Pittsburgh, PA –– Pretty Owl Poetry (POP), an online feminist literary journal based in Pittsburgh, is one of ten newly selected organizations that will participate in Prototype PGH’s 2020 Incubator. Prototype PGH is a nonprofit devoted to promoting gender and racial equity in technology and entrepreneurship. It will provide resources, workshops, and consultation to assist in the growth of the journal, which seeks to establish a chapbook press called Pretty Owl Press.
POP will begin publishing two chapbooks a year in conjunction with the quarterly journal issues starting in 2021. Like the literary journal, Pretty Owl Press will also publish socially conscious work from marginalized voices; however, this new venture will also help build authors’ careers through online advertisements, book launch celebrations, and sales facilitation. POP is excited to continue giving back to the literary community by joining the Prototype incubator cohort, the range of which—according to Prototype founder Erin Gatz—“underscores the true richness of Pittsburgh’s communities and cultures.”
Founded in 2013, POP is dedicated to uplifting underrepresented voices, especially those belonging to people of color, LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse individuals, as well as womxn, non-binary folx, and trans folx. POP publishes poetry, flash fiction, and art on a quarterly basis. Over the past seven years, POP has become an integral part of the Pittsburgh literary scene by hosting readings with established authors on tour as well as local Pittsburgh writers on a regular basis.
Additionally, the journal runs a bi-weekly writing prompt series inspired by the mystery and magic of the tarot called POPcraft, and it also produces POPcast, a podcast centered around publishing and the world of writers. In its monthly newsletter and social media feeds, POP promotes its sister Sundress publications and past contributors—affectionately referred to as “Pretty Owlers.” Because the contributors make the journal possible, POP seeks to expand its support for writers and grow its audience through the creation of Pretty Owl Press.
A 501(c)(3) non-profit literary collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.
Pretty Owl Poetry, a Pittsburgh-based online literary arts journal, is introducing a new prompt series: POPcraft: Tarot for Poets.
Every other week a new writing prompt will be featured on the website and will focus on a Tarot spread readers can use for writing inspiration. A play on the mystery and ritual of witchcraft, POPcraft invites writers to submit their own Tarot spreads, and an accompanying prompt to be featured on the site.
“The idea behind POPcraft is essentially to do Tarot readings for a poem,” said Kimberly Grabowski Strayer, creator and curator of the new series. “Tarot spreads can take almost infinite forms and can reflect the person creating them so closely, I felt like this was a resource we could really be taking advantage of as a community as a form of generating poems.”
Prompt submissions should be original and unpublished. The journal is looking for the disruption and surprise of Tarot combined with the enigmatic logic of a poem’s creation. Elements of both should be present in submissions. How they come together is up to the submitter. It is known that a large intersection of Tarot and writing is ritual and the journal editors encourage submitters to be precise and concrete with the procedure of their prompt. Submitters are welcomed and encouraged to send photos of Tarot card spreads using their favorite decks.
An example of the first prompt, “The Three Souls,” created by POPcraft’s curator Kimberly Grabowski Strayer is available on the Pretty Owl Poetry website. To hear more about POPcraft from its creators and a Tarot card aficionado, listen to the seventh episode of the journal’s monthly podcast: POPcast, which is co-hosted by Kelly Lorraine Andrews and B. Rose Kelly. All episodes can be found at https://prettyowlpoetry.com/popcast/.
To stay up-to-date on POPcraft and other Pretty Owl news, follow the journal on all social media: @prettyowlpoetry.
Pretty Owl Poetry is a feminist quarterly journal that publishes the visual arts, traditional and nontraditional forms, fiction masquerading as poetry, and work that does not snuggly fit into a specific genre, all with a lyrical quality. We’re especially interested in work centered around the bodily experiences of womxn, nonbinary, and trans folx. We’re committed to publishing underrepresented and marginalized voices and encourage submission from such artists. Learn more about our submission guidelines on our website.
Jackie Vega: How did you come to be involved with Pretty Owl Poetry?
Kelly Andrews:Pretty Owl Poetry was founded in 2013 by myself, Gordon Buchan, and B. Rose (Huber) Kelly. At that time, I was just starting my MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh and was involved with the program’s online literary journal, Hot Metal Bridge, as a reader, but I wanted more experience as an editor. I reached out to Gordon, with whom I had taken creative writing classes as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and Rose, who I had befriended while she still lived in Pittsburgh (she’s now in New Jersey). I had relationships with both in terms of sharing work and giving/receiving feedback, either via e-mail (w/Gordon) or through a low-key workshop setting (w/Rose). Though we were all IUP alums, Gordon and Rose didn’t know each other before Pretty Owl, and Rose and I met post-graduation through a mutual friend. All of that to say, they both were people who I trusted as writers and editors, whose taste in literature was similar to my own, and who had different skill sets than I do. From conception of the journal, we’ve worked collaboratively in all that we do when it comes to Pretty Owl, including decisions about how best to move the journal forward in the literary world. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work with Gordon and Rose on a journal we started from the ground up—they’re both such talented friends.
