Monday, April 7, 2014

Acceptance: Five Quarterly ... Almost (!?)


Five Quarterly (also referred to as 5Q) has five new editors every quarter. They select only five poems and five stories for the issue. The stratagem behind this is explained quite well on site:

Founded in 2012, Five Quarterly is an online literary project that invites readers of all kinds to participate in our editorial process and offers writers a place where they can feel comfortable and excited about submitting their most personal work. Each quarter, five new guest editors ultimately select five poems and five pieces of fiction for online publication. We hope that this model will help to introduce fresh perspectives, diversify the face of publishing, and encourage an expanding literary community. (website: ABOUT section)

Nearby is the ultra-cool motto:

Five new poems. Five new stories. Five new editors.

Speaking as someone who has submitted poetry over the last twelve years--seemingly everywhere--I want to say: 5Q is indeed original. The dynamic built into the raison d'etre is geared to throw branches of community far and wide. Truly remarkable. Vastly memorable.

There is only one potential downside. However, Founders Vanessa Gabb and Crissy Van Meter have a more-than-satisfactory solution.

Let me spell out this potential problem--which, again, has already been defused by Gabb and Van Meter--in a case study. This will be my first case study ever! In fact, maybe I have just invented a new discipline, a new -ology: the study of the organizational structure of literary journals: journalology.

Anyway, here is my very first case study.

Case Study for 5Q

Assume the five editors for a 5Q issue have very different tastes, and each picks only one poem for the issue (remember, only five poems appear). It would seem, then, that most poets who submit are competing for a single slot. Why? Only one editor (at most) will have the same style-preference as any hopeful poet. The odds of acceptance, in this case study, are slipping over the rim of the big zero.

I want to drag out, uh, I mean elaborate the analysis of the case study a little bit more. Let's do some empirical research!

The latest issue of 5Q is Winter 2014. Who are the five editors? Are they likely to have diverging tastes? Or do they seem likely to share preferences?

Here are shortened versions of their bios (from p.2):

Jason Kichline is the Emmy award-winning producer of the web-tv series Reporting Aids.

Mary Sotnick ... is Executive Director of Watermark.

Lara Taubman Wisniewski is an arts editor and curator.

Eric Vasquez works as an Art Director at World Wrestling Entertainment.

David Whelan ... lives and writes in London.

Looking at this quintet of guest editors, I sense some serious dissonance. These folks might well have very divergent tastes. In fact, my speculation is that they each started with control over two slots in the Winter issue: one poetry and one story. Possibly, they traded picks among themselves, like corporations swapping carbon credits. In any case, they each were the sole deciders of just a few slots in the zine.

Now, let's do a quick rundown of the five poems in the Winter 2014 issue. Are they similar? Or very different? Will there be five very-different styles on display?

I want to start by saying that all five poems are extremely good. The 5Q method is superb for maxing quality. It's kinda frightening actually, how superlative these poems are (and how devastating to my ego as an artist).

First in the line-up is “girls girls girls” by David Blumenshine. Trust me, almost no poem ever written could compete with this one (and certainly nothing of mine). This is a wild, dark fugue that romps and seduces and dramatically bashes through a thin-skinned maze of emotions. In short, it spikes the reader along at least several psychological indices.

The next poem, presented in a different font, is Clay Cantrell’s Stray Dog Blues and Others (subtitle: for Robert Barbour). This is lyrical and enspelling; tender with pain and heart-waltzing. Although sometimes feverish, it does not flirt with tantrums like “girls girls girls.” Conclusion: Very very different poem.

Third is “Due” by Ashleigh Lambert. This wrestles the reader with supple arms of anguish and anxiety, revealing a cruelness even inside its kindness--and yet ultimately revealing the fear and pain of a troubled state of pregnancy. New font. Beautiful, poignant, vicious voice. Nothing like its predecessors.

Fourth, “Missing School As a Sick Child” by John McKernan. I was immediately struck by the unique use of visual space. This poem is nostalgic yet nuanced by philosophical ornaments. It is somewhat like prose, dominated by powerful figures, and a child’s small sense of identity. And yet another new font. So far, all the poems are camping out in different geographies.

Finally, “FOURSQUARE: METAPOETICS” by Anthony Ramstetter, Jr. This is the most structured of the five poems, divided, as in algebra, by a mantissa and abscissa--and yet it also captures bathyal thought-patterns with stark lucidity. It madly theorizes with the abandon of Dionysus turning into Freud (“Anything naked has its greatest agency when it is approaching disappearance”). In sum, it does a nasty pole dance around the straight-laced cross in the center.

There you have it, the full Case Study! My conclusion: the five poems and the five editors are very different. Hence, it is quite likely that any poet who submits to 5Q is hunting after a single available slot, one that only comes up once a quarter. Not only that, the poems in 5Q are exceedingly fine. If you are not in top form, you have zilch chance of getting in. Imagine a galaxy-wide deep six wastebasket.

However, and this is a HUGE “however,” the brilliant Founders, Vanessa Gabb and Crissy Van Meter, have found a way to turn exclusivity into wonderful inclusivity. They actually make rejection a way to expand participation in their project. This is just pure genius!! How?

If your poem makes it to the final round of the editors’ readings, and yet doesn’t get accepted, you still get published--in a sister journal called Almost Five Quarterly (A5Q). Not surprisingly, A5Q is pretty darn busy, publishing a piece every week. From the site:

Though 5Q guest editors ultimately have to pass on so many excellent submissions per issue, each week our team showcases work(s) that reached the final round of guest editor readings. Because of the nature of our project, we only offer ten spots per quarter, so almost totally counts in our book. We like to think of A5Q as that dope sister restaurant next door where you could go for food just as good. Check out our current issue and happenings at


I am happy to report that my poem, “Irises In a Portrait” will be hanging out at the “dope sister restaurant”! There’s a big backlog, so it won’t be appearing until July 4. But this will be the happiest Independence Day of my literary life!

It is obvious that Editors--uh, I mean Founders--Gabb and Van Meter have to be brilliant: they have writers crooning in ecstasy after being rejected by them!

My apologies, but I am going to regress into sheer praise and astonishment:

5Q is a mighty, mighty awesome journal!!!

And, also, Viva la A5Q!


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