"My Job as Editor is to Be One-half of a Relationship With Writers."
After moving to Amsterdam in 2001, Megan founded the literary community organization “wordsinhere” and its flagship Versal.Her poetry and writings on translocality have been published widely, and her poetry collection The Preservationist Documents was a finalist in several prizes, winning the Pilot Books Meddling Kids Series in 2010.
Interview by Amy MacLennan
What in a poem is like catnip for you, one or two things that really put a poem over the top?
There's a sweet spot where diction is sharp, grammar is blown open, and the line breaks push out into that great white. If the force of the poem is still breathing, without pomp & circumstance, I'm in.
For fiction submissions that you read, is there a particular type of plot element that you think you could go your whole life without seeing again?
I'm willing to be surprised, even by the most overused tools. I wouldn't rule out anything just yet. Ask me again in ten years; maybe by then I'll be jaded and grumpy.
What has been the feedback on your $2 submission fee?
At first, things felt pretty hectic. I was waiting for the sky to fall. And there were a few negative reactions, mostly from people we know who wrote us personally about how awful they thought it was. But things calmed down within that first month, and the general discussion on the issue has matured a great deal since.
We saw a lot of repeat submissions, which implies folks who know Versal and really want to see their work in it, and are willing to support that process. Which is the kind of literary journal I want to make, one that has a wide horizon of community around it.
What impresses you in submissions? Do you have any "exotic" pet peeves when it comes to submissions?
My job as editor is to be one-half of a relationship with writers. That relationship is like any relationship, there's give and take. I work hard to find that place where I am (and where Versal is) part of a long-lasting community. It's not just about a writer sending us work year after year because she loves Versal. It's also about how I engage with her and with her work every time. So I respond to folks who send us work and acknowledge in their cover letters or whatever that there's a relationship being built through our correspondence.
I absolutely detest writers who fill the "comment" field in our form with their 400 word bios, without even saying, "Hi." That kind of thing just tells me that they don't care about Versal specifically, just about being published.
How long does it usually take before you know you'll love, hate (or be ambivalent about) a submission?
I work pretty fast. I fall in love fast and I have been known to make hasty judgements. I was a pretty dramatic kid.
But our decision-making process slows that down, which is partly why we built it that way. It pivots around dialogue, which puts just the right amount of pressure on each of us to look hard at our aesthetic leanings, especially the ones we don't see very well because they're so instinctual. I trust my gut, but I also trust my team. To edit for Versal, you have to find balance between your assured aesthetic and an openness to learn.
Does all of your staff work out of the physical location of Versal in Amsterdam, or do you have staff that works virtually?
My apartment is Versal headquarters, but mostly we build an issue via Skype and email. Our work has always been mobile, and as our staff has grown so have those distances. Only a few of us are in Amsterdam now; most of our team is everywhere else.
What makes Versal unique? Why should someone subscribe?
You know that kid in high school who was friends with every clique somehow? Who kind of floated around the cafeteria? I'd like to think Versal is that kid.
We publish a range of work, a real range, thanks to our team process and probably also thanks to our geography. Regional temperaments can have quite the gravitational pull. Since we're not specifically "in the Netherlands" or "in the USA" or anywhere really, we've got a lot of wingspan.
I'm not saying there's a Versal for everyone, that's not possible, but there's a lot in there. If you believe that art is an attempt to reach out in the expanse and say hi, make a connection…We're trying to do that with Versal.
Are most of your subscribers in Europe? How many from North America?
We're about half-half.
You must come across a wide range of writing. Some might generate a "what a stunner, that knocked me flat" or a "whoa, that is *not* to my taste." Does reading submissions affect your own work?
I see so much stuff, not just in submissions but in the lit world entire, and I have those days where I think there's too much noise. So my own work spends a lot of time in my head before it's ready to hit the page.
I'm a quiet, slow writer. As a kid I was surrounded by poets who value silence, the still Tennessee hills, and the details you see in that, so I do a lot of my writing in the summer months when we're not putting an issue together, when there's far less commotion around me.
What are you writing these days?
I'm working on a poetry collection that I'm calling Astronaut, Astronaut. Shayna (my wife) and I started working "in space" about a year ago, at the same time but not knowing the other was doing it. We're going to Iceland for a month this summer to take these projects up a notch, and maybe even collaborate some.
What is the most exciting thing about creative writing in the 21st century?
Oh, I suppose I should say something really intelligent here. Or contradict the question itself. How about I rephrase the question and answer that: What am I excited by right now in the 21st century lit community? I'm excited by initiatives like VIDA, the hyperawareness it's fostering, and the fact that more and more you can't organize in the lit world and get away with all men, all white, all all. I'm willing to go the distance with that, to push that, to confront the laissez-faire omission of women and diversity from our community's stages.
We just had a release of poetry stamps from the US Postal Service. Among contemporary poets, who do you think should go on a stamp out of the U.S. or anywhere else in the world?
First off, I think it would be really weird to be on a stamp, so I wouldn't really wish that on my favorite poets. But if we're just talking due recognition, then Adrienne Rich better be at the top of the list.
Cheerios or Lucky Charms? Beach or mountain? Mac or PC? Beer or wine? Mismatched shoes or mismatched earrings? Pulitzer or Poet Laureate?
Lucky Charms, definitely. Those little marshmallows… And mountains, especially if there are boulders nearby to climb. Macs, microbrews or wine pairings, Punky Brewster style, and I'd have to say Poet Laureate, but of the Netherlands, so I can kick some ass into this poetry scene.