JV: How would you describe your poetry aesthetic, and how do you bring that to the publication?
KA: I’m mostly drawn to gritty poems with substance. Ones where the emotional motivation of the speaker is believable, though the poems needn’t be set in reality or be realistic, if that makes sense. Gage Ledbetter’s “Fully Drawn, Steady Breaths” from Issue 9 is one of my favorite examples of this. The imaginative space in which the speaker exists with their mother and the canyon is exquisite: “Your mother taught the canyon how to shoot a bow, being a champion, herself. The canyon felled entire flocks of birds and you ate well and, after, the canyon taught your mother how to reply the day you told her you have layers of colored sediment and fields of corn right next to one another but no gender.” I love that the speaker is grappling with gender identity in a surreal world. And that there are so many unexpected moves in that poem (“And your mother and the canyon were accused of being lesbians, like a lot.”)
I also love poetry that is inventive and creative in its use of language. One poem that comes to mind is Ryan Downum’s “Painfeel” from Issue 7. That poem has so many beautifully created words like “fieldbloom,” “nightmouth,” and “bloodloom.” I remember how excited I felt when reading that submission because it was like nothing I had read before. That feeling is rare as an editor and overwhelming in the best possible way. And I love poetry that is fraught with complicated emotion. Mostly, I want to feel things when I read poetry. I love when a poem (or any art form) can make me cry—or even better, cry and laugh in the same space.
JV: What do you value the most in poetry?
KA: There’s so much that poetry can do for people. Writing poetry completely changed my life course—after graduating high school I was working multiple jobs and partying nonstop, with no real plan in place for what I wanted to do with my life. But then I joined a poetry workshop, and the encouragement I received from my mentors, Susanna Fry and Jessica Lauffer, really pushed me to apply to college. My future before taking that workshop was very uncertain and bleak. I can’t imagine what my life would look like now if it weren’t for their belief in me as a writer, if I hadn’t fallen in love with writing poetry.
More broadly, I value how poetry can affect people—it can be comforting in times of grief or pain; it can be an expression of love; it can evoke empathy; the list is endless of the things that poetry can do for people.
JV: What are some of the challenges of being an editor for an online publication? On the flip side, what are some benefits?
KA: One of the biggest challenges for us as an online journal is making sure our website is easily readable both online and on mobile devices. And because technology changes so often, nearly every year Gordon has revamped the look of the website in some way. Initially we started off with the work embedded into a web page, then moved to having it in a PDF. There is talk of maybe moving to a different platform like Issuu in the future, but that is probably quite a ways off.
The benefit of being an online journal is that we can reinvent our look/platform fairly often. Also, we can push our deadlines back if need be, whereas if we were a print journal, we’d have a much stricter printing schedule. And of course, the general cost of running an online publication is quite low. Since switching to Submittable, we’ve given readers the option to make a small donation with their submission if they’d like, but this is not required. The money is used to cover costs like our domain name/website and food/drink for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh. I love that we can share work with the world without having to charge readers a subscription fee.
JV: What can we look forward to from Pretty Owl Poetry in the next year?
KA: We have a great lineup already for our winter 2016 issue that will be released in early January, and we’re still reading submissions for that issue right now. Gordon just finished another revamp of the website’s homepage. I’m hoping to get some readers lined up for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh, with the possibility of some out-of-town contributors making an appearance. And hopefully, lots more great poems, art, and fiction!
Kelly Lorraine Andrews is an assistant managing editor for the American Economic Association and a recent MFA graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of the chapbooks The Fear Archives (Two of Cups Press, forthcoming), My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming), I Want To Eat So Many Kinds of Cake With You and Mule Skinner (both out from Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Prick of the Spindle, Weave Magazine, and elsewhere. You can read more about her past and future publications and look at a slideshow of her cats at her website.
Jackie Vega is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University’s Writing program currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During her time at GVSU, she served as Editor-in-Chief for fishladder, their literature and arts journal. Her poetry has been featured in Brainchildand on WYCE’s Electric Poetry radio program. She intends to pursue an MFA in (you guessed it) poetry.
Pretty Owl Poetryis now open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and art for its summer issue, slated to launch in late June.
-something shameful. something surreal. a deluge of desire. confessions of crimes & hearts teeming with rattlesnakes. a merry-go-round that makes you dizzy.
-send us your yellowed sweet tooth in a plastic bag. or lockets filled with tiny twig hairs. tell us everything we don’t want to hear. say it in a way that’s sweet to the ear. send us a flash, a jolt, a tickle in your belly. something simple but ahh. give us something that slaps & stings.
-keep the quiet for the mornings & make us dance, twist, shout, & fold around our bodies. send us something to slink into. show us a basket full of molded fruit & take a picture of your mother’s grey, stained socks. tell us about the time you dreamt & flailed.
Pretty Owl Poetry is an online quarterly journal that publishes new, emerging, and established writers in poetry, fiction, and the visual arts. We support all approaches to writing, be it collaborative or individual. We’re interested in experimental and traditional forms and flash fiction masquerading as poetry, all with a lyrical quality.