The BTS Interview with Stephen Scott Whitaker
BTS: Who do you think of as a mentor or a major influence?
SSW: Jamie Brown has been a big influence, just in terms of giving me opportunities, and offering advice for when I'm down on the whole writing thing. In undergraduate school both Martin Espada and Sam Cornish loomed large in my academic and creative life. Both men pressed upon me the importance of advocacy, and social justice. Now I don't consider myself to be a political poet per se, but my subject matter is certainly politicized. I am a writer of the poor rural south for example, and often write about marginalized people such as addicts, alcoholics, and even the gay, lesbian, transgender communities in the rural south. When I was at BU, Robert Pinsky, David Ferry, and Aaron Fogle all were influential in terms of sound, structure, and form; concepts that I paid little attention to in my undergraduate days. In terms of fiction, Stephen King and David Foster Wallace speak to me. My short stories almost always have a speculative element to them, and a wink of satire, sometimes more than a wink.
BTS: How did you come to be a National Book Critics Circle member?
SSW: Again, this was Jamie Brown's influence. It's a professional organization that is open to anyone who wishes to participate. As a regular reviewer for the Cape Gazette and the Broadkill Review, the membership was a natural extension.
The Broadkill Review, and the Broadkill River Press, are just some of the sponsors of the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which is free to enter, and offers a full length publication of a poetry manuscript, a cash prize, and free beer. It's become one of the best contests for poets. We focus on poets who have ties to the Mid-Atlantic states. You can find submission information here on our imprint's website http://www.thebroadkillriverpress.com/dogfish-head-poetry-prize
BTS: Duotrope states that you have 10,000 readers scattered around the world. You and the Broadkill team have built quite a following in 6 years! I assume those include occasional browsers to your home page, and not all of them are subscribers? Either way, it makes you a truly significant international publication. What do you think is your secret to that kind of growth?
SSW: Part of it is excellence, and part of it is networking. Early on we had interviews with Robert Pinksy, Maxine Kumin, and Bobbie Ann Mason, which helped attract readers. Jamie, through some connection, published some of Australia's best and upcoming poets. That was a watershed moment for the journal because suddenly we had an international audience paying attention to the writing in our pages.
BTS: Also, I saw in the Duotrope listing that you do not take previously published work.
Is that so?
I know in the old days publications tended to insist on ‘virgin material’, but I am curious if you still find that a rational policy.
SSW: Not so much. Jamie has published previously published material, but it is rare. Every journal wants that claim to have discovered a piece of great writing. Often time it simply is need. There is a glut of writing out there. Back in 2013 I wrote a poem a day for a year, and committed to publishing them on Figment, and Wattpad, two burgeoning publishing platforms. Literally thousands of writers publish daily on those websites. Some of the writing is great, most of it is average, and some of it is awful. Doing that for a year opened my eyes to sheer number of writers out in the real world. When you are curating a journal you want every piece to surprise, entertain, enlighten and move the reader. Not every work will do that. I think if all parties agree, then publishing a previously published work is okay. I do not think your personal blog counts as a publishing credit. Some magazines do, however, and that is likely part of their vetting process.
A sample of Scott's poetry,
previously published in Devilfish Review - Quarterly Literature, Speculative and Otherwise
ABDUCTEE 103. NORTHERN VIRGINIA. PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT.
The windows purred white fire.
Like an animal of fire had stepped through the glass
as if it wasn’t there.
Engines, no engines did I hear, or a pulse.
Like a woodstove, concentrated,
as if a hand full of dry intense light
reached out and grabbed my breast bone.
Warm all over, spine pricking, needles pushed home,
all the way through,
as if I were the nothing that water is
when it steams from fire.
The house did not matter.
The locks I installed
when that burglar came round last winter,
did not matter.
Drunk, sober, summer, winter, don’t matter.
Time of year don’t matter. Or who shares my sleep.
They come for me
when they will. When they will
It is truth.
I don’t recall seeing alien technology.
Wouldn’t know it if I saw it. But dealing with them…
like that play you read in high school,
where the witches tell Macbeth
he’s gonna kill the king.
They give him no choice.
It’s like that. I have no freedom. And the world is dark.
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