“Never write ‘flower’: write ‘rose’ or ‘marigold’ or ‘chrysanthemum.’”
“Make your reader comfortable.”
Thus decreed Guy Owen, a North Carolina poet, Pulitzer prize-nominated novelist and university professor who founded Southern Poetry Review (SPR) in 1958 and edited the biannual publication until his death in 1981.
Forty-eight years and thousands of poems later, SPR is poised to release its newest issue this week. Housed at Armstrong Atlantic State University (AASU) since 2002, the independent, nonprofit poetry journal will showcase previously unpublished work from 38 poets around the country, keeping alive the spirit of Owen’s writing philosophy and his passion for supporting poets creatively and financially.
The winner of the 23rd annual Guy Owen Prize will be announced in this issue, awarding $1000 to one poet out of over 430 who entered the competition.
Although SPR is an independent entity, it is loosely associated with AASU, who might be described as a major patron of the publication.
“The school was very happy when the journal came here and they’ve been very generous,” says Dr. James Smith, associate editor of SPR. “We operate as a publication under their auspices. We are very grateful for the support but it is an independent journal.”
Since moving to AASU, the journal has published work from critically recognized poets including Linda Pastan, Ron Rash, Fred Chappell and Peter Makuck. While most writers published in SPR have published many poems, for some this is their first accepted work. Poems from every geographic region are encouraged, across the country and internationally, belying the word “Southern” in the journal’s title.
Selecting which poems will be published is handled by a trio of editors, all published poets.
“I think in a year we get somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 poems” submitted by 2,000 to 2,500 poets, says Dr. Tony Morris, managing editor of the journal.
He and Smith spend hours reading and editing potential poems and handling the business side of the publication in addition to teaching full course loads. The two collaborate on the final selection with the journal’s editor, Dr. Robert Parham, a former AASU professor who is now a dean at Augusta State University.
“At least two times a year we have staff meetings on a weekend in Savannah,” says Parham. The meetings are more like poetry discussion marathons, stretching into the early hours of the morning.”
Smith describes the magazine’s philosophy as “editorially eclectic. We don’t think of ourselves as accepting just one kind of poem. We tend to publish poems that have powerful images, some element of a narrative framework.”
“We’re trying not to shut down good poems because they’re not the kind of style we like,” says Morris. “A distinctive voice is always important. We try to be editors. If we see poems that have potential in them, but aren’t quite there yet, we’ll write a long explanation letter back to the poet.” “
I’d say over half the poems we publish have gone through some sort of editorial negotiation,” says Smith.
That negotiation proved beneficial in 2003 for poet Suzanne Cleary of Peekskill, New York. After a few rounds of revision, her poem “Anyways” was published in the Spring/Summer 2003 issue, and later that year won a Pushcart Prize, a national literary prize awarded annually for the best work published in small presses in the United States. David Kirby’s poem “Someone Naked and Adorable” published in that same issue also won a Pushcart.
As poetry is submitted, the task of compiling it falls on the shoulders of Stephanie Roberts, a senior at AASU majoring in English Literature and the editorial assistant for SPR. These days her primary project is coordinating details of a 50th anniversary anthology, scheduled for 2008.
As a result of her experience with SPR, Roberts recently took on the editor’s position for Calliope, the AASU student literary arts magazine. “This job gives me the tools I needed for being the editor. I know how to do the selection process, the review process. I’ve learned about the technical things you need to know.”
The job also motivated her to enroll in a short story class taught by Smith this fall. “I’m learning the nooks and crannies of creative writing.” ç
SPR can be purchased from AASU’s Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy at 927-5289, or by email: email@example.com
Books will also be available through Barnes and Noble and other local retailers.