Blas Falconer and Amy Wright, Zone 3
Jendi Reiter conducted this exclusive email interview with Blas Falconer and Amy Wright, poetry editor and nonfiction editor of the literary journal and press Zone 3. Founded in 1986, this twice-yearly journal is a publication of the Center for the Creative Arts at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. Zone 3 sponsors three writing contests: the Zone 3 Literary Awards, with prizes of $250 apiece for poetry, short fiction, and essays (rolling deadline, entries accepted year-round); and the Zone 3 Press Creative Nonfiction Book Award and Zone 3 Press First Book Prize for Poetry, which alternate each year. The nonfiction prize this year has a deadline of May 1, 2013; the next poetry book deadline is in 2014.
Blas Falconer is the author of The Foundling Wheel (Four Way Books, 2012); A Question of Gravity and Light (University of Arizona Press, 2007); and The Perfect Hour (Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2006). He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2011. He coordinates the creative writing program at Austin Peay State University. Visit his website for sample poems, interviews, announcements of readings, and links to purchase his books. Read a review of The Foundling Wheel in The Adirondack Review.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks: Farm, There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man, and The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip (forthcoming from Pavement Saw Press). She was awarded a 2012 fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and has been recognized for excellence in teaching. Read her work at the Meacham Writers' Workshop website.
Q: I remember reading on an earlier version of Zone 3's website that the journal's name derives from the climate zone of the American South. How do the local culture and geography affect Zone 3's aesthetic and mission?
A: Blas Falconer (BF): The founding editors, David Till and Malcolm Glass, named Zone 3. While it does refer to our area of the country, the journal's aesthetic and mission aren't influenced by regional artistic movements or themes.
Q: How long have you been poetry editor, and what important changes have you seen in that time? (E.g. trends in type of work submitted, demographics of authors and readers, shifts in the publishing business…)
A: BF: I started reading for the journal the year in 2004 and officially took over as the poetry editor in 2005, I believe. The journal has changed quite a bit. Over time, the poems have become less narrative and more voice-driven, more formally innovative.
Q: When we arranged this interview, you mentioned that you would be leaving Zone 3 this year. Who is the new editor, and what, if any, changes in direction do you foresee under his/her leadership?
A: BF: My partner's work took our family to California, so I recently resigned as Associate Professor of English at Austin Peay State University. The poet who fills the position will likely take over as poetry editor of Zone 3. The direction of the journal will be determined, I imagine, by his or her vision.
Q: Your own writing has won prestigious awards and been published by major presses. What have you learned as a contest judge and editor that has helped you personally succeed as a writer, and vice versa?
A: BF: As an editor for the journal and the press, I'm humbled by the number of exceptionally strong poets publishing today. Honestly, I don't know how the finalist judges choose the winning book-length manuscripts.
Because I'm also a poet, I try and be an understanding editor. I know that it's disappointing to get a rejection from a journal or a competition. I know that it can be frustrating and discouraging.
My work as an editor reminds me to resist complacency, to keep pushing myself as a poet.
Q: Tell me about some poets you were especially glad to discover for Zone 3, either contest winners or authors published in the journal. How are they representative of what you're looking for in submissions to the journal or the poetry book prize?
A: BF: There are so many, I hardly know where to begin. I'm particularly proud of the books that we've published. John Pursley III, Amanda Auchter, and Karen Skolfield are a few of the tremendously talented writers. I don't select the winners, of course, but those manuscripts that win or come close are solid from beginning to end and create an arc of some kind, so the pleasure of reading an individual poem is enriched by the way it speaks to other poems in the collection.
As for the journal, poets who come to mind include Nancy Eimers, Nance Van Winckel, Bruce Bond, Adrian Blevins, Christopher Buckley. I'm most drawn to poems with a distinct voice and a clear sense of the line, poems that thoughtfully and actively engage the form in which they are written.
Q: Tell me about the contest screening process. Who judges your entries, and how many are sent on to the final judge?
A: BF: For the book competition, the press uses a blind judging system. For the first round, each manuscript is read by two different screeners. Screeners are published poets and poetry scholars. If one of the screeners believes that a manuscript shows promise, it moves onto the semi-finalist screeners. Each of these three screeners reads all of the semi-finalist manuscripts and picks five manuscripts for the finalist judge. Often, at this stage, there is a lot of overlapping in terms of selection, which is very exciting.
