Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

Essay on Editing The Valparaiso Poetry Review by Edward Byrne

Valparaiso Poetry Review: Twenty Years of Publication

In the beginning of the 1990s, a new form of communication began to emerge among groups of writers across the country who were exploring the Internet as members of various listserv communities or as avatar characters in virtual meetings online. By today's standards the process was primitive, involving unreliable dial-up connections originating from computers with little memory or coded text messages, necessarily conducted mostly late at night during light usage of phone lines. Some of us would choose to link through the new technology after midnight as online personae ordering drinks and engaging in conversation at a Western-themed virtual reality bar.

During this period before web browsers were introduced to the public, each interaction seemed like an adventure, and we joked about ourselves as technological trailblazers. Indeed, since this activity occurred well before the social media that nowadays commonly includes ample biographical information and various selfie photographs, participants usually did not know much detail--beyond shared samplings from poems or bits of information revealed in quickly typed dialogue--about the backgrounds or appearances of those with whom they conversed.

Therefore, when more than a dozen of us from a group known as the Crew--occasionally called Crewtons (for our listserv identification of Crewrt-L)--agreed to travel and gather in person at the 1996 AWP conference held during spring in Atlanta, a new stage of our online writing community began. Indeed, I remember how delighted we were to identify each other by name tags in hotel lobbies or to find one another at coffee shops for the first in-person meetings at that venue. Soon afterwards, combining a shared feeling for our growing Internet community with the advent of public access to a free Netscape browser in January 1998, a few of us imagined the future path for publishing would expand to electronic media. We believed such a path ahead would involve worldwide distribution of new literature, and we discussed ways to make that happen.

I had already suggested to a few officials at Valparaiso University, including those in the Department of English where I teach, the concept of establishing a print literary journal; however, budgeting limitations made such an expensive proposition prohibitive. Nevertheless, when I approached the department chair at the end of 1998 with a proposal to start an online university-based literary journal at little or no cost, I was granted approval. However, I don't think anyone really knew what shape an electronic magazine would take. In fact, I must admit I was unsure where to begin, and I initially constructed the website by sitting at my computer with a "how-to" book my wife had bought for me as guidance while she had been at the local Staples purchasing typewriter ribbon.

The debut issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review appeared online as a simple page link on the Valparaiso University website near the end of 1999. Since most writers at the time were wary of publishing in an unknown format and many considered such a site as a lesser location for their work, a majority of the poets included in the premiere issue were those members from our online community of writers. Indeed, during the early years I encountered difficulty when attempting to recruit authors for an online journal, especially since those teaching in academia reported their institutions would not recognize online magazines as valid periodicals on tenure or promotion applications.

For more than a decade the submission process was conducted through postal mail rather than electronically, which added to the workload. Although this process also proved beneficial because some of the most prominent poets from whom I solicited work not only had no idea that an online journal existed, but they also did not even engage in exchanging of e-mail. Gradually over the years, due to increasing popularity and familiarity with the Internet along with a development of greater respect for online publications, the amount and the quality of submitted works grew substantially. Eventually, VPR was able to transition to an advanced situation where only e-mail submissions were permitted.   

In the fall of 1999, VPR premiered as one of the early literary magazines pioneering online publishing. Today, I am pleased to report that with the upcoming Spring/Summer 2019 issue (Vol. XX, No. 2) of Valparaiso Poetry Review, scheduled for release in May, the journal will have completed 20 years of publication. Therefore, VPR exists among the longest running national/international online magazines presenting poetry, book reviews, author interviews, and essays, especially when considering the specific category of university electronic literary journals.

Throughout its history, as the journal's prestige and readership increased significantly, so has the enthusiastic response by writers who submit their work. VPR receives approximately 10,000 submissions each year--about 5,000 works to be considered for each issue. Currently, nearly 1,500 works by more than 650 writers have been published. Among these authors are a number of Pulitzer Prize winners, recipients of the National Book Award or National Book Critics Circle Award, and three Poet Laureates of the United States.

In 2010, Pecan Grove Press published Poetry from Paradise Valley, a print anthology of selected works from the first decade of VPR. Among the poets included were David Baker, John Balaban, Jared Carter, Billy Collins, Alfred Corn, Kwame Dawes, Cornelius Eady, Claudia Emerson, Bernardine Evaristo, Patricia Fargnoli, Annie Finch, Daisy Fried, Reginald Gibbons, Jonathan Holden, Allison Joseph, David Kirby, Dorianne Laux, Laurence Lieberman, Frannie Lindsay, William Matthews, Stanley Plumly, Sherod Santos, Dave Smith, Virgil Suarez, Brian Turner, Charles Wright, and many others. The collection was named a finalist for the Best Books of Indiana 2011 as selected by the Indiana Center for the Book by the Indiana State Library. Appearing as a print publication, this anthology reinforced a perceived bridge between the print and electronic media. As the journal's website has always declared, VPR is meant "to serve as a complement to print issues of literary magazines and poetry collections, not as a replacement for those traditional and greatly valued publications."

Since the beginning of VPR's existence, a steady number of new books--approaching
200--released by poets with respected publishers have included Valparaiso Poetry Review among the list of journals on their "Acknowledgments" pages. Nevertheless, as the website guidelines state, an emphasis of the journal has always been to promote "new, emerging, and well-known voices in contemporary poetry alongside one another, and this literary journal offers another opportunity for more readers to discover young or established poets whose writings deserve an even larger audience."

Two decades into this endeavor, I can honestly state that I eagerly look forward to encountering each submission received. I always anticipate the next poem in which I will find lyrical language, a fresh perspective, or evocative imagery to share with readers. Whenever I notice a poem exhibiting a new view of the human condition that causes me to pause and contemplate our place within the world around us, I feel grateful for this gift, and I look forward to displaying it in the journal's pages for others to read.

Maintaining a continuing archive of every work--all poems and prose reviews, author interviews, or essays--published throughout the 20-year history of Valparaiso Poetry Review has been a priority since its start in 1999. This feature with its thousands of pages requires extra effort and creates added complexity. Nevertheless, since every piece appearing in the journal is permanently available and easily accessible to readers through its own link, the overall readership is vastly expanded.

Every issue also spotlights an ongoing Recent and Recommended Books list derived from review copies offered by publishers. Additionally, for about a decade I wrote a daily literary blog--One Poet's Notes, which continues to be available online--as a companion piece to VPR. One Poet's Notes provides commentary, supplemental mini-reviews, or items of literary news complementing work appearing in the journal's pages as well as assisting in promotion of VPR's contents to a much larger audience.

Consequently, I am pleased to note Valparaiso Poetry Review appears to have achieved the promise of that somewhat ambitious yet ambiguous proposal I once offered more than two decades ago: aiming to establish a reputable online university-based literary journal with extensive reach to readers, nationally and internationally. Moreover, following the model of VPR, my colleague Jon Bull and I began a sister publication for short stories as co-editors in 2011, Valparaiso Fiction Review, which has earned its own growing share of readership and respect.

I hope the evident longevity and success enjoyed by Valparaiso Poetry Review thus far encourage even more writers to submit their poetry and invite more readers to find the fine work of the poets within the journal's pages.

Edward Byrne, author of eight collections of poetry and editor of two anthologies, has had his poetry, prose, or photography appear widely in literary journals and magazines. He is a professor in the Department of English at Valparaiso University, where he edits Valparaiso Poetry Review and co-edits Valparaiso Fiction Review.

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