Nationally- Acclaimed FIELD Magazine Ends After 50 Years, 100 Issues

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With the release of its spring 2019 issue, FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, an Oberlin College Press publication, concluded its 50-year run as one of the country’s most prestigious contemporary poetry reviews. The milestone was celebrated with several readings of past and present poems that had been part of the magazine’s long history as a staple of the American poetry scene. 

Back in April 2018, FIELD editor and former Oberlin professor David Young announced that he would retire the following year and that as a result, FIELD would be publishing only two more issues. He and his co-editor, Oberlin Professor of English and Creative Writing David Walker, OC ’72 — who is planning on retiring from teaching soon as well — felt that continuing to edit the magazine would be burdensome. The magazine was never meant to be permanent, and they decided that the endeavor had run its course. 

“Nobody thought, when the magazine began in 1969, that it would last this long and become such an institution,” Young wrote in a blog post on the literary news site NewPages.com shortly after announcing his retirement. “All good things eventually terminate, however, and 50 years and one hundred issues make for good round numbers.”

Young elaborated on their decision to end the magazine’s run in an email to the Review. 

“Many people would say FIELD is the best poetry magazine around, with an international reputation,” Young wrote. “We managed to identify the best work being done, emphasizing excellence rather than schools or movements. [But] 50 years is a long run for a little magazine. With David Walker retiring and me feeling a little burned out, it seemed wise to round out our run with 100 issues.”

FIELD grew from unlikely roots to become one of the most beloved poetry journals of post-war America. FIELD’s Editor-at-Large and former Oberlin Professor of Creative Writing Martha Collins reflected on the magazine’s surprising origins in a speech at a celebratory poetry reading last Sunday. 

“The origin of FIELD lies with Oberlin undergraduates, who in the spring of 1963 launched a magazine they called The Oberlin Quarterly,” Collins said. “They were very enterprising — as Oberlin students of course are — and solicited work [from] a number of nationally known poets, some of whose work they published in their first and only two issues. But at the end of the year, they left behind a huge number of submissions they hadn’t dealt with, and Stuart Friebert and David Young, their faculty advisors, began to get complaints from friends who hadn’t heard back about the poems they’d sent. In the fall, the students turned the submissions over to Stuart and David, who, joined by several others and funded by the College, eventually launched FIELD in 1969.” 

Collins was one of those who joined up with FIELD after having interacted with the magazine as a poet for the better part of two decades.

“When I met Stuart Friebert at a poetry festival in 1979, he asked me to send work to FIELD,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “I’d published very few poems at the time and was thrilled when, on my second try, some poems were accepted. I published many poems in the magazine during the next 16 years, which led, indirectly, to my applying to join the Creative Writing faculty [at Oberlin College] and [becoming] an editor in 1997. I continued to serve as an editor for the next 10 years until I retired in 2007; since then, I’ve continued to work as Editor-at-Large.” 

Working with the magazine has had a profound effect on Collins’ development, a feeling shared by many of FIELD’s loyal participants.

“My experience as both contributor and editor was life-changing,” Collins wrote. “Publishing in the magazine made me … a part of a wonderful community of poets who were also published there.”

Oberlin Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program DeSales Harrison joined FIELD’s editorial board shortly after arriving in the early 2000s. Like Collins, he believes that working on the magazine has been a powerful, if not thankless, experience. 

“It’s been a delight from the beginning,” he wrote in an email to the Review. “Exhausting, at times, to be sure, as it’s very difficult to find a place in an Oberlin teaching and writing and service schedule to sit down and read submissions, much less to meet and talk about them.”

As the celebrations wind down, those who worked on the magazine have been left to wonder what its legacy will be. 

“I can’t emphasize enough how important FIELD has been for American poetry,” Collins wrote. “From the beginning, FIELD published nationally-known poets alongside people no one had ever heard of. Every issue brought a variety of poems, from the deftly plain-spoken to the knottily difficult, from the formally elegant to the elegantly simple. … Many poets — including me — came into their own through publication in the magazine; many were influenced by the poems they read there. To read through the 100 issues is to experience some of the best and most exciting poetry published in the United States in the last 50 years.” 

“The origin of FIELD lies with Oberlin undergraduates, who in the spring of 1963 launched a magazine they called The Oberlin Quarterly,” Collins said. “They were very enterprising — as Oberlin students of course are — and solicited work [from] a number of nationally known poets, some of whose work they published in their first and only two issues. But at the end of the year, they left behind a huge number of submissions they hadn’t dealt with, and Stuart Friebert and David Young, their faculty advisors, began to get complaints from friends who hadn’t heard back about the poems they’d sent. In the fall, the students turned the submissions over to Stuart and David, who, joined by several others and funded by the College, eventually launched FIELD in 1969.”

Collins was one of those who joined up with FIELD after having interacted with the magazine as a poet for the better part of two decades.

“When I met Stuart Friebert at a poetry festival in 1979, he asked me to send work to FIELD,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “I’d published very few poems at the time and was thrilled when, on my second try, some poems were accepted. I published many poems in the magazine during the next 16 years, which led, indirectly, to my applying to join the Creative Writing faculty [at Oberlin College] and [becoming] an editor in 1997. I continued to serve as an editor for the next 10 years until I retired in 2007; since then, I’ve continued to work as Editor-at-Large.” 

Working with the magazine has had a profound effect on Collins’ development, a feeling shared by many of FIELD’s loyal participants.

“My experience as both contributor and editor was life-changing,” Collins wrote. “Publishing in the magazine made me … a part of a wonderful community of poets who were also published there.”

Oberlin Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program DeSales Harrison joined FIELD’s editorial board shortly after arriving in the early 2000s. Like Collins, he believes that working on the magazine has been a powerful, if not thankless, experience. 

“It’s been a delight from the beginning,” he wrote in an email to the Review. “Exhausting, at times, to be sure, as it’s very difficult to find a place in an Oberlin teaching and writing and service schedule to sit down and read submissions, much less to meet and talk about them.”

As the celebrations wind down, those who worked on the magazine have been left to wonder what its legacy will be. 

“I can’t emphasize enough how important FIELD has been for American poetry,” Collins wrote. “From the beginning, FIELD published nationally-known poets alongside people no one had ever heard of. Every issue brought a variety of poems, from the deftly plain-spoken to the knottily difficult, from the formally elegant to the elegantly simple. … Many poets — including me — came into their own through publication in the magazine; many were influenced by the poems they read there. To read through the 100 issues is to experience some of the best and most exciting poetry published in the United States in the last 50 years.” 

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