The Argotist Online
Jeffrey Side Interview
(Two interviews conducted by Ami Kaye and published in Pirene’s Fountain magazine: the first in 2009 and the second in 2010)
Jeffrey Side has had poetry published in various magazines such as Poetry Salzburg Review, and on poetry websites such as Underground Window, A Little Poetry, Poethia, Nthposition, Eratio, Pirene’s Fountain, Fieralingue, Moria, Ancient Heart, Blazevox, Lily, Big Bridge, Jacket, Textimagepoem, Apochryphaltext, 9th St. Laboratories, P. F. S. Post, Great Works, Hutt, The Dande Review, Poetry Bay and Dusie.
has reviewed poetry for Jacket, Eyewear, The Colorado Review, New Hope
International, Stride, Acumen and Shearsman. From 1996 to 2000 he was
the deputy editor of The Argotist magazine.
publications include, Carrier of the Seed, Distorted Reflections, Slimvol,
Collected Poetry Reviews 2004-2013, Cyclones in High Northern Latitudes
(with Jake Berry) and Outside Voices: An Email Correspondence (with Jake
Berry), available as a free ebook here.
Ami Kaye is publisher at Glass Lyre Press and editor of Pirene’s Fountain and the Aeolian Harp Series. Her poems, reviews and articles have appeared in various journals and anthologies including Naugatuck River Review, Levure Litteraire, Kentucky Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, here. among others. Ami edited and published in response to the Japan 2011 nuclear reactor disaster, and co-edited Her work was nominated for the James B. Baker award, and received an honourable mention in the 2013 Tiferet contest. She is the author of What Hands Can Hold, and currently working on a benefit anthology, “Collateral Damage” to raise funds for disadvantaged children. Her personal website can be found
AK: Mr. Side, it is a pleasure to have you with us for this interview. We are especially interested in hearing some insights from the “other side of the fence!” Please tell us about your work as a poet and as an editor.
JS: Thanks for inviting me. I’m honoured you asked.
I like to write poetry that’s heavily connotative, so that readers can make their own minds up about what a particular image or phrase means. I don’t like poetry that tells you everything, or spells things out for you. I think this is because I came to poetry from having a love of song. Song is largely connotative.
Because I didn’t read any poetry at the time, I was quite naïve about it, and assumed that it would be as connotative as song was. It was quite a disappointment to find out that this wasn’t the case. But in my naiveté, I didn’t realise that the sort of poetry I was reading wasn’t really representative of poetry in general. It was only when I discovered older poetry, the sort written by William Blake or Thomas Wyatt, that I saw that poetry could be as good as song. This is because the older the poem, the closer it is to the song or ballad tradition. As you know, song predates poetry—or rather songs became poems once they were written down and read privately. After examining the older poetry, I saw that it was its tendency to generalise and avoid descriptive elements that made it “song-like”. Poetry up until around the time of William Wordsworth tended to generalise, after Wordsworth (and largely because of his influence) poetry became more novelistic and descriptive.
The editing came about only because I wanted to promote the sort of poetry that used generalisation (which made it closest to the song tradition) and which was being ignored by mainstream poetry because of this. So I started The Argotist Online, to act as a platform for such poetry. The name for the site was taken from a journal I deputy edited from 1996-2000: The Argotist. This had national sales in the UK, being sold through Blackwell’s bookshop chain. It had poetry in it but it was mainly an arts review with articles and interviews on a range of art topics. Our big coup was getting an interview with Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky. I also edited an issue of an undergraduate journal called Off-the-Cuff while I was at Liverpool University.
AK: What qualifications do you think are necessary to become a literary editor? What type of decisions and responsibilities does an editor face?
JS: I think the main qualification you have to have is enthusiasm based on a reason why you’re doing it. In my case, the reason for The Argotist Online was to promote a certain sort of poetry I felt was being underrepresented. Other editors will have other reasons. But you have to have a motivation; otherwise you’ll lose interest.
Regarding what types of decisions and responsibilities you face, I suppose that depends on the nature of the journal or on-line journal. Because The Argotist Online is aimed at people who are mainly sympathetic to non-mainstream poetics, I tend to choose articles, interviewees and poetry that would interest them. But I’m also aware that people can’t be pigeonholed and so there’s a lot of content on the site that would appeal to a broader audience, such as the series of song writing interviews with singer/song writers.
The main responsibility outside of deciding what to publish is making sure that once you decide what to publish it gets published. I don’t like to let people down, so if I ask them for an article or to be interviewed I make sure that it goes ahead and appears on the site.
AK: What is the difference between a print and online journal, if any, in your opinion?
JS: The most noticeable difference is that with an on-line journal you don’t have to do a print run, find a distribution network, find retail outlets and find the funding for all of this. All you have to do (in my case at least) is find a web host and make sure you exchange links with lots of similar sites.
Also, an on-line journal is always “present” and accessible in a way a print journal isn’t. By that I mean that surfers are always, every second, coming across an on-line journal by accident, whereas once a print journal has been sold and bought, and is in someone’s home, there’s less chance for that publication to be “discovered” by thousands of people simultaneously.
