by zoe blair-schlagenhauf
The only reason I have a right to say whether or not your poem can be on my website is because I paid $144 dollars for a domain. More candidly, Jo paid $144 for a domain because I didn’t have enough money for rent that month. As a writer I am new to the world of publication. I have only been quote-unquote seriously writing poetry for less than a year, and have literally been published in less than three literary magazines. The fact that I myself run a literary magazine is in some respects offensive. I have no idea what I’m doing. On a week to week basis, I decide what pretty illustration I will associate with what is the equivalent of someone’s heart and soul on paper, as well as whether or not we will publish it at all.
Regardless of how long I have been involved in this scene, I feel especially raw to its pitfalls. A lot of the time, I’m not sure if someone is publishing my work because they genuinely like it, or because they think I’m cute on the internet. No matter how alternative or rebellious poetry is, it becomes a pageant in the sense that the pretty people win.
All of this is really fucked up. The notion that we decide whether or not your work is relevant is fucked up. To me, poetry isn’t about who thinks it’s good, it’s about the person who took the time to hurt and to break and to be tender, and to have the courage to send an email to people they have never met before, telling them who they are. Even further, it’s about the dozens or hundreds or thousands of people out there who will be affected by that. Because we all want to feel a little less alone, if only for a moment.
To say that alt lit has become an establishment is bleak but true. Anything that sets out to upset the status quo will eventually become the thing it was trying to destroy. This is not ugly or even wrong, it’s just the way it is. At tenderness, when we publish work we are trying to curate an idea that fits within our mission statement, which is more than anything to spread the notion that breaking is beautiful, whether it is in your bones, your heart, or the establishment. We aren’t saying that what we’re doing is right, because every single time we send a rejection letter it feels anything but. We’re saying fuck what everybody else thinks, even us, and keep doing what you’re doing and fighting the good fight because that is the most tender thing you can do.
Let’s have a conversation about publishing and why a handful of people get to decide which words matter more. The bottom line is that ethically they shouldn’t get to decide. More often than not when reading submissions, Jo, Amelia, and I become more preoccupied with the moral dilemma of what a writer is saying rather than the actual structure of the piece. This has everything to do with who we are as people and nothing to do with your skills as a writer. We understand our work as an extension of ourselves, and we think it would be irresponsible to treat your work any differently. It’s about the writing, but it is about so many other things. It’s fucked up that I get to intake these variables and these personal attributes and decide whether or not they are enough, because our opinion matters just as much as anybody else’s, which equates to absolute zero.
The people who start small presses and literary magazines are presumably trying to do the same thing. The only reason we started tenderness is because of the inspiration our predecessors handed to us: publish the work that you want to see in the world. More than anything, we are looking for people who are trying, because we are trying too. Whether or not this is particularly punk, we want to create a space designed for people who give at least one flying fuck. We are here for the writers who run out of cigarettes and keep writing, we are here for the writers who are bleeding and crying and scream that sentiment into our inbox. Because all we have to know you by are our screens, and honestly that is not enough.
Whether or not you like that it rhymes, writing is fighting. And whether or not we like your work or publish it on our $144 domain, we want you to keep fighting. We want to clutch your hands or our hearts in our chest and pray that you keep breathing, if only to whisper the words of a poem under your breath in order to post it on twitter later, because I bet their domain cost that much at the start too.