An interview with pax americana poetry editor Greg Santos

pax americana is both Latin for “American peace” and an online journal of poetry and prose, founded by Christopher DeMento and currently edited by Ben Mirov, B.C. Edwards and Greg Santos. In search of quality poetry, Greg Santos agreed to answer some of our questions about what he looks for in poetic works, what the journal likes to publish, and how to make an editor steaming mad.

Black Heart: Where is your magazine geographically located, and does that affect
 the type of work you publish?
Greg Santos: pax americana lives primarily on the internet. We did publish three print issues but at the moment we are no longer doing print. The editorial staff’s meetings also take place on the internet, especially now that I’m living in Paris, while the others are across the pond.

pax originated out of San Francisco, I believe, but when I first started working on the journal, Ben Mirov, B.C. Edwards and I were all studying in Manhattan. As a result, we got a lot of submissions out of New York. Being Canadian, I also reached out to Canadian poets and writers as much as I could. That being said, we publish an eclectic range of writing and while we have “americana” in our name, I’d like to think of us and our contributors as literary citizens of the world.

BH: What’s the magazine’s rallying cry or raison d’être?
GS: Our mission statement says that “our focus tends towards the undiscovered, irreverent, and experimental” and “we think humor is more subversive than anger.” I stand by those words.

We also love to feature guest editors to shake things up, but the real focus is on the writers. With that in mind, we changed the look of our online issues to feature photos of the writers immediately when you go to the website. They’re the real stars.

BH: Who are some of your favourite writers, and how do they influence
your work at the magazine?
GS: My go-to list is constantly evolving. In general, though, I turn to Mary Ruefle, James Tate, and Dean Young when I need inspiration. I don’t always “get” John Ashbery but sometimes I like to frustrate myself by reading him. I’ll be reading one of his poems, feeling completely lost only to come across a profound moment of beauty that makes all the previous frustration worth the effort.

While it’s easy to gravitate towards writers whose work meshes with my own tastes, I love discovering writers and writing that catch me off guard.

BH: What type of poetry are you most interested in publishing?
GS: I am most interested in publishing poetry that surprises me. I don’t care if it’s similar to my own writing; if it surprises me and moves me, I want it in our journal.

BH: Is there anything that drives you crazy when reading submissions,
 or that you absolutely will NOT publish, and if so, what?
GS: Because the name of our journal is pax americana, we occasionally get angry political pieces railing against something ridiculous like, I don’t know, President Obama’s ears. We started receiving so many of these we had to add “we don’t like diatribes, rants, or polemics” in our mission statement. Sorry folks, we’re not interested in that type of stuff. Unless we receive a really, really good angry rant worth sharing, it’s just not our thing.

I don’t like it when people haven’t taken the time to read our submission guidelines. This hasn’t happened too often but we’ve received submissions where the writer sends us a link to their website and asks us to select our favourite pieces from their whole oeuvre. Please don’t do that, people. It makes me mad. Choose your best and send us your best.

BH: Are there any specific examples of pieces you’ve recently published
that writers should examine further?
GS: I recommend checking out our latest fiction-themed issue edited by our resident fiction editor, B.C. Edwards. I’m also very proud of the “paxamericanada” issue (#9) I edited featuring a variety of poets from across Canada.

BH: What first got you interested in working with pax americana?
GS: I had some poems published in pax americana before I became an editor for them and I really enjoyed the writers they published. Ben Mirov, the general editor for pax, and I were in the same MFA program and we spent a lot of time discussing poetry over beers after class. I love his writing and also really respect his taste in poetry. I don’t quite remember how it happened–I blame the beers–but one day he asked if I would be interested in being the poetry editor and I said, fersher.

BH: Have you ever gotten a really awful submission, 
something so terrible that you’ve printed it out, covered with red ink
 (and maybe even some rude drawings), and tacked to your wall as a
”What Not To Do” example to be mocked and referenced by everyone in
 the office? And if so, have you ever taken up the matter with the 
writer in an effort to either understand or educate them?
GS: I did once receive an exceedingly long poem full of clichés, primarily on the subject of the writer’s penis. But I’ve repressed that.

BH: What does your office space look like?
GS: You can often find me typing away on my laptop from the kitchen table of a charming 13th arrondissement apartment in Paris while my 5-month old daughter keeps me in check from the vantage point of her BABYBJÖRN bouncy chair.

BH: In closing, what advice would you give to writers who would like
to someday have their poems published in pax americana?
GS: As ABBA put it, take a chance on us. Read our latest issue and check out our archives. I’d like to think we’re pretty friendly and we would love to see your work.

pax americana can be found online at paxjournal.com. For submission guidelines, click here.