On Time Capsules and Fisheries: A Conversation Between the Editors

Molly: I pride myself in being a fairly catholic reader. Funny story: my dad took me to his university library one weekend, and the librarian asked him if he’d read any good books lately. He turned to me, the undergraduate with a voracious reading appetite and bookseller and suggested I step in. I did what any good bookseller would do and asked, “What kind of books does she like?” And he said, “Oh, she’s a catholic reader.” I paused and began, “Well, there’s The Red Tent and Mary Called Magdalene…” Poor, vocabulary-deprived me. My biology-studying boyfriend-who-became-my-husband later said, “Sure, I know catholic with a little C. You know, like catholic fisheries.”

Brett: Don’t worry. I just had to look up the definition of little-c-catholic.

M: Good! I’m glad I’m not the only one who was a little bewildered. I’ll read just about anything, and I love a good poem; I try not to align myself heavily with any school of poetry. Good is good. But with all the great writing out there, what made you decide poetry was your mode of choice? What made poetry sing for you?

B: To be perfectly honest, poetry attracted me at first because of its brevity. I have a short attention span and it was one of the only forms I could read or write without the danger of losing connection. I used to be ashamed of this, but over the years I’ve come to realize that brevity is one of the strengths of poetry. I no longer have nightmares where people find out about my secret.

M: Oh, I think that’s an excellent reason–the distillation and constellation of words. I used to always be so surprised in my MFA program when a prose writer would confess (usually in the bathroom–what’s up with that?) that he or she admires poets so much. It became one of those mutual love-fests: “Oh, no,” I would say, “I’m amazed at how you can sustain a narrative like that!” But what I love, and have learned over the years, is how poetry can sustain a narrative–how a book of poems can be about so many threads at once and how those can be woven, just as a good novelist might do. That poetry can reclaim the word narrative in so many ways. I love that poetry can take on so many conventions. We had a conversation in the Loft Mentorship Program a year ago about the expectations some readers have for poetry being true. We started talking about “telling lies in the service of the truth.” About how we can pull elements that happened, use a kernel–oh, I took a honeymoon in Alaska–and then alter the narrative in service of the poem–let’s have the couple have a fight, even though we had a perfectly peaceful honeymoon–and see where that takes us.

I do also love a great deal how poetry can really zing inside of me–because of that distillation, I can feel something in my chest at a good line, or an ending that really pops. I wanted to start Tinderbox because I felt something kind of greedy in me–is that OK to admit?–I wanted to be host to some of those gorgeous poems. There are so many really excellent literary journals out there. What about you, why start a new one?

B: There can never be enough champions for poetry. Poems beget poems!

M: True! Now I’m thinking of fisheries again and salmon runs… I’ve always been fascinated by the aesthetic of certain books and journals, particularly when websites such as Pinterest and Tumblr are so popular. They remind me a great deal of curio cabinets or those specimen trays you see in a natural history museum, some of which were inspirations for names I threw out there when we were in the christening stages of Tinderbox. With that in mind, if you were to create a time capsule for the journal, what would you put in?

B: I think what I’d put into our time capsule are the things that inspired me as we were in the very beginning caveman-stages of the mag, and the things that continue to pop out at me as we read through our submissions. I’d toss in a book of matches, an expired coupon for 20% off sports apparel at Target, a feather, a copy of Love, an Index by Rebecca Lindenberg, a printed map of the constellations, a crushed can of PBR, a postcard from an honest-to-god ghost town, a tiny crucifix, two shiny skipping rocks, a handful of gravedirt, and a tiny statue of Sigmund Freud with his arms up like he’s saying “Touchdown!”

M: Kind of like Touchdown Jesus, yes?

B: With way more sexual frustration. And a pipe. What’s your contribution to the time capsule?

M: I remember when I was in Girl Scouts, when my mother, who was the troop leader, had us make these little fire starters out of twists of wax paper and candle wax shavings–they reminded me of those candies you could get from a bin. I think I’d have to put in current issues of some of the journals that put out work that inspires me the most: Poetry, 32 Poems, Beloit, print out a copy of Blackbird. I have a Hillary Clinton nutcracker I got after she ran against Obama for the democratic nomination, and I kind of love it, but I think I could spare it for this venture. Oh, and if you get to put a book in, which, actually, might have been the book I would have picked, then I get to put one in too: Exit, Civilian by Idra Novey. Oh, and I also want to put in Sarah Vap’s End of the Sentimental Journey. I think I would put that book anywhere a poet might read it. Should we put in some marshmallows in there too and see if they hold up?

B: I’ll eat them in ten years if you do.

M: I’m game! What are some of the poetry projects that are interesting you these days?

B: Everything. We were talking recently about how there’s a weird poet-y energy in the Twin Cities that I haven’t felt anywhere else. So many people are doing excellent things in this area; Northern Spark, and the magazines Revolver and Paper Darts, and the Loft Literary Center (which lives in the same house as Minnesota Center for Book Arts AND Milkweed Editions–talk about mojo!), Our Flow is Hard, and so many other places are hosting events, publishing great literature, offering classes, and throwing kick-ass readings that are energetically changing poetry and the art of the story.

M: It’s true! There’s also Coffee House and Greywolf, Intermedia Arts, Rain Taxi Review of Books and its book festival, Maeve’s Reading Series, the Hamline and University of Minnesota MFA programs, and all of those grants Minnesota has. That’s one of the things I love about an online journal–how it can cross international borders and also serve the community from which it came.

Molly Sutton Kiefer is the founding editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and she continues to stay connected to the journal by initiating an interview series with authors whose books have recently come out. Molly runs the sister-press Tinderbox Editions, which is a nonprofit press in southeastern Minnesota. Her book Nestuary is a full-length lyric essay explore themes of (in)fertility, the body as medical object, and pregnancy. She has three poetry chapbooks, most recently Thimbleweed, and her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Collagist, and Fiddlehead Review, among others. She lives in Minnesota with her family, where she teaches Montessori elementary school.