I’m pleased to announce that Wendy Winn has joined The Vincent Brothers Review as our new poetry editor, effective July 1st.
Winn’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in several back issues of TVBR, including in our most recent print issue—#24, themed “Changes.” Beyond her print appearances, Winn has been one of TVBR’s staunchest supporters though she’s lived in Europe since before our inception in 1988, helping us gain readers via word of mouth through her variety of creative writing activities and her radio show at Radio ARA in Luxembourg. In addition to her web editing duties for the European Commission, Winn is an accomplished, exhibited painter, and yoga instructor, and she will assist Billy Collins at the 2023 Southhampton Writers Conference.
Widely published in both the US and abroad, Winn’s first chapbook Train of Thought—a collection of poems observing fellow train passengers and commuter experiences—was published in 2021. Winn studied literature and creative writing at Wright State University in the early 80s with associate editor Michelle Whitley Turner and me, where we learned the importance of exhaustive research, fact-checking, rewriting, and self-editing as part of the creative writing process, skills we aim to emphasize moving forward with our new issues.
We welcome Winn’s enthusiasm, attention to detail, and openness to exploring the poetic form, both old and brand-spanking new. Like Mark Strand, Winn eats poetry. We welcome her to the table.
Before heading out en route to Southhampton Writers Conference, Winn sent us a note to share with you:
I’ve been a huge fan of The Vincent Brothers Review since its first edition appeared in 1988, contributing to its early issues. I have hung on to dogeared, well-loved copies from decades ago, and even have Issue #14 tucked in along with my vast collection of cookbooks for that issue’s recipe for red lentil pasta, which I know by heart—TVBR used to run a regular feature on cooking and herbs— but I still like to get it out and look at the pages. It’s like having a cup of coffee with an old friend.
An old friend, though, who hasn’t settled and isn’t still wearing shoulder pads and leg warmers, but has tried a side-shaved haircut and got a tattoo of the fierce female warrior Boudica on her left shoulder. TVBR has continually grown and innovated; it’s published sensational new writing from established or emerging poets whose works resonate and reverberate. I’ve been impressed with their contributing writers’ bios over the years, but even more so with the quality of their poetry. This is high calibre, quality writing—in a literary magazine that deserves its excellent reputation as one of the best independent lit mags in the United States.
That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining TVBR editorial staff as poetry editor, and also why I’m terrified. Given the poetry I have found in TVBR over the years, I already know I will be inundated with gorgeous writing that cracks open my skull and pokes me hard in the heart. That’s the fantastic part of the job. The hard part will be deciding which of these great poems to select for publication.
What criteria will I be using? How on earth am I going to proceed? It’s not as if I’m going to be checking math equations; it’s not as if there are definite rights and wrongs here. Poetry is not an exact science and the decisions will be subjective. As a poet, I know that subjectivity can feel a little unfair, but to my credit, my “subjective” opinion about what constitutes “good” poetry is pretty wide open. My tastes are diverse, apparent by the range of cookbooks in my kitchen, and also in my choice of reading. At present, I’m reading Zane Grey, having recently discovered an essay my grandmother wrote “On being an Easterner” and how she read Grey and dreamed of “galloping at break-neck speed over a mountain trail.” It’s not my usual fare, but I love feeling connected to my grandmother by reading the same lines she read, knowing now she felt intended to be a “Colorado Rough-Rider Buckeroo.” Born in upstate New York, she moved to Florida when my mom was ten and stayed there, but she always had something of a Wild West spirit and now I know partly where it comes from and who to credit or blame—ah, the power of words! I’m also currently re-reading the Poetry 180 Collection ahead of Billy Collins’s workshop at the Southampton Writers Conference, where I am sure to be beguiled and enthralled by writers of every stripe, both the famous ones giving lectures and my fellow workshop attendees there to hone their craft and absorb.
That said, I know what I love and don’t love. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, I think a good poem should appeal to the heart, the mind and the ear. That might sound like a tall order, but test some of your favorites out and you’ll see they fill it. A pretty good poem could appeal to just two, and an amusing one can appeal to just one. I’m thinking of a few of the ones I always have at the tip of my tongue, including that ditty recited in a strong Brooklyn accent, “Toity pupple boids, a sitting on the curb, a chirpin and a burpin’ and a eating dirty worms.” My ears love it, but it doesn’t warm my heart or make me reflect on higher things.
What I don’t like so much? When I suspect the poet is not being honest, or is being lazy, or showing off. I write poetry myself, so I know that sometimes a poem will veer off and end up going somewhere you didn’t mean it to, like being backed into a corner while mopping. When the emotions aren’t the poet’s, they’re counterfeit. The poet has to have to courage to back up and take a harder look, even if it means peering into dark places, especially if it does. That’s the honesty part.
The lazy part is using language and images we’ve all heard so much they don’t conjure up anything fresh; they don’t spray us with a water pistol or pull our hair. I am not looking for the shocking or the dramatic—I would rather read about the leaky faucet drip of rain or a garden-hose gush of rain rather than how it rained cats and dogs, which it tends to do much too often.
Now about the show-offs. Sometimes I read poems that display an extensive vocabulary and excellent knowledge in general, with references to other literary works, history, all the sciences, and everything on display in the British Museum. The reader practically needs a GPS to get through them, which I don’t mind if it leads me to an astounding view or a fantastic, unexpected venue where I can sit down, have a sandwich, and chew it over for a while. But if a poet makes me work that hard, there ought to be more of a reward than just the feeling, wow, this poet is one educated son of a gun—just not a particularly memorable poet.
Those, for the record, would be my pet peeves. I’m putting them out there to help fellow poets interested in submitting their work to TVBR. I feel that saying I like everything might be a bit too vague, but I don’t think poets submitting to TVBR need any guidance except for this: read some back issues and TVBR online. Open yourself to inspiration. See what poetry is capable of, aim high, write because you love to write, and don’t let anyone in the world—not even the new poetry editor of TVBR—ever make you doubt yourself. You do have something to say; you have a unique voice and ought to share your work with others because that’s what life’s all about—creating, communicating, exploring, daring to feel, and double-dog-daring to let others know what you are experiencing. If I should have to say “No” to you in my new role, please tell yourself one hundred times “Yes,” and keep going.
If I can help you publish your work, I’m honored to be the intermediary and grateful to you for trusting me and TVBR with your work. I can’t wait to dig in and be surprised by your poems, taste them, and let them nourish and change me. Thank you for inviting me to the table.