Posts Tagged ‘clmp’

Teaching Creative Writing with Literary Magazines

I’m a big fan of teaching creative writing with literary magazines, and have been doing it my whole my career. When I first started teaching Creative Writing, I used the textbook The Creative Process by Carol Burke and Molly Best Tinsley. It is a thin little book with chapters on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, along with cross-genre introductory chapters, and it was very influential to me in the way that I teach. One of the things it doesn’t have is an anthology of readings in the book. I was happy with that.

Since I was guest-editing an issue of The Literary Review, I began by ordering back issues of it  for my class. I would order a box and sell them at cost to my students. Usually I broke about even, though collecting their $4 was sometimes a challenge. I never lost much on the deal, though, and I was supporting a good journal.

One challenge of doing it this was was that I usually got our sample back issues just a week or so before classes started, or sometimes even after they had begun. I would pick out stories and poems for the class to read, and I often didn’t have a chance to review them. Students knew that; we were all exploring brand-new work together. That was also part of the thrill. It made class a little unpredictable, though I always knew the quality of the work would be fantastic.

Eventually, I decided to move to different textbooks after The Creative Process began to feel a little dated for me. I tried a couple that had selections of readings in them, and it was always a little bit of a let down. It was nice to have the readings well in advance of teaching the class, when I ordered my exam copies, but it never felt as fresh as when I was using a lit mag.

So when I decided to write my own notes, which I’m now publishing as the textbook A Writer’s CraftI also opted not to include an anthology of readings. Instead, I’ve been having my students purchase a recent Pushcart anthology. This has the advantage of having more selections to choose from, and it’s not terribly expensive (though more than a magazine’s back issue). There is also an index of magazines consulted in the back, which is helpful for students who want to find more. But I do miss teaching with an actual magazine.

Another way I’ve always tried to introduce literary magazines in an intro to creative writing class is to have students write a magazine review. They have to find their own magazine, get a copy, and then write a short review of it. I have them focus on the kinds of things a writer would care about if deciding where to submit. What is the quality of the magazine, who publishes in it, what styles do they seem to prefer, etc. Finding a magazine can be a challenge if you aren’t in a city with a good independent bookstore. But there are libraries with magazines, and students can always order one if they start early enough. And I’ll allow an online journal if students can access a full issue. New Pages even has a magazine store, where you can buy sample copies online, which can help the students who plan ahead. I’ve learned about a lot of good journals through this assignment!

CLMP also has a lit magazine adoption program for use in the classroom. As I understand it, they are revamping and relaunching the program this year, and faculty will be able to let their students purchase subscriptions for use in their classes. When that is available again, I may go back to assigning a magazine for the readings for my class! It sounds more convenient than ordering a box of books and guessing the right number of students who will enroll.


Catch, Knox College Magazine

This week, I had a blast from the past, an email from Knox College asking about the times the undergraduate literary magazine, Catch, had won the CCLM national prize. The acronym is for the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, which around 1990 changed its name to CLMP —Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

The three covers above are from 1985/86, the year I was the lead editor (with Patricia Bereck for the first issue). As I recall, we submitted the winter issue (middle one) for the prize. It was fun to go back to my back issues and see what we had published. And it brought back memories of working on my first magazine — appropriately, since this week, I sent the 8th issue of Poetry South (the first one produced by MUW).

We were not the first or the last. Sean Bronzell and Ann Suchomski won the award in 1983, and we think there was at least one more in the 1990s, and Knox has won AWP’s undergraduate prize, which took over the mantel of CLMP in recent years.

Back when Sean and Ann won, and when I did our first two issues in 1986, we were still working with photographic paper and wax, when cutting and pasting really meant what it says. For the Spring issue, we got to move to a computerize typesetting machine, which still used photo paper and wax, but you could see what you were typing and could edit on screen. That way we did most of our editing digitally and didn’t have to cut and paste nearly as much. We still worked on a light table to get the layout the way we wanted, but life was much easier. Nowadays, things have come a long way, and we don’t even use paper much, just pdf files created by InDesign, so everything is digital. But there’s still a lot that hasn’t changed — especially proofreading!

Poetry Contests

Since I wrote about slams and haiku contests in my last posts, I thought I should add a little about poetry contests. I think competition is great in poetry, but poets need to beware when they enter one!

The Iowa Poetry Association (for whom I have judged) is a member of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, which has members in 35 states. Literary magazines and other organizations also conduct legitimate contests, but there are also more dubious contests to watch out for. Wind Publications maintains a list of some of the worst offenders, contests that will award publication to anything remotely resembling a poem and sell leather bound copies of books with thousands of ‘poems’ to unsuspecting ‘winners.’ Offers to attend conferences or for other merchandise usually follow. Their goal is clearly to make as much money off amateur poets as possible before they learn their lesson.

Even some of the legitimate contests have been plagued with ethical issues. Though most magazines aren’t trying to scam your money, judging has been criticized as unfair. So the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses developed a code of ethics for literary contests. Look for member magazines or for contests that follow this code, or where the judges are announced in advance and are known writers. Also consider the cost of the contest (free contests often are after your money once you are ‘awarded a prize,’ but relatively small reading fees are normal for contests). When weighing the cost, consider what your contest fee buys: a copy of the winning book or a past winner? a subscription to the magazine? Consider the prestige of the contest and the final product that is produced. If you wouldn’t want to be in the anthology or magazine, or if you wouldn’t want your book to look like the others the contest has produced, then it’s not worth entering. Consider the distribution of the product. Are their books or magazines readily available?

Search the web to see if others have had a good or bad experience with a contest, but remember the shady ones are good at changing their name frequently! Search on their website or submission information as well as their name. Often that isn’t changed. If the same website is used for 10 different contests, there’s a good chance it isn’t legit.

I have a love/hate relationship with all contests. They are part of what makes poetry publishing possible in the United States, and they can legitimately bring new poets broader recognition. I wish, though, that more people bought poetry and we didn’t have to rely on contests to subsidize the poetry industry. That’s wishful thinking, though, and as I said in my last post, the idea of poetry competitions has been around for a long time. Just be careful when you tread in those waters!