_JW: Alex Freer, you’re the editor of Angelic Dynamo. I wondered if you could tell us what exactly is the concept behind this magazine?_
AF: It’s a magazine in which our readers are our editors, quite simply. We take submissions from all around the world and each week we display three on our website, and our readers vote on them, and whichever receives the highest votes is then published in that week’s magazine. We publish an online magazine once every two months and we plan to release a printed magazine once every year.
_JW: Do you think the print version will begin to take precedence over the online version as time goes on?_
AF: I think they’re both certainly important parts. What we’re hoping to do with the print magazine is print it as an anthology of the online editions across the year- a ‘best of’ annual, if you will.
_JW: So how exactly did it get started?_
AF: The magazine came together, essentially, from what I saw as the status quo of poetry magazines in the English-speaking world, which is a group of many ten of fifteen editors who essentially control poetry production across the Anglophone world. So what I wanted to do was experiment with whether we could create a model that didn’t work like this. I met John Clegg, who’s now my co-editor, at a poetry reading in Manchester, and we got together and this is what we produced.
_JW: I suppose that means in many ways that your role is greatly reduced, in that the editor’s discretion in picking the poems which make it into the magazine has been cut. Have there been any poems that have been voted through that you’ve really hated, or poems you’ve been rooting for that just haven’t made it?_
AF: The latter, certainly has happened a few times. It’s difficult – it’s made easier by the fact that I have a co-editor who doesn’t always share my views. So generally if I’ve ever been unhappy, John’s balanced that out with his own satisfaction. With regards to how the poems go through, I see my role as a caretaker to root out the technically poor and to let the readership decide what the ‘good’ is.
_JW: But there must be times when you find yourself wishing you didn’t have these democratic ideals…that you could just assume the classical dictatorial role of the editor._
AF: It’s certainly a very attractive place to be, but I think that’s a very good reason for doing this. I can see the attraction of it, and indeed, I’m one of the most sceptical people about whether it’s right to let a broader readership decide. But I think we have to try.
_JW: And it’s turned out well._
AF: I’m very pleased with what we have so far. There’s a surprisingly high standard.
_JW: Obviously you and John are both young poets and young fans of poetry – is there an age skew in the submissions you’re getting?_
AF: A lot of the submissions we have are from students, typically from the English and American university towns. That said, we have a good deal of people in their middle age and young professionals.
_JW: And obviously you’ve been starting out online – have you found any difficulties in distinguishing yourself amongst the many other e-magazines? Have you found it hard to get noticed starting up?_
AF: I think, perversely, it might have been easier – the wonderful thing about the internet is that saying you’re a poetry magazine makes you a poetry magazine. That, because of the internet, we could move from the start with virtually no operating overhead, and within a few months, we could get established, because the internet allows for more innovation.
_JW: There’s no inner circle to break into._
_JW: The interesting thing about the format is that you get to see both the poems that get accepted by magazines, and the other half, the poems that make up the majority of submissions that never get seen by the public. Has there been a great disparity between any of the submissions’ qualities?_
AF: There are two major groups of submissions we receive. One is really below the standard we’d like to run with, technically challenged or in some cases offensive. But, I’m glad to say, the larger group is of poems that either are what I’d consider very good, or aspects of them are. So what the debate comes down to, I think, is what you find more important as a reader, whether it’s the technical aspect or whether you can overlook a crooked metaphor for the overall feeling.
_JW: And you’re also using the money you’ve received from Lord Rootes to conduct research into your concept of poetry as democracy; do you have anything you’re hoping to find?_
AF: I think it’s a very interesting field, and one that hasn’t really been considered in the academic world. What we’ll have, hopefully, will be an editorship like no other, and what we’re looking for is the relationship between this public editor and the poetry it selects. So it’d be interesting to see if there is a normalising effect by having a great deal of people- whether more extreme views get filtered out, for instance. But I get the feeling that the readership of such magazines is , in their being readers of poetry, qualified enough.
_JW: There’s been a bit of a backlash against the idea of the poetry-reading public having this power with the whole Pam Ayres fiasco over the Poet Laureateship. Where do you stand on that?_
AF: I must admit that nothing would make me happier than to see Geoffrey Hill become Poet Laureate, which is, I think, a view only shared by the most conservative…
_JW: So you’re actually going the other way there…_
AF: Yeah-as I was saying, I am one of the biggest sceptics about this, but that’s why I want to see it tried.
_JW: So you’ve got the funds, you’ve got a print magazine; what’s the plan from here on?_
AF: We plan to print in April, and distribute in Warwick and around the country. And then we’re hoping to increase publicity and submissions, because the broader and more diverse our readership, the more likely this project is to work, because the more thorough the editorship. So we’d like to hopefully attract more readers and writers, and see where we can go with it.
_JW: Because poetry’s always niche as it is. So in trying to open up the readership, you are increasing as a wide an arc as possible in this medium._
AF: Oh, certainly. We are constrained by genre, but -although some might not wish it to be so- in this century, poetry always has to be the domain of the few. But the key here is that the poetry should be self-selecting. We shouldn’t exclude anyone.
_JW: If you could discover one poet of the last century to send a poem into Angelic Dynamo, to be ‘discovered’, who would you pick?_
AF: I’d love to see Lachlan MacKinnon; I think he’s quite underappreciated as it is.
_The online version of Angelic Dynamo can be found at http://www.angelicdynamo.com/ Submissions are now open for Issue 5._