Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Guest" blog from our Assistant Editor, Devin McGuire: A Tale of Two Students: Math Dilemmas, Poetry Delights

A little over seven years ago I was a non-traditional college freshman at the University of Maine at Farmington, (non-traditional meaning I was thirty-two years old). I’d come seeking a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing but due to some academic deficiencies in mathematics I had yet to gain entrance into this highly touted writing program. Like many people of the literary breed, math has always been a struggle for me. It was therefore that I found myself an undeclared-major in a non-credited remedial math course for people slow with numbers. It was bad enough being a thirty-two year-old college freshman but the remedial math really threw a penumbra over the goal I was aiming for. If I struggled with basic math and algebra, how ever was I to navigate the next four years of college, or even get accepted into the selective creating writing program for which I had come?

Little did I know at the time that sitting with me on that first day of class was a kindred spirit facing the very same obstacles and fears as I. Cynthia stood out from day one not only because she was obviously non-traditional like myself, nor because of her diminutive stature, but also because as I remember it, she showed up late the first day, flustered, embarrassed, and apologetic. As bad as I felt for her it felt good to know I wasn’t the only one dealing with all those emotions and concerns. I really only vaguely recall Cynthia mentioning her poetry journal the Aurorean in that class, and I didn’t take much time to converse with her about it, either. My muse hadn’t hit yet and I was more interested in creative nonfiction at the time. More importantly though I wasn’t yet a creative writing major, and was really more concerned about passing that darn math class than chatting. Perhaps Cynthia was too, as it would have nearly been impossible to converse with her anyway owing to the fact that she stayed after class a lot to get help from the teacher or tutors from the math clinic. She was always so nice and kind though, and it was a joy just to know she was there even if she was struggling with the rest of us.

A semester later having passed the class Cynthia and I were both creative writing majors. Alas, going to a liberal arts college, neither of us was done with math yet (at this juncture, Cynthia likes to point out that she had already passed one basic and one college math class prior to coming to UMF) and we found ourselves in class together again. It was here that I took interest in Cynthia’s poetry journal. I’d been taking a poetry class and found myself enjoying it a lot and taking more readily to the form than I’d ever done before. I also knew now that as a full fledged major I’d have to complete an internship somewhere at sometime before graduation. On the first day of the new math class when we introduced and told a little about ourselves someone hiding way in the back of the class mentioned that she published a poetry journal. I spun around in my seat and there sat Cynthia way in the back. I smiled and exclaimed “Poetry!! Oh yeah that’s right! We gotta talk!” The next day she brought me a copy of the Aurorean and told me all about its beginnings and encouraged me to submit. The semester wore on; numbers danced about causing consternation and bewilderment for both Cynthia and myself. Again my focus was drawn to more pressing non-literary battles. Again Cynthia’s was too, as I could often hear her groaning from the back of class when the quizzes and tests were handed out. Then a funny thing happened. Two creative writing majors (Cynthia and I) completed the rest of college without having one single writing class together.

The spring of my junior year Cynthia graduated. At her senior reading she was one of the best poets to read and the poems she read still stick in my memory. That fall as I sat in my senior seminar class I was outwardly lamenting the fact that I hadn’t chosen an internship yet and wasn’t sure what to do. I explained to a classmate that over the course of the four years my heart had really turned to poetry but that the internships most popular among students at the time were not the places I wanted to go. I’d heard stories from former interns whom explained that they didn’t get to read any manuscripts or even perform any sort of duty that gave them a working knowledge of the poetry publishing business. Instead they were nothing more than free-labor administrative assistants and glorified gophers. I wanted something of substance from my internship. It was then that the quietest girl in the class, Katherine, spoke up and asked did I know Cynthia Brackett-Vincent, to which I replied “yes!” and did I know she’s taking on interns now? After getting Cynthia’s e-mail address from Katherine I contacted her and she said she’d be delighted to have me come on board next semester as her intern.

What I got from interning with Cynthia went far beyond anything I ever could have hoped for interning elsewhere. Cynthia didn’t look at me as free labor to help lessen her load. Instead she treated me as a pupil. My first few weeks were spent not only reading back issues of the Aurorean to get a feel for its stylistic content but she also had me reading several other small press journals to compare and contrast and get a good feel for what the small press industry was all about. Along with this a companion reading of the Small Press Review even gave a deeper understanding and appreciation for the small press world. Cynthia takes a loving interest in haiku, dedicating the back pages of every issue of the Aurorean to haiku and poems in the spirit of haiku. Owing to the fact that unlike free verse haiku is a formalized poem that goes much deeper than just the 5-7-5 syllabic guide most people are familiar with, Cynthia also had me deep into a text about haiku exploring and learning the very roots and historical arc of this ancient form of poetry. Then Cynthia handed me a copy of Poets Market and had me study it cover to cover and learn how to use it. I’d never seen Poets Market before and to this day am still flabbergasted at the fact that it along with Writers Market weren’t integral texts for creative writing majors at UMF. It’s important to learn the ropes of submitting your work for publication and this was a big failure I saw in the program I was in. In fact after having got through my first few weeks of interning for Cynthia I honestly felt like I’d been armed with more knowledge than anything I’d gotten from the whole of my creative writing program which I’d describe as a course of persistent excruciating workshopping peppered with very little study and learning things other than craft. Cynthia helped filled-in the gaps for me that I felt UMF had ignored. She even had me write up response papers to every bit of reading and instruction she had given. This to be sure I was picking up what she wanted me to from all of this. Only then after this crash course did she open up the doors to the inner workings of the Aurorean and all that went into it.

