Tenth Anniversary Issue: A Tribute to Guest Editors
Volume 11:1, Winter 2010
Guest Editor, “The Distinguishing Voice,” Fall 2000
“When Kim asked if I would guest-edit the fourth issue of Beltway Poetry in 2000, I didnt hesitate. Yes! Of course, Id love to, I said enthusiastically. I had last edited a magazine in 1977that was the final issue of Dryad: at 144 pages and more than 40 poets and reviewers, I remember it feeling like a monster that took too long to subdue. Though my editing role for Beltway was in comparison to be modestI could select five poets, each with a handful of poemsthe chance to do so must have appealed to my nostalgia for little magazine editing; it was also the chance to seek out poets whose work I had some knowledge of but who had published little. And unlike most magazines, with each poet having four or five poems, a reader could get some feeling for that writers voice. I began by making a list of poets whose work I knew to varying degrees, from a little, like John Clarkes, to those I had a greater familiarity with, like the work Henry Allen, Jack Greer, Jean Johnson, and Saundra Rose Maley. Many poets around Washington were on John Clarkes e-mail list from the Library of Congress, gratefully receiving his regular postings of poems and announcements. But few knew John as a poeteven I had only read two or three poems. What a wonderful surprise when I asked him for ten poems and was able to select among them. The same with Henry AllenThe Washington Posts premier critic then of American culture, with a Pulitzer Prize later for his photography criticism, few knew Henrys edgy, sometimes sardonic, and wildly comic poems; and Saundra Maley, who went on to guest edit The Whitman Issue in 2004. Id known Saundra first as a student in the mid-70s at Maryland and published two of her skinny evocative poems in Dryad, one of them in that last issue of Dryad. Except for some of her friends, few knew her poetryBeltway was the chance to broadcast her work beyond her friends.
While it was personally satisfying to introduce the work of these poets, I came to realize more recently that I was an early participant in what has become a unique poetic enterprise. There are many online magazines of course but what Beltway has done over these ten yearsand may it continue for another ten!is to ingather poets from the Washington area and give their heterogeneous voices a home. In doing so, Kim Robertss Beltway and those she has called upon for help, have created an expanding communitythis is unlike print magazines, which get shelved not to long after their initial publication. In Beltway, the poets and their work remain online and always available. Not only contemporaries of course but the work of poets who have lived in Washington or passed through for a time and left their markUS Poets Laureate and especially forebears (an inspired idea) such as Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, May Miller, Gwendolyn Brooks, O.B. Hardison, let alone Walt Whitman; these forebears give dimension and enrich by giving us a poetic history, thereby joining the past and present. I have to add that I was fortunate to contribute to the forebears issue by writing about the poetry of O.B. Hardisonhow else would I have had the occasion to introduce the richness of his work that others can now experience.
I dont know that Kim could have foreseen what Beltway has become for so many poets and for poetry in Washington over this decade. Look into the archives, move around among the many voices herediscover how a community gives a home to such diversity.”
From the Editor:
“The very first guest editor, in 2000, was Merrill Leffler. Leffler was an obvious first choice for me, because his work as the publisher of Dryad Magazine and later Dryad Press was so instrumental to the growth of the literary community in the greater DC region. Leffler has always willingly given me advice, and I hope I don’t embarrass him by admitting here that I consider him a hero and a role model. I was thrilled when he agreed to guest edit an issue, and his was a terrific start to the tradition of bringing in someone else to edit at least one issue each year. Merrill’s poems were featured in the first issue of the journal (Vol. 1:1, Winter 2000), and his guest edited issue was released later that year. He has contributed essays to two of the bi-annual literary history issues, with important pieces on O.B. Hardison, Jr. and Gabrielle Edgcomb. In addition, turning the tables, Richard Peabody wrote about Merrill’s contributions as an editor in his essay, Three DC Editors (published in 2006).”
