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Poets of Franklin County

Poets of Franklin County: Shape & Nature

Local poets, gather your poems! Shape & Nature, a new “creative projects press,” is holding a book contest for its 2012 “Things to Come” Poetry Prize. You’ve got 2 1∕2 weeks to submit a manuscript of 50 to 75 pages. No problem, right? You’ve got drawers and folders full of poems.

The winner of the Shape & Nature contest will receive publication plus a $1,000 prize. All contestants receive a copy of the winning book. The contest, which has been accepting submissions since Sept. 1, closes Nov. 1. Hawley poet Pamela Stewart, author of six full-length poetry books, a university writing professor and Guggenheim fellow, will judge.

“She’s going to pick what she thinks is the best manuscript despite style, genre, whatever,” Shape & Nature editor Maria Williams-Russell said, adding that the field for submissions is wide open. “Even though we’re a press that’s a little bit out of the box and doing different things with our projects, people shouldn’t feel their work is too straight forward (to submit).”

Shape & Nature was founded in 2010 by poets Willams-Russell of Greenfield and Janet MacFadyen of Shutesbury. Last summer, Julia Bouwsma left her job as managing editor of Alice James Books, a well-known cooperative poetry press in Farmington, Maine, in order to have more time for her own work but ended up joining the editorial board of Shape & Nature instead.

“I seem to have trouble keeping my hands out of publishing even when I say I’m going to take time off to do my own writing,” Bouwsma admitted. “I really wanted to help Maria with Shape & Nature because it seemed like such an exciting new project.”

What’s so exciting about Shape & Nature is its editors’ curiosity to explore and dissolve the boundaries of traditional publishing by taking on what their website describes as “innovative projects that engage readers in new ways.” The press’s “Favorite Words” project, featured in this column about a year ago, collected words from people of all ages and published them on T-shirts, bumper stickers and, finally, in a book.

“Flaneur Walks,” a project currently in the planning stages, takes a cue from 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, who popularized the concept of the “flaneur,” a person who walks a city in order to know it. For this project, poets, artists and writers will be chosen to create content for letterpress pamphlets that will provide “poetic/conceptual walking tours” of cities for others to follow.

“We’re really looking to find the intersection between words and landscape,” Williams-Russell said. The project explodes the idea of “the poetry of place” by actually putting the reader in a place. This is no armchair experience. This is poetry (or art, or other writing, Williams-Russell was careful to point out), taken quite literally to the streets. “Anybody would be able to grab that pamphlet and take the walk and be changed by it,” she said.

In contrast, the Things to Come 2012 Poetry Prize is a fairly plain-and-simple book contest, run on what Williams-Russell called, “the working model for book contests.” She and Bouwsma hope to establish the book contest as an annual event that can ground other projects, which often take the editors in myriad directions and require defining new criteria each time.

Wondering what the criteria might be this time?

In a written interview with Shape & Nature editors, judge Pamela Stewart writes, “I’m drawn to imagery, ‘psychological’ or mythic undertones, a nice hint of darkness perhaps, small stories, poems which grin at themselves without being cutesy, words that bang up against each other to surprise me and always poems where I feel my heart is momentarily touched, or grown wiser. My brain can be fascinated or delighted, but raising an emotion which had been hidden from me — well, that’s what I really appreciate.”

For more information about Shape & Nature, including full submission guidelines and the full text of Stewart’s interview, visit: www.shapeandnature.com

Hear Shape & Nature Editors Read at GAWF in Greenfield tonight

Julia Bouwsma, Janet MacFadyen,
Carolyn Cushing and Maria Williams-Russell
will be reading as part of the Greenfield Annual Word Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, 6:30 p.m., All Soul’s Church, 399 Main St., Greenfield.

For more information visit:
www.gawfest.org

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. One of the founders of Slate Roof, a member-run press publishing western Massachusetts poets, her chapbook “Walk through Paradise Backwards” was published by the press in 2004. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, in journals such as Southern Poetry Review and in Ted Kooser’s national column, “An American Life in Poetry.”

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