our community we've always had a sustained talent pool of creative
writers, whether it be on the verge of drought or flooding with
works, there's been some kind of localized literature flowing through
the boulevard. Most of the time you'll find their newly-inked
pages in chapbooks or flyers around coffee shops, or the more
dedicated will put out a small run of books to hit local shops. But
for those who don't have the resources available to do it all on
their own, there is a local publication doing what it can to showcase
the best Utah has to offer.
--- Sugar House Review has been pushing out their bi-seasonal poetry magazines into select book stores since fall last year. The totally submissions-based booklets are the product of four Utah State alum and fellow friends looking for a resource to print their own idyllic poetry, stanzas and musings, and in turn have become one of the premiere collections of yearly Utah writing that leave their readership and shops anticipating the next volume. Today we chat with one of the original people behind the concept, editor and graphic designer Natalie Young, about the books and their impact on the community, plus thoughts on Utah writing and a few other topics.
Gavin: Hey Natalie, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Natalie: I grew up in Bountiful and now live in Salt Lake City with Nathaniel Taggart. I’m a graphic designer and a writer—mostly I write poetry. I have a pug (who has her own blog), a mutt and a macaw, who rule my life and hate that I spend so much time on the computer.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in writing, and what were some early inspirations for you?
Natalie: I remember writing and illustrating strange little books when I was little, but my first bonding moment with writing came in 8th grade while writing a history paper. Something just clicked. My next moment came as a freshman in college writing a paper for English 2010 that helped me solve a personal crisis; and I knew that was it, I was never going to stop writing. I could discover more about myself through writing than anything else I’d found. That was a ridiculous paper and shouldn’t have been my aha! paper. The professor I wrote that for also taught my first poetry writing class, and we’re still friends.
Gavin: You studied at Utah State, got your BFA in art and an MFA in creative writing. What made you decide on USU, and what was their program like for you?
Natalie: I got my bachelors in graphic design with a minor in English from Utah State and my masters from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I went to Utah State because I had a full-ride scholarship there, and when I enrolled they had the only Advertising Design and Technical Writing programs in the state. I quickly figured out tech. writing wasn’t for me, but the graphic design program was excellent. A lot of personal attention, a mentor I’m still in touch with and great people all around.
Gavin: When did you first meet Nathaniel Taggart and eventually marry?
Natalie: Nathaniel and I met in a poetry class at Utah State. We started dating a year after we met and got married about five years later. He is definitely my biggest cheerleader and best editor.
Gavin: What eventually brought you both down to SLC, and how do you compare the culture and environment here as opposed to Logan?
Natalie: Soon after I graduated we both moved to Salt Lake. Logan is a great place, but there aren’t too many jobs and they don’t pay well, since it’s a college town. Logan is a bit isolated and a lot smaller than Salt Lake, but because it’s a college town there’s always a lot of arts and cultural events. Salt Lake has a lot of events going on as well, definitely more because it is bigger, but I think they’re harder to keep track of, since the events are all over the place. In Logan, most things center around the university in some way.
Gavin: When did you end up meeting John, Jerry and Michael and how did you all become friends?
Natalie: John, Jerry, Nathaniel and I all got our bachelor degrees from Utah State. Nathaniel and I had creative writing classes with Jerry. After college we started a writing group in Salt Lake that John and Michael joined through similar friends. We’ve been meeting as a writing group for close to seven years now.
Gavin: How did the idea for Sugar House Review come about?
Natalie: John, Nathaniel and I were talking about our writing and poetry one day trying to figure out “What next?” We had all thought of doing a poetry magazine in the past, and that day we got each other excited about doing one together. Soon after, John asked Roberta Stearman for some of Utah’s late Poet Laureate Ken Brewer’s unpublished poems. She was generous enough to let us have three of his poems to publish and there was no turning back; we were so excited.
Gavin: What was it like for all of you planning it out and taking submissions from people to add in?
