Spillway’s New Editors: Marsha de la O and Phil Taggart: Interviewing the Future

by Lynne Thompson

With the publication of issue #25 of Spillway, readers will bid a fond farewell to Editor Susan Terris who has served as Editor since 2010. On a personal note, I’d like to say what a visionary she has been for the journal as well as an extraordinary mentor for me. On behalf of us all, I thank her and wish her well in whatever new endeavors she takes on.

Spillway will be in good hands, however, as Marsha de la O and Phil Taggart take on the editorial duties for Spillway. Marsha holds an MFA from Vermont College and received the 2015 Isabella Gardner Award from BOA for her latest poetry collection, Antidote for the Night. Phil is the Poet Laureate of Vetura County, the author of three collections of poetry including Rick Sings, and host of a weekly poetry reading series at the EP Foster Library in Ventura. Marsha and Phil were, most recently, Editors of the literary journal Askew.

I conducted the following interview with Marsha and Phil via email in March, 2017.

1. Spillway has been in circulation since 1993. Is it daunting or exciting to take the helm of a publication that has enjoyed an increasing readership since it began? In what ways?

It’s so exciting to take the helm of a publication that has been around as long as Spillway! We’re thrilled to join the editorial team of a literary journal surging in both readership and caliber of poetry.

2. You’ve been the editors of the literary journal Askew for many years. Can you share whether there are any “tricks of the trade” that you will bring with you as you undertake the task of editing Spillway?

We don’t have any tricks. We have a deep commitment to a wide variety of voices and a promise to seriously read and reread every submission.

3. What do you enjoy the most about editing a literary journal?

We take tremendous pleasure in that moment when it all comes together and you can see it as a whole and take in the way the poems speak to one another from page to page. It’s exciting to bring something new into the world, and that happens with every volume, both in the individual poems published for the first time and in the aggregate. We also love being the editors of a journal coming from Southern California and being able to contribute to our literary tradition.

4. What do you find the most difficult about editing a literary journal?

It’s difficult to deal with the number of poems that come in, the necessity of saying no, the oversight, the slip-up, the aggregate of poems resulting in some kind of error, the horror of finding an error after publication, we could go on...

5. Have you begun to think of ways in which to reflect your personal “stamp” on future issues of Spillway? If so, can you give our readers a little preview?

Other than letting go of the notion of themes, we’re hoping for initial continuity with the successful growth of Spillway in the last several years under the able leadership of Editor Susan Terris, and then allowing change to grow organically.

6. What do you see as the challenges and/or benefits of a print journal in light of 21st century technology?

The challenges are similar to those facing all print media and bricks and mortar bookshops, but poetry is a little different from some other media in that readers and writers tend to have deep relationships, more sustained slow-time relationships with poems, with poetry itself. When you have a sustained relationship, sometimes you want a physical one too.

7. Circulation is always an issue for publishers and editors of print editions. What thoughts do you have about meeting this challenge in an environment where readers can receive their information on a variety of platforms?

This really is an issue because of the proliferation in the number and variety of platforms. Poetry is a both a niche art form and a big tent. We feel the challenge needs to be addressed by existing in multiple formats on as large a variety of platforms as possible: print, Facebook, youTube, celebratory publication readings and parties, and online poems. We also understand that poetry changes because of the platforms.

8. You’re both excellent poets in your own right and have been recognized in a variety of ways by the literary community—Phil, as the Poet Laureate of Ventura County; Marsha as the winner of the Isabella Gardner Prize from BOA for her collection Antidote for Night. How, if at all, do the obligations of editing a journal impact your personal writing routine?

We wish we could say that the obligations of editing don’t impact our writing practice, that our discipline and our ironclad routine regarding our own creative practice protects and defends from any outside intervention. But that’s not the case for us. On the positive side, editing a journal is a close and thoughtful connection with a multiplicity of poetic styles.

9. What do you want Spillway’s readers to know about each of you as editors? As poets?

As editors of Askew and Art/Life before that, we truly love all types of poetry. We’re both products of LA area working class families and are drawn to real words that bear witness types-of-poetry. And we like funny stuff.

10. Is there a question I haven’t asked that you wish I had? Answer it anyway!

There’s always the question of how poetry functions in a visual/digital multi-tasking age. We think one of the functions of poetry is to create an altered state, and to do that through concentration and inner listening. Poetry is the counterpoint to the age, and in a troubled time it is especially vital and needed. Sound is the physicality of poetry, but also its incantation. If we think of a magic spell as a set of charged words with the capacity to transfigure, to bring a being into wonder, to alter reality, that charge is the fundament of poetry as well. And how is it done—with repetition, with aliteration, with mystery, with sound as a means of intuiting the invisible, of discovering the unseen in the depths, like echolocation. When whales sound, they dive deep.

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