild Geese” poem, if that tells y’all anything about how much she’s mattered in my life. As far as what we’d talk about, probably my grandmother. I tend to tell everyone about that woman—anyone who believes in magic, that is. We’d eat cookies, because they’re cookies.
April Michelle Bratten is the Editor-in-Chief of Up the Staircase Quarterly. Her work has appeared in Southeast Review, Zone 3, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Boiler Journal, and Gargoyle, among others. April’s latest chapbook, Anne with an E, was published by dancing girl press. You can learn more at aprilmichellebratten.com.