Jose Torres teaches literature and creative writing at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Originally from New York City, he has dark-rimmed glasses and closely cropped hair. In 2004, he and his colleagues in the English department decided the campus needed its own literary journal.
"Because of these small journals we have a writing community in the United States because its where writers publish. So the literary journal serves a real function in American arts and letters."
Torres says they wanted a place where students could intern and develop a more practical sense for how good writing is edited and published. They also wanted to publish regional and Canadian writers.
"That’s part of our niche, to have that Canadian American presence. I think there’s room, certainly in this area, for a literary arts journal," he said.
So they drummed the up the funding and started to advertise. It didn’t take long for the submissions to start rolling in.
Jose says they've work hard to ensure that their selections are well-written, interesting, even provocative.
"I’m a big proponent of literature doing things to me emotionally," he said. "After I read the poem or I read the poem, does it make me think. I am taking a shower and I’m still thinking about the characters or the poem – that has resonance and that’s the type of material I want in the journal."
Two poems published in the latest edition of the review were both nominated for the Pushcart Prize, prestigious national award honoring the best literature published in small presses. The first is called “Moon Goddess Chang O and the Man on the Moon,” by New York City-based poet Colette Inez.
Here she is reading a bit of the poem over the phone:
He plants a foot in bath
Chang O, pale empress of clouds, in her white silk robe,
kneels to him that he might stay,
offers to teach him Mandarin words for kiss and eclipse.
"I'll take a giant leap," he says.
Colette has won several Pushcart Prizes over the course of her career.
The other poet, Candace Black, a creative writing professor at Minnesota State University, has never been nominated before. She says her poem, called 4-H Club, tried to capture a sense of place and the texture of landscape.
"Just because of the different patches of color and the shapes of the fields I think they got me started on that quilt motif and then I wanted to go with more natural images and i thought well what do I see in the fields when I’m driving by," Black explained.
For Jose Torres, the nominations are a big validation of both the poets and his magazine.
"I’m very very proud of this and the fact that it’s a collaborative effort," he said.
Small literary magazines are one of the last places where poetry gets published regularly. Candace Black and Colette Inez say they think this kind of writing still has power and meaning in our culture.
"In the five minutes it takes to read a poem," Black said, "it engages our imaginations as readers. And makes us for a very short amount of time, feel something. It may not be exactly what the writer felt – but we feel something, we feel connected, we have an emotional and I think physical response to what we’re reading."
Why poetry matters?," Inez pondered aloud. "I think it’s a very rich life. You learn what you’re thinking, you celebrate, you learn to define things. Sometimes I don’t really know what it is that I’m saying until I write a poem about it. And then you have this wonderful dance with language. So you’re fine tuning a word, you’re making music – poetry asks so much of you."
The next issue of the Saranac Review comes out around late August of this year. It will feature a special section on Black poetry day poets, as well as poems by New York poet Lyn Lifshin and Vermonter Toni Ortner.