by: Aaron Jackson

Poetry in general is an acquired taste. Of all the possible written mediums, there is none so economically unrewarding to its author, and none so under appreciated by its audience. If poetry is an acquired taste, then The New Formalist is a wine of the rarest vintage, especially in today’s poetic market.

As its name implies, The New Formalist specializes in publishing formal verse. Publishing since 2001, the journal is the work of its three editors, Lamon Cull, the poetry editor, David Castelman, the managing editor, and Jerry Jenkins, a contributing editor. The New Formalist publishes both online and in print. In its internet form the journal puts out two issues a year, one in January, and one in July. The issues range in size, but on average there are ten plus authors per issue, with multiple poems from each. The print version comes out once a year, and is a compilation of both on-line issues. One-year subscriptions cost twenty dollars.

The layout of the magazine itself is attractive. Each issue has its own photography on the cover page, as well as a unique background color. The presentation is bright and familiar, setting the reader at ease, and thus, drawing them in. The site navigation takes getting used to. Once you do, however, the result is a user-friendly interface. A side bar located to the left of the page provides you with links to the current issues authors, and publication information, including the journal’s submission guidelines, contributor notes, and archives section. The magazine itself is laid out as one continuous page. Everything, including the archives and information are all displayed on the same screen. The links simply take the reader to preset headings. This is incredibly convenient when looking for specific information. A vertical scroll bar is also located to the right of the page allowing the more casual reader to browse through the magazine in its entirety. In addition, the archives are extremely simple to use. Every issue is filed online chronologically in its entirety. The journal uses one novelty that I’ve never seen before: a choose your own font drop menu. The choices are limited, but your selection is applied to the entire page.

Content-wise the journal’s name says it all. Every piece of work is set into some kind of form, both in meter and rhyme scheme. Much of the work is sonnet-driven, or at least some derivative of iambic pentameter, and almost every piece rhymes. Take Mark Allinson’s “Flame Flowers” for example. “Within the window’s green and blue / the flame tree’s scarlet flares like hate. / Her seed-embedded fruit pods grew / black bats who were the summer’s bait.” This illustrates the journal’s typical content.

Dealing in formal poetry can be a tricky thing, especially in the world of post-modern free verse. Good quality formal verse can be scarce, but the six month editing period helps the editors produce a quality magazine. Still, it’s hard to come by good formal verse, especially in poetry’s current climate. This kind of outside pressure results in two very distinct groups of contributors: those who relish in the old school sensibility, and those who use formalism in more experimental capacity. C. John Holcombe’s “Texts,” is a prime example of the former. “The simple truth another age uncovers; / Where words are nomads sense is a citadel. / Of how they were as men, employers, lovers, / the text says naught: from we’re not to tell / the sharp bespectacled ascetic from / the warm and genial fraud.” Note the use of inverted syntax, and archaic language, such as “naught.” This is a work that celebrates its debt to a much older generation of poetry. Contrast this to Edward Weir’s “Artistic Advice,” a modernized take on formal verse. “Don’t live in your shadow. Stand back and gain / some perspective. Learn; Leave for awhile. / As you take shape, you won’t have to explain / A word about meaning, purpose, or style.” Weir relies heavily on enjambment rather than syntax inversion to propel his poem along. This creates natural sounding lines, with a modern flavor. When read out loud the rhymes are almost hidden inside the sentence. End rhyme occurs only on the page itself.

Whether or not The New Formalist contains quality work is not the issue. Whether old school verse, or new school form, the journal’s material is top notch and will prove especially valuable to formal writers seeking inspiration. The real issue is whether or not the average reader, weaned on free verse, will appreciate, and be ale to read formal poetry. I initially came to this review as a skeptic. Free range post-modernism was my style. It’s how I write, and what I like to read. The New Formalist made a believer out of me. A strange but good thing happens the longer you read formal verse. You begin to lose yourself in the tides and rhythms of form. You begin to long for the rhythmic cadence at the line’s end. Once you’re lost inside a world of formal constraint, you begin to see the art in the careful construction of the line, that each line is a building block contributing to something greater.

Regardless of the journal’s long reading period, the submission guidelines are fairly standard. The editors ask for no more than six poems to be submitted at one time, via email to thenewformalist@lycos.com. The publication does not accept attachments, asking that submissions be pasted plain text into the body of your email. While regular mail submissions are discouraged, the editors do make certain exceptions for people without computer access.

Overall the content in The New Formalist is of a rare breed. The site has its quirks, but is attractively displayed, and easily navigable. If you’re set on free verse, this journal is not for you. But if you want solid, formal poetry that pays homage to the past while retaining an experimental flavor, then The New Formalistt might just be your cup of tea.

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