English Major Creates ’Zine Honoring Richmond’s Poetry Past and Present

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During the fall of 2009, Joshua Eckhardt, assistant professor of English, assigned the students in his Reading Literature class to create a verse miscellany, a compilation of their favorite poems copied out by hand. One of Eckhardt’s students, Addison Herron-Wheeler, a sophomore at the time, saw in the miscellany form some intriguing parallels with the ‘zine, which is an independent magazine made cheaply in black and white. She thought combining the two forms would create a compelling product.

So, some time later, when Herron-Wheeler, now a junior majoring in English, learned of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program grants that VCU offers, she applied for a fellowship with a plan to create a miscellany of Richmond poetry, representing writings culled from the city’s long history, and to organize it in the architecture of a ‘zine. The result, Richmond Poetry Miscellany, was published this spring and will be distributed for free at the Undergraduate Poster Symposium on April 20. Herron-Wheeler said, “I think it paints a good picture of Richmond through poetry.”

Herron-Wheeler’s authors are diverse and their work published alongside each other will give readers a unique way to track the city’s evolution, tracing through literature Richmond’s journey from the early Virginia settlers of the 17th century to GWAR, the costumed contemporary metal band. Among those included in the ‘zine are literary luminaries such as Edgar Allen Poe, Tom Wolfe, William Styron and Langston Hughes, and authors with VCU ties, such as James Branch Cabell, Tom Robbins, Larry Levis and Joshua Poteat.

“It’s a strong collection of authors who are from Richmond or were inspired by Richmond in some way,” Herron-Wheeler said. “Their work enriched the culture of the city.”

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Herron-Wheeler already harbored an interest in ‘zines when she took Eckhardt’s reading literature course. Eckhardt, who served as Herron-Wheeler’s mentor for Richmond Poetry Miscellany, said the ‘zine and miscellany formats make for natural partners, but he believes Herron-Wheeler “is making this connection before others have.”

“Her project shows that Addison enthusiastically integrates her coursework with her extracurricular interests,” Eckhardt said. “By doing so, she not only makes opportunities for herself to work on what she likes; she also teaches others about it, including her teachers.”

Herron-Wheeler, who described Richmond Poetry Miscellany as a kind of “guerrilla project,” said an advantage to the ‘zine format is that “anyone can do it. You don’t need a lot of money and resources.” However, it does take a great deal of work and commitment. There was the matter of designing the ‘zine, including the layout of the pages, as well as the task of representing different cultures, important writers and eras – a self-appointed charge that Herron-Wheeler gave to ensure a breadth of represented works. Herron-Wheeler said Eckhardt, who has done extensive research on manuscript verse miscellanies, helped her locate sources for some particularly difficult time frames.

Herron-Wheeler originally had plans for a 100-page publication stuffed with poems, but soon realized that the amount of work required for that ambitious of a project was prohibitive. Instead, she elected to narrow down her choice of poems to approximately 20 works –a change that she believes gives Richmond Poetry Miscellany a keen focus, allowing each poem to stand out in sharp relief.

“I had to find creative ways to tie some of them in,” Herron-Wheeler said. “(The poems are) not all about Richmond directly. There’s a lot more variety to them than that.”

Herron-Wheeler enlisted friends to contribute art for the ‘zine, including logos for each writer included in the publication and a collage for the cover, and she framed each poem with a written blurb that explained the origin of the work, its themes and inspiration, its connection to Richmond and other suggested reading related to it. The result is a publication that contains a mixture of the artistic and the scholarly, providing readers not only with poetry but with context and history.

“I’m hoping there’s something for everyone in there,” Herron-Wheeler said.