How Literary Magazine Changed My Life

The Weekly Wednesday: Literary Magazine Changed My Life

The Weekly Wednesday is a column written for members of the Georgia Scholastic Press Association, mostly comprised of high school journalism teachers.

by Joe Dennis

As I was shuffling through boxes at my mom’s house, I came across a folder packed with random pieces of paper filled with forgotten poetry, half-written short stories and attempted drawings from my high school days.

Most memorable was a stack of song lyrics I wrote. It was the early 1990s and I was going to be a rock star! My best friend played guitar and I would take my folder of poems and we would jam. He would play riffs as I shuffled through the papers finding a set of lyrics that best fit with the jam. Once I found a fit, I adjusted the lyrics as he strummed some different chords and we would develop a chorus and intro for the song. We ended up writing almost 20 songs that way.

Each song was deeply personal to me. “Change in the Weather” was about Ivey — the girl I so desperately wanted to be my girlfriend, but I didn’t quite know how to make that happen. “Dial the Devil” was about my inner demons that wanted to come out every time I lost my temper. “Confusion” was about my battle with depression (although I didn’t know it at the time). As I read through each lyric sheet — with the chords scribbled above them — the emotions of that teenage boy 25 years ago took over me.

I was very guarded with my lyrics — they were deeply personal and I feared letting others read them would leave me vulnerable. It’s why it was such a difficult decision for me whether I should submit a poem to my high school’s literary magazine. I was pretty successful at staying under the radar in high school. An all-boys Catholic school with a proud tradition of state championships in football, basketball and hockey, one had to either be an athlete or an Ivy-league bound genius to get recognized. I was neither. So I made a conscious decision to stay invisible. But my English teacher (and literary magazine adviser), presumably being impressed with some of my poetry written for class assignments, encouraged me to submit something.

So I transformed my darkest and most personal lyric into a poem and submitted it to the literary magazine (here’s a segment):

Sadness. Happiness. They battle for my mind.

My sense of self is impossible to find.

Confusion. It’s taking me over again.

I don’t know what message to send.

In my sorrow you get amused.

I’m angry and confused.

When I learned it would be published, I experienced the full gamut of emotions, from pride that my work would be published to fear that my true self would be exposed. Weeks later when the issue came out, I grabbed my copy, proudly looked at my name in the table of contents and flipped to page 16 to see my words. Almost immediately, a sense of accomplishment — one that I haven’t felt in high school — took over me. That sense of pride grew when teachers complimented my poem, when other students in the literary magazine befriended me and when I was actually approached to join the drama club. After three years, I was finally visible in my high school.

Being published in the literary magazine was the start of my journalistic career, and more importantly the evolution of my public self. It’s scary to think my life may have been completely different if Mr. Taylor didn’t give me that extra push to submit my work to the magazine. Because of that seemingly uneventful, but truly fateful moment in my life, I try to look out for those students flying under the radar, and give them that vote of confidence and extra push when appropriate. They don’t know it yet, but It just might change their life.

Author: Joe Dennis

Journalist. Teacher. Announcer. Coach.

%d bloggers like this: