LitDish: Joshua Rourke, Publisher and Author
After graduating from Antioch University Los Angeles’ MFA Program in 2017, Joshua Roark became the lead editor of Frontier Poetry, a site dedicated to featuring emerging poets, and the editor for Palette Poetry. He is also the poet behind “Put One Hand Up, Lean Back.” After giving a guest lecture back at his alma mater AULA this past winter, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Josh and I talked about what makes a good poem—he even names a few of his faves here—and discusses the next steps in his poetic journey.
- Do you think reading work makes you a better writer? Also, do you feel your experience in the literary word has shaped you into a better writer?
In the years since I’ve been editing our poetry journals, I’ve learned and developed as much as I did in the MFA program. There’s no doubt in my mind that reading and actively reaching considered, careful, professional judgement of submissions has profoundly changed the quality of my own writing and deepened my understanding of craft.
- Are there any recent poets/poetry books that have caught your eye?
Too many! An editor learns quickly that talent over-runneth. Carl Phillips has a new collection coming out in March. Emily Skaja’s Brute from last year is excellent. Reading Robert Krut felt like reading my own work—that’s always a weird sensation. I’m super excited for Moira J’s debut collection coming out very soon, as well as Victoria Chang’s Obit.
- What do you think the ingredients are for a good poem?
Ah! I’ll be brief. A good poem probably should: 1) authentically investigate an urgent concern of the human creature writing it; 2) engage the reader’s body through both music and imaginative sensory experience; 3) express a deep consideration of how elements of craft produce the tension that keeps the reader reading; 4) know its own patterns.
- What is your favorite thing about what you do at Frontier Poetry?
Easy: telling poets that the judges loved their work and we want to give them thousands of dollars for it.
- In your writing process, how long does it take you to say “enough is enough” on a piece, before putting it down?
Everyone’s different and no answer here is right—but I’m one of those poets who gets the most creative satisfaction out of editing. That said, I don’t think I would enjoy working on a poem or group of poems after more than a few months. I tend to tinker until I make myself sick of it.
- What are some changes you like to see in the poetry community/world?
Simple: more people reading poetry. Likely, more folks write poetry than read it.
- What is the hardest part of the publishing process, in your opinion?
Knowing that less than 1% of submissions make it to publication. It’s not representative of the talent that’s out there. Too much talent.
- Do you believe all the books that should be published get published?
No, definitely not. And plenty of books are published that probably could have been served by some healthy rejection.
- If you had any words of advice for anyone looking to start their own publication, what would it be?
Founding a Digital Journal in Ten Steps
- Decide a name and a mission.
- Decide a marketing/distribution strategy.
- Buy the domain and build the site. (WordPress = $25/month)
- Start a Submittable account. (~$40/month)
- Create your social media accounts.
- Create a newsletter account. (TinyLetter is free)
- Solicit and create content. Tip: reprints are usually free.
- Begin your marketing strategy.
- Poets & Writers ad, quarter page = $1,500
- Newsletter ads, i.e. Lit Hub, Writer’s Digest, P&W = anywhere from $0.40/click to $6/click
- Facebook ads: $2-$6/click
- Reach out to relevant players and tastemakers—do interviews, etc.
- Launch the site and open up submittable.
- What is next for you, Joshua Roark the Poet?
I’ve got my manuscript being sent out right now, and I feel really good about it—though rejections have begun to come in. So it goes!