Interview with Jabar Boykin, Poetry Editor

Jabar Boykin is from Greensboro, NC and is currently getting his MFA in poetry at UNCG. His poetry primarily centers around his Black American heritage of which he seeks to create new narratives and mythologies from past tragedies and traditions. After earning an MFA in Poetry, Boykin intends to pursue a PhD in African American Literature. He is a current poetry editor for The Greensboro Review.

Evan Fackler: By all accounts you maintain a pretty busy work schedule, working multiple jobs while you’ve been in school. Where do you find the energy and time for your own poetry? 

Jabar Boykin: I actually write mostly during the time I should be sleeping, so like around 1-2 am, but this is also the time I feel like I do my best writing. I tend to get distracted during the day really easily so it’s hard for me to focus on coming up with ideas I think are creative enough to turn into poems.

EF: Has your editorial work at The Greensboro Review informed anything about your own writing or writing process?

JB: It has made me take a second look at my own poetry. When editing, it’s so nice to have a clean poem that doesn’t need any work or at least needs as little work as possible, so it’s most definitely made me go back and tidy up poems that I now understand to be a little messy for publications.

EF: Poetry and fiction submissions to The Greensboro Review have to make it past two editors in each genre, plus Terry Kennedy and Jessie Van Rheenen. Is everyone typically in agreement about what to publish? How much back-and-forth discussion do you have over the typical acceptance? 

JB: For Michael and I there hasn’t been too much disagreement, and the few occasions that there have been we usually let Terry act as the tiebreaker. However, there are moments where maybe we’ve had biases toward a poem for whatever reason and in that final process when we meet with Terry and break the poem down line by line we’ll usually see things in discussion that we didn’t see before when we were just sitting at our desk reading. It’s really interesting what you miss and what everyone else is seeing that you’ve not paid attention to. I think moments like that also sharpen your awareness of your own poetry as well.

EF: You’re mentioned under the Wikipedia entry for the pantoum: “Jabar Boykin wrote a well-received pantoum,” the entry reads, with no citation. Have you written a well-received pantoum?

JB: The story behind that is actually pretty funny; we were assigned, in our Structure of Verse class last semester, to write a pantoum so I decided to just revise one that I was already working on for my thesis. Long story short, Stuart ended up really enjoying it and also mentioned that he had written this very famous pantoum that he’d received a lot of accolades for, so the rest of the class, unknown to me at the time, decided to write in Wikipedia that I had written a “well-received pantoum” as well. When I found out it was hilarious to me because my work has never been published, but I also felt really honored at the same time that they would do that.

EF: FAQ – Is The Greensboro Review interested in publishing a particular kind of poet? 

JB: I can’t speak to past editors that have come before me but I don’t feel there’s anything in particular that Terry, Michael, or I look for other than for the poem to be skillful, thoughtful, and engaging. Me personally, I like poems that take a lot of risk; that feeling you get when you’re reading a poem and it seems that it could all fall apart at any moment, but then you’re at the end and somehow all the elements managed to hold together is priceless. Those are the poems I like the most.


Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli