Rachel Nix: Thanks kindly for your time in this interview, Samuel. As the poetry editor for both (b)OINK zine and Bending Genres, you’re clearly a busy guy. Tell us, what made you want to be on the editorial side of publishing?
Samuel J Fox: I think I honestly didn’t see myself as an editor for any journal at first; of course, this was before I realized what my niche in genre (or lack thereof—which is, in itself, its own genre) or in the literary community at large would be. I always knew, however, that I wanted to see rising artists such as myself, within or without a community, succeed. I think this is the primary reason I got into the editorial side. I have to make decisions that are difficult sometimes and, at other times, a different kind of difficult. I want to be someone who celebrates literary works and commends/communions with other artists who are beginning or are establishing their literary merit (which, I’ve always believed, is only partly decided by an editorial staff or editor: merit has to come from the artists themselves) and honing their voice.
RN: To dig a bit further—I imagine the process is different at each journal; as an editor for both, what do you look for in submissions?
SF: I am currently only an editor for Bending Genres. (b)OINK has, unfortunately, come to a close (which I was distraught over). However, Bending Genres sits more buoyantly with me because it’s exactly the kind of writing I enjoy. What I primarily look for in poetry-ish submissions (because we blur the lines often) are four key aspects: playfulness, surprise/weirdness, empathetic forwardness, and aspects of craft. I want to see, whether in a poem or essay, a kind of reverent play with language. Combine words; break lines or stanzas or paragraphs unconventionally; use a mythos or personal lexicon of language I haven’t encountered yet. Be unafraid to be weird, strange, and queer with the art. Surprise me. However, the poem or essay should be unaware it does this for me: it should be a personal creation that reaches toward humanity in a way that tempts vulnerability. And, always, as a recovering form and poesy junkie, I always like to see craft. It can rhyme, sure: but when you break the rhyme on purpose, when you involve meter in an essay, when you include an image that is masterfully thought out and placed, I notice.
RN: Most editors will confirm this: in publishing we see a lot of similar topics and over-told ideas; we don’t always get to read what we’re looking for—this is true even for us at cahoodaloodaling, despite having themed issues. That said, is there a poem or essay you’re dying to read—a piece no one’s submitted yet, but you’re waiting to get your hands on?
SF: I’d like to think that similar topics and over-told ideas come from a laziness or lack of ingenuity. I don’t think this is true, though. I think there is a simpler answer and that is that people in society go through similar experiences. However, it is looking at the strangeness, the perplexing beauty, the odd, epiphanic moments in these experiences and how we portray them in art that makes it worth our while to encounter. If there is any poem or essay I’d like to read, let it be the one that grabs me and demands me to feel or suspend belief in the gravity of regular living and see its necessity or catch me off guard with its wonder. Talk about coincidences. Talk about sex or lifestyle choices, hell even God (so long as you aren’t afraid to be blasphemous, because I think there is very little you can do to offend God and He/She/They are humorous). Talk about your family, lovers, enemies: but, make me fall in love with them and the way you speak of them. Be unconventional always, and serious never.
RN: Let’s flip that question and talk pet peeves. Every editor has them, am I right? The quickest way to earn my stink-eye is to mention stardust or crimson anything. Unnecessary formatting is another means to draw out my editorial rage. What sort of writing gimmicks or tired phrasing make you want to print a submission out just to tear it to bits?
SF: I think my greatest pet peeve is the cover letter. I’m a stickler for a forward, professional cover letter. You can tell me about the work in a broad sense if you want to introduce it to me; but don’t tell me your work. Let the writing speak for itself. Let the art be free to do its work. Make a forward, traditional cover letter and bio (with only several places and accolades because we can’t all take ourselves so seriously in life—it’s not like we’re going to remember them when we’re dead anyway). Also, any clichés will stand out. Also, any attempt to be something other than who you are can be noticeable. I just want authenticity and to feel and be felled by language.
