Get to know Mud Season Review staff members in an ongoing Q&A series. Learn more about their own writing as well as how they approach reading and reviewing submissions.
Do you put your own reading preference aside when reading for MSR?
This is something I think about a lot. I prefer short, spare poems. I’m also more interested in poetry that focuses on people and relationships than in poetry that focuses on nature. That being said, when reading for MSR I try to be open to every new submission. I have voted ‘yes’ on long prose poems and poems that dwell on desert landscapes, pine trees, and volcanoes.
What makes you want to send a submission to the editors for consideration?
There has to be some emotional connection. I need to feel like the poem puts me in touch with another spirit, whether that spirit be wry and funny, depressed, joyful, or better yet some layered combination of feelings. Concrete, vivid details are also very important. The whole ‘show don’t tell’ bit is a cliché for a reason.
What turns you off in a submission?
I don’t respond well to overly formal language. I think sometimes people believe that to be serious poets they need to write in an old-fashioned or antiquated style. But, we don’t need the great writers of the past to be copied. We need new voices speaking the truth in their own authentic ways. Please, no ‘thee’ or ‘thou.’ Also, I don’t love imagery involving Greek mythology or the Bible unless it’s portrayed in a truly original way.
What is your favorite thing about being a reader for MSR?
I’ve had to really think about what makes a poem strong. I still react to poetry on an emotional level, but now I think more critically about it as well. This has helped me to edit my own work. And I like being connected to other readers and writers. It’s nice to read as part of a community.
What made you want to read for Mud Season Review?
After moving to Vermont, I began searching for ways to get involved in the writing scene. One thing led to another, and I stumbled on Mud Season. I was really enamored with the title and began reading more.
How has reading for Mud Season Review informed your own work?
Every writer I’ve ever spoken with has said to read more of what you want to write, and being a reviewer for MSR has totally solidified that value that for me. Reading more CNF has made me more actively ask myself the questions I ask a submission, like: did this piece inform a new perspective, or what was the change? What was the overarching point? Why does this piece work?
What makes you want to send a submission to the editors for review?
It always comes down to the simple elements of storytelling (which are of course, hard to master and achieve). Maintaining a good story, a strong voice, and clarity. Too often I read well written submissions that don’t ever come to a more solid ending or point, and I’m left thinking, “They write beautifully, but—” …
What are you working on in your own writing practice?
Finishing things. I have been working on this piece about bees, ways of knowing, and pollination for months, circling back to the same few sections…
What made you want to read for Mud Season Review?
I joined MSR as a reader in 2015. At the time, I lived in Burlington, Vermont, and was an active member of the Burlington Writers Workshop. I was also in the middle of a transitioning from writing as an academic to writing fiction and nonfiction stories for literary journals. I knew if I volunteered as a fiction reader, it would force me to learn the nuances of the writing craft.
What do you write?
I write both fiction and creative nonfiction short stories. I started writing creative nonfiction because I wanted to document my journey as a blind woman. I knew there was endless medical information online. But stories about what it’s like to lose your vision as an adult are hard to come by. Once I was comfortable with my ability to write outside the world of academic research, I expanded into fiction. My fiction stories have dealt with issues such as immigration, war veterans and PTSD, homelessness, family, and the ways people cope with life.
What makes you want to send a submission up to the next level?
I’m looking for a story that makes me stop and think about something in a way I’ve never thought about before. Most of the time, that attribute is driven by a strong, unique voice. I want work that makes me think or feel something new or different. This sounds so simple, but I read submission after submission that may well be a cleanly written story but offers nothing new to think about. Touching someone’s soul with words is not easy to do. But the good writers, they know how to nail this.
What is your favorite thing about reading for MSR?
Selfishly, reading for MSR provides a constant reminder that if my writing is good enough, my stories will eventually get published. Also, being a reader helps me feel like I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. While I may be working alone most of the day, being a volunteer reader for MSR reminds me I am part of a community of writers and editors who are willing to donate valuable time to publishing good writing.