An Interview with FERAL: A Journal of Poetry and Art
Evelyn Maguire (Overheard) in conversation with Beth Gordon (Feral).
With Feral’s first issue debuting in April of 2020, this independent journal just recently celebrated their one-year anniversary. Dedicated to — as the name might suggest — the publication of poetry and art, Feral has published eight issues as of June 2021.
Speaking on behalf of Feral is Managing Editor Beth Gordon, a Pushcart-nominated poet whose name you might recognize as Overheard’s Spring Poetry Contest winner! Gordon is the author of two chapbooks, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe (Animal Heart Press) and Particularly Dangerous Situation (Clare Songbirds Publishing).
This Q&A is part of Overheard ’s interview series dedicated to highlighting and uplifting the many magazines and journals that make up our literary community. Many thanks to Feral, and check out our latest Issue here: https://feralpoetry.net/issue-eight-the-eighth-issue/
Q: First, thank you, Beth, not only for being an amazing poet, but for spending your time crafting and managing a platform to celebrate art and poetry. What inspired the creation of Feral?
A: To talk about the creation of Feral, I need to discuss Animal Heart Press (AHP). AHP was created by Elisabeth Horan, our EIC, who had a vision for a small press that would be author-centric. She started the press in late 2018/early 2019 and recruited Amanda McLeod (in Australia) to help her. I first met Elisabeth in January 2019 at a poetry reading in Brooklyn. I was living in St. Louis and flew home the next day and there was a message from Elisabeth saying she wanted to publish my poetry manuscript (if I had one). That’s how Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe came into the world. The experience of working with Elisabeth and Amanda was wonderful. I knew nothing about publishing a book, and they held my hand through the whole process. It was published in May of 2019 and a few months later, they asked me to join the team at AHP which I was thrilled to do.
Fast forward to December 2019 and we were having discussions about how to publish more poets. We didn’t want to add more books to our schedule because that would keep us from providing the very “high-touch,” personal experience that we give our authors. So Elisabeth and Amanda had decided we should start a journal to bring more poets’ work out into the world, and they asked me to be Managing Editor. I had been Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn for a couple of years and really wanted to be the lead editor for a journal, so the opportunity to do that for Feral under the AHP umbrella was perfect.
Q: Seven issues in one year. Wow. From a fellow managing editor, how do you do it? What’s your secret sauce? Overheard publishes twice a year and we still often feel pressed for time. In terms of streamlining submissions/editing, or time management, perhaps you could speak to your managerial process?
A: I think part of our ability to publish so many issues is that we are still fairly small. LOL. We have definitely earned a positive reputation, but we don’t get thousands and thousands of submissions per issue. We just published Issue 8 in June and we beat our previous record of submissions with a total of 250 poets submitting up to six poems each.
We’ve learned some lessons along the way. Shorter submission periods and longer lead time between end of submission period and publication of the issue. The other thing that helps is that we still have a small team on the journal. It’s just me and Amanda (Art Editor and Reader) and Narmadhaa (Reader). With only three people voting, that streamlines the decision process. The other lesson we’ve all learned is that after two rounds of consideration, if it’s still a “maybe,” then it’s a “no.” This philosophy has been championed by Amanda and it helps all of us. The more submissions we get, the more we focus on the ones that get our attention from the very first read. The same is true for our art submissions which have also been increasing with every issue.
Q: I’m going to ask the question no one should ever ask — do you have a favorite issue that you’ve published? Please note that we’re biased towards Issue Seven, as that’s the one in which our Poetry Editor Sean’s poem, “Normal Elegy” can be found.
A: I’m always in love with our latest issue, because every issue takes on a life of its own. Issue 8 was un-themed and one thing I noticed as we began building it is that it’s full of wild energy and hope. Our first issue was published April 1, 2020 when everyone was in lockdown and the pandemic has shaped every one of our issues. But Issue 8 was the first issue that felt less burdened by current events. Issue 2 also has a special place in my heart because it was like the second album for a musician, i.e. can we really pull this off again? The theme was Transformation, and I know we all felt that it transformed the way we were thinking about Feral…we began to understand our identity. It was also in Issue 2 that we published “You Ask Me How I Am But Never Wait For An Answer” by Lannie Stabile which was a finalist for the Best of the Net Anthology (https://feralpoetry.net/three-poems-by-lannie-stabile/). We were amazed to achieve this in our first year.
Q: Now I’m going to ask the question that every Feral-hopeful wants to know: What do you look for in subs? In particular, what is it, for you, that sets a poem apart?
This is a tough question because of the way we think about Feral. There is not one style or voice that we are drawn to. Instead, we’ve built a reputation of publishing an incredibly wide range of poetry and art. Instead of a typical Feral poem, we think in terms of strong voice, superb craft, and poetry that is emotionally and/or intellectually evocative. “Craft” is a word that gets thrown around a lot and for me it means using language in unique and unexpected ways. It means whether you are writing a sonnet, a prose poem, a haiku, or “free verse,” that the poet exhibits a strong command of that form. And as far as being evocative, what I mean is that the poem should have something new or interesting to say no matter the subject matter. The other thing we look for in our themed issues is the interpretation of that theme. I especially like poems that are very subtle in terms of the theme…like “Normal Elegy” in our Weather issue” https://feralpoetry.net/normal-elegy-by-sean-cho-a/.
Q: In an online, literary space that has become quite saturated with journals, what do you think sets Feral apart?
A: I think a few things set us apart. The first is what I just discussed in the previous question…the variety of what we publish, the fact that there is no definitive “Feral poem.”
The second thing that sets us apart is the art. And I give Amanda McLeod all the credit for this. When we started Feral, I thought it would just be a poetry journal but Amanda wanted to include art. Even then, I thought we would just have a smattering of art in a mostly poetry journal. Instead, we now have the reputation for the wonderful “pairings” of art and poetry that Amanda does. We also publish visual poetry, ekphrastic poetry, erasure poetry, collaborations between poets and artists, etc. One of our upcoming issues will be the ART issue.
And finally, going back to the variety, we have published established and emerging poets/artists in every issue. I think I said it best in my Editor’s Letter for Issue 7: We want contributors who have not been published before to feel as welcome as those who have received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (and we have published both).
Q: Finally, what’s next for FERAL? What will the next year bring?
A: I’m a little embarrassed to say we don’t have big plans for the next year. It feels like we understand and love what Feral has become and we want to solidify that. We did publish our first review in Issue 8 and I expect we will do more of those. We are also open to suggestions. It was through a submission for Issue 2 that we first did art features, then poetry features. So, anyone reading this, feel free to propose something that we haven’t thought of!