“It’s definitely no joke. It’s fun and exciting for students to be published along really big names that have been publishing for a really long time.”

Pushing Poetry

Budding writers find their voices through the national journal Columbia Poetry Review.

Columbia Poetry Review CoverThe cover of Columbia Poetry Review establishes the feel of a professional literary journal, and the poetic contents deliver on that promise, featuring established poets from around the nation alongside rising stars on the poetry scene that more austere magazines might overlook. Columbia College Chicago students are not only featured as poets, but MFA and BA poetry students effectively run the editorial side of the magazine.

“It’s definitely no joke,” says editor Natalia Kennedy (MFA '15). “It’s fun and exciting for students to be published alongside big names that have been publishing for a long time, such as Brenda Shaughnessy, Jean Valentine, Rosemarie Waldrop and Dean Young. It’s sort of a gateway to the publishing world.”

Working for Columbia Poetry Review brings an ineffable boost to a poet’s career. Victoria Sanz (BA ’13) started out as an editorial board member before becoming an editor and applying to graduate school at New York University. She has been accepted with a scholarship and will soon be rubbing elbows with National Poet Laureate Charles Simic. She credits a fair amount of her accomplishments to her work and growth at the journal and points out that her poetic aesthetic has been refined since working at the magazine.

Sanz says that she still has leaps and bounds to go before she would consider herself an expert editor of poetry. She points out that graduate students were able to pick out the aspects of a poem that make it good. “I think that’s the hardest part, developing your own sense of taste,” she says. “That’s the biggest gap between the undergraduates and the MFAs. As an undergrad, you are still developing that.”

The process for finding those just-right poems is quite the investment. The student editorial board and the student editors are broken into small groups, where they read through hundreds of submissions and become champions for the poems that catch their fancy. Daniel Scott Parker (MFA '14) emphasizes that all voices are equally represented. Undergrads are encouraged to go to bat for poems they feel passionate about, and the resulting published work follows the aesthetic of the entire group of students rather than one all-powerful professor.

Columbia Poetry Review is incredibly eclectic,” Parker says. “Some of the youngest, most contemporary trending voices, we’ll have in the magazine. We’ll also have some of the old bastions of big, big poetry names, academic poets who have been in the field for several decades. Sometimes we’ll have knockout poems from poets we’ve never heard of before.”

The mission to publish the best possible poems rather than the biggest names elevates the journal into rarified air. “[The mission of the Review is] to publish meaningful and significant work,” Kennedy says, and the process of choosing the poems and creating the Columbia Poetry Review is a vital experience for budding poets.

Perhaps most important, Parker says, is how the journal helps writers find their voice. “You don’t come out of it being a Columbia College poet,” he says. “You just come out of it a poet."

Columbia Poetry Review is distributed through Ingram Periodicals and Disticor Magazine Distribution Services across the country and Canada to various booksellers including Barnes & Noble. Poems from Columbia Poetry Review have been included in several volumes of The Best American Poetry and featured on Poetry Dailyand Verse Daily. You can subscribe to Columbia Poetry Review.

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