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Poets of Franklin County: “Plum,” a new online journal

Editor Jessica Hicks takes a frozen Spanish plum from a bowl during the celebratory launch for the new online literary journal "Plum," held Wednesday, May 15 at Greenfield Community College. The journal takes its name from a Wallace Stevens poem titled, "This Is Just to Say," that begins, "I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in the icebox…" Recorder/Trish Crapo

Editor Jessica Hicks takes a frozen Spanish plum from a bowl during the celebratory launch for the new online literary journal "Plum," held Wednesday, May 15 at Greenfield Community College. The journal takes its name from a Wallace Stevens poem titled, "This Is Just to Say," that begins, "I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in the icebox…" Recorder/Trish Crapo

Frozen Spanish plums glistened in a glass bowl during Wednesday’s celebratory launch of Greenfield Community College’s new online literary journal, a beautiful — and delicious — visual reference to the Williams Carlos Williams’ poem that inspired the journal’s name: “Plum.”

The site, designed by Erica Goleman, GCC’s websmaster, is clean and attractive, with well-chosen photography that augments, rather than illustrates, the journal’s literary content. In addition to publishing poetry, fiction and nonfiction twice a year, “Plum” includes interactive, community-based projects that are updated weekly. Currently, there are two projects: one for magnetic poetry; the other entitled “Apologies,” a project that invited people to send work that told the story of a wrongdoing for which the author was not really sorry.

The “Apologies” project also takes its cue from the same Williams poem, “This Is Just to Say,” that prompted the journal’s title. In a short, well-known poem that reads like a note left on a kitchen table, the speaker admits to having eaten plums from the icebox. But any apology is swept away by the gluttonous reverie at the end: “Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold.”

An editorial board of four students — Jessica Hicks, Erik Risinger, Megan Russell and Abby Connolly — work with three faculty advisors to put together “Plum.” Working on “Plum” was “life-changing” for Risinger.

“I discovered something I really loved doing that I hadn’t known about before,” Risinger said during the reception that followed readings by students, faculty and community members. That “something” was interviewing: Risinger had decided that he wanted to produce a series of interviews of people “who really loved what they did.”

“Plum” faculty advisor Maria Williams-Russell suggested Northampton author Susan Stinson because of the almost “Thoreau-like life” Stinson leads in order to pursue her passion for writing.

In the interview, titled, “How to Fall,” Risinger and Stinson discuss why writing is worth the financial (and other) risks it poses and what to do when despair sets in. Stinson, who was rejected by MFA programs but went on to publish five books, tells Risinger that one way she managed to pull herself from depression when mainstream publishers rejected her newest book, “Spider in a Tree,” was to learn from dancers and martial artists how to fall.

“Like literally, what do you do if someone knocks you down or you’re in a moment when you need to be falling?” Stinson told Risinger in the interview.

Stinson, an award-winning novelist who is currently writer in residence at Forbes Library in Northampton, was a guest reader at the launch. Her novel, “Spider in a Tree,” was accepted by Small Beer Press and is due out this fall.

Stinson praised the quality of the work in “Plum,” adding, “I don’t think there’s anything else in the Valley that’s connected to a college and is open to the community.”

When asked why the editorial board had made this decision, student editor Jessica Hicks, of Rowe, replied with generous logic, “We’re a community college. We represent the community.”

Williams-Russell, who teaches writing and literature at the college, said that community submissions far outweighed those of students or faculty but that the journal ended up being fairly evenly mixed.

In her remarks to the audience, Williams-Russell said that, as faculty advisor, she had the rare, and odd, privilege of hearing her poems discussed by the student editors who, because of “Plum’s” blind editorial process, did not know they were hers.

They rejected one!” Williams-Russell laughed, before reading two poems, “The Cold Miles,” and “Geographical Tongue.”

Though publishing online made the most economic sense to “Plum’s” editors, and increased accessibility for the journal’s potential readers, Hicks felt discouraged by the loss of a printed version. She chose five poems and created a special printed “Best of Plum: Poetry” edition, which many in the audience followed along in during Wednesday’s reading.

Working as an editor for “Plum” counts as a three-credit “directed study” and Williams-Russell said that there are openings for this fall’s editorial board. Interested GCC students should contact her at: williams-russellm@gcc.mass.edu or contact Stephen Poulin at poulins@gcc.mass.edu.

Submissions from western Massachusetts and southern Vermont writers are accepted online year-round. Submission guidelines on the website sum up what the journal’s editors are looking for: “At ‘Plum,’ we are hungry for a clear voice, a fearless honesty, and a unique perspective.” To submit, or just to read the debut edition of “Plum,” go to: http://web.gcc.mass.edu/plum/.

Trish Crapo is seeking published poets for her column. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press. She can be reached at tcrapo@me.com.

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