Henry Finch’s poetry appears in The North American Review, The Sugar House Review, The Massachusetts Review, jubilat, The Seattle Review, Prelude, Forklift Ohio, Transom, The Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Appalachian State University. He lives in Vermont, US, where he is currently translating a collection of stories by Urmuz.
The Polyphony of Poetry Publishing
I find journals and literary magazines the same way I find new music—half are the recommendations from friends (“Oh, you like X, so you’ll like Y”) and half are discovered by reading the liner notes. Following the lead is where the pleasure is found—“What else has X published? Where else can I read their work?” In a jazz album, for example, if I’m particularly crazy about a particular player on a track, I’ll take a look in the liner notes then follow the trail of X. Maybe I’ve never heard of X, so I begin seeking out recordings in which X plays. Discovering music this way weaves these disparate elements into a curiously beautiful quilt. In applying this method to poetry publishing, I am using the liner notes (where a particular poet has published) to get a sense of the curatorial tastes of a journal or literary magazine and following the trail wherever it goes.
I seek out venues for publishing to have my writing reach a wide audience, to be part of a conversation among other writers and readers, and to give my poems (hopefully) the blessing of being in conversation with other poems. Finding these venues is work, yes—a bizarre mixture of tedium and delight—but the potential payoff brings great pleasure. So how best to articulate or describe this process? Put simply, I seek pleasure by way of trust. This method is filled with failures, dead-ends, and fizzles, but having faith in my friends, colleagues, and strangers guarantees surprises. In this way, to trust is to put myself into a mode of autopilot discovery. This is especially true in the context of social media—we share what we enjoy in hopes of sharing our enjoyment. We share our friends’ work when it is published to celebrate our friends and we share our own work to celebrate ourselves. And we share our surprises—known work or stumbled upon writing that we amplify by means our sharing and curating. The beauty of literary magazines, and one great pleasure I take from reading them, is that they give poetry life beyond its real-time duration. They invite me to receive its gifts and to make connections between its covers and beyond.
What excites and urges me to spend time with a journal, and later to submit my own work, is when its arrangement has a sense of music to it. My relationship to poetry—to all of the Arts, maybe even to my life—is based in music. Here, as when I listen to jazz for example, I consider the sequence of songs and the musicians—not solely the standout song or a particular soloist or the biggest name. Then relationships are drawn. One can’t help but to compare. In this way, one poet always leads to another. I might say, “Oh, X was published by such-and-such journal. I really dig X’s work. Maybe I’ll send that journal something of mine.” Admittedly, this is presumptuous and flawed syllogism as best—Journal #1 likes X’s poetry; I like X’s poetry; Therefore, Journal #1 will like my poetry. The danger following this logic through is editing work to align with a particular aesthetic. Poems are in conversation with other poems by default; they don’t need their diction or syntax adjusted to sit at the table.
I was working a job in a school Admission office when Tomaž Šalamun died. In the days that followed, I spent a lot of time with his poetry as way of spending time with him. Most of my work in the Admission office was arranging information packets, so because my hands were busied, I read much of his work online wherever I could kick it up, sitting at the computer and reading as I worked in rote. One morning before lunch I was reading translations of his poems in the online journal Transom. After reading those poems, I decided to peruse a little more. I was familiar with the journal and even fortunate enough to contribute my own poetry to an issue. I decided to just start with the first issue and read forward. It was then I happened upon the staggeringly beautiful poems of Dina Hardy. I heard something in her work that gave/gives me great pleasure, so I searched for more to sustain that feeling. Lucky for me, there was (is!) more work to read online. Even luckier, I was able to write to her and tell her what I heard. This began what continues to be a luxuriant correspondence—sharing of each other’s work and recommendations that range as wide as our mutual generosity allows. This active correspondence has led to the creation of many poems and a wonderful friendship. I live in Maine and Dina lives in Dubai (at this writing). Our sharing and recommendations point us in all sorts of directions, of which publishing is only a minor part. I owe our friendship, our sharing of poetry, our chance meeting in New York City and strolling through the Cloisters, and any other future fruition to Transom and its abundantly generous and sensitive editors, Kiki Petrosino and Dan Rosenburg.
What I mean to suggest in this recollection is that trusting curatorial taste and inserting oneself into the pre-existing page-to-page conversation can lead to incredible things. Participating in the conversation continues the conversation. We complicate and summarize, redirect and stymie, elevate and undermine—all of it beneficial, even if resembles static from a distance. When we read a literary journal or magazine, we are also eavesdropping on the conversation(s) between poems. How does what a poem says change when it speaks before or after a different poem? Yes, we are a poem’s audience when we read it. When we encounter a poem, it presents us with a gift and is the gift. In addition, we are also its vessel beyond the page, its hatch into the unknown room of drunken dinner guests leaning over their digestifs unknowing eager for a poem to emerge from the wall. We read them aloud—to ourselves, to others—and give them a continued path forward. All poems exist and sing simultaneously. It is our task as readers and curators of poems to isolate them and share them in a way that amplifies their a/effects. When I get the sense a journal is doing this, submitting my writing to them is compulsory. Maybe all I want is for my poetry to have part in the polyphony.