― Andre Maurois
And so another year of assembling A Poetry Congeries is at an end. Five years. For those of you who don’t know, A Poetry Congeries came about after the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Connotation Press: An Online Artifact approached me to chat about his idea for a new kind of online community, one that provided its visitors not only the standard fare of literary writing but also a variety of other engagements with film, sound, images, and genres less frequently given space in literary magazines. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I suggested the idea for the Congeries. The concept is partially based on my appreciation of the way issues of Ploughshares are created (a different guest editor solicits half of the work published in each issue). It was designed, as well, with the experience I had gained while laboring for a dozen or so years as the Poetry Editor of a traditional print journal, Kestrel. However, while I still had the desire to edit, I no longer wished (nor had the time) to sift through huge stacks of submissions.
So, I brought a few self-imposed rules to the project. First, all work would be solicited by me. To do this, I have drawn upon my years as an editor at Kestrel; indeed, many of the poets I have published in the Congeries were poets I first published in Kestrel. I have also drawn upon the recent development of Facebook. As we are currently in the midst of an explosion of young poetic talent, social media is one way I learn of the work of exciting new poets. Of course, I also read widely and immediately attempt to contact the author of a stunning poem I might read in a literary journal, an anthology, or in a new book of poems I might pick up at an independent book store. Sometimes my colleagues in poetry pass on suggestions.
In any case, as has been my habit for the retrospective August model of the Congeries, I have just read through the year’s offerings and have selected those poets whose work—for whatever reason—strikes me as particularly sustaining at this moment in time, during this week in July. On another day, the choices would have been different, and the great poems not singled out here are no less dear to me than those I put forth. Were I to read these choices with a personal essay in mind, I’m sure I would find that there are thematic threads that have made these poems reverberate for me. I note, for example, that many of these poems touch on fathers, politics, and faith, and these are topics that are always close to my heart.
The great singer and songwriter Neil Young has been a role model for me through the years; my life changed when I found an eight track tape, half of the C, S, N, &Y live album 4 Way Street, on the school bus in sixth grade. I heard his distinctive voice and guitar work and I was transported to the way of an artist. He often fails as a songwriter, but his successes are magnificent. He is not swayed by record labels or even by his millions of fans. He does what pleases him, and I admire him for it. We are welcome to come along or tarry as we choose. Neil has been quoted as saying, “As I get older, I get smaller. I see other parts of the world I didn't see before. Other points of view. I see outside myself more.” It is true for me, too, as both a poet and as an editor. Poetry matters to me because, as a poet, the process of writing poems teaches me about myself and about being in a world of others. As I’ve gotten older, I have become less ego-driven as an artist; I try to see outside. As an editor, I bring my innate eclecticism to the table as well as my desire to know what it is like to be someone else. When I read the work of a poet whose work I find completely different than my own, I realize instead that it is exactly like my own; that is, it is the human spirit attempting to transcend the limits of language, the limits of culture, and the limits of body. It is prayer. Amen.
John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Lives of Water (2003) and Anticipate the Coming Reservoir (2008), both with Carnegie Mellon University Press. CMUP will publish his third collection, Domestic Garden, in February, 2015. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company (U of Michigan P, 2012). His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, Southern Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, West Branch, The Literary Review, Subtropics, Blackbird, Southern Humanities Review, Copper Nickel, Southeast Review, the anthologies and text books Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina (U of North Carolina P), Making Poems: 40 Poems with Commentary by the Poets (State U of New York P), A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (U of Akron P), Blooming through the Ashes: An International Anthology on Violence and the Human Spirit (Rutgers UP, 2008), The Northern Hemisphere Bible of Incredible Sestinas (Write Bloody Press), Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VII: North Carolina (Texas Review Press), and in many other journals, anthologies, and textbooks. For the cultural journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact he edits “A Poetry Congeries” and curates the Guest Poetry Editor Feature. For nine years, he served as Personal Assistant to Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, and he is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at East Carolina University.