Q: Are students involved in the contest judging and editorial decision-making? How do you think their choices might differ from judges with more life experience?
A: BF: Students are not involved in the competitions; however, each semester, APSU does offer a publishing workshop to exceptionally promising undergraduate and graduate students. A select few work closely with the managing editor and a creative writing faculty member. I haven't taught the class, but my understanding is that students and faculty members meet regularly to discuss the strengths of submissions. Students give written responses to poems before the packets are sent to me. The goal is to give these creative writing students an opportunity to see publishing from the another perspective. What I've noticed from these student responses is that they most often err on the side of generosity.
Q: In the sample nonfiction from back issues on your website, I notice an interest in cross-genre work with elements of poetry and narrative, as in Sarah Odishoo's prizewinning essay on angels, or DIAGRAM editor Ander Monson's stream-of-consciousness musings about the typewriter. Would it be fair to say you prefer lyric essays rather than more theoretical or journalistic works?
A: Amy Wright (AW): I am drawn to essays that explore the genre's potential, in terms of form, content, and style. I enjoy lyric essays, but I also began writing seriously as a journalist in college, so I appreciate extended character portraits and reflections on current events. In the spring issue, for example, we are running an article, “First and Female” by Mariflo Stephens, that investigates the firing of UVA's first female president, Teresa Sullivan.
I am grateful to receive essays that reach out a number of levels. The lyric is one flexible mode for doing that, but so is theory. If someone sent me an essay in the postmodern critical style of Ihab Hassan, I'd be over the moon.
Q: Who is doing exciting work today in reinventing the essay genre, and what can contestants learn from them?
A: AW: The work that excites me most lately isn't reinventing the genre so much as making effective contemporary use of it. I am thinking of Joni Tevis, with her unfurling phrases and arrangement of prose specimens. Read aloud from her The Wet Collection to tune your ear. Or take up Sven Birkerts' lean, perceptive essays in The Other Walk, to see how he applies a fine-tuned, subtle attention to the world of Starbucks encounters and his son's near drowning. His essays might encourage contestants to read more, since reading and editing honed his ability to view his own work with an eye that sees from that distance Simone Weil advocates as the soul of beauty.
I'm also interested in formal reinventions, as I am in someone who can still write a sestina that justifies the ongoing existence of form. The key is recognizing and appreciating our evolving relationship to reading and how form can enhance intimacy within that.
Q: What inspired the launch of your nonfiction book contest this year? Do you see a rise in creative nonfiction's popularity, and if so, why do you think this is happening?
A: AW: One of my friends has a theory that Abstract Expressionism arose in response to the invention of the camera, because artists had to do more than represent a world that machines could so easily capture. I think the growing interest in nonfiction is due, in part at least, to the Internet. Even as so many new avenues for connection opened up, readers and writers sought trustworthy frames to converse with and from within this oceanic thing. The essay is an incredibly viable medium for processing the unknown—as poems are, as drama and fiction are—but for something so daunting three genres was not nearly enough.
I was inspired to launch the nonfiction book contest because I want to help new work, like 2011 winner Nicole Walker's forthcoming Quench Your Thirst With Salt, onto the shelves. Such projects deserve to be nationally distributed.
Q: Entering its third decade, Zone 3 has outlasted many literary periodicals. What factors have helped keep the magazine economically viable and artistically vital?
A: BF: Austin Peay State University is Tennessee's designated public liberal arts college and the home of the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts (CECA). Contest fees, book sales, and subscriptions help cover some costs (i.e., printing, publicity, shipping, and distribution) associated with running a journal, but Zone 3 is also deeply indebted to the Center for its support.
Regarding the journal's artistic vitality, the editors do this work out of a profound appreciation for the art and in an effort to promote the work that speaks most powerfully to us. We hope that it also speaks to our readers.
Q: Any other advice for contestants?
A: BF: Be thoughtful. Read the journal and/or visit our webpage, first, to get a sense of what we've published in the past. Send us your best work.