underbelly is a unique online publication with the goal “to bring to the surface what we often strive to make invisible: the joyful, arduous, miraculous, by turns tender and brutal process of shepherding a poem from its primal state to its final state.” Since 2018, Co-founders Maya Marshall and Marty McConnell have been inviting writers to share poems and micro-essays – not just in their final form, but also with the veil lifted “to undo the notion that poems always or even usually arrive perfect and whole from the genius mind of the writer.” Each contributor offers the “backstory” of the work along with one or more drafts side-by-side with the final version.
Again, the founders say, the goal is to satisfy the desire to “know how [the poem] came to be. In workshops and classrooms, we analyze the end product, often hazarding guesses about how a poem began or what forms it may have taken along the way.” Being able to see the writing process – or at least portions of it – is a way “to reassure ourselves and others who seek to improve their craft or understanding that the magic of writing and revision is a practical magic — one that can be taught, practiced, and hopefully maybe possibly even someday mastered.”
The site features several artists per issue (2-3 per year), a Spotlight section dedicated, typically, to particularly well-established writers — “people who have deepened the world of poetry in some significant way,” and a Features section for “excellent and craft wise writers who are in the process of making deep waves in the world of poetry.”
Submissions are currently only by invitation, with those contributors suggesting other poets whose work would be a good fit for underbelly. “That way we learn about new writers,” Marshall says, “and keep the contributors diverse in terms of aesthetic, age, place of origin, creed, and other truths that contextualize experience and imagination. To date, we have maintained a rule that our contributors must have published at least one book. This year, we’ll put emerging writers out front by including a few folx who have not published a first book in each issue.”
Marshall adds, “We’ve had genuinely excited feedback from teachers over the years. Here’s to more of the same! And we are always hoping to hear how teachers use underbelly in their classes.” underbelly is free to read online.
Contributors include Chris Abani, Hanif Abdurraqib, Aria Aber, Helene Achanzar, Kaveh Akbar, Raymond Antrobus, Cynthia Arrieu-King, Derrick Austin, Cameron Awkward-Rich, C. Bain, makalani bandele, Quenton Baker, Taneum Bambrick, Amy Sayre Baptista, Elana Bell, Kimberly Blaeser, Tara Betts, Destiny O. Birdsong, Malika Booker, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, F. Douglas Brown, Jericho Brown, Ching-In Chen, Franny Choi, Liz Countryman, Geffrey Davis, Tyree Daye , Tarfia Faizullah , Aricka Foreman, Naoko Fujimoto, Ross Gay, Jenn Givhan, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Jan-Henry Gray, Faylita Hicks, Noor Hindi, Yvette Cornelia Holzwarth, Nicole Homer, Tyehimba Jess, Janine Joseph, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis, Keetje Kuipers, Shayla Lawson, Joseph O. Legaspi, Ada Limón, Nate Marshall, Irène Mathieu, Carlo Matos, Rachel McKibbens, Rachel Mennies, Vi Khi Nao, Angela Narciso Torres, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Hoa Nguyen, Margaret Noodin, José Olivarez, Soham Patel, Alison C. Rollins, Jacob Saenz, Nicole Sealey, Tim Seibles, Evie Shockley, Bianca Lynne Spriggs, Sara Wainscott, Phillip B. Williams, Keith S. Wilson, L. Lamar Wilson, and Jane Wong.