In the Beginning…
The Comstock Writers’ Group incorporated in 1986. From its inception as a workshop for local poets begun in the living room of Jenny MacPherson, it is now one of the most respected and enjoyed journals in the United States. The original group consisted of Jenny, Kathleen Bryce Niles, Peggy Flanders, Mike Morgan, Mike McAnaney and Yvonne Clifton. Others worked with us for short periods of time but this core group has remained consistent for over 20 years. John M. Bellinger, who took over as Managing Editor from 2006-2009 and Georgia Popoff, who took over in 2009 are the first people in that position not there at our founding!
The first issues of Poetpourri, as the journal was initially entitled, were small volumes of poetry from Central New York writers. Karen Fausnaugh edited the first 2 issues. Cupcake sales and turkey raffles as well as some very well-attended open mike sessions provided the income necessary to keep the magazine going for several years. As the reputation and interest increased, we supplemented subscriptions with a major project with the Syracuse City School District that involved poetry with children in grades K-12. Eventually, Poetpourri, Jr. became so enormously popular and it had to be limited to K-6 students only. The last issue of “Jr” was published in 2000.
In time, the adult Poetpourri became a fine journal representing excellent poets nationally. Several years ago, CWG became aware of the need to change the title to the more serious and fitting Comstock Review. (Few know that the name came from the street where our workshops began) Since the change in name our journal has continued to host the best work from poets throughout the English-speaking world.
In order to make the journal look as good as the poetry inside, we found it necessary to again find a way to supplement sales and subscriptions. Thus, we began the major contest known as the Muriel Craft Bailey Award. From the initial first prize of $100, we have been able to make it a $1000 award. Needless to note, this has brought out some excellent work from everywhere poets write. The Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook contest was added in 2003 as a tribute to Kathleen’s grandmother and runs every other year. Again, we have received the finest of chapbooks and had considerable difficulty choosing the winners in every contest year.
It is our joy to be able to do all this for poets. As a non-profit organization devoted to poetry, in general, and poets, in specific, none of our staff receives any compensation for their efforts. It is, indeed, a labor of love. The magazine is not supported by any university or any grant money, although we do receive small donations from time to time and are grateful for a larger donation in 2009.
This website is our gift to poets. The Handbook for Poets is a guide that can be used by professionals as well as amateurs. The prize winning poems are published in order that poets can see the kind of work that is rewarded by publication. We exist to serve poets.
We have read and are reading literally thousands of poems yearly during the open reading period and the contest. We have selected well-respected and well-known judges to select the top poems from the contest. Everything we do is with the utmost respect and regard for the integrity of our writers. We treat the novice poet with the same respect and encouragement as the professional poet. While we do not have the space to print poems that do not meet the highest standards, each of us was once a beginning writer. We never fail to remember that.
There are relatively few journals not connected to University presses that have our longevity. We are what you see and what you see are poets in the business of poetry.
– Kathleen Bryce Niles (updated 11/11)