The Fourth River

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Lit World Spotlight: 32 Poems

By on March 4, 2015

An Alternative Perspective

-by Timothy Connor, Associate Editor, The Fourth River

I’m not typically a fan of contemporary poetry (largely because many free verse and prose poems read more like short stories and often tend to lack a lyrical quality that I am drawn to) so, having read almost exclusively contemporary poetry as of late, I set out in my research to find a poetry magazine with a different sense of contemporary direction. I did several searches trying to find journals that focused on punk rock themes (I enjoy a bit of grime and gutter in what I read), but had little success. I shifted my search focus, still thinking along the lines of music, and searched for alternative journals. Since poetry and rock music have different criteria for “alternative,” the list of journals that was produced from my search was not what I expected. I was considering altering my search again when I stumbled upon 32 Poems. Their synopsis on Poets and Writers’ website states, “our bias is for inventive language complicated by music, form, and feeling,” which instantly interested me personally, since so many journals today shy away from form, and, regardless of the fact that it was almost entirely coincidental, 32 Poems boasts the musical qualities I was looking for.

While their physical journal is exclusively for poetry, 32 Poems does accept creative essays, interviews, reviews of poetry collections, and a section they call “Contributor’s Marginalia” (which consists of prose poems or short stories) for their Prose Features section on their website. They prefer their reviews to be 1000 words or more because, “[32 Poems] believes that this length allows for sustained examination, whereas shorter forms usually only contain evaluations.” On their website, just below the submission guidelines for the reviews, is a list of collections that for which they would like to receive reviews.

32 Poems’ namesake print journal is published internationally twice a year and consists of thirty-two short poems with subscribers in twenty countries. Each poem is typically under one page, about thirty-two lines, which is where they get their name. Each contributor to the journal receives twenty-five dollars per poem accepted and receives two copies of the issue that their work was featured in. There is a three dollar reading fee for online submissions that is waved if you are a current subscriber and they accept hard copy submissions for free. They do ask that an email be included instead of a SASE because they respond to all submissions online or through email.

Since I could not get a hold of one of their physical journals, I had the pleasure of looking through some of 32 Poems’ prose selections. Their current front page prose feature, “What Scares You,” by Lance Larsen definitely holds up to their criteria of “inventive language complicated by feeling.” The last lines capture the air of what a child goes through when they first start to become aware that they are growing up and changing as a person:

“One girl braided and re-braided her friend’s hair. I’m afraid of my school picture, she said, the one hanging above my Mom’s bed when I still had baby teeth. The more bad stuff I do the more beautiful I look in the picture. Someday I will become so beautiful and bad I’ll just disappear.”

The girl’s simple realization—seeing herself as a different person from the girl she was in the photo is something we can all relate to. It is not only an interesting insight into her perspective, but an especially resonating one because it is hard for an adult to believe a child can understand the abstract notion of behavior effecting who they will be in the future.

Aside from their interesting takes on prose and poetry, one of the most interesting things about 32 Poems is a program that they run called 32 Classrooms. This program works with high school and undergraduate instructors to involve students in the writing community through a variety of contemporary poetry and to engage the students in the practice of literary editing, much like the Words Without Walls program at Chatham University, which focuses on teaching writing to people who are incarcerated or in drug and rehabilitation programs. Students have the opportunity to write poems “that responds to or imitates the work they admire or authoring a writer’s response that analyzes one or more poems from the issue.” These poems are considered for publication on the 32 Poems blog. The editors and contributors of 32 Poems engage students via Skype, or when they can in person, to answer questions on submission and editing processes, while working with each particular class individually to provide materials and assistance as needed. This early involvement in the writing process is sure to benefit students who wish to pursue careers in writing and is one of many ways that 32 Poems promotes a strong writing community.