Six Questions for Denise O’Hagan, Poetry Editor Australia & NZ, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine
Jim Harrington’s Blog, 31 July 2019
The Blue Nib was home to The Blue Nib Poetry Chapbook Contest which has been judged by poets such as Paul Sutherland, Kevin Higgins, Michael Blackburn and most recently Helen Mort. Previous winners include, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Ruth Quinlan and Derek Kannemeyer.
SQF: How did you get involved with The Blue Nib Literary Magazine?
Denise O’ Hagan: I first heard about The Blue Nib from one of Dave Kavanagh’s submission calls on Facebook. I checked it out and decided to submit some of my poems. The more I read the journal, the more I liked it – primarily on account of the sheer quality of what they published (so yes, I was honoured to have my work included). When an opportunity arose for a poetry editor for Australia and New Zealand, I couldn’t resist applying (I live in Sydney). Poetry is my passion and this is my way to give back to the wider poetry community as well as being more closely connected with it.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
DO: First and foremost, the ‘essence’ of a poem (the impulse behind its creation, be it a message, mood evoked or whatever) must be original and rise up and engage us irresistibly; ideally, we should never find ourselves having to make an effort to read it. Second, a poem must be more than a recounting of personal experience – though it usually arises from that – to reach outside itself and exert a universal or timeless appeal. Third, a poem must demonstrate literary merit and include artistic and imaginative power, clarity of expression, solid structure and grammatical excellence.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
DO: The absence of the above qualities, obviously. But nothing is ever so simple as to be contained in a set of rules, and perhaps the single most off-putting aspect to a submission is simply an underlying laziness, where words have obviously been slapped together with little thought to quality, where images are cliched or language gratuitous.
SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraphs/stanzas of a submission?
DO: Good question. I look for a ‘key’ to what will follow – an indication of whether I will be delighted, inspired or challenged and why. I don’t need to know everything, just be able to get a feel for what’s to follow. A poem with no ‘key’ risks losing our interest early.
SQF: What one piece of advice would you offer an author hoping to be published in The Blue Nib Literary Magazine?
DO: Select your best poems and read them over with a critical eye before submitting (reading aloud is wonderful). Don’t be afraid to pare them down – remember that less can be more! Does that qualify as one piece of advice?
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?
DO: I don’t feel the burning absence of a question but, since you ask, I might add, ‘How are you impartial in your selection of poems?’ My answer would be twofold. ‘First, I set aside any knowledge of the writer and his or her background and go by ‘the words on the page’ (i.e. read blind). Second, I try not to let my own personal poetic preferences as to subject and form sway my decisions (i.e. I rate each poem on its writing above all else).’
I just thought of another question: ‘What advice would you give to aspiring poets?’ I would answer: ‘Write from the heart about something you believe in, and write for yourself in the first instance, not to please someone else and not even to be published. If you want to go on writing, read as widely as possible, especially those poets who inspire and challenge you to find your own voice, your own style. And don’t get put off by the inevitable rejections – we’ve all been there. Keep reading, keep writing – and keep submitting!’
Thank you, Denise. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project