Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv is a new anthology that you’ll want to add to your bookshelf. This collection is an outgrowth of the women poets online community founded in 1977 by poet Annie Finch. The listserv began with a membership of fewer than a dozen. When I joined nine years ago, the membership was 120. Now it has swollen to approximately 800 members and serves as a gathering place for women poets from around the world. Members enjoy many benefits. For example, the listserv is a valuable resource for book titles, teaching ideas, discussion of hot topics, job leads, publication opportunities, and information about MFA programs and workshops.
Surely one of the most impressive accomplishments of the listserv has been the publication of this anthology which is the largest collection in print of poems by living women poets. The project was the brainchild of Moira Richards who lives in South Africa. Moira proposed the idea and offered to usher the collection into existence. She was soon joined by Rosemary Starace and Lesley Wheeler. The three became the editors. Committees were formed and a call for submissions went out. Each list member was invited to submit one favorite poem. A total of 259 poets contributed. The beautiful cover was done by member Margo Berdeshevsky who lives in Paris.
Although the original plan was to self-publish the collection, as the project gathered steam and generated excitement, the membership began to realize what an astonishing endeavor they were engaged in. Discussion turned to the possibility of finding a reputable publisher. Eloise Klein Healy contacted her publisher, Kate Gale at Red Hen Press. Kate joined the listserv and soon offered to publish the anthology.
The collection is unique in a number of ways. It is the first such collection to evolve entirely out of the Internet. Instead of the usual face-to-face meetings, all work was done online. A blog was set up to collect the poems and bios. Editors conferred via email and a discussion forum. Proofreaders received packets of poems via email. All of this work was done by volunteers.
Somewhere during this lengthy process, someone suggested that some essays might be a nice addition to the collection. Scattered among the alphabetically arranged poems, these essays are another unique aspect of the collection. There are short pieces about the history of the listserv and a few about the role the listserv plays in the lives of poets who live in remote areas of the world and have no poetry community. There’s an essay about what the list means to a disabled poet. There are discussions of how the listserv has helped poet-moms continue to think of themselves as poets. And there’s an essay about some of the spin-off projects that have emerged such as other listservs and small online writing groups that critique each other’s work and one that produces sonnet crowns.
Best of all, of course, are the poems, a feast of them. Formal poems, free verse poems, poems about the lives of women, poems that pay tribute to our foremothers, traditional poems, experimental poems, short ones, long ones, funny ones and ones that shoot daggers into your heart.
More on the poems coming soon. In the meantime, get your hands on this book!
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