The Whole Megillah (TWM): What prompted you to start this magazine?
Michal Mahgerefteh (MM): In 2000, I took a series of creative writing classes at Old Dominion University… one of the assignments was to start a small press literary magazine. Since at the time I was exploring my Jewish Moroccan heritage and Israeli culture through poetry, my professor advised to center the magazine on the Jewish experience.
TWM:Did you face any obstacles in doing so?
MM:Starting the magazine was very easy. I created an attractive e-newsletter and sent it to all the national and international members of Hillel student centers and to many universities offering Jewish literature and holocaust courses. Within a month, I received over 200 poetry submissions. I immediately recognized the need for a literary magazine centered on the Jewish experience.
TWM: What do you think Poetica brings to Jewish literature that other literary journals do not?
MM: Poetica is interested in personal contemporary experiences expressed in poetic verse, as well as in short stories. Other Jewish magazines are not centered only on poetry and short stories; they are centered on political and social issues with a few works of poetry. Since 2000, Poetica published works by over eight hundred national and international writers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
TWM: What do you look for in terms of submissions?
MM:Poetica is “interested in works that have the courage to acknowledge, challenge, and celebrate modern Jewish life, beyond distinctions of secular and sacred…” We personally acknowledge each submission, reply within a month, and often make comments on rejected works. We are not interested in abstract or overly academic material. We would like the works to be accessible to all readers.
TWM: Do you use any “first readers?”
MM: Some works are read by more than one editor, usually the short stories. Poetry submissions are often considered by the poetry editor, but if there is a need to discuss some submissions, we consult with one of our many qualified visiting editors.
TWM: What is your readership?
MM: Five to eight hundred per print edition. On average we include in each edition 30 to 40 writers. Most writers included in the edition purchase about ten to 15 copies to share with family and friends and often donate to local libraries. Our list of university library subscribers includes, Yale University, Harvard University, UCLA, University of Pennsylvania, Miami University, American University, Hebrew University, The New York Library, New York University, among many others.
TWM: What do you like to read personally?
MM: I enjoy reading memoir, short story collections and poetry chapbooks centered on a theme. When I need a break, I read spiritual-biblical-Rumi-Sufi -Kabbalah poetry. Just recently I started reading The Poetry of Kabbalah by Peter Cole (2012 edition). Not all the books that I read have Jewish content.
TWM: What got you started writing poetry?
MM: A car accident. Soon after the accident, I progressively became liturgic with episodes of memory loss. Reading, which was my passion, became harder and harder as I was unable to remember. Therapy was useless, ” in time you will get better, give it time,” I was told. I decided not to wait for a miracle, time is too valuable to waste so I turned to the arts for self-healing. I started with the outmost difficult, reading and memorizing text. A friend recommended poetry books. At the time, I was not interested in reading poetry but it made sense. I selected short poems and started playing the memory game with interesting verses, write random thoughts inspired by the verses, and built a new word vocabulary folder (English is my second language). Over the years, I think I read every single poetry book that was offered at the Virginia Beach public library database. The liberians knew me well and as soon as a new poetry book arrived, I was the first to read it. It took me over four month to completely review each poetry collection. Today, I can honestly say that I don’t remember the books, title and author. But I am confident that most of the information is stored in my memory bank…somewhere. Years into the self-healing practice, I started writing my memoir in the best writing style I grew to love, poetry.
TWM:What inspires you?
MM: Life experiences, mine and others.