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R.D. Baker began publishing the quarterly poetry and prose magazine WordWrights! two years ago for two reasons.

“I’d been going to lot of open readings and [poetry] slams and running into people at the Writer’s Center [in Bethesda]. I met a lot of people who were not only good poets but who were not even sending stuff out. I wanted to give them a chance to be published.”

And the other reason?

“I thought I was going to die.”

Oh.

The doctors gave Baker two to three years to live after diagnosing an illness he doesn’t wish to disclose. Baker’s not only still alive, and his medical problem is in remission, but his health scare motivated him: “I realized from my own situation that there’s no time like the present.”

WordWrights!’s present is its huge ninth issue, a 64-pager, twice its normal size. During the winter Baker edits the magazine, which features guest editors during the other seasons. But even a volunteer staff can’t save the journal from just scraping by.

“We expect to lose money forever. We just hope we’ll get to a point where we’re losing less money each year. We lost less money this year, so I see that as a positive trend.”

The magazine’s prose and poetry run the gamut from narrative to the experimental, some of it successful (high-school senior Nina Stotler’s mature writings don’t sound as if they are coming from a 17-year-old), and some of it absolutely horrible (punk poet Dee Snyder gives credence to Paul Fussell’s assertion “that poetry has nothing to do with ‘broad issues.’ Latching verbal art onto them guarantees that both the art and the issues will come out BAD”).

But Baker sees the magazine as only part of the poetic process.

“Poetry is to be read aloud,” he says. “That’s the problem with some poetry when it’s printed. When you hear something in performance that you love it’s not necessarily going to work as a written piece.”

You can hear many of WordWrights!’s poets as orators at a party for the winter issue Saturday, Feb. 16. Call (202) 328-9769 for more information.

Subscriptions are $12 a year from the Argone Hotel Press, Argone Hotel, 1620 Argone Place NW, Washington, DC 20009.—Christopher Porter