As I announced in July, the time has come for me to step down as Connotation Press’s Poetry Editor, and the brilliant, bright-eyed Julie Brooks Barbour will masterfully take over the Poetry Column. I have confidence that Julie will run the column with grace, deftness, and integrity. I am so happy to be able to turn the column over to her.
I am sad but also excited say good-bye to the Poetry Column I’ve edited for almost six years. Some change is necessary. Stagnation is icky. You’ve got to make room for the fresh-eyed with energy for the current challenge. Plus, moving on can mean focusing renewed energy in another direction, and I’ve been thinking about what might come next.
I love this opportunity to look back over my time here. In running this column, I’ve tried to find both new and established artists who write honestly, who further the art in some way, who bring something valuable to the conversation. I have looked for work that shows artistic potential, that made me pause and think, that brought me joy or connections or understanding. I have loved being able to bring joy to people whose work I am honored to share. I have loved writing blurbs about each poet whose work I chose, to try to articulate to you what I saw in that work that drew me in. I have loved interviewing some of those artists to further the conversation, dig deeper into their craft, explore their ideas, to talk about our existence and art’s place in it. This experience has helped me understand the world and the people in it. It’s helped me understand art from both the artist’s and the audience’s perspective. It has been a truly unique opportunity, and I am grateful.
So, like Ken always says, "let’s kick this pig and see what it'll do." On to the celebration! Here are some highlights from my six years here at Connotation Press:
I started at Connotation Press not as its Poetry Editor but as Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief. My assistant duties quickly became working on the Poetry Column, and soon, Ken asked me to serve as the Poetry Editor. The first few months we published a lot of work by some of our best poet friends: Noel Pabillo Mariano, Matthew Nadelson (our very first submitter!), and Kelly Fiore, just to name a few.
It wasn’t long before we had so many submissions, and my life was so busy, that I needed assistance vetting work for the Poetry Column. I am ever grateful for those who spent time on my team as Assistant Editors: Monica Mankin, Nicelle Davis, Mari L’Esperance, JP Reese, Mia Avramut, Doug Van Gundy, Alvis Minor, Paul Scot August, and, of course, up-and-coming Poetry Editor Julie Brooks Barbour. I could not have done this alone. These hard working, talented editors and writers made this column possible. Each of you helped shape the column through your eye for talent, curiosity, and personality. Thank you, and my best wishes, to all of you.
Of all the work we’ve published, F. Daniel Rzicznek’s poetry, which was among the very first we published, is still some of the most intense work I can remember publishing. It is astonishing in its complexity and the ways it conveys meaning.
I also love the fun work of Tom McDade and the brash adventures of Big Bill. I love this guttural, unapologetic work. I wish there were more of it.
There are a number of poets who have passed away whom we loved, whose work we loved, too, and we were honored to be able to publish their work. Among those poets are Allen Hoey, W.E. Butts, and Irene McKinney. They live on through their work, within our connotation walls. Respect.
In fact, it was when W.E. Butts (a New Hampshire Poet Laureate), and then Caryn Mirriam—Goldberg (a Kansas Poet Laureate) submitted to Connotation Press that Ken and I had the idea to try to publish as many state Poet Laureates as I could contact and get to agree to publish with us. That led me to publish a series of at least twenty Poet Laureates. I had so much fun being introduced, through interviews and poetry, to the poets the states have chosen to represent them as laureates. Each one brought something unique to the table. Here are just a few examples: Dick Allen’s correspondence with me (he sent me brief, delightful updates about his travels around the country) brought me joy, as did his entertaining, smart interview and strong poetry. Ever-generous Peggy Shumaker gave me a brave interview and beautiful poetry, filled with rich sounds and images. And I still remember JoAnn Balingit’s as being one of my all-time favorite interviews, and her poetry as being exquisite and honorable.
I interviewed a lot of poets as the Poetry Editor of Connotation Press. It was one of my favorite parts of the job. I was always at least a little nervous when I pressed the “send” button on the email containing the questions to the poet I was interviewing. I was rarely disappointed when I received the responses. I almost always sent all of the questions all at once, only occasionally following up afterward. I wanted the questions to resonate with my interviewee so I could get a deep, personal, important interview, but I also wanted poets to sometimes just have fun with their answers. Ken and I agreed that we didn’t want all of the questions to be about the work; some should just be about the author’s life.
I tried to hit home with my questions, to figure out what was important to each poet and ask questions from that base in order to find out about the way their craft contributes to meaning, the reasons people write, the things people think life is for, the ideas that drive us, food, travel, science, the earth and the universe, people’s favorite stories and the people who are important to them, memories and preservation of self, on and on. I wanted the story of the intersection of art and artist, or as close as I could get in an interview. Interviewing so many people who have devoted much of their lives to trying to articulate their thoughts and feelings has been, just, the best. What an amazing opportunity. Thank you for that one.
