I have been editing The Ofi Press, a bi-monthly ezine, since 2010, around the same time that I started to take my writing seriously. Writing my own work and simultaneously editing an ezine has beneficial to both in terms of the amount of new poetry that I read from around the world, the amazing new poets that I have met through being an editor and also understanding the editorial process which helps me to not take rejection too personally. This short article explores a little of my personal experience of the relationship between being an editor and a poet.
Starting out as an Editor
I started The Ofi Press, a bimonthly literary ezine in 2010 at the same time that I arrived in Mexico from the UK and that I started to take writing poetry seriously. The aim of The Ofi has always been to publish an eclectic mix of international work as well as translations of Mexican and young Latin American writers.
I had been studying a creative writing course at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and a requirement was to publish a selection of our work on the university blog. Reading the work on this site, I saw so much potential but like they say, “everyone’s a critic” and I was sure that I would be able to make a zine that I would be proud of, thinking of the design and content that I as a reader would want to read. I’m a bit of a control freak and I liked the idea of being a leader in something creative, as sad as that may sound. Also, at the beginning in the first few years it was a good way to keep me grounded with roots in a new country on the other side of the world where I had a small group of friends and no regular work. The Ofi Press would be mine and my link to the world beyond Mexico, especially to my poet mum.
The Benefits of Editing
Since starting the Ofi Press, I have read so much more contemporary poetry that I did before, whether it be through reading review copies to write up for the site, reading submissions or reading out e-zines and publications in search of new and interesting work.
In 2011, I published some poems with Bakwa Magazine in Cameroon and it led to The Ofi and Bakwa running a special project where I published several poets, writers and musicians in English translated into Spanish from the English. Bakwa editor Dzekashu MacViban published several young Mexican poets translated into English for his Cameroon audience in his own special edition. This connection to the continent of Africa firstly led me to begin exploring and writing about my mother’s birth place in Tanzania and my family’s colonial heritage and impact there. I also have made several friends via social networks from West Africa which led me to have dinner earlier last year in Puebla with Nigerian author Onyeka Nwelue. Making these connections to poets from other countries and cultures at a personal level is very gratifying indeed and has also opened the doors for me to include elements of traditions and themes from other cultures in my own writing.
Since The Ofi Press began, our team has also grown from one to four with the US translator and poet Don Cellini joining the team as our translations editor, Hungarian poet Agnes Marton coming in as our reviews editor and Puerto Rican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo joining us as the lead organizer of our monthly reading series. I count all as very good friends. I’m not sure what they would say about this, but I feel like a have grown as a team player over these years and I’m not the control freak that I once was.
Don has opened up many avenues for me with relation to Latin American poetry with his encyclopedic knowledge of young writers in the region and his many contacts. Since arriving in Mexico 6 years ago, I have become fluent in Spanish and also become naturalized Mexican which has led me to read a lot more work in Spanish and to write in Spanglish, exploring the space between my two homes. Working with Agnes has also been fantastic, opening up the Ofi to work from artists and poets from all over Europe. Agnes came to visit Mexican as part of a master class in Tepoztlán just a few weeks and spent a week with my wife and I here in Mexico City. We had the chance to talk about our mutual friends in poetry, current projects and of course to get to know each other in person after having worked together online for the past three years! Luis Cotto is a fantastic poet with a big heart and a real flair on the stage.
As a poet, my first ever publication of a poem was with 3:AM Magazine in the UK edited by S.J. Fowler. Of course that was a great feeling, having those poems chosen and later on, in 2013 when I worked with Steven Fowler and Rocío Cerón as an associate editor for the book ‘Enemigos-Enemies, Contemporary Poetry from Mexico City and London’ it was an amazing feeling to have worked alongside this Steven as a poet and editor whom I greatly respect on this book.
As an editor, I occasionally receive submissions which in the bio, announce the poet as ‘one of the most important poets in X location’ which of course usually means that the poetry will be pretentious tosh. I occasional receive replies to a rejection which are filled with snarky passive-aggressive comments to which, these days, I just let go over my head. When I make a submission I try to always be very polite, thank editors for taking the time to read my work, and also send a thank you note after the work has been accepted or rejected. All very important!
When submitting my work, I can find it very frustrating to wait up to three months and sometimes more for a reply so I try to get back to poets with an answer either way within a month and more often than not, much more quickly than this. I try to personalize my response in some way, whether with a comment on the poems or mentioning other work of theirs that I have read. I like it when editors do this for me so I try to do the same for people who have taken the time to share their work to us at The Ofi.
Dealing with Rejections
Finally, the last thing that being an editor has helped with related to my writing is dealing with rejections. Does a rejection mean that my work was crap? Quite possibly. But more often than not, I imagine that it could be due to something else: the theme of the poem, the style, the editor reading the poem on a day when that poem just didn’t work for him or her… I might just be kidding myself but if I am being honest, these are reasons that I might say no a poem by someone else, a very good poem but just one that doesn’t resonate with me personally. Rejections are part of the parcel of writing and being an editor myself, it takes the edge off when one (or several) naturally arrives to my inbox.
Sometimes I worry that working on my editorial projects takes too much time away from my writing but overall, it definitely helps me in my writing and in my life. Editing The Ofi Press has led me to read more work than I would ever have, meet like-minded people from all over the world and also ground myself when receiving both acceptances and rejections for my work. Editing the Ofi has opened doors to me as a poet and person and for these reasons, I couldn’t recommend being involved in poetry editing enough!
Bio: Jack Little is a British-Mexican poet, editor, translator and primary school teacher based in Mexico City. Jack is a fluent Spanish speaker and in 2015, he participated in the International Book Fair in Mexico City. He is the founding editor of The Ofi Press, an online cultural journal with an international focus now in its 46th edition. Jack will publish a series of e-books of young Mexican poets in translation throughout 2016. In 2014 he was an associate editor for the Enemies Anthology, a collaborative project between poets from London and Mexico City. His first pamphlet ‘Elsewhere‘ was published by Eyewear in the summer of 2015 and his most recent work has been published in Periódico de Poesía, Otoliths, Wasafiri, Lighthouse, M58 and Numero Cinq. Jack will graduate with a Master’s in Education in the summer of 2016 and will then go to Achill Island in the west of Ireland to take up his first writing residency. @theofipress