A Rare Bloom: Susan Culver, editor of Lily
Note: I would like to thank Susan Culver who graciously took time out of her busy schedule, and from the holiday hustle and bustle of Xmas 2004 to participate in this interview for poeticdiversity.
pd: How did the inception of Lily come about?
SC:Lily was born of both loss and hope.
The year preceding Lily's first issue was a hard one for me. I'd lost
my son and my mother-in-law within months of each other. My daughters were
growing more and more independent (which is what they're supposed to do, but
it's still a hard thing to take sometimes). I felt like all the things that defined me
and who I was were missing. I was lost in a world of loss.
But I was reminded time and again that there is - in spite of the
sadness – a beauty in this world that never fades. One needs only to look around
to find it.
During the time just before Lily began, I turned to writing. My own,
as a way to communicate and to begin feeling. Others, as a way to see that
everyone else was essentially doing the same thing. They were living in the
same beautiful ache as I was.
I suppose you could say that Lily was and is my look around. It's the
continual discovery of that which is beautiful - in this case, the power of
creation and the strength of skill. It's the opportunity to be a part
of that, if only to say to others: Look. Feel. Live.
pd: What is the purpose of Lily?
SC:To provide a place to showcase the extraordinary creative talent of
pd:You're quite the poet/short story writer. How do you balance your
time between editing Lily and writing?
SC:My family would tell you that sometimes it's hard to get me to make time
for anything but writing and Lily. I'm fortunate enough to work from home, so time is something I do have.
Writing is a never-ending need that comes from within me, like breathing, like being. If the inspiration comes, sometimes I can do nothing else until I honor it.
Lily - in spite of the time and work involved - is a gift. I, like
most, don't have any trouble finding time for a gift.
pd:Why the name Lily?
SC:At the risk of revealing just how narcissistic I am, the name Susan
I guess if one feels as though they've lost themselves, they will do
everything they can to reconnect.
pd: Lily is a monthly publication. What are some of the challenges you face as an editor? Do you find your time more constrained than if you published Lily as a quarterly or bi-monthly ezine?
SC: Time is the biggest challenge. Even though - as I said - I have more
than many people do, Lily isn't dependent on me alone, but on a lot of people.
It seems like major holidays tend to like to occur right around deadline. If
that's not happening, then people go on vacation. Or I'm off wallowing in my own
inspired darkness for half the month. Or Lily's web host decides to do upgrades
to the system, resulting in it being difficult to load the new issue for several days.
Something always seems to come up to rush the process.
After years as a news reporter, I tend to be pretty clingy to the whole
concept of "deadline." Being late with the release just isn't an option. So,
it's sort of interesting to see what obstacles I'll fight each month in the
process of trying to get an issue out. Guaranteed, there will always be an obstacle.
pd: What are your personal criteria for submissions? What do you find to
be the most common mistakes writers/artists make in not following submission rules?
SC: Aside from the submission guidelines and opinions of my assistants - whom I have a lot of faith in - I'd have to say that my personal criteria is that the
work touch me in some unforgettable way. I want to feel it, I want to identify
with it. I want to ponder it hours after reading it, I want a line from it to
come to mind days later.
I think not following the rules IS the most common mistake made, along
with other careless errors conceived from not taking the work seriously, not
feeding and nurturing it, not spending time learning the craft of creation. It
seems that so many people these days think that they can just whip out
anything and that it is solid gold just because it came from them. Gold has to be
mined though. It has to be shaped, worked, polished before it's ever truly beautiful.
Give me something that you've taken the time to make beautiful. If you don't care
for it enough to nurture and polish it, then why should I?
pd: What's your favorite part of being an editor? Least favorite? Why?
SC : Favorite: The feeling of having witnessed the perfection of a well
presented work. Having a chance to share that with others.
Least favorite: Rejecting work that is offered by someone who simply
doesn't care. It's one thing to write to a writer and tell them, I know you've
spent a lot of time on this and I know there's a place for it somewhere, this
simply isn't the place. It's entirely another thing altogether to write to a
writer that simply doesn't care and won't hear me, who assumes the position of
hijacking the process by saying, "I've never spent more than a few minutes at a
time on this and I've always had better things to do than work at writing, but
I'm so wonderful that you should just ignore that little part of the equation."
What should I say to that?
pd: What are some of the ways you deal with the various artistic
temperaments you run into during the submission/production process?
SC: I've met very few artistic temperaments that are worse than my own, so
it usually isn't hard to deal with. Mostly, I understand where the
temperaments are coming from and so the decision is generally one of deciding when
and how to respond. It's a decision based on whether the artist is willing to
hear me or not. If so, then there's typically no problem talking out the
If not, then I simply move on. There is no sense screaming myself
hoarse when someone chooses not to listen, there is no sense displaying my point of
view when they refuse to see it.
pd: I noticed your publication nominated poets for Pushcart Prizes. Why not fiction writers?
SC: There were six works nominated for Pushcarts from Lily in 2004. Five were poetry, and one was fiction.
