Interview With Pentimento Magazine Editors Lori Brozek and Marie Kane
WG: There is a dearth of literary journals that actively seek to promote the work of writers with disabilities. Up until the publication of Pentimento, this group was probably limited to Kaleidoscope, Breath and Shadow, and Wordgathering, so your journal is definitely welcome news for writers who contribute to those publications. Lori, tell us what motivated you to launch Pentimento?
LB: I used to subscribe to The Sun Magazine when I was in my twenties (back in the 1980s). I let my subscription lapse and pretty much forgot about it. I rediscovered it around 2005 and joined a Sun discussion group in South Jersey. I love The Sun and was thrilled to find a group of other Sun lovers. One of my more annoying personality traits is I have a need to get at the truth of things—it's the reason why I like The Sun. I think what they publish reflects something similar.
I have a 18-year-old son with autism and at one of The Sun meetings I thought: wouldn't it be great to have a magazine like The Sun, but it was all disability-related? I mentioned the idea to the other group members and they were all very encouraging. Oddly enough, I had submitted some photographs to The Sun around the same time and received a rejection letter. I wrote a letter to the editor (which was published) about how I was going to start my own magazine called The Moon: Rejects from The Sun and would publish submissions The Sun had rejected. I actually received emails and phone calls from Sun readers wanting to help me launch it! I guess they didn't realize I was joking; although I did go ahead and start a different kind of magazine.
When my son was young and we were at the very beginning of the autism journey, I felt estranged from everything and everyone. It was the elephant in the room. I had a friend years ago who tried to kill herself and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. Later, after she was out of the hospital, I asked her why she did it, what she felt like at the time, what was going on inside her. She told me I was the only person who asked her about it. I wanted the same thing — someone to acknowledge what was happening, ask me about it, and listen as I spoke my truth. And I wanted a magazine that provided a space for those conversations.
MK: For years, I resisted writing about multiple sclerosis because I questioned who would want to read it, who in the world would publish it, and why would I want to hang that shingle on my literary house. I was diagnosed with MS in 1991 and had been writing poetry for years, yet, did not write my first poem relating to MS until 2005. Hey, I figured, if I didn't write about this disease, it did not truly exist—even though my MS had moved in its inexorable way from relapsing remitting to secondary progressive as I graduated from single point cane, to quad cane, to walker, to scooter. Wordgathering published that first MS poem, "Shards," in 2008. When I read the other fine work in that issue that gave disabled writers a voice, I realized that my reluctance to write and publish MS poetry was unfounded.
In the late summer of 2013, I found Pentimento through an online search. I checked out the web site, wrote to Lori asking for a copy of that superior June 2013 first issue, and knew I had found another home for disabled voices. I submitted poems for the next issue, gave Lori my background, and asked her if she needed any help in editing Pentimento. I was thrilled when she said she could use my help. When I spoke to Lori on the phone and in person, her conviction and fervor for Pentimento made it easy for me to become part of the editorial staff—first as a Contributing Editor, and now as Poetry Editor. (Although I continue to edit some prose pieces for the magazine.) Pentimento, modeled after my other favorite print literary magazine, The Sun, gives the disabled person of all ages and anyone in their life circle a superior place to sound out their many emotions and experiences of being disabled in this very abled world.
WG: Lori, how does your space provide for those kinds of conversations that you mentioned? What are the main qualities that you are looking for in the quality of the work that writers submit to you?
LB: I think some of those conversations are and will be in the poetry and writing that we publish. Although we haven't done it yet, we do plan on having an interview (conversation) in each issue.
One of the main qualities I'm looking for in submissions is accessibility. It's something I want in two ways--the writing itself is accessible as well as the magazine as a whole--that is, I want the magazine to provide a place where you don't have to be a previously published, well-known writer to get published. Of course, since we're new and hardly anyone even knows about us yet, it's much easier to get published. But I want that accessibility to continue through the lifespan of Pentimento.
Another quality I'm seeking is beauty — both visually and in the writing. One of our readers sent the following comment: From so much heartache so much beauty. Pentimento is like the flower that even now must be peeking up from the site of the air crash. Life has a way of making itself known.