Natalie: It was really exciting and somewhat overwhelming, and I would say that’s still true. It’s fun and great to be part of the writing community and to be able to communicate with poets at every stage of writing careers. We have been incredibly lucky both with the quality of submissions we’ve received , as well as how generous poets with established careers have been in allowing us to publish their work. I think all of us agree that two of the most thrilling things about publishing Sugar House Review, is accepting and publishing people’s work and communicating with some of our favorite writers.
Gavin: For those who are curious, what is the submission process like for all of you, from taking them in to deciding what will make the final copy?
Natalie: Almost all of our submissions come through our email account, so we read and tag the poems from there. Each submission gets at least three of us to read it, but usually all four of us read every submission. We individually mark each poem digitally. We’re usually unanimous on the poems we accept. We try to be open-minded. We want to not just pick what we like personally, but also what other readers will like. We hope to be broad in the aesthetic of work published, but because all art is subjective, there’s no way to completely get around our individual biases. So if we reject you, or someone else rejects you, don’t feel bad. One of the biggest things I’ve realized from being an editor is that the selection process really is subjective: different tastes, different moods, etc. Some days an editor has to read a lot of poems just to catch up and if the editor has a headache, or is thinking about an argument with the mailman or the newest episode of "Project Runway"…Well, good poems may be missed.
Gavin: What was the public reaction to the first one, and what did you think of the overall experience of putting it out?
Natalie: The somewhat limited response we received was very positive. It’s difficult to reach a large audience with something like this right away. Those who regularly read poetry is a relatively small audience; even people who write poetry, sometimes don’t read it, and fewer buy it. Plus, we don’t have much money for marketing, nor do any of us have the salesman personality. Our first issue included a poem by Paul Muldoon which will be included in 2011 Pushcart Prize XXXV: Best of the Small Presses. That alone makes our first issue lucky and kissed by the poetry gods—the chances are so small that we would be so lucky as to publish Muldoon’s poem in our first issue, but then to have it win a Pushcart? That’s astounding. You should have seen us when we got the letter in the mail—it was like we won the Pushcart.
Gavin: How did you go about choosing what local stores would carry the books, and what has their reaction been to having them in catalog?
Natalie: All of the local bookstores that carry Sugar House Review have been terribly supportive and excited about having an independent poetry magazine coming out of Salt Lake City. We love bookstores; we particularly love local bookstores and would love to be in more, but like I said before, we’re not the best marketers. That’s probably our biggest downfall to this point—we need to sell the magazine more.
Gavin: You've just barely released the third book, what can people expect to read in this version?
Natalie: With this issue we continued to try and choose a wide variety of poems—it’s full of high-quality, powerful writing. Contributors include: Dan Beachy-Quick, Steven Cramer, Maria Melendez, Jim Peterson, Donald Revell, Michael Sowder and Pimone Triplett. We like to have some poets with Utah ties in each issue; for this issue besides Sowder, Revell and Melendez, we have Rob Carney, Jan C. Minich, Steve Fellner, Mario Chard, Peter Golub, Andrew Haley and Curtis Jensen. Michael McLane came on staff as Review Editor, and he’s helped put together three fantastic book reviews. We’re really excited about having Mike’s review talents and having more reviews as a constant presence in the magazine; we want to give some exposure to authors whose new work deserves to be noticed, but who may not otherwise be reviewed.
Gavin: Are there any plans to possibly expand the book or produce more issues a year, or are you good with the way things are now?
Natalie: The plan is to stick to semiannual. We don’t have enough time, energy nor funding to put it out more than that, but I do expect we’ll start publishing larger issues as we continue.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what is your take on our local writing community, both good and bad?
Natalie: There seems to be two sides to our writing community. One side is very supportive and excited about each other’s work. We were amazed at the support we received from certain people and venues immediately. On the other side, is perhaps some cattiness. But my guess is you find that in most any community. People are competitive. I would like to see some new people participating in some of the local events and festivals. The City Art reading series, founded by Sandy Anderson and run by Joel Long, does a great job of finding writers who have and haven’t been a part of City Art before.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Natalie: I think Katherine Coles is doing a great job as Utah’s Poet Laureate. She has some great projects she’s working on that only help Utah’s writing scene. If you haven’t, check out her Bite Size poetry project.
