Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Vox Populi: An Interview With Our Editor

On Friday, we caught up with poet, blogger, editor and activist Michael Simms at his kitchen table where he was preparing his Saturday morning post for Vox Populi.

Vox Populi, which you call “a gazette of the left,” publishes a wide variety of genres. Is there a schedule? That is, does VP post certain kinds of items on specific days of the week, or is it simply random? 

There is a weekly schedule, but I often vary it. I usually post two items each day:

  • Monday: a poem by a contemporary female poet; and a political article by a contemporary male writer;
  • Tuesday: a poem by a contemporary male poet; and a political article by a contemporary female writer;
  • Wednesday: a poem by a contemporary female poet; and a political article by a contemporary male writer;
  • Thursday: a poem by a contemporary male poet; and a political article by a contemporary female writer;
  • Friday: a poem by a canonical poet (e.g. Dickinson or Coleridge); and an essay or video on an important contemporary subject;
  • Saturday: a grab bag of music, humor, cooking, film, architecture, science, gardening, design or lifestyle. Also, sometimes a smart-ass article by me;  
  • Sunday: two pieces of high culture, such as belle-lettres, classical music, art, cinema or canonical literature.

What kind of poetry do you like?

I’ve always loved poetry that has a clear voice, a strong reliance on craft, and a sense that a person is speaking about ideas or incidents that are of utmost importance to him or her. I dislike poems that are merely word games, or that don’t sound authentic. I like traditional fixed forms, such as the sonnet and the villanelle, although few contemporary American poets use these forms well. I like translations, but they need to be rendered as effective poems in English. Some of my favorite poets are James Wright, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, W.S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Robert Hayden, Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anna Akhmatova, Lucille Clifton, Wendell Berry, Philip Levine, Federico García Lorca, Naomi Shihab Nye and Emily Dickinson. The sound of the poem is the most important quality, and when I’m reading it on the page, I will often say the poem out loud in order to hear the music. I have a number of poems memorized.

Here is one of my favorite poems, a Petrarchan sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Do you publish fiction?

We don’t publish fiction although we might in the future. That being said, some of our authors, such as Meg Pokrass, write lovely short pieces they call “flash fiction,” but I think of them as prose poems.

Since almost everything VP publishes has a political aspect to it, whether overtly in an editorial or documentary, or more subtly in a poem’s point of view, please tell our readers what your political views are.

Vox Populi is unapologetically progressive, favoring Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over other presidential candidates. We — that is, almost all my friends and I — despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for. We are pro-union, pro-civil rights and anti-war. We are vehemently opposed to the state killing people whether through war, executions, or extra-judicial killings by the police. We believe that the judicial system in the United States is broken and needs to be fixed. We believe that racism, classism and bigotry need to be discussed openly. We are in favor of tolerant gentle enlightened relations between the many genders. We believe that animals have rights, as do rivers and forests. We believe that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and the wildfires, floods, and extreme weather we are experiencing globally are the direct result of burning fossil fuels. We admire Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Jane Addams, Mahatma Gandhi, Henry Thoreau, Stanley Rother, Daniel Berrigan, Sophie Scholl, and Raging Grannies. We like the ACLU, Doctors w/o Borders, J Street and Planned Parenthood. We love dogs, children, gardeners, artists, musicians, poets, activists and vegan chefs. We also like to laugh.

When we publish a conservative author, it is either as a foil for an author we agree with, such as the famous Cambridge debate between William F. Buckley and James Baldwin, or as an example of great writing. Besides, the left doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas: some conservative writers bring up really good points — David Brooks, for example, is awesome.

Why don’t you read unsolicited submissions?

Well, first because it’s a lot of work reading submissions and corresponding with writers. I’m retired from a long career in publishing, and I don’t want to work as hard as I used to. And second, I already have far more material than I can possibly publish at the rate of two pieces per day. On the internet, there is a huge amount of great work that’s in the public domain or on open license. The best publishers of progressive political articles, such as Common Dreams, TomDispatchThe Guardian and Orion Magazine, allow me to publish their pieces without charge. Through Vimeo, YouTube and SoundCloud, I have access to great films and music. And many of the best poets in the country, such as Stephen Dobyns, Sandy Solomon, Joan E. Bauer, Robert Gibb, Arlene Weiner, Jose Padua and Doug Anderson, have given me permission to publish their work whenever I want to. I simply don’t have room to take on more poets.

Why doesn’t Vox Populi accept donations?

I spent many years raising money for nonprofit organizations, and it became clear to me that some people expect special treatment in return for their donations. They give money to a nonprofit publisher, and they expect the gift to improve their chances of being published. Wealthy people, in particular, often have the attitude that everything has a price and flashing their money can give them a place at the head of the line. This attitude is understandable since virtually every institution in America works in this way. Rich people buy athletic scholarships for their children in Ivy League schools; they finagle reduced sentences for their financial crimes; they lobby for special legislation that favors them; they can even purchase a candidacy in the Democratic presidential primary. From the perspective of wealthy people, everything is for sale.