I got to read manuscripts and make comments. I mailed out acknowledgements, acceptances, and rejections. I learned Cynthia’s meticulous filing system. I helped with editing and proofing. The whole semester culminated into a finished journal that even an intern could take pride in. The last day of my internship Cynthia had me over to her home for a pizza/packing party where I helped her and her husband Eddie eat pizza, pack, label, and mail the finished product. It didn’t feel like work, it felt like a celebration.

It’s not for me to say what Cynthia saw in me that made her ask later that summer if I wouldn’t mind staying on as her part-time Assistant Editor rather than take on another intern; that’s a blog for her. I will say though that I feel fortunate she did. Before long Cynthia had me doing enough work and really allowed me to be as much of the review process where she began to feel it was silly to call me the “part-time” Assistant Editor, and decided to give me the full fledged title of Assistant Editor.

There are few things more pleasurable to me than going to the Aurorean’s post office box only to find it stuffed with submissions that I get to rip open and dig into for review. The Aurorean has established itself in the small press industry over the years so it’s always fun to see the names of established poets of minor fame cross my desk (this is to say I’m not sure any poet today could be considered to be of major fame). It’s even more fun to put on my editor’s hat and review for review’s sake and not be dazzled by the prolific publication of an established poet. I remember one poet of note whom I’d read and liked in a major anthology, someone who was really hitting his stride in the 60’s and writing some great stuff. After I tempered my excitement and read his manuscript the way expected of an editor I tossed it aside with an exclamation of “Oh my! No good! He’s lost it.” It was then that I knew I’d truly arrived as an editor.

Much of the time I spend reviewing manuscripts I come across poetry that I personally love but know that in no way was is it an Aurorean poem, or even a poem that Cynthia would like enough to publish in the broadsheet publication the Unrorean which she considers the Aurorean’s alter ego. It’s just a matter of tastes. I like lots of different styles. This is not to say Cynthia doesn’t, her bookshelf, and her own poetry is a testament to that fact, but it’s worth noting that the Aurorean isn’t a journal of eclectic poetry. We have very specific guidelines for our submissions, which in the long run has produced a journal that continues to gain new readership while retaining the subscribers we’ve had over the years. People know what to expect; they look forward to each new issue not only for its familiarity but for its freshness as well. The Fall/Winter 2010-2011 issue, due out late October marks the fifteenth anniversary for the Aurorean. It’s a fact that most poetry journals do not last this long. Marking fifteen years while still growing strong is a true testament to the quality and loving care that Cynthia continues to put into her journal. You just don’t make it this long in this business unless you are truly producing something of high quality. I’m proud to be a part of it all.

I’ve been with the Aurorean now for nearly four years. This relationship has blossomed into becoming a full-fledged member of Encircle Publications, which is the publishing company Cynthia’s graphic-designer husband Eddie Vincent co-owns with her. Eddie designs the covers for the Aurorean, which are produced from beautiful photographs taken by Cynthia. Along with the poetry side of things Encircle Publications has produced thousands of book cover designs for all sorts of books in the fiction/nonfiction genre as well as promotional materials for many authors and clients. The company is currently growing its graphic design department and expanding into the e-book field and other publishing avenues. I am very much happy to be a part of these endeavors and owe much of my gratitude to Cynthia for believing in me and having me come on board. Because of Cynthia’s belief in me she granted me the editorship of her broadsheet the Unrorean. Now I’m at the helm of a publication that I too wish to nurture and watch gain readership and growth. I’ve certainly learned from a great teacher how to accomplish this.

I thank the readers of this blog for hearing my story and invite all of you to congratulate Cynthia for her amazing accomplishment in guiding the Aurorean through fifteen years of publication. Here’s to fifteen more!

-Asst. Ed. Devin McGuire


  1. Devin, I very much enjoyed hearing your story and learning how you became part of The Aurorean family. Congratulations!
    We are all so fortunate to have Cynthia in our lives as our friend and editor.
    Wishing you many happy and successful years ahead of working together,and,always! Here's a toast to The Aurorean!------Natalia

  2. (She says, clinking our virtual toast glasses)...Thanks, Natalia. Devin asks what I saw in him. First, a fellow struggler in mathematics (she says smiling because she passed—although still slightly bitter at her final grade). I saw an interested student, one who was not just seeking a "pass" for a required internship. One who was as knowledgeable in literature as anyone I'd met, and more willing to learn even more about poetry. One who was willing to take on different roles in the day-to-day workings of a poetry journal. One I could trust. And today, all those things and more as he's come on board Encircle Publications working with my husband and me. Oh, and he likes cats, and they like him. :-)) That was a prerequisite.

  3. Thank you for the comment Natalia. Yes we are all fortunate for Cynthia. And thank you as well for yours Cynthia. I do love the cats! :)