38 // Mom Egg Review—Restore the Balance of Narratives with Marjorie Tesser

Marjorie Tesser is the editor of Mom Egg Review. She is co-editor of the anthologies Bowery Women: Poems and Estamos Aquí: Poems of Migrant Farmworkers (both Bowery Books) and Travellin’ Mama: Mothers, Mothering, and Travel (Demeter Press, coming March 2019). She authored poetry chapbooks THE IMPORTANT THING IS (Firewheel Award Winner) and The Magic Feather, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in several journals and anthologies.

Read the full episode transcript.

Mom Egg Review is a literary journal about motherhood. It promotes and celebrates the creative force of mother writers and artists. Mom Egg Review is about being a mother, in its many varieties. It is also about being a daughter, worker, partner, artist, a member of cultures and communities, and explores how these identities can collide and coexist.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:02.710] – Rachel Thompson
[background music starts playing] Love, luminous writing and love lit mags, I know you do, that’s why you’re here, right? I know you will love the Lit Mag Love Anthology. It’s beautiful and filled with over a hundred and fifty pages of poems and stories and each poem or story in the anthology first found a home in a literary magazine. The Lit Mag Love anthology republishes their works alongside the tale of how each author successfully submitted and published their work in lit mags.

[00:00:29.840]
I’m so thrilled to show the results of the dedicated writing and submitting practices of these writers from the Lit Mag Love course community. This is a work of both their creative hearts and luminous minds. So if you love to get a free copy of the Lit Mag Love Anthology, you can get yours at Lit Mag Love dot com slash anthology. Now on with more Lit Mag Love. [background music stops playing]

[00:00:56.580]
What do editors want? It’s a question that many creative writers have asked themselves or more likely muttered dejectedly after a frustrating rejection.

[00:01:06.210]
I’m Rachel Thompson, author and literary magazine editor and your podcast host.

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[background music begins]The Lit Mag Love Podcast grew out of my course by the same name, and I continue to seek out answers to this question of what editors want by going right to the source. I bring you interviews and insights about how to improve and publish your writing.

[00:01:34.400]
My guest today, Marjorie Tesser, is the editor of Mom Egg Review. She has coedited the anthologies Bowery Women: Poems and Estamos Aquí: Poems of Migrant Farmworkers, as well as Travellin’ Mama: Mothers, Mothering, and Travel. She authored poetry chapbook, The Important Thing Is and The Magic Feather and her poetry and fiction has appeared in several journals and anthologies.

[00:01:58.670]
Mom Egg Review is a literary journal about motherhood. It promotes and celebrates the creative force of mothers, writers and artists. Mom Egg Review is about being a mother in its many varieties. It is also about being a daughter, worker, partner, artist, a member of cultures and communities.

[00:02:19.010]
It explores how these identities can collide and coexist.[background music playing]

[00:02:30.980]
Welcome to the Lit Mag Love Podcast, Marjorie Tesser.

[00:02:34.910] – Marjorie Tesser
Thanks. Great to be here.

[00:02:36.830] – Rachel Thompson
Great to have you. I know you say that Mom Egg Review is for everyone who is or has had a mother. So how do you open the magazine up to a wide range of motherhood experiences to a range of mothers of different genders, races, classes and so forth?

[00:02:54.260] – Marjorie Tesser
That’s a great question. Thanks. I think one of the strengths of our publication is the range of voices that we publish. We’ve published people from all across the country and from several other countries in the world, from the Philippines and Africa and France and Israel. And it contributes to the variety of experiences of motherhood that we’re able to portray. So it’s very important for us to have a diverse body of work submitted to us. And the way we do this is we try on a number of parameters how to accomplish this.

[00:03:41.150]
We widely publicized our call for submissions and specifically invite groups that support the work of various ethnicities to share with their constituents. So we write to [inaudible 00:03:57] and the Italian American writers. And we also share our calls with other journals that focus on particular communities such as Quality and Lavender Review. So we try to make the fact that we’re looking for submissions available to a broad variety of people. We have a week of free submissions for people who, for whom our minimal submission fee of three dollars may be prohibitive.

[00:04:31.370]
Our first week of submissions is free. We also offer people who miss that window the opportunity to get a scholarship submission. Another way we encourage diversity is in addition to our print issue, we have a quarterly online issue and we have guest curators who curate packets of ten poems or short stories from among their communities. So that brings in people who might not otherwise have known about us or had thought to submit.

[00:05:09.450]
A couple of other things. We make sure that when we do a reading or a panel that our reading or panel is diverse so that the face we’re presenting to the community is one of diversity and our editors come from diverse backgrounds. So those are some of the things we do, but we’re always trying to do better.

