MFA in Creative Writing 2017
Josh Roark is a poet and the editor of online journals Frontier Poetry and Palette Poetry, as well as a 2017 graduate of the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program. In this interview, he discusses his work as a writer, his time at AULA, and his career change from teacher to editor. A lifelong writer, Roark talks about his path to finally seeing and introducing himself as a poet and making time for his own work. In a beautiful mirroring of his experience, the opening line on the “About” page of the Frontier Poetry website reads, “Welcome home, poet.”
MG: I understand you are an editor for both Frontier and Palette Poetry. Can you tell me about the two publications? I’m interested in their history and mission, and how/why you became involved with these projects.
JR: I began working on Frontier while I was the Associate Managing Editor of Lunch Ticket, early 2017. The Editor-in-Chief at the time, Katelyn Keating, had met the folks behind The Masters Review at AWP. They were seeking a poetry editor for a new magazine they wanted to develop and launch in a few months. I got the info, interviewed for the position and it all just went from there.
The TMR folks are wonderful—I worked with their Editor, Kim Winternheimer, to develop Frontier into a sophisticated and beautiful launching pad for emerging poets from all communities. Our mission has always been focused on uplifting and supporting new writers, whether through the content of our blog, our New Voices—professional pay with free submission, always open—, our Fellowships, or our contests. Working with Tyehimba Jess for our very first award was a dream come true for me.
After Frontier’s success that first year, we all wanted to do more. More people are reading poetry today than they have in decades, and there seemed space in the community for more than just Frontier. We wanted to publish more poetry! Palette grew from there—a new beautiful digital space for new beautiful poetry. The team has done an amazing job making the most out of the format of digital publication and we’re all tremendously proud of how both magazines are doing.
MG: What has your path been as a writer? As an editor? Can you speak to your experience at AULA?
JR: I wrote poetry in college, but never submitted. Never even researched submitting or thought too hard about it. I hardly ever shared my poems and didn’t consider myself a writer—I was a teacher. Near the end of my commitment with Teach For America, I decided to pursue full-time employment as a professor, and for that, I needed a graduate degree. Thus, Antioch and the MFA.
The MFA was much more than I expected and I couldn’t imagine a better place to receive that education. I was teaching while completing the MFA, one-on-one stuff with special needs kids out in LA, still seeking that professor gig as an English instructor. This editor gig dropped on my life like a pile of bricks in my final semester. Everything changed because I love this job. This is what I was looking for and was meant to do. I’m no longer looking for professorship as this is now my full-time, rent-paying work. I feel blessed and humbled by the job—it’s precious to me.
Antioch prepared me for this job more than I could have ever understood at the time. The community, the instructors, the workshops, and seminars—I became a poet at Antioch, and I introduce myself as such now.
MG: What are you most excited about right now as a writer? As an editor?
JR: I am most excited by the overwhelming amount of talent making its way through publishers and into the world. I have an incredibly long list of poets, debut poets, that I need to read. There’s a real moment happening right now—amidst all the terrifying things happening right now—where more and more and more people are reading poetry. The NEA research that came out recently says it’s nearly doubled since they last surveyed in 2012. That’s a light worth hoping in.
I’ve seen folks suggest that a lot of that is because there has been more space carved out for women and poets of color. I don’t think they’re wrong.
MG: How do you manage your writing time and creative energy along with your work as an editor?
With help and accountability from my wife, mostly. It’s a tough thing to juggle and I’ve let my own writing habits slip since I finished my manuscript and MFA. Creating a magazine, or two has been so creatively satisfying that that itch to write poems became more muted. Was more muted—it’s up behind my eyeballs every day now and I’m writing much more than I did a few months ago. Usually early in the morning, when I can be alone.
MG: What voices are currently inspiring you?
JR: For my work and our blog, I’m reading new poems published digitally every day. I’ve got a long, long list of links to lit mags in a folder of my chrome browser. There are so many great poets being published digitally—I’d suggest writers make it into a habit to seek them out.
I’m also reading everyday poems submitted into our slush. Those poets inspire me more than anyone else. Our submitters are amazing and brave and talented. I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to get to read their work.
by Malia Gaffney