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by Steve Mueske

After my second surgery, in the summer of 1999, I experienced a brief period of heightened elation, which, at the time, I found very strange. Colors were hyper-real. Textures like bark, denim, drywall, and grass made my fingers thrill with sensation. Birds, music, even the blowsy breath of wind in the leaves grounded me in the importance of now, the presence of this-moment-in-time. As the summer wore down and the season slid into fall, this feeling waned and I was left hollow and wanting.

Poetry, as always, helped me through this transition. It was at this point — as I lived with the words of Thomas Lux, Billy Collins, and others — that I decided to seize the moment and take the idea of starting a web-based electronic journal beyond mere idea. After all, I reasoned, many dreams are easily made into reality by taking a few pragmatic steps. Because I worked in technology, I understood how to design web pages. Because I was a writer, I understood the life of the artist. Because I was hungry for poetry, I wanted to find the best poetry I could and bring it out into the world, free of charge — a gift, if you will. The only things I was unsure of were these: would I be a good editor, and would people want to come to my journal to read good poetry?

The answer to the latter is a resounding yes. Readership has grown from 1,500 hits a week to 1,000 hits a day in the last three years. One of the more gratifying aspects of running a web journal is knowing that people can (and do) access poetry in Australia as easily as India, Europe, Africa, or America. I feel part of a larger community of souls interested in the transformative power of poetry.

As with all things, I continue to learn about being an editor by jumping in daily — listening to the poems, communicating with poets, and trying to find the best way a poem can find its form. Sometimes this involves no editing at all; other times it requires two or three rewrites. Always a careful relationship must be built so that art is not destroyed. Mine is the na´ve belief that a great poem brought into the world will have long-reaching, sometimes surprising benefits.

My editorial philosophy is simple. I think in terms of an audience, and I think in terms of self. When I think on an audience or global level, I look for poems that challenge us (myself and a constructed public), in an artful way, to reappraise ourselves as human beings who are all alive in a world of ambiguity. Ours is an existence, after all, that is fraught with questions. What does it mean to be alive? What is love? How do others experience anger?

In all editorial decisions, I listen to my heart first, then I listen to my mind and spirit. Does the poem teach me something new? Is the poem exceptional, every line, every word, and does it have a musicality to it that indicates the otherness at once peculiar to the poetic voice? Is it original? Is it too clever? Is there some inchoate element about the poem that moves me to say yes, I want the world to see it?

I accept poems over the transom, as it were, and by invitation. Roughly one third of the poets I publish have been invited to publish because I have seen their work in another journal or I personally know the poet and would like to see his or her work in my journal. I have posted guidelines for unsolicited work on the information page on three candles:

“For the 'current poetry' section, I look for well crafted, new poems that speak to the human experience. These can be lyrical, free verse, form-based, or experimental. The only real criterion is excellence. Toward that end, I do not accept previous publications. Please read through a significant selection of poetry and send something different from what you read. I want to see your own voice; the naked, wriggling spirit. Too often I get submissions from poets who read only the first poem and send work with the same theme. Strive to be original. I always listen to my heart when making editorial decisions, and my heart, like any lover's, likes to be wooed, surprised, delighted, and moved. I will accept submissions of any topic or length, provided the poems are not overtly religious (in the sense of propaganda or work that reiterates language that does not reside with the poet), sexist, racist, or otherwise unartful work. This does not mean that I will not accept thought-provoking or challenging work. Quite the contrary. I welcome poetry that stimulates discussion, angers or enlightens. I usually respond to submissions within six weeks. Please don't ask for a critique— due to the volume of submissions, I rarely comment on poems.”
In addition to the current poetry section on three candles, there are also a featured poet section (in which I post a significant amount of work from a single poet that spans his or her career), an archive of all published poetry dating back to December 1999, and an extensive links and resources section. I want three candles to be a resource and an asset to the writing community.

What is my hope for the future of three candles? I hope to keep publishing the best poems I can find (and soon, works of non-fiction and fiction, too), for readership to grow, and for writing, as an art form, to motivate us to live more artful, intense lives. To quote the poet Deborah Keenan, one of my early mentors and a great poet and friend, “We write for our souls.”

I can be reached at editor@threecandles.org.


Steve Mueske
Editor, three candles