[00:05:34.380] – Rachel Thompson
I know you ask that if the submitter is not a mother, you say the piece must be focused on motherhood or have a central, not peripheral character who is a mother. I’m wondering what are some of the more creative ways that that’s played out in the submissions that have worked?

[00:05:48.560] – Marjorie Tesser
I think the most creative one that I’ve seen recently was in our most recent issue. Breena Clarke wrote a story from the perspective of a nonhuman mother, a dog in post slavery times, and that was incredibly moving. We’ve had people write about their partners experiences with fertility treatments with great specificity and sensitivity. People often write about their own mothers, either in life or in death. I had an adopted son write a poem envisioning his birth mother. So there are many ways, anyone who’s had a mother might engage with that material in a literary manner.

[00:06:41.740] – Rachel Thompson
You’re talking about the literary qualities of the writing that you publish. I know you put it elsewhere in another interview that a quick look will show that if the work reads like a greeting card or a popular magazine article, it’s not for us. So what are ways that you would encourage writers to find their literary voice when it comes to this theme of mothers and motherhood?

[00:07:03.890] – Marjorie Tesser
The thing that I can recommend most would be to write often, as often as you can. I had studied with the poet Marie Ponsot, who raised seven children as a single mother, and she said that there is always ten minutes out of a day that you can find to write, whether it’s first thing in the morning or as she did after the children were asleep and often that ten minutes, if circumstances agree, will extend to more.

[00:07:43.730]
What you get from that sort of freewriting is a chance to engage with your own thoughts and your own ideas. The more you do it, the more you may find that you become more articulate, you become more nuanced in terms of what you realize about the things that you’re writing about. In terms of not being a greeting card or popular magazine article, we publish literary writing, not just freewriting writing. So we don’t want anything that’s cut or facile or sentimental in the way of being emotional without specificity.

[00:08:31.310]
So the way that I would encourage writers to prepare to write for a journal would be to go deeper, to go beyond I love my child so much, or this was really painful to really engage with the subject matter in some thoughtful way, emotionally, intellectually and politically. I think the best pieces contain some element of surprise or strangeness, but also something that the reader might recognize. So surprise or strangeness can come in the form of an unusual or unfamiliar situation.

[00:09:15.470]
But also you can use a surprising image, surprising language, surprising form. The ideas themselves may be surprising or the emotions may not be what is expected. Recognition in the reader arises when the piece is somehow in conversation with something the reader thinks or knows, either to confirm it or to challenge something that the reader thinks. And so a piece that has both that strangeness and that element of recognition is likely to be a successful piece for us.

[00:09:56.910] – Rachel Thompson
I love how you describe that idea of the specificity required for this kind of writing too. There are so many taboos about motherhood, yet literary writing is a call to break taboos and like you said, get into that unique perspective or angle which often requires that kind of taboo-breaking. So what do you appreciate most about combining these two things, the taboos about what we can say about motherhood in that kind of hallmark way that people expect, and then the deep revelations about what it means to be a mother in literary writing?

[00:10:33.380] – Marjorie Tesser
In terms of subject matter, we resist society and the media’s attempts to categorize mothers and stereotype mothers and motherhood, and we try to offer pieces that engage with the full spectrum of experience. It’s not just good moms and bad moms. People are nuanced and situations are nuanced. And motherhood is about as complicated a situation as there can be. It’s very powerful for mothers to be able to tell their own stories in their own words and to add these stories to the broader conversation about what it means to be human.

[00:11:18.620]
We have several thousands of years of men’s stories about what it means to be human. And for many years, women’s voices have been muted or stifled so that publications that support women’s perspectives and voices really can only contribute to all of our understanding and we’re very happy to provide a forum for that.

[00:11:43.340] – Rachel Thompson
Something that I brought up before as well with Felicity Landa of Literary Mama, talking about the idea of the kind of loss that mothers can experience, be it sort of writ larger or in smaller ways. It ties into what you’re saying about us hearing men’s stories over the years, too, that there’s a bit of resistance or even a sort of denial almost of the profundity of that kind of loss or the validity of being able to tell that story.

[00:12:12.260]
And as Felicity Landa said, that loss is inherent in motherhood stories, that losing identity and that children grow up and you’re losing your identity again. One thing I’ve found in talking to a lot of editors and even when I started at Room that stories about losing a child is one big taboo in writing that editors would rather not have, you send them work on that subject. Something that’s been expressly stated. So how do you receive stories of loss at the Mom Egg Review? Then the bigger question is even why are these stories not seen? These are the ones that we’re saying, no, no, we don’t want any more of that.

[00:12:52.110] – Marjorie Tesser
Well, you know, loss is difficult for all humans. And being a mother is certainly a status that that makes you vulnerable to loss. I don’t know why editors don’t like poems about losing a child. I understand that it’s difficult material, but we at Mom Egg Review welcome exploration of difficult material. We’ve published stories about physical loss of a child, whether through miscarriage or an older child, estrangement of children, loss of a parent. These are all parts of life.

