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Growing up in Bethesda, Deborah Ager didn’t exactly see the career potential in her love of poetry. “It’s just something that I’ve always enjoyed,” says the now-33-year-old Hyattsville resident, estimating that she penned her first poem at age 8. “But it wasn’t until I was in college that I thought of it as something to do—you know, that I realized that normal people do it.”
Ager earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Florida in 1997, and her work has appeared in such esteemed journals as the Crab Orchard Review and Gargoyle. But she always dreamed of starting her own magazine. It wasn’t until her residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in early 2003 that the plans of the now-publisher-and-editor of 32 Poems began to take shape.
“I actually thought it up on a basketball court,” she laughs. “I was playing basketball with another poet and a magazine editor…and we began talking about my idea.”
The idea was to publish an approachable and portable semiannual volume of poetry. “I feel that a lot of magazines have so many poems in them—it can be overwhelming,” Ager says. After studying the format of a literary publication she admired, the New York City– based One Story, she thought that a similar template could work for her journal: “a small, saddle-stitched publication…that you can slip into your purse or take on the Metro.” The resulting 32 Poems is just that: 32 poems, each consisting of 32 lines or fewer.
Another unique aspect of the magazine is its commitment to the promotion of poets. “Usually, a poem is published and that’s the end of it,” says Ager. “We make a point of nominating poets for prizes….We do a lot with attempting to get press for our poets.” Prizes awarded are posted on the journal’s Web site, 32poems.com, and Ager and her staff regularly submit their poets’ work to Verse Daily and Poetry Daily.
That staff includes Ager’s husband, Contributing Editor Bill Beverly, who teaches at Trinity College in D.C., and Poetry Editor John Poch, a professor at Texas Tech University and Ager’s former classmate at the University of Florida, who culls submissions from around the globe.
Poch began scouting talent by writing to poets whose work he liked. “But now that we’ve published our third issue,” says Ager, “more people are starting to submit stuff.” Indeed, word of mouth recently reached a poet in Italy.
32 Poems also recently became a nonprofit, drafting Nation Poetry Editor Grace Schulman, National Book Award–winning poet B.H. Fairchild, and
New England Review Poetry Editor C. Dale Young as board members.
“I have a background in direct-mail fundraising, and I also have an interest in business,” Ager says. “So it’s kind of perfect that running a magazine combines everything I love to do.”
Ager’s small publication is becoming a relatively big success, claiming 200 subscribers to date. “The other day I got a letter saying, ‘Thanks for creating such a wonderful magazine,’” she says. “The biggest surprise has been the number of positive responses—even from people who don’t normally read poetry. And that’s definitely part of our mission—to make poetry more available to people.” —Anne Marson