Christine Taylor on Breaking Down Publishing Barriers

Today, Animal Heart Press Managing Editor Amanda McLeod talks with Featured Artist Christine Taylor about breaking down publishing barriers, and what draws her to a poem.

Photo by Tanner Gordon on Unsplash
Amanda McLeod: On the Kissing Dynamite Poetry website, you talk about the overarching question of 'who gets to tell the story?', and barriers that have historically excluded entire groups of people. How do you think we can begin, as writers and publishers, to subvert that traditional 'gatekeeper' model? How can we ensure more perspectives on the story?

Christine Taylor: I think part of the process is continually being critical and questioning standards.  Our definition of what constitutes “good” writing has an ugly history and honestly unpacking and challenging the criteria for “good” writing will move us forward.

AM: Challenging the murkiness of 'good' writing is difficult, especially when we are aiming to encourage multiple perspectives. Do you think there are markers for 'quality' writing (I'm using this term to differentiate between this idea and the idea of 'good' writing) that could be universally aspirational, while remaining flexible enough to be applied to diverse voices? What might that look like? (Such a utopian question I know, but I am an eternal optimist...)

CT: For me, quality writing is that which uses language artfully to communicate a message and elicit an emotional response.  But that can be done in so many ways that I hesitate to say that there are clear markers for it.  Like some poets are able to use end rhyme and nail the effect, while others can only manage to create something inappropriately sing-songy.  Some poets use dialect exceptionally well, while others end up with writing that sounds and feels stilted.  Hence my dilemma in nailing down a definition.

AM: At KD, you have a really organic selection process in which you look for common themes or threads amongst the submissions. Have you ever had a session where there were a bunch you loved, that didn't link together? How do you manage that when you fall in love with one?

CT: Absolutely!  Every month there are poems that we love and have to decline because they don’t fit either the theme or the tone of the developing issue.  In rare cases, we’ll push forward a poem we really love to another month, but we try to limit this so that we have space for the selections from the actual submission period.  But if there is a voice we find special, then we’ll hold on to it.  That said, we do try to let writers know in our response that we did love their work and ask them to submit again soon.

AM: Given your calls for submission are unthemed, you must be perfectly positioned to see what's trending in poetry each month. What themes have you noticed keep appearing over and over again? It's a pretty turbulent time to be in the world - do you notice any reflection from current events? 

CT: We do get some work that specifically responds to current events, but more so, we get work that reflects the long-term effects of such events.  As an example, we have seen much work lately that responds to the damaging effects of patriarchy as writers explore domestic abuse, gender violence, rape, inequitable working conditions and compensation, and reproductive rights.

AM: What's the thing that makes a poem speak to you? What's the quality that makes you say 'yes, I love this'?

CT: For me, if a poem makes my stomach hurt and I’m still thinking about it hours later, I know I love it.  I want to feel some type of connection with the speaker in a poem, and not because the voice confirms or validates my experience, but because it teaches me something about the way another person sees life.  I like work that is honest and forthcoming and a sense that the writer has been deliberate in the technical choices of the work such as word choice, line breaks, white space, and overall form.