I couldn't have said it any better.
WG: Marie, as the poetry editor what are you looking for in the poems that you receive? Lori mentioned beauty, but what other qualities are you seeing? Also, because I'm sure there are many Wordgathering readers who would be interested in submitting poetry, what should be avoided, i.e what kinds of things turn you off about a poetry submission.
MK: As a writer who's been wrestling with the written word for over fifty years, and submitting poetry to journals for many of those years, I know how challenging it is to write well, to have the reader realize your point, experience your emotion. It's difficult to write a poem where the reading is easy no matter the complexity of the subject matter—where the reader reads your words without seeing the words as obstructions to meaning. The words move and carry the reader to the end. The reader doesn't have to stop enjoying the poem to question the construction, word choice, title, space break, line break, metaphor, etc., but enjoys the poem for its craft, for its intellectual and emotional satisfaction. I know when I read a poem like that.
Pentimento ups the ante in the kind of poetry it accepts. We not only ask for an expertly realized poem, but for a poem that also concerns something about disability. The risk of writing about disability—one's own or another's—is to lay bare the stark, often unappealing 'differences' that make many uncomfortable. But read any editorial, essay, story, or poem in Pentimento and you'll find this honesty about disability. And, as Lori noted, the beauty of honesty and the aim of accessibility are our goals—both in the writing and in the ability to be published.
For those interested in submittng poetry, it's important to know:
We publish twice a year. Our submission times are January 1 to March 15 for the Summer issue and July 1 to September 15 for the Winter issue.
Writers from all backgrounds and experience are encouraged to submit work. My main criterion is excellent craft, not your experience or numbers of published works.
We accept poetry written by disabled individuals and by those in that community—caregivers, friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. The poem(s) must concern disability; entries that do not concern disability will not be accepted. We ask that writers follow our complete submission guidelines at www.Pentimentomag.org. Entries that stray too far from these instructions will not be selected.
I read every poem that is submitted to Pentimento; as of now, there are no other readers or judges. So far, I can handle the number of entries. If I have a question or concern about a poem, I ask Lori for her input.
For the June 2014 issue, we received eighty-seven poetry entries; we published eleven of those poems in the issue. Eight were by caregivers, etc., and three by disabled individuals. These numbers in no way reflect any preference to type of person submitting; they reflect the quality of poems submitted.
I will be conscious of varying the type of disabilities chosen for publication.
I'm looking for well-crafted poetry that uses words economically, examines the specific more than the general, and is exact and original in its description.
I like poetry that surprises, moves, or challenges the reader, but not to the extreme so that the writing itself bars the reader from comprehending the poem.
There is no preference if the writer submits one, two, or three poems. I'm looking for your best work.
I prefer poems of lyrical, formal, or narrative modes. Well-crafted experimental poetry should work to change my mind. Prose poems are welcome as long as they use poetic, lyrical language.
Writers are free to submit poetry that addresses its topic in any range--from serious to humorous, from the personal to the political, from the private to the public.
I do not appreciate in a poetry submission:
The use of trite, overused language or clichés.
In short, submit your best work. I'm always excited to read what you write. I'm sorry to say that we have more than enough poetry entries for the next issue whose deadline is September 15. But I'd welcome entries from Wordgathering readers and writers for the summer 2015 issue, submission dates of January 1 to March 15, 2015. Please check our website for submission guidelines.
WG: I would imagine that in all of your writing, one of the things that you strive for is the avoidance of stereotypes about disability. I'm wondering if you have encountered language or images in the work that has been submitted to you that reinforce stereotypic thinking. I'm speaking not only about obviously negative language but also about images like the supercrip or patronizing language by ablest writers.
MK: Certainly, I do not welcome any writing that patronizes the disabled. What bothers me most about written responses to disability is the attitude that the disabled person should try this new 'cure,' which would greatly improve the disability—even to the point of making it disappear. Each person's disability is singularly specific. A doctor's opinion, or a second opinion from another doctor, and/or personal and medical blogs are able to give information concerning success with new treatments. I understand the fervor toward a treatment that has helped someone and his or her willingness to advertise that treatment, but in poetry submissions, I'd rather read something more personal, more specific about someone's experience with disability, than read a poem extolling a treatment for that disability.
