A conversational poem called "Whistling Past the Dead," by award-winning Denver poet Robert Cooperman. A short memoir of Oxycontin abuse from Champlain College student Amanda Northrop. A rhyming poem called "King Kong's Shoe Repair" by Ned Bratspis, a marriage counselor from Washington State. A verse memory of haying from Charlotte writer Kathleen McKinley Harris. A short story consisting almost entirely of dialogue over a game of chess, by Champlain student Jackie Bishop.
This is a sampling of the most recent edition of Willard & Maple, a "literary and fine art magazine" published at Champlain College. The book-bound journal is 188 pages, with a color cover and 24-page color insert. It looks pretty much like other literary journals that accept submissions from around the world, listing their specs in popular writers' references such as Poets' Market and Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. Willard & Maple is listed in those guides. But, unlike most of the journals it resembles, it's edited entirely by undergrads.
How did Willard & Maple make the leap from student literary magazine to international one, with submissions from as far away as France and Pakistan? Champlain writing instructor and poet-in-residence Jim Ellefson is the journal's consulting editor. "For the first six years, it looked like a high school rag," he says of W&M, which is now in its 12th year. Then "we got a trustee who's interested in writing to give us a little bit of money." The next step was to apply for listing in the writers' reference guides, which require editors to prove their journal is "bona fide and of a certain artistic merit," says Ellefson. "They're looking for the whole visual quality, the layout and design." W&M passed muster.
Today, Ellefson says, the journal receives about 4000 submissions for each annual issue. The initial culling is performed by the editor in chief, a student - this year, it's senior Meghan Schardt. Submissions that make the cut go to an editorial board of about 12 students, for whom the experience is a one-credit class. In a process that stretches from September to May, they read packets of writing, evaluate them, and put the journal together.
Ellefson, who oversees the editorial process, describes it as "like this giant brontosaurus that we're trying to get to roll over. It's the definition of democracy: The trains don't run on time, and people are quibbling all the time." Students who start out excited soon realize that the "reality of being an editor is just grinding work," he goes on. "Some discover that this is part of what they want to do." Others don't.
The journal publishes the winners of a Champlain student writing contest, but it doesn't maintain any other quotas for student-penned content. "In terms of aesthetics, we try to be catholic," says Ellefson. "We'll look at everything. My job is to make sure everyone gets a voice." He doesn't get a vote on the editorial board, though. "I see things I don't like put in, and things I love turned away, but it's their magazine," he says.
Right now, Ellefson admits, W&M is "not run in a sustainable fashion." Unlike premium, glossy lit journals, which sell for upwards of $15 at bookstores around the country, this one is only available through Ellefson or the office of the Champlain writing program, and it sells for $10 - that is, at cost.
But Ellefson talks with excitement about the future. Vermont slam-poetry champ Geof Hewitt submits regularly to W&M, and Ellefson hopes one day to get work from Grace Paley. "As the magazine starts getting better, people like that will perhaps consider it," he says - then sums up the situation as only a poet could. "We have our hat in our hand, and we're not looking at the floor anymore, but we're not looking at the stars, either. We're realistic about what we're all about."