Former People is an international online literary and art journal publishing continuously throughout the year. They are open for submissions of poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction, interviews, reviews, multimedia, and artwork.
I wanted to know more about how and why this journal began, so I asked co-founder and Managing Editor C. Derick Varn a few questions to find out. See my interview with Varn and a link to submission guidelines below.
HOPKINSON: How/why was Formal People originally started?
VARN: In 2013, I moved from South Korea to northern Mexico, which had less
of an arts scene because the cartel-related tension had made a lot of the artists kind of go a bit dormant than Seoul had. This has changed since as the region is much more peaceful than in 2013-14 and the local artists have returned. I was also doing a lot of politically motivated publishing, so between the two factors, I wanted a creative outlet. I did non-fiction/polemical editing but hadn’t gotten my start in ‘zines and literary journals, so it was natural for me to go to that. Furthermore, the overhead was low and I didn’t need to be in the U.S. to do it. My friend, Steven Michalkow and I, begin talking about neo-modernism and meta-modernism as artistic criterions: experimental poetry and art mixed with traditional or even genre concerns. Not the most innovative thing in some ways as the hybrid poetics movement had become about a decade earlier, but we were also expanding that criterion to film and genre fiction. We did interviews with artists and writers via e-mail and skype as well as did an all-call for submissions. At first, it was mostly from contacts from my MFA or from the artist community within the expatriates in Korea. However, the magazine found it’s own voice after a while. Steven has moved on to other things although he still does some film analysis/youtube work for us. I have expanded the definition of meta-modern and also focus almost solely on poetry, flash fiction, and interviews. Also, I have moved to diversify our writers a good bit–we found that the “neo-modernist call” tended to lead to the older and mostly male writers within the U.S., but diverse people from groups outside of the U.S. I don’t know why that happened but apparently, there are cultural signifiers in it that I wasn’t expecting. So I have been moving to search out younger and more diverse writers in the States. I also try to cultivate artists I knew when I was abroad, particularly Egyptian and Mexican writers, although I must admit I haven’t had a lot of luck on the later outside of English speaking portions of West Africa. So we are explicitly international but are very open to local poets, open to both traditional and experimental work, with a particular focus on things that blend tones or styles or forms.
HOPKINSON: Who is your target reader audience?
VARN: People who like poetry for its aural and visual qualities. People who like political poetry that is subtle and not heavily didactic. People who just want a variety of different kinds of poetry and short prose pieces. People who are capable of negative capacity, who can laugh and cry at once. Smart, interested, but not necessarily just academics or artists.
HOPKINSON: What type of work are you looking for?
VARN: According to our mission statement, it is neo-modern. I, however, no longer know that even I know what that is exactly. So I look for things that blend form and content–both in the traditional and the experimental variety. Things that have something interesting to say. Things that go a little wild with abandon. Things that are harder to categorize and thus may not fit into other niches of genres. I don’t do longer fiction anymore though despite liking it.
HOPKINSON: What do you wish you’d see submitted, but rarely comes in?
VARN: Poems that are both experimental and emotionally vulnerable. Poems that really do something with a traditional form that skirts breaking it but still maintains some fidelity to it. I like intellectually driven poetry, but I like even more when a real sense of personality or narrative tension is included beyond just wordplay or abstraction. I like traditional form, but bending it to the breaking point is where it really seems to shine. I suppose I like seeing people really try to bring things that aren’t generally linked together and work with them. I am tolerant of things that try this and almost work even more than something that’s almost perfect but doesn’t take that kind of risk.
HOPKINSON: What are some of your favorite lit mags/journals?
VARN: Zone 3, Writing Disorder, Denver Quarterly, Zymbol, Georgia Review, Poetry Magazine, Eclipsis, Rigorous, Five Points, Unlikely Stories, Danse Macabre, Rattle, BlazeVOX, SugarHouse Review, Ascent, Fence, Poems South.
HOPKINSON: Where can folks send submissions?
VARN: firstname.lastname@example.org, please put the genre and your last name in the subject of the email. I promise to have made a decision within three months and haven’t faltered on that often. I generally make a decision and contact the author within a month.
HOPKINSON: If someone has a question, how can they contact you?
VARN: email@example.com, please put inquiry or question in the subject. I tend to answer within a week.
FORMAT: digitally online
SUBMISSION FEE: None
FORMS: poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction, interviews, reviews, multimedia, and artwork