Vox Populi costs only about $400 a year to publish, and I’d rather absorb that cost myself, rather than slide into the ambiguity of a transactional relationship with a donor. Or, to put it more bluntly, I don’t want people thinking they can buy their way into Vox Populi.

Do you ever make editorial mistakes?

Never. The typos are there for a purpose. My mother, who was part Cherokee, often said that you should always make sure there are mistakes in your work, so the gods will not be jealous.

About once a week, you publish a poem or essay that you’ve written. Isn’t this vanity publishing? Aren’t you ashamed?

Yes, it is vanity publishing, and no, I’m not ashamed. It’s my party and I can publish what I want to. I’m an old man and I don’t have time to submit my work to The New Yorker and wait six months to hear from them. Any day now, I may drop dead while checking my Submittable page. Besides, my writing is really good, and everyone should have the right to read it. Especially my poems. You should memorize my poems…

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

You’re welcome.


Michael Simms is the founding editor of Autumn House Press, Coal Hill Review, and Vox Populi.

Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

Michael Simms. 7/8/19. Photo by Eva Simms. — at Big Dog Cafe, Pittsburgh.

22 comments on “Vox Populi: An Interview With Our Editor

  1. Hele Montagna
    February 25, 2020

    Love the poetry and commentary/essays I read on VP. Without you I would not have known about these writers. Love the vitality, points of view and integrity of the choices you make. From a dedicated Canadian reader – merci beaucoup, eh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 25, 2020

      Thank you, Hele! Vox Populi exists for readers like you.

      Like

  2. jfrobb
    February 24, 2020

    Reading VP is almost always a part of my early morning routine (though I am just now catching up on this piece because I’ve been out of town). VP plus the sun coming up (work table against a third floor window facing east) – just the right combination to start the day.
    This is one of my favorite VP pieces ever – definitely enjoying all the bits and pieces you’ve shared about you. Including shaking my head yes yes to your likes and dislikes, favorites.
    Many thanks for that and for all the other days of postings that I’ve read since the beginning of VP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 24, 2020

      Thank you so much for staying with us, Jackie! Vox Populi exists for people like you.

      Like

  3. Patricia A. Nugent
    February 22, 2020

    A great mix of satire, opinions, and reflection. Skilled interviewer 🙂 I learned interesting stuff about my editor and about the publication I’m fortunate enough to be featured in on occasion. Although embedded in “civil rights”, I’d also add that Simms (and, hence, VP) also has a strong feminist voice, which may be the most endearing quality to me. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet left me with a strong sense of melancholy – how great to find that embedded treasure! Last but not least, when did that beard appear?? Thanks for all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 22, 2020

      Thanks, Patricia! I grew the beard last year to hide my chins. HA!

      Like

      • Patricia Nugent
        February 22, 2020

        Wish i could do that!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. John Tieman
    February 22, 2020

    I love this. And, yes, it’s your party. Enjoy the festivities.

    Like

  5. Maxim Shaw
    February 22, 2020

    I have enjoyed Vox Populi from the moment I discovered it, and now I know a bit more about, and also like, its editor. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gospel Isosceles
    February 22, 2020

    Here’s a request for more of your mother’s witticisms!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Roberta Hatcher
    February 22, 2020

    Yes, it is your party, and we are all better off for it! Thank you for all you do, especially your poems.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kathryn Levy
    February 22, 2020

    I love this interview! Thank you for Vox Populi and all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. loranneke
    February 22, 2020

    I loved this! Thanks Michael — and I also loved to be told about the weekly calendar you have — hadn’t noticed its order of publications. And thank you for the Pericles — I read VP almost everyday — and just so appreciate agreeing with someone: I look like one go those wobbly-head toys when I read VP or poems you publish. I go “yup, uh-huh, yes…” And you mother’s quote: perfect. I send friendship and thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. melpacker
    February 22, 2020

    A delightfully modest interview with himself. I love the part about “my party” and “you should memorize my poems”….Thanks Michael for being you and for publishing some of my stuff. Disclosure, I made NO payments in return for being published, but would do so as long as it wasn’t more than 13 cents. That’s my limit. I have my pride, you know. And, by the way, I would have added Malcolm X to your list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 22, 2020

      Sure, Malcolm, you, Joni, Ziller, Ishmael Reed… We’re all in this together. Thanks for all you do, Mel!

      Like

  11. Vox Populi
    February 22, 2020

    Thank YOU, Brenda, for all you do!

    Like

  12. brendabutkagmailcom
    February 22, 2020

    Thanks for this!

    bjb

    Liked by 1 person

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