Issue #170 — December 13, 2011
For this week’s feature, Sapling talked to Gale Marie Thompson, creator and editor of Jellyfish Magazine.
Interview conducted by Kit Frick
Sapling: Jellyfish is a relatively new online literary magazine; you’ve been publishing since 2009 and have 4 issues out to date. Since you’re new on the scene, what would you like people to know about Jellyfish?
Gale Marie Thompson: That we understand the ongoing process of writing. That scary, dark place right before a poem is on the page. That exhilarating feeling at 3:00 in the morning when you’ve just finished a poem and you want to walk over to your neighbors’ house in your slippers because you want to show them that you’ve actually accomplished something. We get it, and we want to see all those things everpresent in the work we show. I think that’s the main thing. That crazy process of constant new fresh writing is something I can’t get out of my head most days, and I’m sure our writers can’t either. I am obsessed with all of the associations a writer may go through to finally put a poem down on a page. I love love love what Joseph Cornell says in a diary entry: “the prospect of cluttered cellar—/creative filing / creative arranging / as poetics / as technique / as joyous creation.”
S: How did the magazine’s name come about? Is there a good story? Or a bad one?
GMT: It’s a great story. The former co-editor, Jessica Dylan Miele, and I were walking through the Boston Aquarium one bitterly cold January day, and came across the Jellyfish exhibit. The main point of the exhibit was to show all of the destructive things man can do to the ocean—pollution, overfishing, etc. However, the exhibit pointed out that jellyfish are not only unaffected for the most part, they can actually even thrive in these dire circumstances. And all we kept seeing in the exhibit was the phrase, “JELLY DOESN’T MIND.” And thus, the name of the magazine came about. Seriously, we don’t mind. Dire circumstances? Terrible things that humans do? A language no one can pin down? We can get through it. And even thrive from it. That’s a big part of our editorial process as well, in keeping with the whole idea of “process.”
S: What is the first thing that you look for in a submission to Jellyfish?
GMT: Amazement. Astonishment. To me that notion of “refreshing” and keeping in mind the “process” makes for such open, vulnerable, loving pieces of work. Works that hate and also love at the same time. Works that question and also celebrate the world. Works that recognize that being anything at all is bizarre.
S: As the founding editor of Jellyfish, what would you say is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
GMT: The hardest part, and I think the part that a lot of submitters don’t know about, is the fact that as editors, we create issues. We don’t just pick our favorite poems, or the best poems, and go from there. Or at least I don’t. Even if I like something, and think it’s valid and beautiful, there’s a chance it won’t get in a particular issue I’m working on because it is completely out of the realm of the themes and continuations it is dealing with. It’s not a greatest hits album. It’s a mixtape. Or whatever analogy you want to go with.
S: Where do you imagine Jellyfish to be headed over the next couple years? Are there any changes you foresee taking place in the future?
GMT: You know, I’m up for changes. I’m about to graduate from my own MFA program, and I’m going to be making a big geographical leap—where, I don’t know, but it will be a leap. Things may change. I would like to do a more in-depth look at particular poets to see their processes (since, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I’m obsessed with the process), associations, the chains and links that their brains go through to create poems. So, you know, maybe an issue or two with only two poets, going deeply into their work. That’s just one thing I’m thinking of.
S: In addition to the standard wisdom of reading back issues of Jellyfish online and following the submission guidelines, what advice would you give to writers who are interested in submitting?
GMT: Oh wow. How about this: I love poems that do not just live in their own world. They are interested in what’s around them. Poems that are welcoming to the reader and not condescending. I want poems to like me as much as I like them.
S: What’s going on in the small press world that you’re excited about right now? Either within the scope of Jellyfish or further afield.
GMT: I am most excited right now about a poet named Amaranth Borsuk whose new book, Handiwork, is coming out from Slope Editions this coming year. She recently was a part of a hand-bound and letterpress-printed book of poems titled Between Page and Screenfrom Siglio Press, which directly takes you from the pages of the book to a webpage, webcam, and amazing 3-D versions of poems. I’m not sure if I’ve described this well enough, so I want to point you over here. It’s pretty much like a digital pop-up book of poems.
S: What books are on your shelf that you’re excited to read next?
GMT: Well right now I’m reading over and over again the new jubilat (20). I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s so amazing! I’m also starting Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud’sIlluminations, and Inger Christensen’s It. But mainly my heart is with watching men survive Japanese POW prison camps right now, as I’m reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. It’s all part of the process, yes?
To learn more about Jellyfish, visit http://jellyfishmagazine.org/.
Gale Marie Thompson’s first collection of poems, Soldier On, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. She has works in the Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Bateau, Sixth Finch, H_NGM_N, and Glitterpony, among others. Originally from South Carolina, she is finishing up her degree at the University of Massachusetts MFA Program for Poets and Writers. She teaches freshman composition and creative writing at the University, and is the assistant editor of jubilat.