A New Era: Poetry Daily enters partnership with Mason’s Creative Writing Program

Members of Poetry Daily staff, including (from left) Sally Keith, Martin Mitchell, Peter Streckfus and Lesley Smith, with (seated) Danielle Williams and Christian Stanzione. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services.

Twenty-two years ago, the founding editors of the online poetry anthology Poetry Daily launched poems.com and introduced the literary world to the concept of the daily poem. Every day since, Poetry Daily has featured an outstanding single poem from a new collection or literary journal, selected for its interest and literary merit from the hundreds of publications sent to its offices every month. In January 2019, those offices moved to George Mason University.

The partnership between Poetry Daily and Mason’s Creative Writing Program offers graduate and undergraduate students opportunities to work on the website through internships, graduate professional assistant positions and classroom experiences designed around portions of Poetry Daily’s editorial and production processes. During the last year, students have been involved in the development and implementation of a completely redesigned website, which now includes a serialized educational resource called “What Sparks Poetry,” in which poets explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems and offer readers poetry writing prompts.

One of those students, Lloyd Wallace, BFA Creative Writing ’19, first worked on Poetry Daily via an editorial course run by MFA and BFA poetry faculty Peter Streckfus, who served as the new editorial director for the website during its transition to Mason. After the course, Wallace stayed on with PD—as it’s lovingly called by its editors and staff—to complete an editorial internship during the summer and fall semesters.

“The most valuable part of my PD experience has, selfishly, been the craft experience I’ve gained, taking part in the close reading of books and journals, that is key to the Poetry Daily editorial practice,” said Wallace. “It’s provided me a richer, more thorough ‘poetic apprenticeship’ than I ever thought I’d get as an undergrad.”

“Reading and responding to so much contemporary work has helped me understand what I love about the poems I love,” said graduate student Millie Tullis of her experience last semester with the website’s rigorous editorial review process. “This understanding has helped me write the poems I want to write.”

First-year poetry MFA candidate Christian Stanzione works on the production and editorial components of Poetry Daily through a new graduate professional assistantship. The position is one of several that the English Department has developed to support students in their studies and offer them valuable and pertinent experience they can take with them in their professional lives. Stanzione describes working on Poetry Daily as “an education in contemporary poetry that I don’t think I could have gotten otherwise.”

“Having a chance to experience this moment in poetry with my peers, and having that experience germinate in our community and in our work together, feels like a crucial part of our development as artists,” Stanzione said.

The journal’s presence on campus has led to other innovations. MFA and BFA poetry faculty member Eric Pankey used Poetry Daily as his required text in ENGH 397 Poetry Writing during the fall 2019 semester. Each week, his students wrote one-page responses to one of the week’s poems.

“What is interesting to me is that the two or three poems that I find most compelling, challenging and well-wrought tend to be the poems a majority of the students choose to write about,” Pankey said. “The more amazing the poem, it seems, the more insightful the student responses.”

Students have the chance to admire a wide variety of poems, according to Pankey, including the plain spoken, the formally innovative, the political, works in translation, and featured works. Many students attempt the prompts offered in “What Sparks Poetry” as well, he said.

Pankey notes that occasionally poems appear that contradict a lesson he’s taught the class.

“It has been fun to discuss how the poet has managed through her practice to be successful doing the very thing I had advised against,” he said. “With a printed anthology, I would have ready models and lessons at hand, and life might be a bit easier in the class. But each week I find poems on Poetry Daily that offer just the right model. I am discovering the poems at the same time the students are, and it is a joy to share in that discovery.”

“After a year of new beginnings, this coming year, I think, will be a year of thanks,” said Streckfus, who passed the editorial direction to fellow MFA and BFA poetry professor Sally Keith this semester. “We have so much to be grateful for: our readers, our sponsors, the poets and publishers whom we feature, the students who put so much into Poetry Daily, who have given it a new life. It’s exciting to think what may come next.”

This story originally appeared in the English Matters newsletter.