I’ve been working at CALYX for about two years now, and I have immensely enjoyed the various jobs that include coordinating the editorial collective every year. During my time, I’ve come to two conclusions about being an editor for a feminist publication:
1) A lot of people submitting think they know exactly what we’re looking to publish
2) They’re wrong
They’re wrong because CALYX isn’t looking to publish anything in particular, other than excellent writing from women-identified authors.
In my short time here, I have read a lot of poems and stories that are about what might be considered “women’s issues.” Stories of labor and childbirth, memories of mothering, deconstructions of patriarchal restrictions, poems about breast cancer diagnoses. I am proud of the material that CALYX has published on these subjects over the last 40 years. I find all of them incredibly important. But I think we get a disproportionately high number of them simply because we are a journal of women’s literature, and they seem like the subjects we’re most likely to publish.
Ironically, when we get a lot of pieces that address the same topic, those pieces tend to get compared to each other and therefore reviewed more stringently. When the editorial collective gets twelve poems about breast cancer, we’re more likely to take note of the one that’s approaching it in a new, exciting way.
At one meeting, we had an editor fight long and hard for a poem that was just about vultures and not much else. When we asked her why, she explained that vultures didn’t appear in most of the work we receive, and it stuck out to her in an interesting way.
“I like vultures,” she said. “They’re creepy.”
All of our editors are women, but they don’t all have the same tastes. One of them, apparently, is really into vultures. One of them hates what she calls “Looking-out-the-window” poems. One of them has said she’d be really interested to see more narratives of women in their various professional lives. And so on.
The odd thing about having the reputation that we do is that people assume we only accept material with certain themes or subjects, so that’s all they send us. We have on separate occasions been asked if someone is allowed to send in work if she’s a lesbian, or if someone is allowed to send in work if she isn’t a lesbian. This whittling down of who we are and what we accept saddens me a little. Being a journal that promotes women’s writing and art shouldn’t make us a niche publication.
Women are half the population, and I’d like to encourage all of them to write any story they like. Bring to light the raw and undisclosed, make prevalent the domestic, shine the spotlight on the caretaker, expose the abuse. Do those things, and give them all the meaning and beauty and scar tissue they deserve.
But also, also, send us your vulture poems.