Gavin: Who are some of your favorite local writers that you believe people should be checking out?
Natalie: This is the second time Rob Carney has been in our magazine, and there’s two reasons for that. First, he’s generous and brave and trusted us with his work, and second, we love him and his work. If you ever get a chance to see one of his readings, you definitely should. He memorizes almost all his poems; he’s a performer. Also: Kimberly Johnson, Paisley Rekdal, Katherine Coles, Lance Larsen, Jacqueline Osherow, Chris Cokinos, Michael Sowder, Natasha Saje and I’m sure I’m missing some. Utah really does have a lot of great writers. I think many don’t even realize it. All of my co-editors are great poets, as well as the poets in my writing group. I often see something one of them brings to our meeting and am sure it’s better than most of what I see published.
Gavin: What advice would you have for up-and-coming writers on how to get their work noticed?
Natalie: I don’t feel like I have any real experience to answer this question, but here’s what I think, and maybe my advice will work for me. From an editor’s stand point:
1. If you’ve been rejected, wait six months to a year to resubmit, unless invited—you don’t want to be remembered as “the one we just rejected.” Patience really is a good thing.
2. It sounds kind of petty, but if you’re dealing with a small magazine, it helps to purchase an issue or subscribe—the editors notice—right or wrong.
3. This is going to sound trite or obvious, but try to write fresh, interesting things. A lot of what I read in submissions seems the same: the same topics, the same format, the same language, similar execution. I’m not saying your work needs to be wildly experimental, but as an editor I’m looking for something that moves: it moves me, it moves through the page, it moves boring aside, it reveals.
4. And for heaven’s sake people, take advantage of the tools you have. As a writer you have punctuation, all kinds. You have chapters or stanza breaks or sections. You have character development, dialogue, etc. I recently wrote a post on SHR’s blog about stanza breaks. I see so many submissions with no stanza breaks and I am baffled as to why it’s so prevalent and also why so many contemporary poets think it’s in their best interest not to use them. The basics can give you a lot of help, if you let them.
...I think it’s a must to get a involved in a community. Whether it’s the Salt Lake Community as a whole, a writing group or just a group of friends who care about you and your writing. It’s important to have a support system and it’s important to get feedback on your writing. Also, it doesn’t hurt to network. The more people you know, the more chances you have to be involved and hear about opportunities. Part of the reason we started the magazine was to be a part of a larger community of writers.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on localized zines and the work they do to push underground writing to the public?
Natalie: I haven’t spent much time with zines, but I like local and the idea of getting more art, including poetry, out into the world and the community. I think local zines hit a different audience than other publications, which is a good thing.
Gavin: What can we expect from you, the rest of the group and SHR the rest of the year and going into next?
Natalie: We’ll continue publishing the best poetry we can. We love poetry and we want to have a magazine that writers and literature lovers are excited about. Our goals for the remainder of the year and into next include: getting into more bookstores (not just locally), having a booth at AWP’s conference in February (Associated Writing Programs), having at least one reading for the launch of this issue and we’ll be attending as many local readings as we can, both to support and to promote.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Natalie: Local is important. Support your communities, whether it’s writing or farming or knitting. And don’t forget to give poetry a chance. People say it’s a dying art. In general, only those who write poetry read poetry, which is a shame. Poetry is definitely different to read than a piece of prose, such as a novel or a magazine article. Often the language is condensed and every word is important. Sometimes the poem’s intention is not instantaneous, which can be hard when so much of modern culture and media is. But that’s part of why things like poetry are important—something to pause on, something to come back to over and over and have a new experience with each reading. Submit. Subscribe. Pass Sugar House Review along.
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