[00:13:34.500]
And if they’re dealt with sensitively and thoughtfully, we welcome them, along with other stories about the joys of mothering. That being said, we receive many more stories about loss than we can possibly publish.

[00:13:56.160]
And even if we don’t end up choosing someone’s work for publication, we try to honor and respect the person who has shared that profound material with us. I’ve had submitters say that other editors have said they don’t want mommy poems. But there was a person who wrote an essay about the problem of writing a poem about a baby is that it will be automatically assumed to be sentimental and not valid in a literary manner.

[00:14:39.420]
And we don’t have that bias.

[00:14:44.550] – Rachel Thompson
You’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s this sort of bias that there’s something sentimental just about motherhood and inherently about motherhood. And being able to talk about both the positive and the negative experience of that is sort of often read as sentimental.

[00:15:01.620] – Marjorie Tesser
Those editors who won’t publish a story about the loss of a child but would publish something about the loss of the sad hunting dog, [laughs] for example, I mean, that’s a bias. That’s a bias against mothers and against women’s experiences.

[00:15:21.040] – Rachel Thompson
Yes. Thank you.

[00:15:22.830]
I couldn’t quite get that question out and I was dancing around it. But I think you really hit it. Sort of a question I had too is about this bias. And even just having these conversations has been helpful with editors to kind of clarify. Oh, yeah, there is really that that bias there. And it leads me to my next question, which is, do you think society’s general hostility towards motherhood, which I think this bias is part of, coupled with the idea that it’s incongruent with the writing life, that you have to choose between having children or writing books?

[00:15:55.680]
Does that make publishing Mom Egg Review, an act of resistance? Does it feel like a resistance for you? I think you alluded a bit to that earlier, too.

[00:16:03.870] – Marjorie Tesser
Absolutely. I feel like it is a privilege to have these writers speaking their truths. We encourage mothers to tell their truths and to engage with their own creativity. You know, a lot of being a mother is being self-effacing and you can both mother someone else and also mother your own creativity and engage with your art.

[00:16:39.930]
There are two billion mothers in this world and there are only a handful of publications and arts organizations that focus on mothers. There is Mutha, Mothers Always Write, Literary Mama, Pen Parentis. In art, there’s the Procreate Project and we’re all doing our best to restore the balance of narratives in the world.

[00:17:03.370] – Rachel Thompson
I love that. It definitely feels like resistance to be trying to restore that balance. I want to turn to the submissions themselves at the journal. What is one thing you wish readers understood before they hit submit with you?

[00:17:20.430] – Marjorie Tesser
We don’t only publish writing, but we publish literary writing.

[00:17:25.200]
So please send your best and most resonant work. It should engage with motherhood, and if there’s a theme with the theme on a substantive level, not just in terms of having a character who’s a mother, where this year’s theme is home, I’m very interested in someone who’s going to think about the nature of home or what it means to have a home or not have a home as opposed to just something that takes place in a room. I would hope that writers understand that your work submitted to us will be read with care and respect by at least two editors and often by others as well readers, and that we’re a volunteer organization and that our volume of submissions is quite large.

[00:18:21.590]
So we do our best to communicate timeframes and deadlines and be as explicit as we can in our submissions guidelines and that we’re always open to being contacted with questions or comments. We do have a rather long submissions period. So if any of your work that was submitted to us, gets accepted by another publication, we would hope that you would let us know promptly about that.

[00:18:54.590] – Rachel Thompson
That’s always good. So what kind of approach do you take to editing? Once you’ve accepted a piece, are you rather hands-on or do you tend to be hands-off or does it vary per genre?

[00:19:06.710] – Marjorie Tesser
For the most part, we do not do a lot of editing. We really trust the artistic impulses of our writers and often feel, especially in poetry, that something like non-standard punctuation may be part of what the writer intends. We do do some editing in that we value content over form. If someone submits to us a very strong piece that’s poorly punctuated, we will make editorial suggestions about that. But the piece has to be in most respects, finished work that is proofread and strong writing.

[00:19:55.670]
We really don’t have the resources to do extensive edits on pieces. So we hope that the pieces are pretty complete when they’re submitted to us.

[00:20:06.370] – Rachel Thompson
Well revised work that’s ready to go.

[00:20:08.930] – Marjorie Tesser
Absolutely.

[00:20:10.340] – Rachel Thompson
Can you talk a bit about your own writing life and how has motherhood fit or not fit with writing for you?

