I have always understood the struggles of the writing life—the driving artist, aspiring toward publication. To get your work out there, really looked at, truly noticed, takes so much heart and effort and patience and resilience. I decided some years ago that I wanted to create a space for people taking on the struggle, a venue to give those writers and artists a truly fair shot at publication and the chance to be seen, read, and recognized—no connections, no solicitations, and only blind reading. Here, the quality of work is all that matters, not who you know or where you come from or what you've already accomplished. A fair chance and an open hand for everyone—the underdogs, the in-betweeners, and the already established.
Black Lawrence Press: Sapling Feature Article
Sapling talks with Jonathan Starke, founding editor, Palooka.
Sapling: What should people know who may not be familiar with Palooka?
JS: The magazine was founded on the idea of giving a fair chance at publication to writers, artists, and photographers, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or who they know. We read blind, don't solicit work or publish friends/associates, and only publish work that comes to us from the infamous "slush pile." We strive to create fun and unique covers and offer eclectic works that interest a wide variety of readers.
Sapling: How did your name come about?
JS: I used to box and am a big fan of combat sports. A palooka might be defined as "an inferior or average prizefighter," but I don't see it this way. I see a palooka as someone who works hard and with passion but might be struggling to take that bigger step forward. To me, it's not about lacking ability or heart but lacking a fair chance, the right opportunity, that stroke of luck.
Sapling: What do you pay close attention to when reading submissions? Any deal breakers?
JS: For me, it's more about feel. I love strong voices, unique situations, close attention to the line. I wouldn't say there are any "deal breakers," but I'm not much for flowery language, too much detail, or unnecessary exposition.
Sapling: Where do you imagine Palooka to be headed over the next couple years? What’s on the horizon?
JS: We've been doing a chapbook contest each year since 2013 (through our imprint Palooka Press) and are putting out our sixth chapbook next month. I'd like to springboard off that into publishing full books—novels, poetry collections, short story collections, memoirs, etc. Maybe even a graphic novel or book of comics. We'll see.
Sapling: As an editor, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
JS: I absolutely hate sending rejections. I do it every day, and it's the worst! It feels awful to say "no" to struggling artists and writers, but you have to print what moves you, work that you deeply feel. Saying "yes" to a piece and offering an acceptance is probably the best part. Though corresponding with submitters and those interested in arts and the magazine is also really wonderful.
Sapling: If you were stranded on a desert island for a week with only three books which books would you want to have with you?
JS: A thorough survival guide, Old Man and the Sea, and a giant coffee-table book of the world's greatest paintings.
Sapling: Just for fun (because we like fun and the number three) if Palooka was a person what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?
JS: 1) Objective fairness 2) Its many past and present contributors 3) How to improve the magazine and make the publishing experience even better.
Jonathan Starke is a former bodybuilder and boxer. He's harvested seaweed in Ireland, given free hugs in Spain, and flipped pancakes in Denmark. He loves riding trains and wondering about the lives unfolding outside the window. He's the founding editor of Palooka and has published essays, stories, poetry, and plays in dozens of literary magazines. You might find him watching old pro-wrestling matches on Sunday evenings. You might not.