Editors Talk: Emily Schuck, Editor-in-Chief of Foothill Journal
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 Emily Schuck, Editor-in-Chief of Foothill Journal.
When and how did Foothill Journal start?
Emily Schuck: Foothill began in 2011 as a passion project of our founding editor, Kevin Riel. The idea was to fill a niche in the poetry world that is far too often underrepresented. As far as we know, we are the only journal in the world that is run by and exclusively publishes graduate students.
Your journal publishes students currently enrolled in graduate studies—can you talk to us about your favorite aspect of publishing work by graduate students?
One of the best parts of publishing graduate students is supporting and championing the voices that are new to the poetic community. It is also such a delight to follow the work of our contributors as they continue to write and create.
We have an annual release party each year in conjunction with the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards. The Kingsley Tufts winner comes to Claremont Graduate University for a week, during which they are inundated with readings and events. The final event is Foothill’s release party, and we invite Foothill poets to do a reading alongside the Kingsley Tufts winner. Recently one of our contributors, Ashanti Anderson, landed a book deal with Black Lawrence Press for her forthcoming collection, Black Under. (Pre-order it from your local bookstore!) I distinctly remember her telling me she hadn’t written much recently. My response was that she had to keep at it, and that the world is a better place with her poetry in it. This might sound silly, but she posted something on Instagram noting that reading at our release party that year, and our conversation, helped her to keep writing. I cannot imagine any kind of work that is more rewarding.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Simple: keep submitting and keep writing. Rejections have a very particular sting that, at times, can be absolutely devastating. (I know anyone reading this is familiar with that sting.) Sending rejection emails is the very worst part of working for a journal. That said, when we say we want more work, we really do want more work.
From a craft standpoint, what typically causes you to accept a poem? What causes you to turn the page and move on to the next poem in Submittable?
This is a tricky question! We have an editorial board of ~10 folks, and everyone’s idea of what makes a poem “good” is wildly different, which is wonderful. The way we approach our submissions is on a scale from 1–4. The idea here is that you can’t be on the fence about something; there’s no middle ground. If an editor rates a poem at a 3, they have the burden of proof and have to come to our meeting ready to defend a poem. My favorite meetings are the ones where one editor comes with a 3 or a 4, while most of us are at a 1 or a 2. Often the discussion concludes with the whole board enthusiastically wanting to publish.
Personally, I am compelled by poems that surprise me—when the volta takes me somewhere I had no idea I was going to end up. I also love funny poems. Sometimes poetry carries the assumption that it has to be serious. This is not the case! Poetry has as much opportunity to be silly as prose. (I mean, think of Mary Ruefle’s “Red.”)
What have you learned as an editor and writer from working at Foothill for the past few years?
Poetry is unique in the way that it can take, find, and explore so many different forms. Vonnegut was “innovative” when he included illustrations in his novels. But poetry offers a space that is so much more malleable; it provides so much more freedom. Contemporary poetry especially investigates this space: I am thinking of Diana Khoi Nguyen, Phillip B. Williams, Tommy Pico, Dawn Lundy Martin, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, among others, and the way they interrogate what poetry looks like (quite literally).
What I have learned from reading graduate-student poetry has impressed to me the depth and breadth of the possibility of language. There is little more beautiful and amazing than that.
Emily Schuck is a PhD candidate at Claremont Graduate University writing her dissertation on the intersection between James Joyce and John Cage. Her scholarly interests include modernisms and how they function as cultural reproductions in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She serves as the editor-in-chief of Foothill Poetry Journal, teaches at University of La Verne, and works for the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards.
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.