Carol Smallwood’s books include Divining the Prime Meridian (WordTech Communications, 2015); Women, Work, and the Web (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015); Writing After Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching is on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers. Ms. Smallwood, a multiple Pushcart nominee, has three poetry collections and one chapbook of formal and free verse.
INTERVIEW WITH JORDAN BLUM
May 27, 2017 Ragazine
Jordan Blum holds an MFA in fiction, teaches at several universities, and is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an independent creative arts journal. He’s also Associate Editor at Popmatters and a music and/or literature critic for The Big Takeover, Rebel Noise, Rock Society, The Lit Pub, and AXS.
Smallwood: You are the founder and editor-in-chief of The Bookends Review, an independent creative arts journal founded in 2012. What are your duties?
Blum: I handle almost everything related to the journal, thebookendsreview.com, both on the surface and behind the scenes. Promotions, social media presence, sales, publishing, submission decisions, etc. Well, the other editors handle some of that, but I’m usually the one who’s most forceful and consistent about it, which isn’t a knock against them! It’s just a part of my role, right? For example, our genre editors seek out new submissions however they can, as well as cast the initial votes for their subjects. If they like a piece, either my co-founder and managing editor, Spencer Hayes, or I will give a second and final vote; if not, I automatically decline it, which is never easy.
Q) Tell us about your career.
A) I’ll try to be as concise as possible. I earned my MFA in fiction at Rosemont College in 2011 and immediately started looking for — and landing — some adjunct teaching jobs (most of which I still do). At the same time, I was branching out as a music and literature critic. I grew up with progressive rock and metal, so it’s always been a dream of mine to cover those genres professionally (although I also focus on other styles). Fortunately, I was able to really start doing that around this time. A year later, Spencer and I decided to start The Bookends Review because we’d spent so much time as writers who’d been submitting a lot and receiving acceptances and rejections. We thought, Hey, why can’t we be on the other side of that and give people a place to share their work? As for the name, I’m a huge fan of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends album, and it just seemed fitting to add “Review” at the end. Since then, I’ve just been trying to grow as much as possible in all three areas (teacher/music and lit critic/creative arts journal editor). Admittedly, I haven’t published creatively in a while—I spend so much time grading and editing and writing other things that I rarely find the time and motivation. I know, I know, that’s a horrible excuse—but I’m very proud of what I’ve done in those areas so far.
Q) What recognitions/achievements have encouraged you the most?
A) Well, in terms of The Bookends Review, the handful of interviews I’ve done about it, as well as the mentions we’ve gotten in a few ‘Best of’ lists. I’d estimate that we’ve published 300+ artists so far — mostly writers, but a few musicians and visual artists — and it’s always very rewarding to see how enthusiastic people are about us. Frankly, I’m still surprised whenever someone has heard about us, but that’s because I tend to downplay my accomplishments (no matter how pretentious this interview probably makes me sound ha-ha). As for the other things, I tend to get a lot of positive feedback from colleagues and students, and I’ve befriended a lot of my musical heroes and truly established myself within the field. For instance, I’ve been quoted in press releases and I have a strong relationship with a lot of labels. Publicists in the field tend to think of me for coverage, which is extremely gratifying and humbling.
Q) What writers have influenced you the most?
A) I discovered Stephen King, Bret Easton Ellis, and Chuck Palahniuk around the same time (2004 – 2005, when I was a senior in high school), so those two for sure. In fact, I still teach Fight Club every semester (it’s about a lot more than just guys punching each other). Of course, The Catcher in the Rye was a big deal then, too. Over the years, I’ve read and reviewed so many books that I’ve lost track, which is to say that a lot of authors have inspired me through individual works because they’ve challenged what I thought fiction and poetry had to be. Cumulatively, they’ve shown me that there’s an audience for anything I can come up with.
Q) What goals would you like to reach within the next 3 years?
A) Above all else, make The Bookends Review as popular and respected as possible. I’m always looking to branch out what we offer. We started as strictly fiction and poetry, but I’m really trying to get more essays, photography, digital art, music, and every other form of creativity. Also, I want to have contests and maybe even publish specialized anthologies. We do a yearly ‘Best of’ print anthology, but maybe also do theme anthologies. Outside of that, I really want to publish my first novel or collection — and I think I will fairly soon — as well as continue to grow as a teacher and music writer. I love writing for all of the places I do, but there could always be more, right? I’ve often thought about trying to make a living as a music critic and scale back the teaching. We’ll see!
Q) What classes have helped you the most?
A) I think my entire experience at Rosemont was beneficial. There’s always that debate regarding the value of an MFA (there are great writers without degrees and terrible writers with degrees), so I wouldn’t say that it was completely necessary for where I am today, but it certainly helped in a few ways. Specifically, I took a course on rhetoric and teaching with the former head of the program, Randall Brown, that was very useful. At the same time, I’ve always questioned the “rules” of writing. A teacher or “expert” might say, “Good poetry must ____ and not contain ____,” for instance, or “Every story must _____.” To me, it’s good if I like it. I learned a lot about structure and conventions, but I also refute them for the most part. A poem doesn’t have to do this or that; if it’s meaningful, it works. That’s a big part of my outlook with the journal, and it’s a major reason why I don’t go to a lot of workshops or even share my writing with others. I’m not at all dismissing them — I love talking about writing — but I’ve always felt that most of it is so subjective that it’s really hard to take anything as gospel. I’ve had people read my stuff and respond with “Well, if I wrote this, I would ___ or ____,” to which I’ve said, “Well, you didn’t write it; I did, and I like ___ and ____, so I’m keeping it.”
Q) What advice would you give others?
A) As clichéd as it is, believe in your work and keep at it. Never be afraid that what you’re creating is too extreme or bizarre or just inaccessible. Someone will like it, and there really aren’t any boundaries for artistic expression. Also, don’t be afraid to sell yourself (as hard as it is sometimes, trust me). Be proud of what you’ve done and find people who might like it, too. Lastly, don’t feel bad about taking time for yourself or to do other things. We need variety in life, so while forcing yourself to write for six hours a day, every day, until that damn book is done might sound good, if it doesn’t work for you, that’s also fine.
Q) What’s your favorite quotation?
A) “I laughed until I stopped” – Monty Python.
“What you don’t understand, you can make mean anything” – Chuck Palahniuk (Diary).
“If you should ever leave me / Though life would still go on, believe me / The world could show nothing to me / So what good would livin’ do me?” – Brian Wilson (“God Only Knows”).