The blogs (including blurbs of individual poets’ work) have been another of the highlights of being the Poetry Editor. I got to see what my Associate Editors particularly loved about the poetry they accepted. But I also had to articulate what it was I loved about the work that I selected for publication. Doing that not only forced me to become very familiar with the work and to learn to express what I saw in it, it also allowed me to let the poet and our readers know what I thought was special about the work – and, by doing so, what I think is important in poetry. Once when I was writing a blurb about a poet’s work, I realized I loved the work and was so fascinated by it that I had to interview the poet: the wonderful, dear Katherine Soniat. The blurbs that I wrote about each poet’s work helped me understand my own aesthetic, and it helped me understand what makes poetry. I always hoped that it brought the poets some happiness, too; being able to give happiness is a great gift and something I’m proud of.
I’m also proud that we’ve published a number of translations. Reading poems from across the world and across the centuries has been eye-opening and exciting. Adam J. Sorkin and Claudia Serea’s translation of Emilian Galaicu-Paun’s poem “passagère” is one of my favorite poems that we’ve published. Claudia Serea also translated the fierce work of Adina Dabija, and in that post, Ms. Serea granted me a very informative, thoughtful, and interesting interview about being a translator. I love Yun Wang’s translations of the wise but fun work of Su Dong-Po (and I got pretty excited about her renown in the field of dark energy in my interview with her!).
Poetry of witness is some of the most important poetry, I think. Acknowledging our history, as humans, and trying to learn from our mistakes is vital. To understand where we are and what to do next, we need to know what got us here. We need to know what is going on in the world around us so we can avoid mistakes being made in other places, and so we can maybe make the world better in some way. Knowledge and education go hand-in-hand with empowerment. Poetry of witness provides us with some of that vital information – and the best can help us start to feel what the witness feels. I am honored to have been able to publish some poetry of witness. Peauladd Huy stands out in my mind every time I think of the top people we’ve published. Her honest voice, ringing out though the ringing brings pain, still affects me so strongly I can’t read it without crying. Poetry like this reminds us how important it is to pull together and take care of each other, to show love and respect so that there’s that much more love and respect in this sometimes cruel world.
To name a few more of my bright lights in the history of the Poetry Column: Sandy Longhorn’s poetry floored me from her first submission. I love her Midwestern magical realism. Al Maginnes’s interview with Ken Robidoux and me, and Al’s crisp, soul-resonant poetry, is another proud moment. Adam Tavel’s work sticks with me, its courageous personas, its vivid language and imagery. The brave, honestly versatile-voiced poetry of D. Gilson. The intimate, emotionally torrential, transfixing work by and interview with Miguel Murphy. The beautiful work and engaging interview with Gianmarc Manzione, who writes, among other things, of time and the bigger-than-life stories of great bowlers.
The inimitable, fierce, enterprising Erin Elizabeth Smith, whom we here at Connotation Press greatly admire. Innovator Eryk Wenziak. The exposed sensitivity mixed with violence in the work of Julia Bouwsma. Breathtaking Alvis Minor. This year, among so many fine poets, we had the privilege of publishing the engaging, narrative work of Kevin Ridgeway, and the sharp, home-hitting, visually and auditorily-rich work of Valerie Nieman. And we got to publish pieces from poet Jim Daniels and photographer Charlee Brodsky’s stunning collaboration, together with my interview of Mr. Daniels, in which we talk about, among other things, the moonarts project, as a part of which Jim collected poems to be sent to the moon. The moon! Poetry there! To the moon!
The erudite, wisely self-aware interview responses from J. Phillip Reed and his stunningly crafted poetry is another bright star in the Poetry Column sky. Look for more from him; Mr. Reed is one of the up-and-coming poets we had the honor of publishing in my column – who is already becoming quite established. If you missed the Featured Guest Editor column that he edited for Connotation Press, I strongly recommend that you go back and check it out. It is powerful. One part of running this column that I have loved is getting to know the next generation of poets as they were in the process of emerging. Of those, Mr. Reed is among the finest of examples.
And who could forget that we published a trapeze artist? How much do I now want to be a trapeze artist? Tim Mayo writes of how trapezing has become a ritual he does religiously, and he writes of it reverently and beautifully.
This is the 67th poetry column – that is, we’ve had 67 issues in this column since its beginning in September 2009. I believe that six of those have been retrospectives; in the rest, we’ve published new work, generally around 6-8 poets per issue. I know that there are highlights all through those issues that did not come to mind as I wrote this blog, and I know that there are poems that resonated to me that, even if I remember them, I did not mention here. I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I tried to act with integrity and always to make others look good, never to embarrass anyone. I am grateful to everyone involved, and I am grateful for the experience as a whole. It has been an honor working alongside the talented Editors of Connotation Press’s other columns and becoming friends with them. They are always up to such interesting things!
I am particularly thankful to Ken Robidoux. No one else may ever know all you’ve given. Thank you for beating in this heart with and for me. On either side of my joy you.
Best wishes to you all. I hope you always keep love in your heart. And remember, come back next month for the debut of Poetry Editor Julie Brooks Barbour! She has great things planned. Happy dance! Happy dance!