Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gutter Magazine On Anonymous Submissions

Some of you may remember my recent post on anonymous reviews. Well, here’s the second controversial topic from the editorial of Gutter magazine (I’m saving the third topic for the Magma blog sometime over the next few weeks, as it seems more relevant for there).

The editorial says:

“We thank those who sent us work, and we reassure you that all pieces were assessed ‘blind’. We aren’t interested in encouraging literary cliques.”

Anonymous submission, then. The upside of that is made clear in the editorial. No favouritism. It’s about good poems, not names. The downside is that the very big names an ambitious magazine might hope to attract may not submit because of the anonymous submission element.

Gutter took a poem by me for their first issue, so I’ve no personal grievance with the process. Anonymous submission sounds like a great idea. Surely it means readers will get to read the best poems, not just those submitted by known names, but magazines like Anon and New Writing Scotland, while high quality publications, don’t seem inherently better (or worse) than other magazines to me. I suspect they would publish pretty much the same pieces even if the submissions had names attached. But might they get more submissions from the top writers?

Also, isn’t a better way of keeping literary cliques at bay simply to accept the best work and turn down work from friends that’s substandard? What, exactly, is wrong with literary cliques anyway? What might seem like a clique to one person will be seen as an exciting movement by another. Magazines often spearhead new shifts and movements. If what they spearhead is genuinely fresh and exciting, so much the better, but it’s harder to do with an anonymous submission procedure. If some people feel excluded from the ‘clique’, well, they can always start a new magazine for what they feel is vital.

Interesting times though – three important Scottish-based print magazines (those named above) use anonymous submission procedures. Most UK print magazines don’t. That’s intriguing in itself that Scottish magazines sense a need for anonymity.


Dave said...

Somewhere on the Dark Horse website is a piece Gerry Cambridge wrote about anonymous editorial policies, where he makes the useful point that all submission systems are de facto anonymous, because the great majority of submissions will come from unfamous writers whose names the editors won’t recognize anyway. And as you say, the end result is pretty much the same. I suppose I salute the idea if it’s an effort by editors to put their own house in order – except, I’ve never thought that their house was in disorder.

A question for further discussion: is it the very cliqueyness of certain journals – PN review, for instance – which created their audience and maintains their success?

David Floyd said...

This is interesting.

Unlike the anonymous reviewing, I don't object to this policy in principle but, like you, I'm not sure it's likely to improve the quality of a magazine.

I don't personally regarding opposing literary cliques as one of the key responsibilities of a magazine editor.

If an editor puts in the work and takes the financial risk, I see no reason in principle why they shouldn't favour stuff written by their mates or even only ask their mates to contribute.

If, in doing so, they publish a crap magazine, then they're responsible to any readers they might have for the fact that the magazine's no good.

But a bunch of friends running a magazine to primarily publish writing by each other (and a wider circle of acquaintances) that fits together well is a perfectly honourable activity - and leads to lots of really good publications.

It's only dishonourable is these kind of publications claim to be something they're not.

Michael Peverett said...

There's perhaps no right or wrong way to deal with submissions, however to turn the argument on its head an indifference to the provenance of submissions could indicate a lack of genuine interest in the poetry. Only certain kinds of poem truly deliver their charge without any context at all. Many require at least a degree of engagement with the kind of thing that THIS poet has done before, where they're headed, their interests and concerns, their particular cultural background e.g. perhaps their poetry is related to a particular non-British literature or to a particular strand within British (or Scottish) poetry. Anonymous submissions might tend to make an adjudicator favour the poems whose context they already feel at home in; paradoxically, it might make their own taste paramount, in a way that could be quite limiting. Yet most magazine editors are enthusiasts for poetry and would I am sure like to be challenged - not merely impressed - by the poems they publish.

The counter-argument I guess could be that this process of selection mimics the eventual effect, if the poem is published, on the magazine's readers - the readers do not necessarily care about contexts, that all comes later, the primary thing is that the poem must make an instant and electric impact. But I am not sure if this view of the readership is right. Are there really audiences out there who care about poetry enough to seek it out in a magazine, yet only want to be blown away by brilliant poems and do not care at all about how or why the poems exist? Perhaps there are, but I never meet them!