LB: I can't speak to the poetry submissions as I typically don't see them, but for other submissions, no.
When my son was very young, I was friends with another mom of a child with autism. We met at an early intervention class our sons were in and spent a lot of time together outside of the class.
One time we were in her kitchen talking about something, and her son was nearby. She immediately lowered her voice so he couldn't hear what she was saying. At that time, my son and hers had almost no language and often didn't give any signs that they were aware of what was going on around them.
I thought it funny at the time that she did that—lowered her voice. I assumed my son's (and hers) receptive language was similar to his verbal ability. It took me a while to figure out that my son did understand what was going on around him and what was said. We had a piece in our first issue, "Fish Don't Know They're Wet," about a woman who has a stroke and everyone around her thinks she doesn't understand anything and is "gone" in some sense, but she's not. She does understand and is frustrated that she can't make her body do anything to get that across. I loved that story because not only did it reflect what happens with autism, but it reflected me. I was the person who thought the woman who had the stroke was "gone."
My point is: even though I have a child with a disability, and I think I'm fairly sensitive to the issues, sometimes I need to be enlightened. That's one of the reasons it's important to have individuals with a disability, like Marie, a part of Pentimento.
WG: I'd like to switch gears for a moment and ask a more practical question. Pentimento is a beautifully printed hard copy publication, reminiscent as you mentioned of The Sun. You also pay your writers for the work you use, which, of course, is wonderful news. Both of these things, however, require funding. How is Pentimento able to sustain itself?
LB: I fund it — although I did receive a generous donation to cover the cost of the first issue!
When I decided to go ahead with the magazine, I calculated that I could the cover the cost of two issues per year (I work full-time). We do have subscribers, but not enough to cover the printing and payment costs.
I plan on applying for tax-exempt status for the magazine this year. That will open the door for grants and tax-deductible donations.
MK: The fact that Lori funds Pentimento speaks to her absolute commitment to its purpose of illuminating disability, or as she notes in her response to the first question, to fill her "need to get at the truth of things." Pentimento offers disabled individuals and their caregivers, family, friends, neighbors, doctors, teachers—anyone in the disabled community actually—the chance to, as Lori said regarding her son's autism, "acknowledge what was happening, ask me about it, and listen as I spoke my truth. And I wanted a magazine that provided a space for those conversations."
Pentimento certainly does just that with creative non-fiction, essays, poetry, art, and photography. Another way this magazine sets itself apart from other publications is that we publish both adults and children's work. Disabled children's writing, art, and photography are very welcome. Pentimento includes a brilliant column called "Uncut" that is reserved for a young person's handwritten (usually one page) poem, brief essay, letter, etc., with cross outs and all. It is never edited. And, work we receive from a disabled individual under eighteen does not have to concern disability, unlike the adult writing, art, or photography that does.
Similar to The Sun's "Readers Write," we have a "Readers' Pen" section where people write a true story concerning a theme and disability; the next winter issue's theme is 'Romance.' If you want to write for this upcoming issue, we're lacking submissions for personal memoir about disability and romance so submit! The deadline is September 15, but for the "Readers' Pen" section, we can stretch the date a bit. There are also "Pentiments" which anyone can send in quotes by others that speak to disability.
Pentimento has a subtitle: "more than meets the eye." The magazine is committed to showing unflinching honesty in grasping the whole of what it means to be disabled. As a writer with MS, I am honored to take part in this fascinating journey.
WG :Before we wrap things up I'd like to ask if there is anything more about Pentimento that you would like potential readers or contributors to know? Do you have any visions about what course the journal will take in the future?
