Don Share of Poetry magazine led a free workshop for student literary magazine editors at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level this Friday. The National Young Arts Foundation hosted the event. On Saturday, Share read at sunset on Biscayne Bay.
Among those present at Friday’s workshop were editors from Mangrove, Jai Alai, Gulf Stream, BlackWax FM, The Literary Review, and the high school publications Embryo and Green Sky, Blue Grass.
“A magazine reflects a particular moment in time,” Share said, adding: “A failure of vision ensures what you’re working on won’t survive. Print and technology are synergistic—they help each other,” he continued, pointing out that E.E. Cummings’ initial readership consisted of about 300 people, and relating an anecdote about a Franny Choi poem Poetry posted online that received 8,000 hits in a single week. “Some of the 8,000 will subscribe to the magazine,” he said, “which makes me happy and gives me a reason to live.”
He cautioned, however, against placing too much emphasis on technology, pointing out that most of what we now use will be obsolete in a matter of years, and that [online only] content is in danger of going away. “Twitter comments lose value quickly, while books and book-like magazines have staying power. Technology changes, but the work of being a writer and editor remains the same. I'm convinced that Harriet [Monroe: founder of Poetry] would be a modern-day editor within a day. In 1912 she had the necessary skills. We’re over-impressed with technology.”
He handed out lists of standard editing symbols, outlined an editor’s basic duties (copyediting, querying authors, yelling at printers), and talked about his strategies for safeguarding his readership (Poetry has 30,000 subscribers, making it the poetry magazine with the largest circulation in the US or UK), strategies that do not include publishing famous non-writers who are trying their hand at poetry (“a self-defeating strategy”), or dramatically enlarging Poetry’s readership (“printing and mailing costs would kill the magazine”).
Poetry receives about 120,000 poems a year, all of which are read by Share and one other person on his staff. He pointed out that the way we [Westerners] work is “a great luxury. Some poets are in jail and must memorize their poems, and someone else must memorize them to bring them outside. Poems are like little time bombs. [Publishing them] is an important service to the world.”
His advice to writers and editors? “Work to surprise yourself first, and then your readers. Expand yourself. One of the reasons for creative literature is to put you in touch with people whose values are different from your own. Antipathy, hostility, may be a sign that something is really good. Poems change readers, change human beings. We have a responsibility to do something that matters, that makes a difference—and poetry does make a difference.”
Once everyone was settled into their seats, poet Tom Healy stepped up to the podium and joked: “Scott Cunningham told me we’re getting poetry to every Miamian by putting it in the water.” He went on to introduce Share, saying: “Don has been at Harvard, is now in Chicago, but he’s a Memphis man.”
With the sun beginning to set beyond Biscayne Bay, Share stepped up. “You have something here that no one else has: no one has anything like O, Miami,” he told everyone assembled. “O, Miami has a complete spectrum of things people can enjoy, and it’s real poetry, and it’s a great tribute.”
He then proceeded to read.