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New Lit on the Block :: Binsey Poplar Press

“Having a safe space to share your art/writing and the power of publication to galvanize aspiring young artists and writers to share their voice” is a motivating factor behind Binsey Poplar Press according to Founder and Editor Sophia Smith. Featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography, and art by contributors ages 13-26, Binsey Poplar Press publishes an online literary magazine every two months as well as publishing pieces on their website. “Our website will be continuously updated with new art and writing pieces and issues,” said Jessica Gao, Web Designer and Co-Editor for Art. “We hope to make it even more visually appealing and be one of your favorite reading spots.”

Binsey Poplar Press began as a spark in Sophia’s life long ago. “As a lover of poetry since as long as I can remember,” she shared, “I decided to name this publication off the first poem I ever read that encouraged me to start writing: ‘Binsey Poplars’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins. In the poem, Hopkins describes how a grove of Poplar trees is deforested by humans, encouraging the reader to ask themselves ‘if we but knew what we do / when we delve or hew.’ I was so impressed by this poem, and how it encouraged me to think more critically towards deforestation, I decided to try writing a poem myself. Four years later, with numerous publications under my belt, I understand the importance of having a safe space to share your art/writing and the power of publication to galvanize aspiring young artists and writers to share their voices.”

Sophia’s growth in writing continued, and she has been published or has works forthcoming in numerous literary magazines, including Rising Phoenix Press, The Daphne Review, and Blue Marble Review. Sophia has also been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Keats Soul-making competition, Live Poets Society, Stanford Anthology for Youth, Teen Ink, and Schola Cantorum’s poetry-to-music competition, among others. “Additionally,” she said, “I’m currently working with my county’s poetry laureate, the wonderful Janice Lobo Sapigao, to develop a Youth Poetry Laureate program for our county.”

Sophia’s commitment to writing extends well beyond her own. “Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, which is largely centered around STEM due to the ever-burgeoning tech industry, I wanted to promote a greater emphasis on writing. My high school still neglects a single creative writing class [WHAT?!], though it boasts over eight STEM-related elective offerings. After countless attempts to encourage the district to add a creative writing class, I decided that creating my own publication would be the best way to foster a love of writing. I’ve read so many stellar small-time literary journals that have made a tremendous impact on my life and my views, I hope to cultivate a similar space.”

Joining her at the helm is an impressive and committed team of students: Prose Editor Roo Joshi, Poetry Editor Allie Nguyen, Copy Editor Julia Gentin, Art Editor Jessica Gao, Design Editor Sophie Han, Finance Manager Kavi Gollamudi, and Social Media Manager Astrid Huang. Each brings a unique set of skills and interest to the publication, all to support their shared vision.

“Our mission at Binsey Poplar Press,” Sophia added, “is to amplify the voice of each contributor who sends work to us. We want to be the publication that provides a safe place for your writing to be shared with others and to give you feedback to help your piece emerge as strong as it can be. We want to be the catalyst that encourages you to share your writing with a myriad of different publications. We want to give you the confidence to consider yourself a writer, to answer your questions, and guide you through the submission process. We’ll stick with you through our entire publication process, and send you off into the world a better, stronger, more resilient writer.”

For writers looking for this kind of publishing experience, Sophia explained the Binsey Poplar Press editorial process. “I want to make our submissions process as clear as possible. First, when author information is submitted on our website and submissions are sent to our email address, I receive a notification and upload the submission to our editors’ joint account. Before I do so, I remove the names of the contributors, creating a ‘blind review’ process. For art, I add all the pieces we receive into a folder for our co-art editors to review, then they offer their opinions on each piece, what message it conveys, and whether they think it would be a good fit for our publication. Afterwards, they take the accepted pieces and decide whether we should include them on our website under Student Work, or in our online literary magazine. If the art editors have any suggested edits, they include this in an email to the artists, who are notified as soon as possible if their piece(s) are accepted. For writers, our poetry and prose editors receive a similar folder of writing pieces for the cycle. Each editor analyzes the piece, writing down feedback for suggested edits and telling the writer what they liked best about their submission. Then, they write to me about whether they think the piece would be a good fit for our publication and give me their recommendations. Whether a piece is accepted or declined, our editors provide suggestions based on their literary knowledge and notify writers as soon as possible about their submissions.”

As a result of this meticulous process, Sophia asserted that “readers of Binsey Poplar Press can expect to find a mosaic of different student voices and messages. Though we accept many different types of submissions, what links our pieces is quality and the unique perspectives they share. I hope we have created a place readers will visit time and again, truly excited for our upcoming issues and eager to share their voices.”

Some of those published voices include Yingen Poh, who created “Avarice,” the art for the first issue’s cover. Other contributors include “Fleeting Memories,” art by Edward Zhang, “This is Just to Say,” prose by Emma Lee, and “Candlelight,” poetry by Veena Sumedh.

Starting a literary magazine is a demanding commitment in the best of times, but in the middle of a pandemic? “As we worked on releasing our first issue,” Sophia recalled, “many of our editors faced challenges related to power outages, storms, heatwaves, navigating virtual learning, and more, which made it difficult to produce our issue. All of our editors are busy juggling personal responsibilities alongside editing for the magazine, but they are so dedicated, highly knowledgeable, and I enjoy working with them immensely. Their continued motivation to see the magazine prosper is what keeps us going.”

Sophia continued, focusing on the positive, “It has been a great joy to work with others in setting up the magazine, and I love hearing the editors’ thoughts and ideas for each piece. Of course, I must say that reading all of the wonderful pieces we receive is a continuous joy as well, as I understand how much courage it takes for young writers and artists to send a piece they worked so hard on into the world. All of the pieces we review are special, and having the opportunity to encounter a unique opinion, message, or perception that are part of these works is the best part of running the magazine.”

With such an uplifting beginning, the future for Binsey Poplar Press looks equally encouraging. “We will continue to provide issues,” Sophia said, “hopefully transitioning to producing magazines once every month that mix art and writing to share with our audience. Additionally, our goal is to produce physical magazines so we can afford to pay our contributors, and possibly to include a blog that offers resources for artists and writers.”

Binsey Poplar Press accepts submissions on a rolling basis with their next magazine issue scheduled for October. Sohpia encouraged, “We can’t wait to see your submissions and hear your wonderful, unique voices!”

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