TOPS Membership Anthologies: Poetic Teamwork

 

“The rewards of participating in one of our anthologies are many.” – Fran Figge, President, The Ontario Poetry Society

Are you an emerging or professional poet who enjoys contributing to group projects? Being a member of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) has its perks. Each year the executive of this grassroots, poetry-friendly organization brainstorms ideas and book titles before finalizing the submission call themes for its upcoming annual membership anthology. Their goal is to stimulate creativity and to celebrate and showcase the poetic work of its members, no matter where each poet stands in his/her writing career.

The Ontario Poetry Society has published several membership anthologies showcasing both emerging and professional poets. Previous editors/compilers have included such Canadian poets as Norma West Linder, John B. Lee, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Ronnie R. Brown and more.

The Ontario Poetry Society (with the assistance of Beret Days Press) has published several membership anthologies showcasing both emerging and professional poets. Previous editors/compilers have included such Canadian poets as Norma West Linder, John B. Lee, Kate Marshall Flaherty, Ronnie R. Brown and more.

Last year’s SCARLET THISTLES anthology published by Beret Days Press, edited and compiled by Fran Figge with photography by Lynn Tait and layout/design by Mark Clement was a huge success thanks to the editorial/production team as well as the contributors. (Disclaimer: As a former executive member of TOPS, of course, I’m going to applaud the positive attributes of this book. TOPS is an organization I strongly believe in. However, my comments are also based on statistic facts.)

Fran Figge, editor/compiler of SCARLET THISTLES, the largest TOPS membership anthology produced to date.

Fran Figge, editor/compiler of SCARLET THISTLES, the largest TOPS membership anthology produced to date.

According to Figge’s foreword, the 2014 anthology contained “the most contributors of any of our anthologies so far.” Eighty-nine members submitted over 650 poems, with 250 poems eventually selected for the final project. (A list of contributors appears here. ) Poems were divided into five sections: Blood Soaked Grounds, Slash and Burn, Cruel Cuts, Lighting the Dark, and Healing Hurts.

Figge stresses that “good writing brings the reader back again and again.” Those were the poems she was drawn to and those are the poems she recommends poets should submit for future projects like the upcoming MINDSHADOWS membership anthology.

As this year’s editor/compiler, I agree with Figge and would encourage contributors to submit their best work such as award-winning poems or work previously published and accepted by other magazines. Please double check and ensure you own the copyright and reprint rights, Such poems showcase what TOPS members are capable of achieving.

If you’re a new poet hesitating with submitting work for the first time, you’re not alone. Many poets started their writing careers with these anthology projects. Feel free to ask for editorial help from a fellow poet or attend a local writer’s group for constructive advice.

Sometimes it’s fun to create new work specifically for the theme. For example, this 2015 collection will explore the times and events which plague our thoughts. Consider topics associated with Mind Games, Night Life, Shadows & Hauntings and Lighting the Dark but don’t wait too long.

Working hard behind the scenes: Mark Clement, TOPS layout designer/webmaster.

Working hard behind the scenes: Mark Clement, TOPS layout designer/webmaster.

The March 15, 2015 deadline is fast approaching. Submission guidelines can be found here. Remember the call is only open to members of The Ontario Poetry Society. Members do not need to be Ontario residents. Special thanks to Canadian poets Elana Wolff and Katerina Fretwell who will provide illustrations for the book and Mark Clement who will be responsible for the design and layout.

Below are additional insights shared by Figge in an e-mail interview.

In your role as President and as the editor of SCARLET THISTLES what do you feel are the benefits of submitting work and participating in the membership anthology?

The rewards of participating in one of our anthologies are many. Not only do you have an incentive, a focus to write poems for a specific topic, but there is not the same pressure or uncertainty as when entering a contest. You are guaranteed to have at least two poems published in the anthology and get a copy of a beautifully designed book for less than the cost that it takes to enter most contests.

TOPS founder I. B. Iskov with a shipment of SCARLET THISTLES to be sent to participating poets.

TOPS founder Bunny Iskov with a shipment of SCARLET THISTLES membership anthologies sent to participating poets last autumn.

There is the satisfaction of knowing that your work will be seen, which is what most poets want, to share their work with others. You get exposure. You have a chance to be recognized by your peers. It’s also an opportunity to see how your work fits in with other peoples’ ideas and styles as well as lets you see other types of poetry writing that might inspire you in the future.

Submitting to an anthology can be a valuable learning tool as well. It’s a chance to analyze why certain poems were chosen over others.

What techniques were successfully used in the chosen poems? Were editing suggestions made? What did they entail?  Can you figure out why those edits were made? Were the poems that were not chosen too wordy, prosy, or abstract? Were there spelling errors, improper verb tenses, too much repetition? What can you add to your routine of self-checking that addresses these issues?

By taking the time to think about these questions, you are sure to improve your writing.

Based on your experience with editing last year’s anthology, what advice would you give to a poet who wants to participate in this year’s anthology? For example, what should they do and what should they avoid?

Good writing brings the reader back again and again. In order to do that, it must be new, fresh, stand out from other pieces. How is that accomplished?

The Ontario Poetry Society

The Ontario Poetry Society

Poetry requires an economy of words that necessitates the writer be concise. Use of a dictionary and thesaurus makes it easier to avoid repetition and correct spelling.

There must be a depth of meaning that will be rewarding on second or third reading. Present something in a new way, have a thought-provoking take on a subject, use interesting language and a fresh use of words, avoid clichés: all good practices for accomplishing this.

The photos of award-winning poet/photographer Lynn Tait have graced the covers of several TOPS books including the most recent membership anthology SCARLET THISTLES (Beret Days Press, 2014).

The photos of award-winning poet/photographer Lynn Tait have graced the covers of several TOPS books including the most recent membership anthology SCARLET THISTLES (Beret Days Press, 2014). Tait also co-edited (with the late Adele Kearns Thomas) TOPS Sounding the Seconds membership anthology in 2008. Photo courtesy: Melissa Upfold of Calculated Colour Co. 2014.

Use concrete examples instead of abstract ideas as an effective way to keep up interest. Show the reader rather than tell. All of these techniques can only improve on the effectiveness of the work.

Make sure your work is polished. After writing your poem, let it sit for a few days then go back and read it again. Is there anything that stands out that you might change? Do this several times until no revisions come to mind and you should be very happy with the results.

Thanks Fran for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat!

If you are an experienced poet and/or illustrator and would like to be considered for a volunteer editor/compiler, illustrator or contest judge for future projects, please sent a brief resume outlining your qualifications and your interest in volunteering to Bunny Iskov, founding member of The Ontario Poetry Society. Additional information about the organization can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “TOPS Membership Anthologies: Poetic Teamwork

  1. Pingback: Behind the Scenes – Compiling a Membership Anthology | Kites Without Strings

  2. Pingback: Anthology Editors to Kick-Off Sarnia’s #NPM16 Celebration April 3 | Kites Without Strings

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