Interview with Rosemary Zimmermann

rosemarytopFriends Journal’s New Poetry Editor

rosemary130In 2012, we ran an interview with our longtime poetry editor Judith Brown. It was a nice opportunity to talk about Friends and poetry and to give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into our editorial deliberations. A year later, Judith retired from the position after 18 years of faithful service. After interviews with many amazing candidates, we named Rosemary Zimmermann as our second-ever volunteer poetry editor this past January. Rosemary is a member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting and has just relocated to upstate New York. We caught up with her to see how she’s adapting to the job.


What made you want to apply for the position?

I wanted to take on this job for three pretty straightforward reasons: I love poetry; I love my faith; I thought I would enjoy the work and would do it well.

Can you explain the current selection process?

Sure. Poems are sent in through a submissions manager called Submittable; it’s a great web-based program that I find very simple to use. Occasionally poems are mailed in or someone hands one directly to me, and then we scan them into Submittable, but I don’t encourage this as I struggle to keep track of pieces that come in these ways.

When a submission comes in, I usually give it a quick once-over and record my initial impression: just positive, negative, or uncertain. As the deadline for each issue nears, I tend to rake through my pile of submissions several times, gradually narrowing in on the poems I am most interested in until I come up with a tentative slate. I bring these pieces to a conference call with Martin, and together we decide whether or not to publish them. For the most part, he confirms my suggestions. Occasionally we have a slight difference in opinion that, thus far, we’ve easily been able to talk through.

The rejections process is more streamlined. I like to hold onto things for at least a few months because I do change my mind when I re-read and I do not want to reject anything out of hand, but it usually becomes clear fairly quickly if a piece is just not a good fit. Everything I reject has received at least two readings from me. If I am truly unsure, I bring it to one of my meetings with Martin.


What do you look for in poems that come to Friends Journal?

I look for clear, strong imagery that frames a moment or an experience and that rejects abstraction in favor of the concrete. I look for poems that are at least competently composed (though I do not expect professional-level writing). I look for poems that show me something new, that invite me into the writer’s world, and that twist my neck around until I can see the world from a new angle. Above all, I look for poems that communicate effectively with the reader.


Has there ever been a time you personally loved a poem but rejected it because it didn’t seem to fit Friends Journal?

Yes. Occasionally I receive submissions that, no matter how much I love them, I can’t relate them to the mission of Friends Journal. While I have a very broad and flexible idea of what it can mean to “communicate Quaker experience,” sometimes things just don’t fit. In that case, I generally write to the author saying that I admired the poem, and ask for re-submission of a portfolio that suits our needs a little better. In fact, this issue (November) contains a poem that we accepted after exactly that back-and-forth.


Do you have any pet peeves? Are there common problems you find recurring in our poetry submissions?

My pet peeve is poetry that seems self-absorbed. Publication-quality poetry is not about self expression. Journaling is about self-expression. Poetry, and I know I said this before, is about communication. Badly written poetry is one thing; I find that entirely understandable. I write bad poetry too. Of course not everyone is going to be equally skilled. But self-absorbed poetry just irritates me.  

So far as recurring problems, I receive a lot of very abstract poetry, poetry that is heavy on words like God and Light and Love and Peace. As themes, those are all topics that I am interested in, but very abstract poetry along the lines of (and I’m inventing this; no poems have been insulted in the making of this example!) “The light of God invades my soul / like the boundlessly loving sky, bringing peace” doesn’t succeed in communicating much. It “works” as poetry only like a Rorschach test “works”: one can read into it whatever one likes. I’m not interested in poetry like that, but it’s a common problem.


Why do you like poetry? What makes it distinct from other writing? Do you write any of your own?

I love poetry because it communicates to me more perfectly than any other medium. In a few words, poetry can hand me an insight that prose would take pages to give me—or might be incapable of conveying at all. One of the features that sets poetry apart is its invitational nature: “This is my experience; and look: now it is your experience, too.” Poetry, I find, is the nearest thing to telepathy that we have.  

When I think of what distinguishes poetry from prose, I think of the different ways there are to carry meaning. Prose uses a more capacious bag to carry meaning. There is some room left in the container to tuck in other things: a funny subplot, a change of clothes, a backup toothbrush. In a finely crafted poem though, every word should be indispensable. There is no room in that bag for even an extra hairpin.  

I do write poetry. I have since high school (when I wrote the exact sort of self-absorbed poetry that I now hate), but I am becoming more serious about my craft as I grow older. I am working on publication. I’ll let you know!


Is there such a thing as Quaker poetry?

Sure there’s such a thing. I would define it loosely as “poetry written by a Quaker about spiritual experience.” However, that’s not necessarily what I want to publish. I want to publish poetry that is going to speak to Quakers, which is not at all the same thing as Quaker poetry. Of the poems I’ve selected since becoming poetry editor, more than one of my personal favorites has been written by someone who is not a Quaker.


What do you do when you’re not reading poetry?

I am a nurse practitioner, and as of October I’ve started a job as an NP hospitalist in upstate New York. I’ll be working 12-hour overnight shifts overseeing the care of acutely ill hospitalized patients. It’s a fast-paced, crisis management sort of job involving lots of running to answer pages at 2:00 a.m. I know that sort of work sounds horrible to most people, but I have always been a night owl; I strongly prefer 12-hour shifts to a 9-to-5 life; I love inpatient medicine; and I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie.

I am married with a toddler son. My husband and I have quite deliberately chosen to live multi-generationally with my parents on our 56-acre family farm. The farm and farmhouse have been in our family since 1860, and at least three generations have always lived there together. We chose to continue that tradition; that way our children get to grow up with their grandparents, and my parents will be able to age in place.

Most of my free time is spent reading, quite frankly: poetry, of course, but also literary fiction, medical nonfiction, detective fiction, and whatever I happen to pick up. I’m also a dedicated home cook and am very fond of entertaining large groups of friends for dinner.


Who are some of your own favorite poets?

In alphabetical order so as not to show favoritism: Billy Collins, John Donne, Robert Frost, Donald Hall, Seamus Heaney, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jane Kenyon, Galway Kinnell, Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Mary Szybist, Tomas Tranströmer.


Submit your poetry to Friends Journal!

Click here to submit. We publish poems that use image and metaphor to recreate an experience for the reader—which show rather than tell, “be” rather than mean. The subject matter should show an awareness of Friends ways and concerns, as well as sensitivity to them, although the poet need not be a Friend. We prefer poems that are short, have titles, are adequately punctuated, use words sparingly, and are written in form.

Please submit a maximum of three poems at any given time; we prefer that each is uploaded individually.

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