Editors Talk: Liala Zaray, Co-Editor of Processing Crisis: An Anthology

As a platform for emerging poets, our mission is to provide practical help for serious writers. The community lifts itself up together or not at all. In that light, we’ve been asking some great editors from around the literary community for their frank thoughts on why poems may get accepted/rejected from their own slush pile of submissions, and what poets can do to better their chances. Today, we’re speaking with Liala Zaray, Co-Editor of Processing Crisis: An Anthology.


What/how was the origin of this project?

Liala Zaray: This project is a collaboration between Risk Press and MARY, which is St. Mary’s student run journal. The idea was to compile a hybrid anthology, which would coincide with Matthew Zapruder’s craft course: Writing of Crisis and Resistance; a course offered to all in the MFA program. The theme of the anthology was decided to be “processing crisis” with the definition of “crisis” being intentionally as broad as possible, so that artists could have as much freedom as possible within their work. Marrion Johnson and I were selected as student editors for this project through a fellowship and in turn were tasked with the goal of bringing this project to life. So far, I’m so thankful for my co-editor Marrion, our advisor Matthew, and the rest of our editorial team because I have quickly learned that putting an anthology together is a huge responsibility.


What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?

As a poet who is also new to the idea of sending out poems for submissions, I’ve learned so much in so little time. I would advise poets to not get discouraged when receiving a rejection. I wish someone had told me this early on. Not every place you submit is going to accept your work and that’s okay. Rejection is part of the process of being a poet and the earlier on you understand that rejection is not a reflection of you as a person; the quicker you’ll be able to bounce back. Be kind to yourself.

I’d also say its important to note that its okay to take breaks from submitting altogether. I personally have periods where I solely work on my poems for the sake of producing art as opposed to having new pieces for submission. I think it makes my work so much more authentic and reminds me of why I fell in love with poetry in the first place. I’m constantly asking myself, “Am I writing this piece because I believe in it or am I writing this piece because I think it would be accepted by X journal?” Respecting my craft beyond a submission deadline has shifted my perspective for the better.


What is the most rewarding aspect of working on an anthology of “Crisis” poems? What is the most challenging?

The most rewarding part of this anthology has definitely been having writers trust us with their work. The anthology’s theme is “processing crisis” and we purposefully left the word “crisis” open to interpretation in order to give writers as much freedom as possible. In turn, we’ve been blessed with so many intimate submissions that address varying topics. Some are light and remind me of the beauty in having obstacles that are easy fixes, especially in a global pandemic where everything has seemed so much more difficult. The pieces that are heavier play a different role. They serve as a reminder as to why I took writing up in the first place and give me so much hope in using my craft to further bring change. The most challenging aspect is definitely deciding which submissions will go into the anthology and which won’t. I truly wish we could accept all of the pieces submitted.


What kinds of forms/literary techniques did you find writers utilize for this project?

Reading through all of our submissions, I was reminded of how big of a role form plays in a poem. There were so many times when I read a piece and was like, “Wow the form of this poem is doing so much work.” I’ve learned to never under estimate the power of a good line break, truly. I especially enjoyed the number of odes we received. It was so beautiful seeing so many poets immortalizing their love for something in the most poetic way possible. In addition to odes, we also received numerous free verse poems. Seeing poets reject the idea of form altogether and embrace a less traditional approach was refreshing.


What book of poetry/craft would you recommend to new poets?

Someone once told me that in order to be a good poet, you should be reading poetry as much as you are writing poetry. It honestly was the best advice I’ve received so far. Most of the books I’ve read this past year have been focused on poets of color. This list has included The Carrying by Ada Limon, The Tradition by Jericho Brown, Hard Damage by Aria Aber, and Redbone by Mahogany L. Browne. I believe the poetry these poets write is akin to magic. Their styles of writing are also drastically different from my own, which is so inspirational. It reminds me over and over again that poetry comes in many forms and that only adds to its beauty and depth.



Liala Zaray is a Pushcart prize nominated poet whose work touches on intergenerational trauma carried through the Afghan diaspora. She appreciates a good cup of chai and loves listening to the rubab. Her work has been featured in Tinderbox Poetry.

Jose Hernandez Diaz

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, The Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Currently, he is an Associate Editor at Frontier and Guest Editor at Palette Poetry.

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