In Plein Air: The Making of an Anthology
The Call, The Search, The Selection of Poems
The Call: The Call was the easy part: Poetic License Press is seeking poems and two-dimensional art (color or b & w) about the natural world created, at least in part, while outdoors. This anthology is meant to challenge the stereotype of writers holed-up indoors and in their own heads. The Call was also meant to challenge writers (who, indeed, often do hole-up) to GO OUTDOORS. Looking through a window doesn’t qualify.
In Plein Air, the working title for this project, is a nod to the French phrase en plein air, often used to connote painting while outdoors “in open air.” Our beautiful-to-see-and-touch book of art and poetry about the natural world will be physically rooted in the natural world. The mission of Poetic License Press is, after all, to publish creative work that is authentic, accessible, and engaging.
The Search Begins: In late September, 2016, we began circulating the Call to literary colleagues, visual artists, writers’ listservs, and college creative writing departments. The Call listed the deadline for submission as December 15, 2016, with the hope that we could launch the print publication in April, 2017, during National Poetry Month.
The Selection of Poems: Poems began arriving and with them, a proliferation of sparrows and deer, rain and snow, and a preponderance of melancholy. This was the first hint that selection would be difficult, for no matter how good the poems, the anthology and its readers deserve a diversity of landscape, subject matter, and response to the natural world. Format also became a factor in the selection process.
By way of background, in the first two anthologies from Poetic License Press, A Light Breakfast: Poems to Start Your Day and A Midnight Snack: Poems for Late Night Reading, individual poems were printed on card stock and packaged in a coffee bag and snack bag, respectively. Intentionally, the order of poems can be rearranged. Though grouped together, individual poems may be separated and even shared with others by tucking poems into brief cases, birthday cards, and beneath bed pillows. And perhaps because the unifying element was tone rather than theme, the submissions we received were diverse and varied.
For In Plein Air, we envision a beautiful limited edition, bound print publication, and this has required a different balance of coherence and variation in subject matter, landscape, and authorship. An individual poem that was a gorgeous litany of sensory details stood stalwart even without a narrative, but group too many of these poems together, and they fall flat. In Plein Air needed to be animated by the breath of narrative, particularly with stories of human engagement with nature. This became especially clear once we decided that the anthology would contain more poems than the range for a chapbook. We settled on the number 52 (corresponding with the number of weeks in a year), as an organizing principle.
While we initially thought it virtuous to read submissions blind to the identity of poets, we eventually realized that our pool of submitting poets was notably homogeneous. We’ve been curious about whether this is related to the anthology’s outdoor theme and/or our channels for circulating the original Call. We are committed to affording all individuals an opportunity to be heard, seen, and represented and we believe that readers, regardless of their backgrounds, benefit from reading work by writers traditionally disenfranchised.
The Search Continues: And so we continued our search in an effort to meaningfully flesh out In Plein Air and make it a robust collection, without abandoning theme, aesthetic, or commitment to quality writing. This has inevitably meant shifting our anticipated launch date from April, 2017, to later in the spring of 2017. (Spoiler alert: the book is eventually launched in December, 2017.)
We have sought out poems written by men, by people of color, by people with disabilities, and by LGBTQ writers. We looked for poems that depict urban outdoor spaces; poems with a narrative arc; poems set outside the United States; and poems that depict playful, energetic responses to nature. To do so we have read and read and read some more. We sought assistance from individual writers, various presses, and caucuses affiliated with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. And we have thought long and hard about how to balance inclusivity and diversity of poets and poems with the diligence of those poets who submitted their work in response to the initial Call.
The Selection Concludes: Finally, after an extraordinary investment of time and energy fueled by good intent and the responsiveness of so many fine writers, we have finished selecting the poems to be published as part of In Plein Air. We are exhilarated, exhausted, ambivalent about turning away the fine poems that we could not include, and so very proud and delighted about the poems which comprise In Plein Air.
Copies of In Plein Air: poems and drawings of the natural world
are now available for purchase.