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‘Poetry East’ celebrates 100 issues of ‘immediate, accessible’ poems

Journal editor and DePaul professor Richard Jones reflects on 40-year career

Hard copies of the Poetry East journal on a table
During National Poetry Month, DePaul's own 'Poetry East' will celebrate its 40th anniversary with professor and editor Richard Jones. An event will be held April 21 with the Chicago Public Library. (DePaul University/Kristin Claes Mathews)
A child picks out a coconut in a grocery store aisle. A sparrow flies through an open window and thrashes around the house. Accomplished poet and professor Richard Jones has been sharing poetry with vivid, accessible moments like these with readers for 40 years as editor of the award-winning journal “Poetry East.” This spring, DePaul will mark the 100th issue of the journal and celebrate the power of poetry at an April 21 virtual celebration with the Chicago Public Library. RSVPs are required.

April is National Poetry Month. Jones says writing and reading poetry has been critical for helping people cope and connect during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Artists have been really important. Art lets us know we're not alone, even though we are alone in our houses,” he says. “Even though we are isolated, reading a poem that resonates with where you are can take you out of the gloom of being in quarantine.” 

An accomplished poet, Jones has published more than a dozen collections of his own work and teaches English in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. 

“To be able to have the opportunity and support to champion poets and poetry is pretty rare. It’s an unexpected delight that I never would have predicted 40 years ago,” Jones says.

The journal is a national hub of “plain-language poetry," according to Miles Harvey, professor of English and director of the DePaul Publishing Institute. The former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, whose work appears in the 100th issue, has defined the genre as embracing "poems which any listener could basically 'get' on first hearing—poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate."

“Richard does not see poetry as something written by and for an elite caste of academics. He assumes poetry should be accessible to any intelligent person who loves language and ideas, anyone fascinated by questions of who we are and why we're here,” Harvey says.

Richard Jones
Richard Jones is editor of the journal "Poetry East" and teaches poetry in the Department of English. (Image courtesy of Richard Jones)
"Poetry East" planted roots at DePaul

When Jones set out to start the journal in 1980 in New York City, he aimed for to create 10 issues. He’d read the average lifespan of a journal was about one and a half issues. 

"You do one and realize it was a lot of work, and there was no fame or glory in it,” Jones says. He moved to DePaul a few years later and found joy in creating the journal with students. “DePaul cannot get enough credit for keeping the journal alive, supporting me and lifting me up." 

He works with a managing editor and a graduate student each year. The students have been instrumental in helping to shape the journal, Jones says. 

“It's always this sense of newness like starting a new garden with someone. They all bring in different talents,” Jones says. 

Having now been with the university for 34 years, Harvey remarked Jones has created a community within the Department of English and among writers at DePaul. 

“I love witnessing the kind of quiet, careful, patient mentoring he does with his student collaborators,” Harvey says. “There's a real joy to what he does-- the poetry, the conversations, the day-in, day-out work with young people.”

Amid trends, a steadfast vision

Over the decades, Jones has read hundreds of thousands of submitted poems and has seen themes come and go. 

“You get a sense of where people are,” he says. In the 1980s, he noticed a “bent towards surrealism and magical realism.” At one point, the new formalists emerged. 

“People who were writing sonnets, villanelles and pantoums were considered the 'coolest' poets,” he says. Through it all, Jones’ eye for the right kind of work for “Poetry East” has remained steadfast.

“I've always been interested in a poem that feels deeply human, where the language is startling and surprising,” he says. “I can find something in almost any of those various genres that will speak in that immediate, accessible, urgent, necessary way.” 

Sometimes that means publishing a fresh translation from a 15th century Italian poet. Other times, it means being the first to publish work by a young poet.

Chris Solis Green, a poet and director of writing and publishing internships in the Department of English, says he admires Jones’ dedication to the journal. 

“Richard is as accomplished a poet as there is. But he's just as proud and artful in his editing of ‘Poetry East’ as he is in the writing of his own work,” Green says. “He's dedicated to both visual art and poetry—and his exquisite taste in both areas has kept ‘Poetry East’ essential viewing and reading for decades.” 

Several poems from the 100th issue are shared below. Click on images to enlarge and read. Learn more about the journal online​