An Interview with Lynne Honickman and American Poetry Review Editor Elizabeth Scanlon
Founder & President, Honickman Foundation
Lynne Honickman (LH):
A love of poetry. A universe held on a page. Moving a discipline forward. Honoring an artist.
These are some of the reasons why, 13 years ago, with The Honickman Foundation, I established the APR/Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry. Wondering where the next generation of poets would come from after arts funding had been cut in schools, I dreamed of creating a prize to support a discipline that was very personal... That had enriched my life immeasurably. As a writer in my earlier years, I was acutely aware of how many rejections could appear—especially in the beginning... I could have papered my bedroom with mine.
I learned that I am holding someone's heart in my hands when I read his or her work... and that heart must never be just 'dropped'...
I developed a love of poetry through reading—a whole universe can be held on just one page. When I was a young playwright, one of my mentors said to me, ‘Read a lot of poetry. It will help your unconscious find the right word instead of pages.”
The Honickman Foundation was born to help the underserved. Thirteen years ago poetry and photography were still the underserved art disciplines. I wanted to aid poets with potential. And today the First Book Prize in Poetry remains unique, even among other first book prizes.
Just ask Elizabeth Scanlon, editor at APR and main point person for the prize.
Editor, American Poetry Review
Elizabeth Scanlon (ES):
Unlike any other prize I can think of, when we choose a book, that’s the only book we’re doing that year. The one-on-one relationship between myself, the poet, and the book designer is a quality of attention that almost no author at any stage in their career ever gets. And APR is unlike any other magazine or publisher because we’re not affiliated with an academic program, and we don’t represent any one aesthetic. With three editors, we have an eclectic editorial experience and a variety of tastes.
I agree, some of the finest arts groups that manage to sustain themselves are small, eclectic, and totally committed. APR is that in poetry. And that is why APR was my choice of collaborative partner from the beginning. And Elizabeth was a “natural” from day one. We at THF couldn’t have a more talented and valiant custodian.
But let me backtrack for a moment... Steve Berg, the amazing and prolific poet, translator and teacher is the founding editor of APR. David Bonano, the astute managing editor and for many years, Arthur Vogelsang, was the third editor... who Elizabeth so brilliantly replaced.
Steve and I liked each other's thinking enough for me to be invited to join APR's board where I served as trustee from 1996 until 2008 when I then joined in an advisory capacity. He and I began a dialogue about my dream of creating a first book prize in poetry. He was enthusiastic and laughingly suggested that I'd probably want all women judges. I answered "no power trip—just an absolute equity...every other judge being female will do."
And so it began.
And it wasn't long before we found that the superb, young editor and poet, Elizabeth Scanlon was the perfect person to shepherd the applicants home: And together we developed a triumphant format.
When APR publishes you—that’s validation. The final judge, someone who is valued and recognized in the field, not only picks the poet, but says why, which constitutes the book’s introduction. Now the poet is funded, published, and has an advocate from the top of the discipline.
There's an added benefit the winning poet receives from the judge. Sometimes a real mentorship occurs between the judge and the poet. We couldn’t offer something more wonderful to a young poet than that ongoing relationship.”
In this first book prize, we’re honoring them as artists in a way that is not frequently available to poets. That these poets... who carry the banner of APR on their books, return to the magazine as a touchstone for their later works, shows that we are really invested in the writers we publish. And seeing how invested those writers are in advancing other poets’ work is something that always hits home for me.
For many of the winning poets this prize has opened doors, bringing them audiences and teaching opportunities they did not previously have, advancing the art form. This is creating the next generation, and promotes a discipline that gives value to the world. And at the end of the day that’s a glorious justification. I'm only sorry that there can be only one winning book—there are so many wonderfully gifted poets working today: I know that the editors feel it's a privilege to read their manuscripts.
'Discovery' is in its own way something like giving birth... now how remarkable is that!