In this first installment of the “Editor’s Corner” interview series, Dr. Jenny Molberg has generously provided her invaluable insight into the editorial process as an editor for both a highly prestigious literary magazine and press. Dr. Jenny Molberg is Co-Editor of Pleaides Magazine, Assistant Director of Pleiades Press, and an Assistant Professor of creative writing at the University of Central Missouri. Founded in 1981, Pleiades Magazine has long been a nationally admired literary magazine, publishing some of the finest emerging and established contemporary poets, fiction writers, and essayists (such as Joyse Carol Oates, Sherman Alexie, D.A. Powell, Tiphanie Yanique, Adrian Matejka, and many others). Pleiades Press also publishes a fantastic catalog of contemporary writers (i.e. Jennifer Givhan, Bruce Snider, Julianna Baggott, Amy Meng, E.J. Koh, and Bianca Stone), who are selected through annual contests, including the Lena-Miles Wever Todd poetry prize, the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry, the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose, and the Visual Poetry Series. They also publish the Unsung Masters Series, which focuses on celebrating exceptional writers who have not received their fair share of attention.
Jenny Molberg: Working as poetry editor for Pleiades Magazine was part of my hire as assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Central Missouri; a year after I started the job, I became co-editor of the journal with Phong Nguyen. As an MFA student, I had an internship at Poet Lore, and then as I was working towards my Ph.D., I worked every year at American Literary Review in a different position at the journal. That experience prepared me well for my position at Pleiades. As for Pleiades Press, I am fortunate enough to serve as assistant director and help out my colleague Kathryn Nuernberger, who works tirelessly on the press. I read for the Editors’ Prize and various other small tasks, but we have Kathryn to thank for the beautiful books that come out of the press.
SE: What is something that has surprised you about working in a professional capacity as a poetry editor?
JM: A pleasant but challenging surprise is the amount of very strong work that Pleiades receives during open submission periods. It is often difficult to reject many of the poems that are sent in, because there are so many excellent poets writing today. A not-so-pleasant surprise is the amount of people who will come up to the Pleiades table at AWP and say, “you rejected me.” What do you say to that!?
SE: What do you look for in selecting poems for publication in Pleaides Magazine?
JM: I find that the poems we publish are ones that have an electric quality that jolts me; they are the poems I keep thinking about for days and feel excited to share with our readership. What gives poems this quality, I think, is interesting tension between form and content, fresh and lively diction, a balance of emotional and intellectual resonance, a keen sense of strangeness, and most importantly, an element of bravery, which varies from poem to poem, and which makes a poem memorable. Writing a poem is an intense act of bravery.
SE: Is your thought process for choosing book-length manuscripts for Pleaides Press any different than when choosing individual poems? What do you look for with poetry books?
JM: When I read for the Editors’ Prize, I do think that the books I send forward share that electric quality I spoke about with individual poems. However, writing a successful book of poems is another beast. I look for a narrative arc, a sense of wholeness with theme, concept, and voice, and cohesiveness between