RN: In your own writing you’re a bit of a genre-hopper; by that, I mean you cross lines—from poetry to essay, and sometimes strike somewhere in the middle, bending the barriers between them. Our Guest Editor, Wes Jamison, chose “Only the Gentle, Only the Strong” as our spotlight piece and I’ll say the entire staff are also smitten with its tender and lyrically sound presentation. Would you tell us about your creative process for pieces like this?
SF: Okay, so funny story time: my ex, who the essay is primarily about, did grow up in the town James Dean grew up. This was the scintilla for the essay. The full-fledged impact of wanting to write the essay was a myth about James Dean’s sexual preferences and how he enjoyed humiliation (being pressed against an open window while being the bad boy that he was). However, the essay kind of came out the way a glacier moves. It was clear and pristine, but it was a slow process. I allowed myself liberties to daydream and fantasize (which, if you don’t do this as a writer, I want you to know it’s entirely acceptable and should be encouraged at all times) instead of writing it down. When I was ready, I took my memories, my fictions, and my emotions and arranged them in sections before I decided where to combine them to thread the essay. Most of my art comes in the editing process and I’ve always believed that is a key aspect of art if it’s good. I changed particular sections for sound or clarity, others for precision or, even at times, to be queered between image and metaphor.
RN: What navigates your writing habits? Do you write in spells—poetry for a while, then essays for a bit, or do you bounce between them more fluidly?
SF: Right now, I’ve been working on a manuscript of essays and trying to find it a home titled The Year of Escape Plans. This essay is included. When I’m not finding more possibilities for the essay, I write formal poems somedays, experimental the other. I think it’s important to hone formal craft in order to break the hell out of it later. Altogether, I’m sporadic but attentive. I keep things in my head and write them down. I practice techniques give to me by my friends and peers and mentors. I’m constantly reading poetry so as to be surrounded and engorged with the passion of others, which inevitably, fuels my own.
RN: Where can we see more of your work? Any recent publications you’d like to link us to?
SF: Sure: I’ve got a poem up in Horny Poetry Review titled “Sending a Nude to the Wrong Saint on Accident.” I also have some weirdlings up at Burning House Press, and a existential crisis essay up at Vagabond City titled “I Break the Wishbone and Discover there is no Magic.”
RN: We’re always on the hunt for publications to dig into and are curious where your affection goes. Which magazines, online or print, do you admire and follow regularly?
SF: I adore online journals and could speak all the good things about their editors and peers that I absolutely marvel at: Luna Luna Magazine, The Occulum, Muse/A Journal, tenderness, yea, Reality Hands, Philosophical Idiot, Voicemail Poems, and Moonchild Magazine to name a few.
RN: Who are some of your favorite writers? Whose work can you not get enough of lately? (Please feel free to send us links to their work online or personal websites.)
SF: I’ve been reading a lot of texts recently. As in Jack Gilbert, Zachary Schomburg, Kaveh Akbar, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Malachi Black, Danez Smith, Nikky Finney, Adrienne Rich (her essays and poems), and James Galvin. In the online world, mostly all my Twitter feed friends (they know who they are, or will shortly).
RN: I 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?
SF: Eduardo C Corral, in his Latino/a Literature course I took at NC State, introduced me to an author named Alfredo Vea Jr. and I’ve reread his novel La Maravilla at least three times. It’s an incredible story told in an unconventional manner and is still a big influence on my understanding of good prose and how to sometimes bend it into poetry. Vea is overlooked, so says Eduardo. I don’t know how with how great his works are and how they make me feel. There is a close second and it is a book of poems: American Primitive by Mary Oliver. She always surprises me with her simplicity and imagery and, despite being considered nature poems, I feel that this collection crosses the boundary of human and nature and our place as/in it.
RN: Got a question for us? About the publication, the staff, which well known writers we’d like to see duke it out if MTV still did Celebrity Deathmatch?
SF: Who would be your favorite writer to drink with? Like, I don’t mean have one after work with. I mean sloppy, best friend drunk until 5 am the next morning (mine, personally, is Anne Sexton) I’d like to know from each of the staff.
RN: I’m gonna go with our very own Raquel Thorne because I sometimes get mighty affectionate when intoxicated and she’s got a tent.
