Prestigious Journal Includes Rockford U. Poet

Nov 13, 2014

This week WNIJ is highlighting shorter literary works from northern Illinois authors. Today, we welcome back Susan Azar Porterfield, who has two new poems in the Barrow Street Journal. Poems appearing in this journal often have been selected for the Best American Poetry anthology, including works by former poet laureate Billy Collins.

"I'm absolutely thrilled to be `in the family,' as they say," says Porterfield. "Barrow Street is out of New York, and they're quite serious."

Aside from the prestige, there's an emotional payoff from convincing a journal editor to accept your work. "You have made a connection," Porterfield says, "with somebody who isn't your mother, who isn't your spouse or a friend. It's completely anonymous except for the poem."

That connection, she says, is the most satisfying part of the experience.

Susan Azar Porterfield
Credit Dan Klefstad

The selected poems include one about a teenaged friend who's questioning her sexuality. "For Cyd at Fifteen, Who Says She May Be Bisexual" re-examines adages and cliches, such as "a rolling stone gathers no moss."

The poem invites Cyd, and the reader, to create their own adages:

Cats won't eat citrus be your own barber

shoes can't be hats three's a perfect number

if it looks nice in the window it'll probably break your heart

both moss and stone can roll along together

just fine.

This poem, and another called "Feeder," appear in the December edition of the Barrow Street Journal.

Porterfield has experience on both sides of the submission process. Herself an editor at Fifth Wednesday Journal, she knows that publishers want external proof of a poem's merits.

"Even if there's a poem that we really love, and the author hasn't published much, we'll probably take it," she says. "But you like to see what kind of credibility they have. So if they list that they've been published in Poetry Magazine or the Harvard Review, then you think, `Oh, we're right to think that this poem is something we should publish'."

Success begets success. That's one adage that's hard to disprove in the publishing industry. "You're unlikely to get published in a prestigious journal right away," Porterfield says. "It does happen, but mostly you have to make your way there."

Dr. Porterfield is a professor of English at Rockford University. She lives in DeKalb.

Our "Fall Book Bites" series wraps up Friday when Molly McNett reads from and discusses "La Pulchra Nota," which appears in this year's edition of Best American Short Stories. Listen during Morning Edition at 6:34 and 8:34. Then come back here for more content, including the author reading her work.

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