Confessions of a Poetry Editor on a Bad Work Day

Confessions of a Poetry Editor on a Bad Work Day

Justin Karcher

I’m smoking in the cold on my lunch break and have, like, 10 minutes left before I have to go back. That means I have enough time to smoke another cigarette and to read over the two poems in my inbox. I’m the editor of Ghost City Review and like most, if not all, editors in the poetry community, it is just one of the many jobs I have. Because of this, I struggle with separating poem and reality. I’m not complaining. It’s a beautiful side effect, but sometimes it makes me a little lost.

Anyways, I’m late getting back to my real job, the one that gives me health insurance, because those two poems in my inbox pulled my beard off my face with the force of their spunk and sprinkled each little hair across the dull courtyard. I tried gathering the hairs together, but a winter wind came off the river and blew them away from me forever.

I can’t explain to my boss that I’m late coming back from lunch because of poetry. They would just look at me with uninterested eyes and take me into a secret room in the dark corner of the office where a corporate-sponsored therapist would drop from the ceiling like a dusty ghost and ask questions about my mental state, like, “Is there something affecting your ability to do this job effectively?”

So, I won’t bring up poetry, because that totally affects my ability to do, well, anything. I’ll just take the heat. Maybe it will burn away the bags under my eyes.

I don’t get much sleep and when I actually do, it’s because I’ve passed out on the couch with an open laptop on my chest, Gmail slowly undressing like a digital burlesque show, casually tossing Word docs off the blurry stage like pieces of clothing. It doesn’t matter…morning or moonlight, energized or sleep-deprived, I like scooping up every poem I come across, cradling it in my arms and doing my best to find it a home. Someplace where it can live out its days comfortably and at peace. Like a retirement home, I guess, but for poems and not depressing. Maybe retirement home is a bad analogy. Maybe I’m being overdramatic. Maybe I keep chapbooks in the fridge. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Obviously, poetry editors aren’t in it for money or notoriety. We sincerely care about language and the individual voice. The world does everything in its power to dissipate the sound clouds in our chests and poetry protects our skies. But to put it simply, poems turn us on. They are knives twisting into tyrants. They are an endless box of tissues next to a lake of eyes. They are shovels we use to dig up the past and then we dig another hole next to it and tunnel into the future with the ferocity of a million blooms, a million failed romances, a million manifestos handed down from our mothers. This energy must be encouraged and sometimes all a poet needs is to get there.

In many ways, poetry editors are chauffeurs taking poets to a secret club in the middle of the night and as they open the limousine door, they declare, “Here it is! Have the time of your life.”

Maybe that’s taking it a little too far, but this means everything to me. I know that other editors feel the same way. To be honest, I’m not sure why I decided to write this. Maybe to emphasize how we need each other. Maybe to emphasize how important it is to merge our ideas together to create something immense and beautiful, something bigger than ourselves… but at the same time, protecting and showcasing the individual voice. Maybe I’m being cliché, O captain my captain. Maybe this is an overstuffed commentary on my sleepless ways. Maybe no one’s texting me back. Or maybe I’m just trying to pass the time at work until my next break when I can read the poems in my inbox and feel alive again, when I can feel that heat.

Justin Karcher

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