AK: Many poets wonder why their submitted work was not accepted, when clearly, some of the work chosen, in their opinion, was not superior to theirs. What insights can you share about the selection process of a poetry magazine?
JS: I suppose many poems are rejected simply because they’re not the sort that the journal they’re sent to publishes. This is why it’s important for poets to read the journal’s submission guidelines. The majority of poems I’ve rejected have fallen into this category. But given this, selection is always a matter of personal preference, and poetry evokes different responses in different people. I can only select poems I like, even if others would disagree. To use a cliché: There’s no accounting for personal taste.
AK: What can you tell poets whose work is rejected? What advice can you give to submitting poets who are just starting out?
JS: The only advice I can give is to say to them that they should read the submission guidelines of every journal they submit to. Another thing they should think about when they’re starting to write poetry is to decide early on what style they’ll concentrates on, be it formalist, experimental, open form etc. This is important because most journals have a preference for one style or another, and the poet new to submitting has a better chance of their work being accepted if they bear this in mind.
AK: Tell us a bit about your reviewing process, Mr. Side. What are the different components that go into writing a good review of a poem or book of poetry?
JS: For me, there are three useful components for writing a good review. The first is to do a close reading. A close reading allows for an evaluation of the different elements of a poem’s design, such as its formal properties, imagery, metaphor, simile etc. The second is to examine the ways in which a poem is effective or ineffective in using language to convey plural meanings. For me, this is the yardstick for all poetry criticism. The third is to have some grasp of the history and evolution of poetry because this prevents writing about a poem as if it existed independently of an aesthetic and intellectual context.
AK: Do you think it is a good idea for a journal to have a guest editor every so often?
JS: Yes. I see no reason why not. If a journal wants to devote an issue to a certain theme or topic then a guest editor knowledgeable in that area would be a good idea.
AK: Thank you for your time with this interview. One final question. How do you balance writing your own poetry with the demands of running your poetry magazine? Do you find you have less time to submit your own work and even less time to write? How can you circumvent those difficulties so you can keep your own work going?
JS: I wish I could give an answer that would be interesting to your readers, but the truth is I haven’t written any new poems for some time now. I’ve a backlog of poems (and notes for ideas for poems) to draw on if need be, though. I suppose I’ve expressed all that I feel needs to be expressed by me poetically in this backlog and what has been published. I feel this is particularly the case with my long poem Carrier of the Seed, which I finished writing in 2005.
AK: How did you think of starting Argotist Ebooks?
JS: Well, it seemed to be the next logical step to publishing poetry at The Argotist Online, which I’d been doing since 2005.
AK: How many submissions do you get?
JS: Around seven a day.
AK: How do you select from among the submissions?
JS: I just go by my personal taste. I suppose that’s why the catalogue is quite diverse.
AK: Do the books have the ability to be published in print format down the line?
JS: Yes, there’s that possibility. Though for me, publishing ebooks has certain attractions over publishing printed books in that I can publish an ebook in 15 minutes, at no cost, and with no retail price. To do the same with a printed book would be difficult, especially as far as making it free is concerned. It’s important to me that they’re free, as I think that since poetry book sales make little money anyway, there’s no point in limiting public access to poetry for the sake of minuscule returns. Poetry’s not as widely read as it used to be in, say, the 1850s, so potential readers of it need incentives to bother checking it out; and making it free is part of that, for me anyway.
AK: How do you choose covers for your book?
JS: Some of the poets I publish do their own cover designs, and for those that can’t either Rich Curtis or Rachel Lisi, two visual artists, do designs for them. Rich and Rachel write poetry too, which enables them to find visual motifs for designs in the poetry collections I send them.
AK: How long does it take for you to read a manuscript, put the book together and have it ready to download?
JS: I can publish an ebook in about 15 minutes, but it takes about a week to prepare the manuscript. I don’t read one manuscript in one sitting as I’ve usually got two or three others that also need my attention, so I rotate between them. Once that’s done, it takes a few days for each cover to be designed, either by the particular poet or by Rich or Rachel. When I have the covers, I format the manuscripts to conform to the standard design I use, and then put them online. Given the varying rates of progress for each stage, I can publish three ebooks a week.
AK: Do you know of other presses that operate in this way?
JS: No, but I expect there are some.
AK: What kinds of titles do you publish?
styles of poetry and experimental fiction.
AK: What is the advantage of a book like this for readers?
JS: Well, an important advantage is that an ebook is universally available, and as opposed to a printed book, you can download and start reading one within minutes without leaving your home. This is especially important for people who live in remote villages, or who are unable to walk or are physically challenged in some way. Ebooks also don’t need any physical storage space. You can store literally hundreds of them in a portable reading device or on a USB flash drive. So in this respect, they’ve got far greater portability than printed books. They’re also more easily searchable than printed books, and their text can be resized for people with visual problems. Once portable reading devices become as commonplace as mobile phones, I think ebooks will be the norm, and print books will exist mainly for collectors and archivists, or bought as special gifts for weddings and christenings etc.
AK: Are you enjoying your foray into book publishing?
JS: Yes, especially at the low-key level I’m involved in.
copyright © Jeffrey Side & Ami Kaye