THE INDEFATIGABLE IT
It is everywhere and potentially
The basis of being, a form of non-structured
Structure that will inspire a great deal of trust
If you allow yourself to trust It.
Everyone has the capacity to know It.
While many emphasize the absence of It
Once you have accepted and internalized It
It will coalesce into a vision.
It offers a uniqueness. In the beginning
It was quite small.
No more. It can prevail
But It is up to you. It can make or break
An organization, a community,
Even a country. While you can take courses in It
The learning that characterizes It
Can only come through action on behalf of It.
You may feel a little stiff about It
At first and sometimes disturbed by the sound of It.
Dont worry. It is easy to make adjustments to.
You will be able to make decisions and even to judge
People (i.e., next door neighbors) on the basis of It.
If you do not experience the fullness of It
Probably foreign factors have come together
To prevent you from wholly embracing It
To be successful, you must rehearse It
Until you bring It alive, until It becomes
So much a part of you that you finally become It.
Here in this hall the poems are primping
themselves and tidying up their I-ams,
dolled-up as all get out. The depressed,
the lonely, the cuckolded, the needy,
the seekers, the failed suicides and more.
Heres one whos suffered greatly
at the hands of fate and one
who loved forlornly and was left
on a two-lane road and told to scram
or hed have his last syllables kicked
out of him. Now comes another who left
his fathers house, like Abraham
a wanderer forever in deserts
of the forsaken And heres Odysseus
in all his pride, he who scudded
the lonely wine-dark despairing seas
fucking and killing in one bleak episode
All of them, here,
among memorys ruins, all of them
seeking solace, each one seeking you and me,
or anyone who will only take notice
Here at the windows ledge
a sparrows pecking for crumbs that Id not noticed.
OK I say (to myself), youre there on one side
of the divide and Im here on the other
youre under the high blue and Im under
a low roof here in Takoma ParkIm pecking too.
Its clear what youre after. And me?
Perhaps I just want to see you as you are, sparrow,
To celebrate you. Maybe Ill contrast your ordinariness
with mine, your small brown wings
with my earthbound lack of them. I dont know.
It could beof course it isthat I want these words to rise
like you will, sparrow, into the skys spring blue
to fly high heigh-ho soaring over my own low roof.
The mind wears many hats.
If you think the I standing before you
doesnt want to seduce your attention
and hold you close to the erratic beating
of its heart; if you think its not in performance now
for your applause and approbation,
that its not needy or demanding
and doesnt want more than it knows its entitled to
and wont pull from its hat every available trick
if necessary: its brooding, solitary
soulfuness or its comic shtick or both
in the glaring light or not whatever it takes
then think all this if you will.
But friend, look yourself in the mirror.
Show me we are not an assemblage of misery and joy,
of lust, desire, ambition and fear, of every need
that has clung since we were first thrust into this dark
resplendent world, that all our stunting
our juggling and somersaults, all our art and philosophy
want nothing from each other and is not a performance.
Friend, mon semblable, astonish me.
Merrill Leffler is the author of three books of poems: Mark the Music (2012), Take Hold (1997), and Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love (1984). The publisher of Dryad Press, which has been publishing literary books since 1975, he has also guest edited issues of such literary journals as Poet Lore, Shirim, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. One of the founders of The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Leffler taught literature at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Naval Academy until the early 1980s, and for more than 20 years was a science writer at the University of Maryland Sea Grant Program, which focuses on issues related to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. He lives with his wife Ann Slayton in Takoma Park, Maryland, where he served as Poet Laureate, 2011-2018. To read more by this author: Merrill Leffler:Winter 2000 Merrill Leffler's Introduction to "The Distinguishing Voice" Issue, Fall 2000 Merrill Leffler on O.B. Hardison, Jr.: Memorial Issue Three DC Editors: Richard Peabody on Merrill Leffler: Profiles Issue Merrill Leffler on Gabrielle Edgcomb: Profiles Issue