[00:20:18.740] – Marjorie Tesser
I don’t know that I’m the best example. I did not write publicly until after my children were grown. That being said, I wrote continually throughout the child rearing years, but in stolen moments and fits and starts. But the experience of being a mother is such an incredibly rich experience, and I feel that it has impacted on all of my subsequent work. Whether or not the subject matter of the piece is about motherhood, because it has so impacted on my own worldview that I feel like it’s a really basic part of who I am as a writer.

[00:21:06.510] – Rachel Thompson
Is there any example that you want to give us?

[00:21:11.330] – Marjorie Tesser
Well, it’s made me view the world with more compassion, I think, and more critically, both because I’m thinking about my children and my grandchildren whenever I encounter anything in the world. It’s not just myself that I think for.

[00:21:29.450] – Rachel Thompson
Lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your Lit Mag Love with us today. What’s the best way for people to encounter Mom Egg Review or to connect with you?

[00:21:41.690] – Marjorie Tesser
We have a website called Mom Egg Review dot com that has lots of great stuff. We have poetry and fiction on the website. There’s a quarterly issue that comes out with new material. We also publish book reviews of books by mother writers and women writers and interviews with people like Anne Waldman and Marie Ponsot and Hettie Jones, who are inspiring writers who have been mothers. And we publish an annual print issue which comes out in April of every year.

[00:22:17.840]
Our latest is currently available and we are at the moment of this podcast taking submissions for our next issue.

[00:22:29.150] – Rachel Thompson
Your submission period is the same every year, is that right?

[00:22:32.150] – Marjorie Tesser
Generally, it’s May 1st through August 1st with the first week of submissions being complimentary, early bird submissions.

[00:22:42.110] – Rachel Thompson
Thanks again, Marjorie.

[00:22:44.000] – Marjorie Tesser
Thanks for this opportunity. It was great to talk to you, Rachel.

[00:22:47.840] – Rachel Thompson
So what can we glean from my conversation with Marjorie Tesser of Mom Egg Review? I think the first thing really is just how fertile sorry, pun intended motherhood is for a theme that it’s about as complicated a situation as can be, as Marjorie Tesser put it. She said people are nuanced. There’s a full spectrum of experience and that The Mom Egg Review and publications that are publishing narratives about motherhood resist society and media’s attempts to categorize mothers and stereotype mothers and motherhood. She talks about how powerful it is for mothers to tell their own stories in their own ways.

[00:23:25.700]
The title of this episode is “Restore the Balance of Narratives.” You know, by now, if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, most of the titles come as kind of an instruction. The instruction for you here is really to allow the space for your own writing if you want to write about motherhood, that it’s very powerful for mothers to tell stories in their own ways and that we have several thousand years of men’s stories about what it means to be human that have been predominant in our culture.

[00:23:55.250]
Publications that support women’s perspectives and voices can only contribute to our understanding. Another thing that she pointed out is that they welcome explorations of difficult material. They’re all parts of life, and if they’re dealt with sensitively and thoughtfully, they welcome them, along with other stories about the joys of mothering. The only thing she pointed out was that they receive many more stories about loss than they can publish. So they try to honor and respect the person who shared that profound material with us.

[00:24:25.310]
But just noting that when you’re submitting work to Mom Egg Review, it’s going to be a little bit more difficult, probably to place material about harder stories, because those are the stories they get more frequently. Another thing that she mentioned, that specific to Mom Egg Review is that they don’t often do substantive editing. So you really need to be sending them work that’s really ready to be published. The work that is very thoroughly proofread, thoroughly edited, gone through many versions before submitting.

[00:24:56.720]
I think a more universal thing that Marjorie Tesser from Mom Egg Review is saying was when she was talking about the qualities of literary writing, that it requires some kind of recognition. So to confirm or challenge something that the reader already thinks or is familiar with and also strangeness. So this element that makes it different, it’s got a different perspective or a different format or something is different about the piece. And through that comes that experience. We’ve talked about in previous episodes to both the specificity of telling a story that’s really specific to a person that actually then turns out to be universal because you’re telling it so truthfully and deeply as your own. But the idea of recognition, confirming or challenging something that the reader thinks I thought was a really good jewel that we can glean from this particular episode.

[00:25:51.350]
Lit Mag Love is co-presented by Room Magazine, literature, art and feminism and since 1975 and the Lit Mag Love Course, an online course to get smart, fearless and published with lots of help from me. Sound editing for the episode is done by Mica Lemiski. And I’m your host, Rachel Thompson.

[00:26:11.210]
[background music playing]If you want to give us some love in the form of a review wherever you get your podcast, we would love that. And it really helps other writers discover the podcast. You can find us online at Lit Mag Love Podcast dot com or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at Lit Mag Love. Thanks for writing and reading literature and thanks for listening to Lit Mag Love.[background music fades]

 

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