LB: In the future, I'd love to be able to put out more than two issues a year. As I mentioned earlier, I work full-time, consequently, two issues is all I can handle right now. But I'm close to retirement, and I'm thinking about having a quarterly schedule when that happens. In the future I want to include more essays. We receive many more poetry submissions than essays, so if your readers have any disability-related essays, we'd love to have them submit. I'd also like to have an interview in each issue. In fact, I've been thinking about our December 2015 issue having an interview regarding P.L. 94-142, and the entire issue having an "education" theme. 2015 is the 40th anniversary of P.L. 94-142 and oddly enough, my mother had a connection to the law. I grew up in New Jersey, which was one of four test states which were chosen to go out into the field and assess the current state of special education prior to the implementation of P.L.94-142, and determine what schools across the country would be facing with this mandate. There were two NJ teams -- a northern and southern team, and my mother, who had no connection to disability at the time, was on the northern NJ team. The background on the law is fascinating, and I'm looking forward to putting out an interesting issue on this law and education in general.
If any of your readers have any education-related pieces, we'd love to see them for consideration for the December 2015 issue.
MK: I totally support Lori's idea to publish Pentimento four times a year. In their cover letters, poets have commented that the magazine fills a need in the disabled community and the publication world in general. One poet noted that, "All we can do when writing about our connection to a disability is open the door a little so people can see in. It's amazing how much can be accomplished just by doing that." That is exactly Pentimento's goal.
We publish quality writing—it's honest writing that doesn't shrink from things that hurt, or reveal too much, or are humorous or tragic—or anything in between—regarding disability.
Lori's aim to anchor issues with an interview, and to publish theme-oriented issues will move the magazine forward. We'd also like to see a "Letters to the Editor" section in the magazine. So, if you read Pentimento and appreciate a written piece, have a question about something, have another point to make, disagree with something in the magazine, write a succinct letter to Managing Editor, Lori Brozek: lori(at)Pentimentomag(dot)org. In the subject line put the words 'letter to the editor', your name, and the magazine issue: "Letter to the editor, Marie Kane, June 2014." Or, you can submit a letter by using our website, www.pentimentomag.org under "Contact Us." (We reserve the right to edit letters.)
This winter's issue will be our fourth, so we're pretty new at this game. We're working on having a larger web presence so that some articles, poetry, and art would be online so readers can have an idea of what we're all about. A Facebook page could be launched. Lori has posted Pentimento's submission requests on web sites such as the Creative Writing Opportunities List (CRWROPPS), and in print such as Poets and Writers, and others.
The magazine's web site, includes the history of Pentimento, submission information, how to contact us, how to send a letter to the editor, and more.
We're an Ad-free magazine, we pay our contributors, and we love what we do. Pentimento's editors are a small but hard-working bunch who believe that our magazine deserves to be read—and not only by the disability community. Recently, a person who has a subscription and no connection to disability (other than she knows me), commented that, "The writing is so well done, and the ideas expressed show the human spirit at its best, even though it could be just the opposite. I love how Pentimento shows a great understanding of humanity."
Consider this quote by the great American poet, Muriel Rukeyser: "I don't believe that poetry can save the world. I do believe that the forces in us wish to share something of our experience by turning it into something and giving it to somebody: that is poetry. . . .and as far as my life is concerned, poetry has saved me again and again."
Or, look at this quote by another terrific American poet, Stanley Kunitz: "Poetry is where we meet to share our secrets."
Pentimento welcomes those forces within that need to share, those secrets we commit to paper.
We'd love for you to subscribe to Pentimento so you can see what all this fuss is about, but it's also important to simply find an issue (or issues) and read what our writers have to say. (You can request a free issue on our website, www.Pentimentomag.org under "Contact Us.") We feel you'll appreciate the way our writers look at the world, deal with adversity, and face difficult changes in their lives. Perhaps you'll come to realize that 'disability' is a term given to some who have varying degrees of difficulty living in this world that may be more 'visible' than for others. The important thing is how we deal with it, explore it, and share it.
In the first edition of Pentimento (June 2013), in the editor's letter that begins the magazine, Lori wrote her vision for the future. She hopes that Pentimento becomes "an accessible, balanced magazine where wonderfully written pieces can stand side-by-side with a voice that may not be ready for the Paris Review, but nonetheless, needs to be heard … I want Pentimento to be a place where we look together into the dark and the light and connect to both."
What a discerning magazine Pentimento is and will continue to be when we keep Lori's words in mind.