A Community-First Journal of Poetry

Review of Verse-Virtual, Winter 2019 by Trina Drotar


I was excited to discover a poetry-only journal, but that excitement soon gave way to disappointment since the journal is a journal in name only. The site is more like a collection of names with one or more poems posted.

Of the thirty-one poets published in February’s issue of Verse-Virtual, eleven are contributing editors. Poems run the gamut from those by poets who read and study poetry to those who want to wear a shirt with the word, Poet, on the front. Most poems share the feel that they were written by folks well beyond their twenties with topics ranging from a love poem about octogenarians by Marilyn Taylor to an ekphrastic poem about cigar labels by Michael Gessner to a couple of poems by Pratibha Kelapure that are four and five lines in length.

This is not the journal for political poems. And it’s not the journal for adult-themed material, although this definition is left to the submitter to determine. The editor and site owner, Firestone Feinberg, writes that “Verse-Virtual is a special place.” It is a community first and a journal second. “Here, the focus is on kindness. Kindness and care.” That description perfectly suits the group of poems collected in this issue and in previous issues.

Feinberg gives direction on how to read and interact with the poems on the site. Read, then write the poet, communicate, then form a friendship. And don’t forget to visit the three Facebook pages that have been created since the journal’s first issue in June, 2014.

The first thing you notice when you click on a poet’s name is the bio statement. Some poets have publishing credits with Kenyon Review, have books published by small and large presses, or are self-published. Some state what the poem is about, promote their website, talk about their family or interests or where they currently live. Some list no publishing credits.

After slogging through the statement, you’ll be rewarded in some cases by thoughtful, well-formatted poems like Kelapure’s four line “A Small Hope,” which would have been spoiled had it been any longer.

In other cases, you’re likely to be disappointed by a poorly formatted, overlong poem like “Please Stay” by DeWitt Clinton. The poem is 56 lines long in a single stanza, if you want to call it a stanza, with each line capitalized and a single period at the end. This poem is one of three by Clinton included in this issue and allows no time for the reader to reflect on the poem. The commas aren’t enough of a pause in this poem, which was clearly not edited by the editor for readability.

Perhaps, though, that is the purpose of the journal and site. A reader would need to contact Mr. Clinton and inquire about the poem and its meaning, communicate, and form a friendship. I think I’ll pass, though, and move back to poems that are more readable.

Kat Sontag’s poem, “Recognition Scene,” is 64 lines long and broken into eight stanzas of eight lines, creating a long poem that is fluid and readable and permits the reader time to reflect. Sontag’s bio statement lists her credits in publications by Graywolf Press and Everyman’s Library. She’s written villanelles and pantoums and clearly knew that formatting her poem was important.

Following each poem is a statement from Feinberg reminding readers to email the poet and guidelines are provided on how to do this and what to say. “It is very important.”

Most of the work in this issue is quiet, with a sadness underlying most of the poems, and they are definitely kind. Not kind, however, are the guidelines for submitting work. Not only is it difficult to read with the different fonts, colors, and type sizes, but it’s not a welcoming invitation to submit work.

Submissions are accepted only during the first ten days of the month and should only be submitted by people who are interested in becoming part of the community, not by poets who want to add a publishing credit to their list. This is written in a larger font, in red, and is bold in case you might miss that point. “This is not the place for poets who just want to see their work published,” he writes. That is the second line of a lengthy submission guideline.

After doing all of the steps he suggests, if you think you’re a good fit, you can move ahead to the actual guidelines - three poems in the body of the email and as an attached document. I will add that you want to make sure that the poem is properly formatted in the document.

He’s back to the bold with “POEMS” and “NAME” to be included in the subject line. And yes, these words are capitalized in the guidelines. The bio statement is probably the wordiest. Basically, submit a few lines talking about yourself in first person (most journals ask for a third person bio so make sure to change that) and list no more than three publishing credits. He reminds you that the purpose of this journal is to make friends and not to brag.

You must tell him how you heard about the journal, and he requests all poems to be aligned left, be single-spaced, and contain no special formatting or fonts (again, back to the bold and all caps). This possibly explains why some of the poems appear to be so difficult to read.

Verse-Virtual began as a poetry journal and at one point contained works from about fifty poets, but Feinberg is a one-man shop and had to cut back on the number of submissions. Contributing editors are entitled to submit each month. Others may submit every two or three months. An optional topic is provided every couple of months. For March and April, the topic is favorite or best poems.

The concept is good, but the journal portion is really just a collection of poets on a website with one or more poems published. And don’t forget, the main purpose of this journal is to make friends, not to publish your poetry.

You aren’t likely to see the work of Lyn Lifshin, who has had thousands of poems published in journals and has been praised by Robert Frost, Ken Kesey, and has been published by presses small and large, in Verse-Virtual.