by Paul Seibert and Beth Gordon
A former Metro resident, Beth Gordon is a poet, mother and grandmother currently living in Asheville, NC. Her poems have been published in numerous journals and nominated for Best of the Net, Pushcart and the Orison Anthology. She is the author of two chapbooks: Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe (Animal Heart Press) and Particularly Dangerous Situation (Clare Songbirds Publishing). She is Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn and Assistant Editor/Logistics Manager of Animal Heart Press.
Beth Gordon has been a contributing word artist to Gesso Magazine and Governor French Gallery for over a decade. Beth is now the Managing Editor of “Feral – A Journal of Poetry and Art”. Issue #1 appeared in April 2020. Issue #7 appeared in April of this year.
As a long-time Gesso friend and contributor, I asked Beth a few questions about her life and poetic passion. Here is what she had to say:
Where do you get your inspiration for writing poetry?
I’ve been reading poetry since I was 3 years old (if Mother Goose Rhymes count as poetry) and wrote my first poem when I was 7. Like many creatives, I was drawn to a particular form of art (writing) and a particular genre (poetry) without being able to express exactly why that is. I grew up in a house of books and music, with parents that were not artists but encouraged my creative endeavors, and poetry just made sense to my brain. Although I’m an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, I’ve never considered writing a novel or a memoir. The way I enter language in a poem has an almost instinctual quality to it.
I received my MFA in Creative Writing from American University in Washington DC in 1990. By the time I completed the degree I was married with my first child. And although I had a mostly positive experience studying at American University, I left there knowing that academia was not my path. One, it required teaching, and at the time I had an intense and debilitating fear of speaking in front of an audience. And beyond academia, it was not clear to me where or how a poet would make a living.
And then life took over, the way it does. I went on to have two more children, a full-time job, and all the responsibilities that go with being a “productive adult” in our society. Over the years, I would return to poetry every now and then. Take a workshop or submit some poems to a journal (back when you mailed those in with a SASE). And by the mid-2000s I had made peace with myself that this wasn’t going to happen. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe I didn’t want it enough.
Then in 2013, my life changed in a single, tragic instant. My daughter and 7-month-old granddaughter were living with me in Clayton, MO and on November 6, my daughter put my granddaughter to bed – and she fell asleep and didn’t wake up. Later, the death certificate would state SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) as the cause of death which is what used to be called crib death. I could write pages and pages about the months that followed but for the purposes of this story, I’ll just say that four months later I met a person who would change my life by leading me back to poetry – John Dorroh (JD).
JD and I met at a gathering in March of 2014 following another funeral and I learned he was a writer. Within two weeks of meeting him, I had written the first poem I’d written in years. Within a year, JD and I were meeting on a regular basis to write (usually at his home in Highland, IL). Writing poetry became my way of processing grief and JD’s friendship was incredibly important to my healing because he was willing to witness that grief.
How did writing poetry translate into publishing this periodical?
After two years of writing a lot of (mostly) mediocre poetry and drinking a lot of red wine, JD and I noticed that our writing skills were improving. It’s like any art form – the more you practice, the better you get. And we decided to start submitting our poems to journals for possible publication. The literary journal landscape had changed dramatically since 1990 in that there were still many traditional poetry journals that were connected to universities; but there was a large and growing number of independent journals who published both print issues and (importantly for newbies) online issues. In 2017/2018 JD and I were rewarded for our efforts with numerous poems being published which only increased our commitment to keep writing and improving our craft. During this time, we also started a Poetry and Wine reading series in Grafton, IL which went a long way to helping me decrease my stage fright (it has never gone away but I know how to manage it).
In 2019, I was invited to read with a group of other poets in Brooklyn, NY. I was hesitant to do it because JD could not attend with me, but he encouraged me to go and, in fact, told me that doing so would “change my life.” And it did. It was in Brooklyn that I met Elisabeth Horan, the EIC of Animal Heart Press (AHP) who would publish my first chapbook, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast, and Parallel Universe, in May of 2019 and then asked me to join AHP which I did in October of 2019 (after moving to Asheville NC to be closer to my parents). During 2018-2019 I had also joined an online journal, Gone Lawn, as their Poetry Editor, where I learned a great deal from the EIC, Owen Kaelan, about what goes into not just selecting pieces for a journal but putting a whole issue together.
In late 2019 I mentioned to my co-editors at AHP, Elisabeth Horan and Amanda McLeod, that I hoped one day to start my own poetry journal. Much to my surprise they told me they had been wanting to start a journal as an extension of AHP and wanted me to be Managing Editor. So, off we went and published our first issue of Feral: A Journal of Poetry and Art in April 2020 (yes in the middle of the pandemic).
A few things about Feral. One, we are committed to publishing new and more established poets. This will never change. While we want to publish great poetry and art, we do not want to become “exclusive.” Second, we are committed to diversity in all forms and if you read the bios of our contributors you will see that we have kept that commitment. And finally, in keeping with the mission of Animal Heart Press as a whole, we treat all our contributors and potential contributors with kindness and respect, even when we pass on their work.
Where / how do you get the submissions of poetry and visual arts?
Despite all the bad press, social media can be your friend. We have Twitter and Facebook accounts for Feral and announce all our open submission periods as well as promote each issue through these channels. I know AHP also has an Instagram account, and one is coming soon for Feral. We accept all submissions via email, and I use a spreadsheet to track submissions. There is a tool called Submittable, but we do not have the budget for it, and we typically receive about 225 submission per cycle which is still manageable. If/when we get bigger, we will revisit using a more sophisticated tool to manage this process.
How do you make the pairing of literary and visual artworks?
We are truly a journal of both poetry and art which is really because of my co-editor, Amanda McLeod, who is a writer and visual artist. When she suggested that Feral include art, my expectation was that we would have mostly poetry with a few pieces of art scattered throughout. Amanda had a different idea, as you can see if you look at any issue of Feral. Amanda is the matchmaker between the poetry and art, and I don’t know how she does her magic…I just know that the result has earned us a reputation for the pairings. It was also Amanda’s idea that in addition to being an online journal, we create a print version. All the content of Feral will always be available at no cost to our contributors and readers; but we know that some people really like to have that physical copy and so all of our issues are available to order in print.
Of course, where, and when can readers find your publication?
There you can find our submission windows (and themes), as well as read all our issues, current and past. We just released Issue 7 on April 1 with the theme of WEATHER.
Our next submission window is from April 7 – May 7 and this issue will be unthemed. For anyone interested, please read the submission guidelines (FeralPoetry.net/submissions/) and then submit!
FERAL: A Journal of Poetry and Art is run by a small but passionate team of volunteers intent on finding and sharing quality poetry and visual art.