Special Guest, Writers' Resource

Interview with Sydney Elliott, Managing Editor of Fireweed Magazine

This week, we’ve got a very special guest! The editor of the newly-relaunched poetry journal, Fireweed: Poetry of Oregon, Sydney Elliott, is here to talk about her experience as a writer and editor and what the Fireweed team is up to!

Sydney Elliott is the editor of Fireweed: Poetry of Oregon.

Rachel Sandell: Thank you for stopping by, Sydney! Fireweed: Poetry of Oregon just went live with its newest 2021 issue, so it’s an exciting time. But Fireweed has been around for a long time. What’s the story behind the older issues and the magazine’s revival? What has been your experience putting together the latest issue?

Sydney Elliott: I was one of the editors of the old version of Fireweed when the organization was dissolved due to several reasons, mostly due to high printing and mailing costs. This was before the internet, so a digital format was not on the table, and I had little experience in fundraising. Even though it was for the best at that time, it always bothered me. Fast forward to the AWP 2019 in Portland, Oregon.  I found myself in the company of Kim Stafford and some other poets, and I heard myself pitching the idea of bringing Fireweed back to a digital platform. I got such positive support, I decided to try, and the pandemic was a perfect time to reinstate Fireweed’s non-profit status and work on the overall mission and design.

Fireweed: Poetry of Oregon has maintained its archive of issues, including an issue dedicated to the late William Stafford.

RS: Do you have a favorite issue of Fireweed?

SE: There was a special issue dedicated to one of Oregon’s most beloved poets, William Stafford. That one sticks out. I only met him once or twice before he passed, but I remember him as kind and encouraging. I was in my graduate program with a thesis in creative writing (poetry), so his words meant a lot. I ended up writing about his work as part of my application to the Rainier Writing Workshop, where I earned my MFA.

RS: It must be amazing to be the managing editor of a magazine! In your experience, what’s the best thing about being an editor?

SE: The people that make up our team! I strongly believe that you should always surround yourself with the best, and Fireweed is no exception. I also love it when issues go live. Not only is it the product of everyone involved on staff, but it’s also a celebration of Oregon’s poets.

Fireweed: Poetry of Oregon has released its Summer 2021 issue.

RS: What’s the hardest thing about being an editor? And what’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from it?

SE: Sending rejections, especially to individuals who obviously worked hard on their poems. Sometimes I have to reject people I know! That’s tough as well. That’s one of the reasons why the editors at Fireweed do their best to give feedback on every submission we decide not to accept. It takes extra time, but it sends a strong message that we care about our writers.

RS: What is your process for writing poetry?

SE: I don’t write as much poetry as I used to. But when I do, I keep a notebook with me at all times to capture a word or a phrase, a nugget, of something that I might use later. Or sometimes I find a phrase in the vortex of my free-write journal that turns into something. Sometimes an object or view will also provide a way in. I really allow the piece of writing to be what it wants to be. Often a poem will turn into a creative essay or a song. I wish I could be more like William Stafford who rose every morning before dawn to pen a poem a day, but that it’s my life right now.

Sydney Elliott is the editor for Fireweed: Poetry of Oregon and has an essay published in the anthology, Women Under Scrutiny.

RS: As both an editor and a teacher, it must be hard to find free time. What’s the best way to carve time out of a busy schedule in order to write?

SE: I have two ways I find time. Accountability and rewards. I have an accountability writing buddy. She makes sure I schedule writing time, and we track each other’s progress with weekly or monthly check-ins. It is sort of a soft deadline, but it’s effective. And I also bribe myself. For example, if I set a goal of sending out two submissions this week, I will reward myself with something off my wish-list (like a book or something). But the biggest thing is make time to write. Put in the calendar like you would going to a yoga class. It helps, especially on days when I am feeling unmotivated.

RS: Do you have any advice for beginning poets and/or editors?

SE: Build a network of support. You don’t have to be an extrovert, but in the words of Fireweed’s designer Garrett Brooks, “Find your extroverts.” In other words, find people that support you and your work. This will really help in the long-run. It’s easy to find yourself alone in some of this work. And it’s cliché, but just keep doing the work, enjoy the messy drafts, and know that what you do is important (even on the tough days). Read and write. Read and write. Repeat.

Thank you, Sydney, for stopping by! If you want to know more about Fireweed, be sure to stop by and read the new Summer 2021 issue and check out the poetry archives. And you can also find Sydney through her website and Twitter to check out her other work!