Writing and Publishing Poetry—Q&A with Patricia Colleen Murphy

Patricia Colleen Murphy offers insights to poets on how to improve their own writing and what she looks for in reading poetry for publication.
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Patricia Colleen Murphy is the founder of Superstition Review at Arizona State University and author of two books of poetry, including her recently published collection, Bully Love. Murphy talked with WD about how to improve writing and what she looks for in reading poetry for publication.

Bully Love by Patricia Colleen Murphy

My experience reading Bully Love by Patricia Colleen Murphy was remarkable. If you are looking for a collection of contemporary poetry to read, I highly recommend this book. Bully Love is Murphy’s second collection of poems, chosen by Tom Lombardo as the winner of the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry.

Bully Love explores the writers’ move from Ohio to Arizona. The opening poems of the collection explore the disorienting effects of familial relationships—particularly an ailing father and mentally ill mother—and contrasts them with the grounding but sometimes mysterious nature of our daily activities, such as cutting grass in “Time to Shear the Earth’s Hair.”

Later in the collection, Murphy leaves the domestic with poetry exploring the profound impacts natural places can have on an individual. Each location the speaker explores becomes a character in the poem that can often seem to behave in a more understandable and ‘human’ way than the other humans that make appearances throughout the collection.

The title of the poetry collection comes in the poem: “Day Trip, Cave Creek Guided Tours”:

Our wonderfully conditioned

and well-mannered horses nod

across state trust land, their noses

quietly suffering our pats of bully love.

The “love” experienced throughout the poems is just as often suffered as it is enjoyed—and most of the time, it is experienced both ways simultaneously. The theme that ties the collection into a unified work, I believe, comes in “Morenci Arizona” with the line: “My only power is this ability to name.” As an observer, specificity allows a poet to assert power over the subject through the act of choosing the appropriate name. A poet may not be able to change the illness of a father any more than she can alter the face of a mountain. However, a power rests in choosing how to describe and “name” a subject.

Murphy answered a few questions for WD about how to improve poetry writing and what journal editors look for in submissions.

Describe your writing process. How do you go about shaping a poem? How do you know when you're finished?

I have a very regimented practice. When I’m in a writing cycle, I first journal, then read a collection of poems, then I set a timer and write for 40 minutes. Then I journal again about the composing. I find that setting that timer takes some pressure off those first few moments of diving into the page. It really helps me to get situated and creative. I start with an image, always, and let that image take me to more images. It is hard to feel that a poem is completely finished. But I send it out when I read it out loud and no longer feel like tweaking it.

What advice do you have for poets looking to improve their writing?

Read contemporary poetry, and a lot of it, and often, and from lots of different poets. I really recommend reading literary magazines so you can see a wide variety of what is being published now by editors. What is happening right this second in the world of poetry? I have students who have only read Shakespeare, and they want to publish their own work. They are missing an understanding of trends and audience.

As the founder of Superstition Review, what are some of the challenges you have come across running a literary journal and finding quality work to feature?

As editors we talk a lot about the continuum of established to emerging authors. We are often a touch more lenient with submissions from new writers, but we really need to make sure they are serious about craft and not simply hobbyists. I am very particular about cover letters. It is a great place to show respect and understanding. I am very often what I call “No to the bio,” when a cover letter is flippant or incomplete. I don’t need a lot of information, but it helps establish authority and legitimacy. We get plenty of submissions from folks who make it clear right from the cover letter that they have never read our magazine. That is a waste of our time, as well as the poet’s time. Even a 10-minute study of our most recent issue will help you curate your submission for our readership.

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