by Rebecca Watkins
When I read the biographies on Crystal Gibbins and Michelle Menting, I was blown away. These are incredibly talented women who have not only been published multiple times, but they both hold PhDs and have received multiple writing awards. They know how to write! And they know what writing is worth sharing, which makes Split Rock Review and Waters Deep so incredible! On top of their work as authors and curators, Gibbins and Menting are also Editors of Split Rock Review, with Gibbons being the Founder and Editor-in-Chief and Menting being the Poetry and Nonfiction Editor. Gibbins and Menting also worked together to create Waters Deep, an anthology.
UntitledTown (UT): How has your time in WI shaped the creation of this journal?
Crystal S. Gibbins (CSG): Actually, I’ve only been living in northwestern Wisconsin for a couple of years now, and Split Rock Review was founded in 2012, so my time in this state did not shape or influence the creation of the journal. With that said, I do believe place matters and plays an indelible role in the way we perceive and come to understand each other and the world around us. The place that I am originally from and my humble upbringing influenced the mission and focus of Split Rock Review.
I am a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, and I spent my childhood living in the Northwest Angle and islands on Lake of the Woods (MN/ON) with little connection to mainland society and modern day amenities and luxuries. I grew up surrounded by water and the wilderness. I am of this unique, remote, and rugged region along the 49th parallel north – the American-Canadian border. Lake of the Woods has its own unique history, lake culture, and diverse community inhabited by islanders, resorts and cabin dwellers, Métis, and indigenous populations; this place has influenced my identity, consciousness, values, perspective of the world, and my literary interests and career.
Michelle Menting (MM): I had no part in the creation of Split Rock, but as an editor, I will say that my connection to and definition of “place” and “home” was very much influenced by where I grew up: the “northwoods” of Wisconsin and the U.P. (the entire Superior upland). My time in Wisconsin is continuous: I live in Maine now, but I was born in Wisconsin and lived there until I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have family there and return to visit. My introduction to creative writing, especially poetry, began at the UW. Kelly Cherry, Quan Barry, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil (who was there as a fellow) were all major influences when I was an undergrad. That said, I have lived in various bio-regions and landscapes, and each place, its people, its flora and fauna, for sure have shaped my identity as a writer and editor.
UT: How many submissions do you receive for Split Rock Review? Who usually submits?
CSG: Our reading period is often three to four months in length for each issue, so the number of submissions we receive varies and depends on the length of the reading period. Typically, we receive anywhere from 150 to 300 submissions a month. We usually receive the most submissions during the last two to three weeks of the reading period. SRR’s contributors range from all walks of life and reside all across the globe, but most of our writers and artists reside in the US, Canada, and the UK. We’ve published work by teachers, editors, academics, students, emerging and established writers/artists, scientists, librarians, park rangers, and nature enthusiasts. What they all have in common is a passion for writing, literature, and the environment.
UT: What kind of poetry submission sticks out to you?
CSG: I enjoy reading all forms of poetry – free verse, traditional, visual, hybrids, poems as comics, collage, found, erasure, obliterate, asemic writing, or whatever you want to call them. I don’t discriminate. I want to showcase a wide range of voices, styles, and forms of poetry. Be innovative. Poems that jump out and draw my attention are the ones that are stylistically distinctive, unified, intelligent, moving, and have dimension and some heft.
MM: I also enjoy all modes and forms, but I do gravitate towards poems with strong sonic qualities. Part of the great delight I get as a reader of poetry is the wonderful music I “hear” in the lines. I also very much appreciate poems that give us a brand new way of thinking and seeing an issue or topic. Poems that make us care more and think more deeply, especially about our rapidly changing environment and natural world.
UT: What are the challenges and rewards of operating and publishing Split Rock Review?
CSG: The most challenging aspect of managing and publishing an independent, not-for-profit literary journal is acquiring enough support and funding to keep it operational. However, the reward of reading, showcasing, and promoting the work of new, emerging, and established writers and artists in each issue makes up for any challenges that I may face along the way.
MM: The rewards more often outweigh the challenges, certainly. As an editor, it’s always good to have a strong sense of the aesthetic of the other readers for the journal. Everyone being on the same page as far as schedule(s) and a timeline is equally important. These seemingly obvious steps can really affect a journal’s operation, I think. And being on the same page and having effective communication is essential.
UT: Who came up with the idea for the anthology Waters Deep?
CSG: In 2017, I had some conversations with the SRR editorial staff about creating and publishing an anthology. Since I live near Lake Superior, I wanted the anthology to focus on the diversity, history, beauty, ecology, geology, and importance of preserving the Great Lakes Basin. In early 2018, I wrote and submitted an Arts Initiative Grant project proposal to the Chequamegon Bay Arts Council (CBAC) to help fund a portion of Split Rock Review’s poetry anthology. Fortunately, CBAC accepted my proposal and we got to work on the anthology project right away since it needed to be completed and published by the end of the year.
MM: Among some of the fun things that we discussed was what to call the anthology. I think we went through a number of names, but many of those were too similar to titles already in use or were too narrow or broad in scope to truly capture the intended focus that Crystal mentions. I thought Waters Deep as a title certainly described the essence and physicality of the Great Lakes, while it also served as a nod towards the region’s culture, its nuanced past, and, of course, the poems we would seek for the anthology.
