It's Lit: Poetry City USA
Poetry City USA began as an anthology of poems read at two Twin Cities reading series: The Great Twin Cities Poetry Read and the Maeve's Sessions reading series. In 2015, Poetry City USA opened its submissions to everyone, with a mission to cultivate and showcase contemporary poetry and poets. As founding Editor Matt Mauch explained, the journal also has a mission “to take AFA students, and former AFA students, at the Twin Cities two year creative writing programs and introduce them to publishing, to what it’s like to work on a national journal, and to give them that kind of experience that they wouldn’t otherwise get.”
I recently sat down with Mauch, Editor Patrick Werle, Production and Senior Associate Editor Sandra Youngs, and Assistant Managing and Associate Editor Kayla Little to talk poetry, the editorial process, and how to get your poems submission ready.
If you visit the Poetry City USA website, the first thing you’ll see is this quote from Lucille Clifton, “It is nice to find your, or actually, what happens is your tribe finds you. And you are so happy.” Mauch explained, “I grew up in a very small town, poetry wasn’t anything that I knew about or interested me. But in college, I had a really great group of undergraduate professors and discovered poetry. I felt like poetry, as a tribe, found me. And it just felt like I belonged, like that way of seeing the world was the way I saw the world, and everything about it fit and it could never have not been in my life after that. It was like love at first sight.”
Again and again throughout this interview series, people have shared with me the ways in which literature creates community for them, and the editors of Poetry City USA were no different. “It’s not just talking about yourself, it’s expressing a common human emotion or experience in a creative way. And I think that can be really communal,” said Youngs. Little agreed, “I think reading and writing has always made me feel closer to other people that I didn’t know I could feel close to.” And Werle added, “Art keeps us human. It keeps us in touch with each other. It keeps us moving forward. It keeps us exploring new ideas, new ways of seeing things, new experiences. It keeps us connected as people.”
Poetry City USA is open for submissions each November and February, and accepts up to three poems. Editors are encouraged to spread the word and solicit poets to ensure a broad pool of submissions. “We’ve gotten submissions from all across the country, and internationally too. We’ve gotten submissions this time from Europe, from Africa, from SE Asia,” said Mauch. Sometimes the solicitation process itself can get a little creative. Shared Youngs, “At AWP we went to a few readings, and at one of them I found someone who I really enjoyed. So I just left them a note in person, sort of. It was a coaster. He had walked away, but I wanted his poetry so I left him a note!”
So what exactly do they look for in submissions? We talked about some common practices and pitfalls you should consider as you prepare your own poems for submission:
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“Don’t be afraid to share your poems, before you submit them, with somebody else and ask if they’re ready.” - Werle
“I think that the way you lay out your poem on the page really affects it. You have to walk readers through the poem.” - Werle
“It affects pacing, and emphasis, the whole tone of the poem. Format’s huge.” - Youngs
“The eye has to move from letter to letter, line to line, space to space through the white space. There’s just a different feeling for a poem with more white space, or less white space. It all matters in ways I think we feel more than we can articulate.” - Mauch
“I hate rhyme. I can’t do it.” - Youngs
“I think that you can use slant rhyme, you can use internal rhyme. There are ways to be interesting with rhyme. But mostly it’s been done to death. Although, the three-chord rock and roll song has been done to death too, and people are still finding new ways to do it. So maybe someone will surprise me.” - Werle
“For me, I feel like a poet always has to earn something. So rhyme is okay, but you have to earn it with everything else in the poem. If you have strong language and a strong image, then most times I feel like I can forgive other things.” - Little
“If you want to do anything creatively you better get used to rejection, that’s just part of the deal. It happens more often than success. And just because [one journal doesn’t] accept a poem doesn’t mean you stop sending it out. There are people who have sent out the same poem for years, and then it finally hits the right desk and somebody falls in love.” - Werle
The next issue of Poetry City USA will be released in October 2017, and a reading will follow in November. Each issue is available for purchase in print, and is free as a digital download. You can learn more, and read past issues, at poetrycityusa.com.
Matt Mauch is the author of Bird~Brain (2017), If You’re Lucky Is a Theory of Mine, Prayer Book, and the chapbook The Brilliance of the Sparrow. He founded the annual Great Twin Cities Poetry Read and the Maeve’s Sessions reading series. He lives in Minneapolis, where he teaches in the AFA program at Normandale Community College.
Patrick Werle was born and raised in the Twin Cities. He received his BA from Augsburg College and is currently an MFA Candidate at Hamline University. He is also currently sitting on his first book, Pure Products of America, and is at work on new poems. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two kids, a mutt, a few guitars, and more books and music than any human will ever need.
Sandra Youngs earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University. She holds an AFA in Creative Writing from Normandale Community College and lives in Chanhassen, Minnesota. She enjoys eating ice cream in cold weather and can’t stop writing about trees.
Kayla Little was born and raised in Minnesota. She is currently in her last year at Hamline University, where she is pursing her BFA in Creative Writing and her BA in Women's Studies. She holds an AFA from Normandale Community College. She currently lives in Saint Paul with her wife and her two cats, Narcissa and Draco. When she has downtime she bakes a mean cupcake, enjoys getting literary themed tattoos, and writes poems addressing girlhood.