Raquel Thorne: Well since I know from experience Rachel is actually more likely to fall asleep at 11pm than 5am, and we all know I have way too much anxiety to get sloppy drunk with a writer I don’t know well, I’m going to pick a tried-and-true favorite: Kate Hammerich. It was definitely a digital-based drunk night, but that’s basically how cahoodaloodaling started.
Wes Jamison: Raquel Thorne, Rachel Nix, and Samuel J Fox! (Semi-secretly, I will admit here that this answer comes only after having written almost a page about what it would be like to drink with Woolf—how funny she would be, and how she would be not only an awesome wing-woman but also that friend who would completely shut down a guy’s sexual advances toward you if you were inebriated—and do so with so much fire that he leaves with his proverbial tail between his legs.)
Hannah Hamilton: I’m gonna go with Lindon Stall—Mr. Lin to all of you—but to be honest he and I just settle for mid-morning coffee. It suits us. I’m lucky enough to love the most the poets close enough to touch.
SF: My next question is: if you could spend a day with one poet who is dead, resurrect them out of the ground and have them whole and wide-eyed before you, who would it be and what would you show them (Pablo Neruda—and he would be showing me his sea shell collection while I tell him about the state of the US and ask for advice).
RN: I’d bring back Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and take him to a brewery, not so much for the IPAs because I have no idea if he was a boozer1, but I bet he’d feel real snazzy seeing all the hipster beards.
“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” —HWF
RT: I would love to spend some face-time with Yehuda Amichai and ask him to recommend some great Hebrew poets to me. I feel like he’d have a really good handle on what the best translations are. If I got extra lucky, he would share his secrets of making the mundane so emotive with me.
WJ: Obviously, I’d want Percy Bysshe Shelley “whole and wide-eyed before” me. I am certain that he would be the cutest little cherubic zombie there ever was. We’d stare at each other for a good long while, I’d ask why he was stupid enough to get himself drowned, he’d say he was on laudanum. I’d ask him why he is so annoyingly pedantic, he’d give some annoyingly pedantic answer. I’d ask how Mary is doing, he’d say something about how she is finally getting to know her mother and enjoying some time with her father. I’d say, “Oh, speaking of guys you want to have sex with, there’s this new app called Grindr that I think you’d like….”
HH: I would bury my screaming mandrake to bring back Archibald MacLeish. I found his volume of poetry, Streets In The Moon, published in 1926 but still kickin’, in a half-price bookstore. It’s been a friend to me ever since. And as Archibald clawed out of his grave, I’d hand him a thermos full of strong coffee and ask him who he met in France and why they turned their face from him so often. The whole heartbreaking story and how homely and extraordinary it was, only with spoken words and maybe we’d go see a movie afterwards.
SF: Lastly, if you can remember, what is a work that made you so giddy with laughter or excitement because you connected with it so well (Amy Leach: Things that Are—which was for me the door that opened me to the lyric essay)?
RN: “In Gratitude for a Southern Baptist Upbringing” by Ava Leavell Haymon. It’s the first poem in this video.
My momma defended my decision to stop attending church when I was pretty young, but living where I was it was still hard to get untangled from all those Baptist notions around me. Haymon is probably my favorite southern writer, but this poem in particular hit me in the right spot from the get-go and never fails to make me grin.
RT: I was really lucky and recently got to hear Siaara Freeman perform “Hexes for My Exes” live at the Delta Mouth Literary Festival. That poem makes me giggle every time ’cause boy howdy do I wish my ex “plenty of shit.”
WJ: Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley. The book is warm and happy and magical, which is totally not my jam. But it is also sad, and the main character is a dog—so I am not sure what there is not to like. Lily reminded me so much of my sweet little Sylvia (yes, yes, named after Plath, leave me alone) that, each time she spoke, I’d laugh-cry. Lily on Thanksgiving: “OH! BOY! TOFURKEY! IS! MY! ABSOLUTE! FAVORITE! I! COULD! EAT! ALL! OF! THE! TOFURKEYS! JUST! GOBBLE! THEM! UP!”
HH: “The Light Has Always Been Going Down” by Hannah VanderHart. I forgot how to breathe for a minute.