Creative Writing Students Engage in Virtual Poetry International Internships

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

journal staff in a zoom meetingInternships help students gain a competitive edge in the workforce by offering real-world skill development, professional networking, and hands-on experience that bolsters job readiness and  resumes. Not all majors require an internship, but it is strongly recommended. 

While in-person internships this year were paused, due to COVID-19, creative writing graduate and undergraduate students found virtual internship opportunities through the Department of English & Comparative Literature with the creative writing program’s literary journal Poetry International.

SDSU’s Poetry International is one of the oldest and most respected literary journals in the world dedicated to poetry from around the globe. Each edition features 300 to 800 pages of poetry. Since its first edition in 1997, the annual journal has published work by such authors as Nobel laureates Derek Walcott, Wislawa Szymborska, Jose Saramago, Gabriela Mistral, Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, and numerous others.

Editor-in-chief, professor of poetry, and MFA program co-director, Sandra Alcosser said, "Even though we are working offsite, internships still go on — in a digital format this year.” Instead of editorial meetings in the office, interns meet with their teams via Zoom. 

"We work with about 15-20 interns, editors, and editorial assistants each semester who receive first-hand knowledge associated with publishing a journal including experience reading submissions, learning production, distribution, marketing, and social media,” Alcosser said.

This year there are five graduate interns, five undergraduate interns, three graduate assistants, and three MFA volunteers, as well as several contributing editors. MFA editorial assistants help make selections for the best poems from the last 25 years — reading hundreds of pages to select twenty poems from each previously published journal as a short list. From these 500 poems, the editor-in-chief makes the final selection for issue 27, the issue that will celebrate the first 25 years of Poetry International

Arnisha Diamond Royston, a first-year MFA in creative writing graduate student said, “With the entire format of the internship being online, I was nervous about connecting with other interns and editors. But, I am surprised how inclusive and welcoming the online format has been. Meeting with my individual editing team weekly and having a round table meeting with the entire Poetry International team via Zoom has been great.” 

Beyond editing for the journal other opportunities for interns include social media marketing. “I have used social media for years now, but this semester has allowed me insight into how it works for a literary publication. It certainly has been a practice in condensed writing as well as editing, because I am in charge of creating drafts to post on Poetry International's Twitter account,” Tiara Barnette, undergrad in creative writing said.

Nabeal Twereet, who is set to graduate with his MFA next year said, “I read three chapbooks a week, take notes, and then read them a second time. After reading, I make comments and vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for inclusion in the journal.”

Louise Sy, undergraduate in creative writing enjoys her time as part of the production team and  plans to continue through next semester. “One of my favorite tasks was gathering and formatting poems, and while it can be tedious at times it's something that I think I'm good at and enjoy doing,” she said. 

“This type of internship helps people learn about poetry,” Twereet added. “The more I read poetry from a diverse group of people, the more I learn about line breaks, enjambment, and prose forms.”

Undergraduate Sarah Fisher said the internship experience has given her access to the international poetry scene, which is new to her. “I do like what I’ve been doing so far and have learned a lot of things that are important after graduation.”

Busy Year for Creative Writing and Editing — Despite Pandemic 

During the 2020-2021 academic year, the team behind Poetry International plans to publish their first online quarterly journal in January and a print version in spring. “The submissions team might review and rank as many as 2,000 pages of poetry in chapbook form and 3,500 pages of individual poems,” Alcosser said.

The editorial team meets every third week and each editor and intern contributes to the conversation. In a recent round table session, submissions editor and master’s research scholarship recipient Brent Ameneyro read from his review of the collection New-Generation African Poets to be published in the upcoming first issue of Poetry International Quarterly

Alcosser shared a job list of editorial positions along with scholarship and poetry competition information to inspire students, noting that many positions are offered remotely to open up opportunities, for instance, in New York and even across the globe. PI managing editor, Paula Stacey, shared her experience and background in professional editing and publishing with the team. 

In addition to internships, undergraduates may pursue a certificate in editing and publishing through the Department of English & Comparative Literature.  

“Being an intern for Poetry International has been a great way for me to meet students and engage with the poetry community at SDSU as a new graduate student,” said Royston, adding, “I feel like being a part of this internship will help in my future career as poet, author, and English professor.”

Twereet added, “Anyone thinking about pursuing an MFA would greatly benefit from taking this internship.”


More about PI

Every year Poetry International holds two contests, The C.P. Cavafy Prize and The Poetry International Prize. The winner of each is awarded a cash prize of $1,000 and publication.