e-mail us

Inside NCR

Poetry outpouring prompts ground rules

In the Dec. 18, 1998, issue we announced, right on this page, that, yes, one thing this struggling, self-doubting, out-of-breath country needs right now is poetry, and NCR would consider publishing the noble stuff. It would all depend on our readers was our gist. Without getting overly poetic, the response was stupendous. Several readers wrote to praise or warn us. “The deluge of pent-up poetic frustrations of your many readers will flood Kansas City,” went a typical letter. And true enough, dozens of poets sent hundreds of poems. Our poetry troika of Gill Donovan, Patty McCarty and yours truly has been meeting in emergency session to catch up with it all.

The first fruits may be read in POETRY. More will follow soon.

Success can be a wild animal betimes. The outpouring has been so great, we need to make a few ground rules we never thought would be necessary (Managing Editor Tom Roberts, who is conspicuously absent from the poetry elite, has been snickering at the very idea of making rules for something as free and airy as poetry, but any good poet can tell him -- please! -- that poetry is indeed bound about by its own elegant constraints and is quite familiar with ground rules). For now these are the rules that come to mind. Write them down:

No more than three poems per poet at a time (no books please).

Epic long ones will probably get short shrift -- NCR still needs space for articles about the real world (ask Tom Roberts).

If you wish to hear from us or get your poems back, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope; otherwise wait until you see your poem in the paper, if it appears.

The poets we publish will be paid parsimoniously. If you want to be paid, please send your Social Security number.

For starters, we aim to have a poetry space every two weeks, probably moving eventually to once a month. But this, like everything else, is subject to review.

We are looking for good poetry, whatever that is. It may be lyrical or whimsical or something else, blatantly religious or divine by stealth. Poets who don’t get published in our limited space will, we hope, understand that our verdict is subjective and fallible, and it is quite conceivable that masterpieces may slip through our various fingers. Poetry, like all art, and nearly everything else, is subject to trends and the whims of the Zeitgeist. So if yours doesn’t make it here, it may be only a trend away from far greater fame and fortune in the future.

There are centuries of testimony to affirm that poetry does matter. And today’s anecdotal evidence confirms this. Jack Sullivan from Chicago wrote of what a difference it can make, a difference the poet may never know about. Many years ago, NCR printed a column by Myma M. Oliver who wrote, “In another teary moment concerning my advancing years, I composed a poem for my husband.” She quoted from it:

I cannot be your Spring; I am your Fall.
Spring is full of promises, hope,
But it rarely delivers:
A few good days and it jumps into Summer.
Ah! But Fall, Fall lingers. ...

Sullivan comments: “I still have the now-yellowed clipping and each year write those words on an anniversary card to my wife. I would like Myma M. Oliver, wherever she is, to know how much insight she gave to the Autumn years of our marriage. Good poetry lasts and lives.”

Last October and November, eight students in a Xavier University news reporting class spent time in New Orleans’ public schools, magnet and non-magnet. They chronicle the shameful inequalities they discovered. The Xavier students are all African-Americans who attended public schools and made it into college when recent studies show black enrollment in Southern states is either plateauing or declining. Here are some interesting things they said about themselves and their high school experiences:

Jarrod Jones, junior, mass communications major. “My school stressed good grades. I got to take senior year courses that gave me a feel for college-type work. They also taught me how to study on a college level.” Career goal: journalist.

Bernard McGhee, junior, mass communications. “Mine was your typical small town public school with a pretty good mix of students when it came to race. The school definitely prepared me for college but didn’t have much to do with that decision. That came from my parents and the realization that you can’t get a good job without a college degree these days.” Career goal: journalist/author.

Tammicka Logan, junior, mass communications. “The school did prepare me for college and did shelter us as students. Our school was a little strict on things like social activities and attire. My college motivation stemmed from my parents and my will to become a well-educated person.” Career goal: sports reporter.

Chari Patterson, senior, psychology. “The academy I attended is definitely college preparatory -- you take a test to get in. My parents are college-educated, and I never saw not going as an option. The only problem I see with a rigid curriculum like Mays had is that you can never be satisfied. You can hardly appreciate one achievement before moving on to another.” Career goal: psychologist.

Janelle Perrilliat, junior, mass communications. “My personal aspiration and my mother’s insistence led me to attend Xavier. Going to Xavier’s summer programs helped me realize that this was where I wanted to be. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to go to college for, so I decided to just go and figure that out later.” Career goal: photographer.

Viebica Stokley, junior, mass communications. “I think Avondale prepared me well for college and I don’t know that I would have been afforded the same opportunities at a non-magnet school. Making a decision to go to college was never an issue. It just seemed natural after struggling through all those difficult courses.” Career goal: journalist.

Andria Washington, junior, art. “My school was very effective at preparing me for college. However, due to the small percentage of African-American students, the school was lacking a lot of material on black heritage and culture. In each class, I was one of the few minority students, if not the only one. After attending almost all-white schools, I was highly motivated to go to a historically black university.” Career goal: graphics designer.

James Williams, senior, mass communications. “Teachers, counselors and administrators encouraged students to put their best foot forward and didn’t tolerate disobedience. Overall, we had a very well-mannered group of students that were serious about their education and wanted to further it. Being a failure didn’t seem to be a part of my future plans.” Career goal: music promoter.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, January 22, 1999