Interview With Berkeley Poetry Review
Authors: Kelsey Liu and Lindsay Choi
How did you come to be involved with Berkeley Poetry Review?
KL: I joined BPR three years ago in my freshman year. Actually, I was initially more interested in prose, being generally more fluent in short story than in poetry myself, but I loved BPR’s explicit welcome of poetry that confronted questions of sexuality, ecology, and race. I soon sensed that this was company I could learn a lot from, and that this space could be deeply transformative for me as a writer and a person. Also, I fell a little bit in love with the managing editor at the time, who was and remains brilliant, eloquent, and kind.
LC: I joined Berkeley Poetry Review after I interviewed the editor in chief at the time, Jules Wood, for an article. I had been going to BPR’s readings throughout the semester, since my mentor was published in that issue, and after having a chance to talk to Jules, I decided to get involved.
What have you gained from working for Berkeley Poetry Review? How has this experience changed your perspective of reading literature and the process of maintaining a literary magazine?
KL: I’ve gained an incredible amount from BPR. As a first-year, I was very much impressed by the depth of historical and sociopolitical knowledge my seniors had, and by the readings others could produce. The work we receive is often so complex, subtle, and high-caliber that I was (and am) often overwhelmed and lost. Because of that, though, my appreciation for poets and the work they put in their poems has deepened, and my appreciation for editors has undergone incredible growth as well. It can be pretty tough! I’ve felt exhausted often. Until I did it myself, I knew of but didn’t physically or mentally realize the amount of business, management, communications, and paperwork truly involved. Budget appeals, event scheduling back-and-forths, constant vigilance to email and social media, and of course, staying afloat on an unpredictably growing pile of submissions is all taxing, if very worthwhile, work.
LC: I think I’ve gained perspective on the somewhat arbitrary nature of publication, mostly — which I think has been both humbling, as an editor, and reassuring, as a writer. The poetry that we publish is poetry we love and get excited about, but of course it’s by no means an objective measure of value; every editor brings their own set of biases and personal preferences, even as we try to uphold an existing “BPR aesthetic.”
As a poetry editor, can you tell us about the type of poetry that catches your eye or maybe even read aloud?
KL: I suppose the first thing that catches my eye is form—not shapes or fancy gimmicks, but simply poetry that feels comfortable with its own figure. I usually start poems without much thought, and wait for something (it could be anything!) that catches me by surprise and touches me. At my best, I’m a quiet, coffee-sipping reader, but I will sound poems aloud when I’m very, very tired and would slip over every other word otherwise.
LC: It’s hard to say! We want to publish poems that challenge convention, and poems with purpose. I’m being pretty vague, but I feel that it’s important to not go into reading with an overly detailed set of criteria for what I’d like to see in a poem.
As an editor yourself, do you find it easy to let go of the editorial reins when someone else is editing your own work?
KL: Yes! Actually, being an editor myself has made me more receptive and appreciative of others’ editing. Editing is absolutely a process that requires a lot of sensitive questions and hard honesty. Since it takes a lot of investment and effort, I feel glad when someone commits that much to me and my writing. Few other gifts make me as sincerely appreciative as helpful feedback.
LC: I don’t know – we do little “editing” and more “considering” submissions. And I think that the word “submit” will probably always make me nervous — it sort of establishes an unpleasantly charged power dynamic to the reader-writer relationship, doesn’t it? I don’t know if being an editor eases the anxiety of having my submissions reviewed, but it does make me more sympathetic to the poets who share their poems with us.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
LC: The writers that we publish!
KL: What Lindsay said! We’ve been spoiled. Every year I find a new favorite poem or poet from our outstanding submissions.
How have you seen Berkeley Poetry Review impact the writing community?
KL: What I’ve markedly enjoyed is the way that our readers learn, grow, and open during the course of their time with BPR. We’re all college students who have decided to join the Berkeley Poetry Review for various reasons, but we’re able to find others with our sympathies and our shared pleasures, and others with adamantly different tastes and perspectives. Together we’re able to soften ourselves to receive the trauma, beauty, and many images of the ocean in the poems we read; simultaneously we are able to sharpen our ability to reject subtle racism, well-phrased misogyny, and various and many other strange insinuations. I think that by educating each other, we also improve the depth of sensitivity and sensuality we naturally give our own poems.
LC: The impact that I’ve seen mostly comes in the pleasure and honor of publishing the writers that we do. All we do is read and share poems that we love, and ideally, that we feel need to be read — and we’re immensely grateful to these poets for sharing their work with us.
What type of opportunities will the press be offering in the future? What is the next exciting thing happening at Berkeley Poetry Review?
LC: Our open submission period will start in mid-August, and from then on, we’ll be reviewing submissions for Issue 47 of the journal.