The poetry group I help co-organize, Living Poetry, just celebrated its 8th anniversary this month. With more than 700 members, you can imagine I meet a number of interesting people. Last year I met a new member who had just relocated to North Carolina from New Jersey. (Like me, she moved south on purpose and didn’t know anyone when she arrived! She explains more below.) Jane Seitel quickly became a regular at our group events. I love hearing about her life, including a few stints at the illustrious Bread Loaf Writers Conference, an MFA in poetry, and launching and running a non-profit press. Jane founded QuillsEdge Press, a chapbook press for women poets over 50. The press started in 2015 and runs a highly selective contest to publish two books annually: One selected by a guest judge and one selected by the editor. One of the unique features of this press is the collective nature in representing the voices of writers: Each chapbook contains a poem from the Top 10 finalists in the contest. This year the press is doing something a bit different by publishing an anthology. What amazes me about Jane is that she only started writing poetry about a decade ago. Two years after she started writing poetry she was accepted in Drew University’s MFA program, and she’s been lighting up the world with poetry and related endeavors since then. In between running the press, the madness of the holidays, helping her son plan his wedding, and hosting family at her home here in the Raleigh area of North Carolina, Jane made time to answer my questions below and even squeezed in time to stop by the Living Poetry anniversary party earlier this month. I hope you will be as inspired by Jane as I am.
200 Words With Poet and Publisher
Jane Seitel of QuillsEdge Press
Write Naked: How many manuscripts do you review annually for QuillsEdge Press submissions? Had you ever been involved with publishing before? If so, in what way(s)?
Jane Seitel: The first year  we received 150 manuscripts for a contest judged by Barbara Crooker. In 2016, we received more than 200 manuscripts, which is a good amount since we did limited advertising. We do not look at what our writers have published and read as blind as we can. This way, both new and more established poets have a more level playing field. For the first contest, I read all of the manuscripts [before the board and judge made selections]. Starting a press was a bootstrap enterprise, and there has been quite a learning curve. I had done editing, and bookbinding, however the whole process of getting a book to press was new to me. Luckily, I had excellent resources and friends who generously shared their knowledge. Still, it was and is an ongoing challenge. This year, with a more savvy Executive Editor on board (Ann Davenport) I feel we really got a leg up.
WN: If someone came to you today and told you they were going to launch their own press, what advice would you give them?
JS: Many presses fail. It is hard to sustain them, to get people to contribute and do the work. There is a scenario also for burnout if the work is not spread out. In our case there are challenges because the economy for older people now is tight and there is so much need in the world at present that to donate to a press may be lower on the totem pole. Originally, I put up the start-up money. I did so gladly, because this had turned into a mission for me. To succeed, however, you must develop a plan with forward vision. You need to focus on those moments of satisfaction between the frustrations. The potential and creativity of women and my work as an expressive therapist propelled me to start the press, to create a safe space for women to share their most intimate expressions. And every time I read a manuscript, this awe allows me to do the rest.
WN: You’ve been in North Carolina for one year – were you expecting to find a thriving poetry community here?
JS: I knew no one when I moved here. I moved here because I did my homework and knew of the poetry community, and it has proven to be an energetic and dynamic one. And I am experiencing, here in the South, new expressions which I delight in, and the famous southern hospitality and poetic kinship.
WN: You’ve been to Bread Loaf a few times. How many times have you been and how can writers benefit the most from it?
JS: I have been to Bread Loaf three times as well as smaller conferences and courses. My favorite was with Jean Valentine at the 92nd Street Y in NYC. At Bread Loaf, which draws a mix of ages and diversity of genre writers (fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry) it is a good time to interact and hear what is going on in the other worlds of creative writing. I have been to Bread Loaf in Vermont and in Sicily, which is in a breathtaking place with a more laid-back tempo and small group atmosphere. One thing about this conference is the magnitude of the teachers and many of the students. Many of the younger writers use it to network and screen publishers since many notable ones are present. Among the older writers, it is a great time to experience fine readings, lectures and to talk poetry over some fine food. It was, for me, an experience or three of a lifetime.
WN: What profession would you not like to do?
JS: Not that I don’t love honey, but I could never be an apiarist because a bee sting could see me to my next incarnation—not that that wouldn’t be, perhaps, interesting. And, being a Gemini, the other thing I could not possibly be is a dog catcher since undoubtedly all those strays would wind up in my living room.
WN: Funny enough – I’m enrolled in beekeeping school right now!
Like this interview? Read the Write Naked Interview Archives.