Keith Flynn founded the literary magazine Asheville Poetry Review in 1994. What began as a regional publication quickly grew to a national one. Keith was the lead singer and lyricist of the band The Crystal Zoo at the time, and he took every opportunity to place the magazine with independent book stores around the country as he toured with the band. The distribution and subscription base grew accordingly, as well as the breadth of submissions from around the country, and indeed around the world. I started as an intern in 2006, and shortly thereafter joined the staff as an Associate Editor, and then later as Senior Editor, my current position. Today, 19 years after our founding, we are distributed across the U.S. and Canada not only to independent book stores but also to many chain book stores. In addition to publishing poems, essays, reviews, and interviews, as we always have, we now hold an annual single-poem contest, The William Matthews Poetry Prize, with a guest judge each year.
Through all of these changes, however, Asheville Poetry Review has remained a rather old-fashioned literary magazine. We only accept unsolicited submissions by mail, and we remain an entirely print-based magazine (albeit with some archive material online). We often wonder if this makes us a relic, or whether, in our most whiskey-induced flights of fancy, we might number among the heroic proponents of a noble tradition. Well, time will soon tell whether we can survive the costs of operating as a print publication, a question that has become increasingly difficult to answer each year, largely due to shrinking and disappearing independent book stores and ever-increasing distribution costs. With no outside funding or affiliation (by choice), we rely on subscriptions, sales, and now the annual prize, for the entirety of our operating budget.
The process of reading the thousands of submissions that come by mail each year is an often pleasurable one—the tactile relationship with each envelope and page, the visual elements of handwriting, the sounds of tearing and creasing. It seems to me that this gives an editor a more intimate experience with each submission, in the same way that—for me—reading a book or magazine in print is more intimate and more fulfilling than reading it on a screen.
But opening one’s doors to mail from the wide world allows for the possibility—and likelihood—of the strange, the scary, and the hilarious. Here are some things that I’ve received in envelopes over the years:
-A be-sequined and be-glittered cover letter, complete with an airbrushed glamor shot of the author.
-A poem entitled “Sexy Jesus” which consisted of a graphic (GRAPHIC) depiction of the author having sex with—you guessed it—Jesus. To top it off, a cover letter enquiring as to whether we the editors had “the balls” to publish the poem.
-An envelope in which every word on every page—and on the envelope itself—was surrounded by and covered with small frenetic pen marks, somehow leaving most of it just legible. I was shocked that the USPS had been able to deliver it. The markings were so meticulous and so ubiquitous that they didn’t strike me as a joke or anything done in the knowledge that it was abnormal. It filled me with concern for the wellbeing of that person.
-A series of envelopes containing barely legible handwritten haiku, adorned with odd magazine clippings affixed to the page with all manner of adhesives, including scotch tape, blue painter’s tape, and bandaids. Each submission included a “Bonus” haiku at the end . . . Lucky us!