At first glance, it may seem like this was an uneven split, yet when comparing the amount of poetry submitted and published at Lily to the amount of fiction, I think it's fair. As an aside - we'd love to see more quality fiction submissions at Lily!
pd: What drew you into writing?
SC: Birth or some point shortly thereafter. I can no easier define the how
and why of my introduction to writing as I can define how and why a body
chooses to breathe, to live, to want life.
I've written as long as I can remember. It's a desperate thing, the
need to communicate through the written word. The only thing that's changed
over the years is the voice and perspective as such things tend to change with
time and growth.
pd: Who are some of your classical and contemporary literary influences?
SC: Out of fear of revealing just how untraditional my literary education
has been, I'll avoid the classical portion of this question.
As far as contemporary influences, look at the contributors at Lily and
other online literary venues. These are my influences, these are my peers.
Their talent is what I hope for mine to be.
Beyond that, I'm really enjoying the work of Adrienne Rich at the
moment. Her poetry is a swim in metaphors, and I do so love metaphors.
pd: I don't think that having a “traditional” background in literature is a necessity to appreciate quality writing, or to be the editor of a literary publication. (My own background is in journalism and photography, and lots and lots of reading!). Can you elaborate more on your background?
SC: As a teenager, when I should have been making good use of the "free" education that was offered to me via the public school system, I was homeless on the streets of Albuquerque, and a high school dropout. I eventually went back and obtained my high school diploma, but then - instead of pursuing a higher education - I opted instead to have babies and work a series of minimum wage jobs.
I "lucked" into a reporter/ photographer job at the local
newspaper at the age of 22, about the same time I was self-publishing a book of poorly written poetry.
The newspaper job taught me much about perspective and life beyond my own experiences. Poetry and the writing of it only came later, in these last few years, as I have used the Internet to try and learn some of the things I missed during a time that - for many - is reserved for high school and college. I am, at this point in time, reading much, learning much, and I suspect that I always will be.
pd: You are planning another version of Lily for younger writers. Can you elaborate on that?
SC: During the course of reading submissions, the realization came to my
assistants and myself that often we would receive offerings from younger writers
and that the main reason those submissions weren't making it into Lily was
because they were lacking a perspective that is found more often in older writers.
They'd put time into learning to write, they'd offered the best work one could possibly expect of them. But, due only to time and less life lived, they speak with voices that haven't yet reached their full potential, and their work was coming up side by side with work from developed voices.
I found it to be an un-level playing field. It's unfair to younger writers to insist they have adult perspectives in order to be published. I felt like there needed to be a place just for them, for their work.
I presented the idea to a wonderful teen writer, Debra Curtis, who agreed to be
the managing editor for Teen Lily. She has since found a fantastic staff of young writers to help her. We're finding that a teen literary review is very much blazing a new path. A lot of teens don't yet know there is a place for them to submit their work, so submissions have been slow. But they're all working away, they're maintaining a high publication standard and I
couldn't be happier with them.
Teen Lily is a needed thing in the literary world and I'm looking forward to
seeing the first issue. From what I've seen so far, I can tell you that the literary future is extremely bright.
pd: What is the poetry scene like in Colorado?
SC: Thank goodness for the Internet. There is no poetry scene in my part of the world. I'm sure there are other places in Colorado where poetry is readily
shared and enjoyed in a social setting. My town is very rural though,
and I don't have that opportunity here.
What I do have is a place where everything begins and ends with the
mountains, where the seasons dance in all their glory, where silence is filled
with so many different songs. This area may not feed the social needs of the
poet, but it certainly provides inspiration.
pd: Do you feel online literary publications are gaining /will ever
gain as much legitimacy as academic print publications? If so/If not, then why?
When and how can this happen?
SC:I view online and academic print publications as different countries.
They each have their good and bad, they each are an opportunity born and
reborn with every issue. But their cultures are different, their rules are
different. There are some who can drift from one country to the next and find a
home in each, but many others are firmly ingrained in one or the other, can
only view the other as if through a window.
I think online publications offer a personal publishing experience. They offer
a quickness in submission consideration and publication. They offer
the chance for a broader based audience. Some of their faults perhaps are in the
difficulty there is in making money on the Internet, that many online publications
are unable to pay their contributors.
Academic publications offer tradition. They provide a legitimacy through the
thought that "this is how it's always been done." Many offer compensation for
work published. And yet, I believe the exclusive nature of the academic print
business causes them to miss out on some of the magnificent talent that
can and should be published. They're often a fraternity of college professors
and so many of us just don't fit in.
I think online venues have and are continuing to establish their
legitimacy simply by publishing outstanding work. The money issue of the Internet
is something that hopefully will sort itself out so that contributors can
get paid for their work. But even if it never does work out that way, I believe
that online literary publications are strong, viable, here to stay. Not to
take the place of print publications, but simply to exist as another country,
another road to travel.
Susan Culver lives in Colorado with her family and edits the online literary review, Lily (http://lilylitreview.com). Her writing has recently appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Poetry Super Highway, Paumanok Review, Tryst and others.