So I had no intention of reading Gone Girl. None at all. It just wasn't on my radar (not that I hadn't heard about it, but eh, thriller, mystery, not my thing). Besides, my Kindle is full of books right now. Full. I have a lot I'm in the middle of reading or plan to read because it's summer, and we've just turned the office into a library (not that I need all of the bookshelves now that I've gotten so hooked on the e-reader, but still). But Thursday morning as we were sitting in my kitchen, the beautiful, talented, Nebraska Book Award winning Sarah Mckinstry-Brown looked me in the eye and said, "Liz, you have to read it. These people are so fucked up." I should say that Sarah knows me very, very well. I mean, yes, it's a thriller, but--idealized gender roles, sexual power dynamics, rage, lots of profanity (like lots)--totally my thing. And then the ending that made me smile and smile and smile. I don't think this is a spoiler. I think most people would be like, "Jesus, that is so fucked up." I'm not sure what my reaction says about me.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that so often, as readers, we don't know what we're looking for. We had a particularly rough editorial meeting for burntdistrict this week. The kind of meeting that makes me want to rewrite our guidelines to include a list of "under no circumstances should you send us this shit." At one point, Jen said, "I think people are fucking with us. Would people do that? Do you think they're fucking with us?" She sounded hurt. I actually sent a decline email that read "We don't know how to respond to this as we think it may be a joke. In any case, we won't be publishing it." But seriously, you're going to send misogynistic erotica to a journal edited by two women? I mean that has to be a joke, right? Right?
The point is, I tried to think of a list of things I would never want to read, but then I imagined each of those things as they might be handled by one of my favorite poets, and I was like "oh yeah, I would totally read that." Because it's not the topics that bother me, it's the handling of it. It's the intent. Because poetry (all art) is about revealing the human condition, the human heart, which is often a black and ugly and lonely place, and just as often a hopeful, joyful place despite all evidence to the contrary. Anyway, I talked myself out of revising the guidelines, because the truth is that we almost never know what we want until we see it. So this, I think, is the role that editors play for the rest of us, that of the good friend in your kitchen, holding your eye, saying, "I'm serious. You have to read this thing. This shit is so fucked up."