Interview with Joe Welch, Editor-in-Chief of LRR (2011)

LRR:  At what age did you start writing? Why?

Three or four years old, preschool age. There was a marathon on TV with alternating episodes of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, and the theme was a contest or debate deciding which was best. Apparently this was so inspirational I had to write about it, so I asked my mom for a notepad and a pencil. Well partway through, I realized I didn’t know how to write, and I asked my mom if I should wait until I learn how or try to figure it out myself…I don’t think I figured it out by myself…So, there’s that. But my first actual semi-legit writing was a series of fiction stories in second grade—apocalyptic events would occur, and the recurring villain was the moon (I don’t get it either). In second grade, I started writing poetry; instead of doing any work whatsoever for my English class that entire year, I wrote awful poems and handed them in.

LRR:  Would you say you have a particular poetic style? How would you define it?

I try to write synesthetically, mixing senses with lexical flavor. Most of what I write is dark, emotionally driven, maybe delusional…I have been told I’m of the Dionysian persuasion. Right now I’m touring with the Connecticut Poetry Circuit with four other poets from across the state, all of whom are very different, and I think I tend to get labeled as the crazy one. The term “batshit” has been used.

LRR:  Is there anyone in particular who has helped you to improve your craft?

Oh absolutely; workshops with Penelope Pelizzon, Darcie Dennigan, and Susanne Davis have had grand impacts on my writing. My first big leaps were probably made studying with Jennifer Holley in London during my sophomore year; she took us to write at museums, read at huge open mic events… all very exciting! I also got excellent advice from Connie Voisine and Beth Ann Fennelly via the Aetna Writer-in-Residence program.

LRR:  Do you need a specific mood/ambience in which to write or is it completely spontaneous?

It’s a little bit of both. I come up with a lot of ideas and phrases randomly throughout the day, and I’ll write them down on a notepad to use later. To write a real, full poem, I need to be in a quiet space with wine or tea, almost always at night. The actual act of writing feels very supernatural, like I’m conjuring some version of myself. Actually, the conditions for a séance are pretty much my ideal writing ambience.

LRR:  What do you like to read in your spare time?

I try to keep up with a couple of journals, i.e. Tin House, Poetry, The Paris Review, and The Kenyon Review. I fall behind, though, because I can’t afford subscriptions right now. Starving college student, etc…Which is why I love online publications! Online literary journals like Anderbo are great for that reason, so I’m always looking for that sort of thing. I read a few blogs and absolutely love controversial ones in the literary community—google Darcie Dennigan’s KR blog posts in the series they did on W.S. Merwin, so very good. I just read Shoulder Season by Ange Mlinko (fantastic), and next up is the thrice-recommended Chronic by D.A. Powell.

LRR:  Which piece of your own work is your favorite?

The one I haven’t written yet! I have so many projects in mind…What I’m planning right now, a bizarre book about a dead medium who reaches out to the living, has got me more excited than anything I’ve done.

LRR:  What other favorite activity other than writing occupies your time?

Well, I have three dogs, so I’m a bit of a zookeeper. I also play piano, paint a little, and drink a lot of wine.

LRR:  You also write fiction. The process of writing poetry differs greatly from the creative process behind fiction. What about the fiction creative process appeals to you?

I love the planning stage. The actual writing process is an awful amount of work. As a poet, I pay a lot of attention to individual lines, so I think that makes me a slow fiction writer. Two different worlds, I think. I’ve been planning my first fiction book for about a year now, which I am eager to get started on as soon as I graduate this May.

LRR:  You are currently Editor-in-Chief of Long River Review. How does being a poet yourself influence your role in the selection process for the publication?

Great question. To really know what makes successful poetry and literature, inside and out, I think you’ve got to be a writer. I keep my eye open for things that make me jealous. When my gut reaction is, Damn, I wish I wrote this, that means it’s very good.

LRR:  Do you wish to pursue a career in editing?

I do! It’s a tough industry to get into, but I’m going to try. Now that I’m about to graduate, if a publishing opportunity pops up somewhere, anywhere, I would relocate in a heartbeat. Manhattan, London, San Francisco, you name it. Not sure what’s next, but somewhere on the horizon is an MFA at insert cute university here.

LRR:  What do you hope your involvement in LRR will bring to this issue of the journal? In other words, what do you hope will be your legacy?

Here’s where I get really vain. I want this to be the best issue we’ve ever had, of course. I’ve asked the editors selecting poetry, fiction, and nonfiction to look for exciting, high quality, edgy material. What we’ve come up with is a hot issue. I recently approved the final draft, smoking gorgeous cover and all. There are countless literary journals out there and practically every college in the country has a semblance of one; among all of that, I want LRR to stand out. I want this issue to be remembered.



1) If you could pick anyone’s brain, whose would it be?

Edith Bouvier Beale.

2) If you could escape to anywhere in the world and write, where would it be?

A lovely little flat in central London with floor-to-ceiling windows.

3) Favorite poet?

Rainer Maria Rilke and Sylvia Plath can share this title.

4) Favorite word(s)?

I’m going all Donnie Darko on this one: “cellar door.”

5) Most useful piece of feedback you have ever received?

Gosh that’s difficult. What first comes to mind is something Connie Voisine told me about subtext in poetry. She told me to momentarily forget the theme, meaning and context, and look at the words, the sounds—just glancing through a poem, the reader should be able to pick up on a subtext going on. I think everyone should keep that in mind.


Interview by Lynnette Repollet

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