Interview: Don Bogen, Cincinnati Review
March 24, 2009
By Greg Weiss
The following is an interview with Don Bogen, poetry editor of The Cincinnati Review, conducted by Greg Weiss. It is the first of our ongoing series of writers interviewing literary magazine editors.
Greg Weiss: What type of poetry would you say that The Cincinnati Review publishes?
Don Bogen: CR is quite eclectic in its approach and accepts poems of all sorts, so there's no real "type" of poem I could define. This eclectic approach is less a matter of editorial philosophy than of taste, I suspect. All kinds of poems interest us in different ways. When I'm reading for the magazine, I like to consider what a poem is asking of me in its own terms and judge it on the basis of both that aim, if you will, and how well it achieves that aim. Clearly we're interested in a certain boldness in new work, a certain energy. But that energy can come across in many ways: a fresh subject, but also a fresh look at a traditional subject, or a fresh take on conventions of style or voice. On one level or another, all the poems we accept have surprised me—sometimes flamboyantly, sometimes more subtly; they did something I didn't expect, and did it with craft and imagination. I would expect that a given reader would not like all the poems in an issue (or at least not like them as much as we do); in fact, he or she might actively dislike some of them (not too many, I hope). This would be a natural result of the focus on the individual poem and its particular claims.
Weiss: Perhaps more importantly, what type of poetry does The Cincinnati Review not publish?
Bogen: Obviously, dull work or work that merely tries to meet the surface demands of a current or traditional mode would not interest CR. But probably every poetry editor would agree with that statement. To be a little more specific, I'll mention a conversation I had with a local poet shortly after I became poetry editor here. He said that if he were asked to be poetry editor of a magazine, he would aim for unity, focusing on the work of either poets from a particular place or poets who shared a common aesthetic, a particular "school" of poetry. I told him that was more or less the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.
Weiss: Who is The Cincinnati Review's intended audience?
Bogen: CR intends to reach as large an audience as we can, and, of course, we also want to publish the strongest poetry we can. I don't see that as a conflict, but I assume our readers share our interest in poems of all sorts from different places (unlike the anonymous local poet above) and want to be surprised by bold new work.
Weiss: What proportion of new vs. established writers does The Cincinnati Review generally publish?
Bogen: I haven't run a numbers check on percentages of work by new and established poets and would resist doing it. I know in our five years we've published everything from work by famous figures (as famous as a poet can be) to poets who have published rarely before, if at all. We're clearly open to the work of poets without publication credentials—though it's always good to mention a few publications if you have them when submitting work. Depending on how you define "new," I'd guess that perhaps a third to a half of the poems in each issue, maybe more occasionally, come from newer poets. The key thing is that the poems themselves be new.
Weiss: Is there anything else that a class of new writers should know in regards to submitting (or not) work to The Cincinnati Review?
Bogen: Other than reading all kinds of poetry, not just contemporary American, and the more practical aspects of submitting work—S.A.S.E., brief cover letter, allowing a little time for our response, etc.—that are on our website, I can't think of anything else. The main advice for new poets I can give is to read and subscribe to CR and at least one or two other literary magazines, not so much to find models of good writing as to be part of the literary community (specifically the print community, beyond just the poems you can read on line), and to be surprised and occasionally really knocked over by a poem. And when that happens, to read the poem again.
[The top picture above is the cover of The Cincinnati Review issue 4.1, cover design by Barbara Neely Bourgoyne. The second picture is a photo of Bogen from the University of Cincinnati website.]