UT: What are most of the submissions you are receiving based on? The shipping to and from the Great Lakes? The beauty of the Great Lakes?
MM: A lot of the early submissions seemed to focus on the beauty of Great Lakes – on loons and leaves, water, and trees. Some of these were very non-specific and were poems about, well, loons, leaves, water, and trees. These poems were fine, but they didn’t especially address the Great Lakes or do so in any new or inventive way. The poems that contained more specific imagery, some interesting aspect of voice, a researched narrative that wove its way into the poem – those were the ones that caught my attention.
CSG: Waters Deep brings together 35 contemporary poets with a variety of perspectives and styles writing about the Great Lakes. The anthology invites and encourages readers to appreciate and explore more deeply this unique and complex region – the history, myths, landscape, ecology, geology, culture, and communities. Although the selection of poetry is not comprehensive of poets from the Great Lakes, it does, to the degree that we could make it, highlight the complexities and value of this vast region.
UT: What part of the Great Lakes inspires your writing, both poetry and other genres?
CSG: I live on the south shore of Lake Superior near Washburn, WI, a place of great beauty and severe weather, but also a region that shows environmental degradation caused by humans and invasive/non-native species. Currently, I am writing my second poetry collection titled Re: Wild, which is more eco-centric than my first collection, Now/Here; it focuses on invasive and native species that inhabit Lake Superior and the surrounding area. Re: Wild acts as a kind of reply to and reconciliation with the wilderness, exploring the relation between human beings and the natural world.
MM: Lake Superior, as I mentioned earlier, is very dear to me. I grew up not far from her shores and earned my MA and MFA at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI. Many of the poems in my first collection, Leaves Surface Like Skin, focus on the lake and the natural and human “scapes” that surround it. I have also published essays and short fiction that are set in the region. I think the absolute beauty, power, and tenacity of the lake is so incredible, that it’s almost impossible for it to not leave some sort of imprint on you and your writing. (I mean, it has its own weather system!) I am so grateful for having grown up in the woods and waters where I could hear loons, coyotes, and wolves; see black bears and bobcat; porcupine and pine marten. Having grown up in this area was instrumental in making me want to be a steward of the environment, this land in particular and the non-human other that occupy it. I try, in some way, to demonstrate that level of devotion to these things in my writing—to make readers also care about the Superior upland and her inhabitants.
UT: If you could give either an editor of a literary magazine or an aspiring writer any piece of advice, what would it be?
CSG: As you probably know, entering the world of publication is daunting. There is rejection, of course. Much like constructive criticism in writing workshops, a rejection is not a slight on your character. The work may need to be refined a bit more or it just might not be the right fit for the publication, or simply because the next issue is already full. Or, or, or. There are so many reasons that rejections may appear in your inbox. Sure, rejection can sting a little at first, but as writers, we need to persevere, work hard, and keep swinging with the punches. Before submitting work to literary magazines and journals, I recommend writers to get to know the journal better. Read a few pieces in the current issue and back issues. Take a look at the pieces the journal has nominated for awards and anthologies to get a better sense of the work they publish. Then, review the submission guidelines and adhere to them. Check out the journal’s social media sites and follow them to stay informed of their call for submissions. Make sure that your manuscript is free of errors and submit your best work. Look past rejection, don’t give up, revise, and submit again.
MM: Crystal gives some excellent advice here. I will add that you never know what an editor might see in your work. I was (and still am – it ebbs and flows) so hesitant about sending out poems and prose that I thought were rough, too weird (or a departure from what I usually write), or too “risky” as far as content. If you do your research, you can submit to places that are looking for certain types of work and subject matter. Submit when you’re afraid to submit. Take some chances, but at the same time, have some patience. It’s a balance, that submitting far and wide and having patience. I still struggle with this a bit. Also, editors might see something in your work that you do not. Some of the poems that I thought were my weakest have found the best publication homes. I am still and always surprised by that. So send out those risky poems (or essays or stories), those pieces that stray from your norm. Do this at least to a few places. And yep: rejection isn’t a big deal. It’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean your submitted piece is “the stinks”; it might just mean it isn’t the piece for that publication, or it could mean the piece does need more work, and that’s fine, too. It’s why we do what we do. We polish and revise and try to create the best art we can at the stage we are in (and on).
UT: Have you ever been to Green Bay, WI, or will this be your first time?
CSG: Yes! I visited Green Bay for the first time earlier this year. I’m excited to return in April after the thaw!
MM: Despite growing up just a few hours north of GB, I have only visited the city a handful of times (but I always thought of it as the “big city”!). I think the first time I visited was for a Packers/Vikings game when I was a teenager. One of my older sisters graduated from UW-GB, and I remember visiting her at another time (though that’s a bit outside of the city center, isn’t it?). I’m excited to go back to the city, for sure.
You can find these two talented people at UntitledTown! They have three sessions:
Waters Deep: A Great Lakes Poetry Reading on April 27th @ 12:00-2:00 p.m., KI Convention Center – Meeting Room 7
Why We Publish What We Publish on April 27th @ 4:00-5:00 p.m., KI Convention Center – Meeting Room 7
With/In With/Out Place: A Poetry Reading with Crystal S. Gibbins and Michelle Menting on April 28th @ 10:00-11:30 a.m., St. Brendan’s Inn: Waterford Room