Poetry Corner Redux

As I mentioned in my previous entry, a poem my dad wrote was published in an anthology of high school poems in 1962, Dad’s senior year at Hume-Fogg in Nashville. But as I looked at my shelves, I realized that I had three of these oddly bound collections. Two of them were titled Songs of Youth, published by the American Poetry Society but the other was called Young America Sings, was identified on the title page as the “1962 Anthology of Southeastern High School Poetry,” and was published by the National High School Poetry Association.

So what was going on here? A brief bit of online searching led me to a page at the Library of Congress that deals with amateur poetry anthologies. I could almost hear the weariness in the author’s voice as I read:

The Library of Congress receives hundreds of requests each year from people seeking to find their poems. In some instances, people who registered their poetry with the U.S. Copyright Office want to know how to obtain a copy of it. Most often, however, people will ask the Library for assistance finding a poem that they, or one of their family members, submitted to a poetry contest. They typically note that the poem was published in a poetry anthology, and in addition to wanting the full text of the poem, request information about the anthology in which it appears.

Publishers of such amateur poetry anthologies typically run regular poetry contests publicized in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web. Almost every poem submitted to these contests is declared a “semifinalist” or “winner” and accepted for publication in a forthcoming anthology of winning poems. People are usually encouraged by the publisher to purchase a copy of the anthology in which their poem is slated to appear, and sometimes are notified that purchase of a copy is a requirement for their poem to be printed in the anthology. Publishers that require poets to pay to have their work published are known as vanity presses. The largest publisher of vanity poetry anthologies since 1980, and the one about which the Library of Congress receives the most inquiries, is the International Library of Poetry (ILP).

Many times, vanity presses such as the ILP attempt to link their anthologies to the Library of Congress, stating in letters or emails to contestants that their anthologies are stored or placed in the Library of Congress. Many people mistakenly assume this means that the Library of Congress has published or endorsed their poetry, which is not the case. Instead, this usually means that the anthologies are registered or deposited with the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, which does not guarantee that the anthology will be held by the Library. In fact, most amateur poetry anthologies are not retained for the Library’s permanent collections.

Fair enough, I guess. But in a list farther down the page, I hit paydirt:

Publisher: National High School Poetry Association (NHSPA)
Also known as: American Poetry Press; American Poetry Society; National Art Association; National Essay Association, National Essay Press; National High School Poetry Association; National High School Poetry Press, National Poetry Association; National Poetry Press; Poetry Society of America
Years of operation: 1937-ca. 1983

The best-known publisher of high school poetry anthologies during the mid-20th century was the National High School Poetry Association (West Los Angeles, Calif.), run by Dennis Hartman.  The NHSPA’s earliest anthology series, The Young West Sings: Anthology of California High School Poetry(1938-1942), features poetry published by California high school students only.  In 1940, it began publishing The Young Northwest Sings, which includes poems from high schools in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Two national anthology series soon followed: Young America Sings (1942-ca. 1979) and Songs of Youth (1943-ca. 1962).  Young America Sings was sometimes referred to as the Annual Anthology of High School Poetry, and was published in many regional editions each year (for example, in 1959 there were 25 regional editions of the anthology).  Sample subtitles for regional editions of Young America Sings include:

…Anthology of Atlantic States High School Poetry
…Anthology of Great Lakes States Denominational High School Poetry
…Anthology of Illinois-Minnesota High School Poetry
…Anthology of Midwest States High School Poetry
…Anthology of Northeastern High School Poetry
…Anthology of Mountain and Northwestern States High School Poetry
…Anthology of New York High School Poetry
…Anthology of Southern High School Poetry
…Anthology of Texas High School Poetry
…Anthology of Western States Denominational High School Poetry
…Fall Anthology, Midwest States High School Poetry
…Spring Anthology, Ohio, Pa., Lakes High School Poetry
…Spring Anthology, Southeast High School Poetry
…Spring Semester Anthology of Ohio High School Poetry

The annual Songs of Youth anthology (published in different years under the imprints Poetry Society of America, American Poetry Press, and American Poetry Society), appears to have compiled selected poems from the regional Young America Sings anthologies. The 1943 volume of the anthology notes that “the selections herein were judged to be the finest of thousands of entries submitted to the National High School Poetry Association, from whom we received permission to reprint.”

Sure enough, it seems that Dad’s poem (with several typographical errors) originally ran in the YAS anthology, but made the cut and was reprinted correctly in SoY slightly thereafter. In fact, looking at the YAS version, the necessary corrections are spelled out in the margin in what looks like an early version of my dad’s hand. (I also noticed a poem in there from the woman who was one of my mom’s best friends, who also attended Hume-Fogg.)

So I conclude my brief foray into textual scholarship by deciding that the clipping I found in one of the SoY‘s accurately explains that Dad’s poem did in fact receive special recognition, even though it may only have been a step or two above a vanity press’s game. That’s kind of cool, I think.

And at the same time, it reminds me of something I don’t think of terribly often. When I was in high school — tenth grade, if I recall correctly, but it may have been eleventh — Eastern Kentucky U sponsored a high school poetry contest. The winning poem would be published, I was told, in the University’s literary mag. The winner was to be announced at something like an English career day event at EKU (about half an hour from Lexington, so about 90 minutes from where I lived.) Encouraged by Mrs. Courtney (who bore the cross of teaching me both in AP English and Latin over those three years), I probably submitted ten or fifteen different poems.

But as it happened, the weekend on which the Englishpalooza was to take place wound up conflicting with a family trip back to Nashville. I don’t think anyone had died that time — it was likely just one of the family visits we paid about once a month after we moved to Kentucky.

So when I got back, I called Julia Gants, a classmate who was (as far as I knew) the only other person at Boone County High who gave a damn about poetry. (I also had a bit of a crush on her back then, but nothing ever came of that.) I knew several BCHS kids had gone to this thing, so I figured there must have been several entries. “Did anyone from Boone win?” I asked.

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?”

“What?”

You won.” It turned out that one of my poems, a goofy little piece inspired by Klaatu and Simon & Garfunkel, had won the whole thing. So at least in theory, that year’s edition of  EKU’s literary journal was graced by “New from Ronco — It Slices, Dices, and Even Seduces Your Wife!” (My original title used a much… stronger verb, but even as a 15-year-old, I knew better than to run that by Mrs. C, teacher’s pet or not.)

But I don’t know. I never got a copy. Maybe it never saw print at all. But given that the most vocal reviews of my work to that point had taken the form of homophobic slurs, the idea that someone somewhere else thought that some of my work warranted publication was a sizable boost.

And now, 56 years after Dad saw print and almost 40 since I may have, I’m pleased to have that link to my father. (And it also amuses me to think that if I ever accidentally become a Writer of Stature, someone may actually have to hunt this loose end down. Academic life is silly.)

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s