Literary Spotlight: Blast Furnace
This week, we got a chance to go in-depth with Rebecca Clever, Editor at Blast Furnace. She gives us some insight into her writing process, thoughts on the industry, and why she does what she does. Blast Furnace is currently calling for submissions, so be sure to check out their site!
How long has your journal been running?
Blast Furnace was founded in June 2010.
What inspired you to focus on “poetry of place”??
I’d been a graduate MFA student in the creative writing program at Chatham University, and the theme of its writing program is rooted in place with a focus on environmental writing. Oddly enough, in the many years that I’d written stories, poems, and newspaper articles, I never meditated on place in much of my work until I began my graduate studies. It especially gave me a new appreciation for my hometown—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or, more specifically, the nearby Steel Valley region (which is comprised of three boroughs: Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall)—and how it shaped me.
What attracted you to working on this journal?
Initially, a classroom chapbook project provided food for thought in creating the journal that was later embellished by a grad school field seminar. While I appreciate many genres of writing, poetry always appealed most to me. It has much to do with the musical quality of it. It’s not unusual, I think, for writers to appreciate and participate in various aspects of the arts. Many are also musicians. Many are also painters. sculptors/visual artists, talented in multiple areas of creativity. I wonder if it must be an innate restlessness creative types have to wander from one means of personal expression to another, but not without returning back to each of those means on an inspiration-to-inspiration basis. With Blast Furnace, I wanted to provide an easily-accessible venue for gifted poets, writers and artists. I liked that the on-line format also allowed for the inclusion of special features, writer interviews (the craft of writing or any kind of art is fascinating) and photographed stills of artist’s work. Add to that the ability to conduct reader polls and include recordings of writers reading their work. We do receive, in our quarterly calls for submissions the occasional .mp3 or .wav file. Listening to poets recite their work reminds me that poetry originated as an oral/spoken tradition. I like that Blast Furnace allows writers to hearken back to that.
How do you approach writing or reading poetry?
Since you ask about my writing of poetry…it varies. It’s rare that I hunker down and in one sitting, flesh out an entire poem without stopping. It’s happened less than a handful of times for me, but in each of those cases I was satisfied with the outcome. When that kind of flow occurs, you know it’s working. Mostly, though, writing poetry consists of several increments of me jotting down an image or two, maybe a few lines, or a full stanza. In drawers at home, I have pages of partially written poems, or single lines on a page that have no connection to each other, but I save them because there’s something there that will one day be embellished, I hope. In one case, I had a few lines for a poem unchanged on paper for over ten years. One day I came in from a bike ride (riding has proven to be an aid for me when it comes to resolving something that needs to be written), pulled out that piece of paper, sat down and hand-wrote the poem in its entirety in about ten-to-fifteen minutes. It remains the poem that I receive the most feedback about to this day.
The often unfortunate timing my brain has is to come up with subjects or lines for poems while I’m speeding along a highway. I’ve not yet taken my own advice to record on a hand-held recorder those ideas; instead, I tend to dig through my purse in search of pen and paper and write down the image or line with one hand and the other hand on the wheel, my eyes on the road. So it’s not unusual to read the “note to self” later and find it utterly illegible. I have to admit I don’t write nearly as often as I should. I do find that it’s best not to force it for me, though. Inspiration is key.Sometimes, listening to instrumental music or playing the piano help to loosen those lodged-up muses.
With respect to reading the poems submitted to Blast Furnace by writers, I’ll usually read the work of about ten submitters at a time and then take a break for a few days before reviewing the next batch. We receive more submissions as the publication gains readership and therefore, more recognition. When reading someone’s poem, I typically scan the entire piece first. I then go back and read it aloud. Next, I look at each stanza individually to determine if any are redundant and therefore not needed or if they do not add anything to the piece. I then examine each line of every stanza and finally, it comes down to closely scrutinizing each word. The questions I ask of the poem are not a-typical: What is this poem about? Does this poem make sense? Does it resonate? Am I wowed by its metaphors and imagery? Are its structure and line breaks helpful contributors to its meaning? Does it sing? There are some poems that, upon reading the first few lines, are not the caliber of poems Blast Furnace is seeking, and it’s clear that the submitter has not read our Mission/Values Statement or Submission Guidelines which are posted to the website (http://www.blastfurnacepress.com), or any of the fine poetry posted in previous issues. Because of the volume of submissions received, we decline these pieces quickly.
What do you look for in content for your journal?
I think the previous question speaks to this a bit. We do feature a theme with each quarterly call for submissions, but we are also open to reviewing poetry outside of the themes. Also, Blast Furnace features two to four poet interviews and about three artist interviews annually, and beginning last year, a special edition, which may feature another writing genre other than poetry.
Any advice to authors looking to get published?
For any journal that you are considering submitting to, read the mission/values statement if one is available, read the calls for submissions and review prior issues to garner an idea of what they publish. Check out http://www.newpages.com and Duotrope Digest online to see what editors are looking for and determine if a publication is legitimate. Don’t submit solely to writing contests that pay, but if you do submit, be very picky—most reputable contests charge reading fees, and you can easily spend $100 by submitting to only four contests. There are many fine journals where prestige is associated with getting published in them but no fee is paid: It’s worth it to get your name out there. Promote yourself as much as possible. With social media and the internet, there is no shortage of tools to accomplish this. Take advantage of open mic nights at coffee shops and opportunities to read your work in public. Most of all, don’t get discouraged if you receive numerous rejections—at some point, you will get published if you persevere and keep submitting.
Personally, I have had positive experiences and a good many acceptances of my own work by submitting to anthologies and literary journals that have a specifically-themed call for submissions. Think about your collection of work and submit any poems you have that fit those themes.
What resources do you recommend to writers looking to improve?
Read poetry by poets from different cultures, backgrounds, and eras. Read different styles of poems, including traditional forms. Experiment with these forms and create your own. Take note of what works for you as a reader of others’ work as well as what doesn’t. Start or find a writing workshop group with other writers who provide you with constructive criticism and encouragement. Get out of the house and away from the computer and travel, if possible, leaving your comfort zone and noting what you observe about your surroundings and yourself during your journey. Go somewhere unfamiliar (within reason, keeping personal safety in mind) and take a journal with you. If you can do this without the accompaniment of a friend or loved one, all the better—less chance of another’s impact on your unique impression of the experience. Find your means of meditating and working through your thoughts; I mentioned bike riding earlier. For someone else, it might be cleaning out a closet, organizing a file drawer, jogging, painting, taking a hot bath, reclining in silence…
What’s the best way to purchase your journal?
There is currently no fee associated with the journal; it is available to anyone with internet access. We do hope to feature a chapbook contest this year, and if so, there will be a fee for entering the competition, as well as for purchasing the winning chapbook.