OPUS, the literary magazine that has been at Hope College for decades, is coming out with its newest edition this coming Thursday, December 9. What can we expect to see from this year’s edition? What will OPUS Soup look like? And how on earth do they choose which pieces will be featured? We interviewed Co-Editor, Violet Peschiera (’22), as well as the Art Editor, Rachel Douma (’24), to give us some insight into these matters.
The low-down on a typical meeting
The meeting is set up so that participants read poetry for the first third, then hop into a session of art viewing and then jump right back into reading poetry. Following the reading or viewing of each piece, there’s around five minutes of critique.
There is quite a lot of staff who make up OPUS and attend the meetings: there are two Co-Editors who handle the goings-on, making sure that the poetry and art are evenly distributed and then later designing the books. Then, there is one Art Editor, one Poetry Editor and one Prose Editor. They attend every meeting to critique what is seen, and then at the end of the meeting process, they send rejection and acceptance letters to each individual who submitted work. Finally, there are the contributors. If you attend three or more meetings, you get recognized in the OPUS book as a contributor.
When the Co-Editors, Peschiera and Adriana Barker (’23), prepare for a meeting, they choose poetry and art pieces to look at for the night. This year, there were approximately 96 poetry submissions and 75 art submissions, so there’s a lot to get through in just a few meetings. It is important to note here that only a third of the poetry and half of the art got in.
The beauty of OPUS is that all of the pieces that are read and viewed are anonymous, and Peschiera commented on this, saying, “I think the best part about [OPUS meetings] is that the editors and I, and everyone at the meeting, are kind of going into it having no idea what we’re doing. We don’t know what we’re going to see. We don’t have any preconceived notions.” You don’t have to know at all what is going on at the meetings because not even the Co-Editors know what types of pieces they are going to see.
Another thing that both Peschiera and Douma agreed on was that they both like being able to collaborate with fellow peers — they could look at art and read poetry all day. “It’s that active collaboration of artists and community that I really like,” Peschiera said.
How OPUS editors define and approach critique
This is how Peschiera says that she approaches critique for poetry:
“There’s a few things we look out for:
- Punctuation, but we can always talk about it with the person and then get a few edits.
- The way that [the poem] looks on a page, because poetry is so much about being exact and using page space wisely. It has its own sense of art to it when you look at it that way. So, sometimes we’ll talk about breaking down a line, or cutting out an especially long line because it just doesn’t fit the piece.”
This is how Douma approaches critiquing art:
“I look at critique in two ways: there’s the side of my critique, where I’m critiquing the technical skill and quality, and then the other side is really just personal opinion and taste in the art form. I don’t have a specific medium that I work with the most, so I tend to be all over the place with my personal work. I just look at it, and, after I’m done critiquing it technically, I decide if I like it and like the direction the artist is going and just go from there.”
But ultimately, opinions are subjective, which is why there is beauty behind having so many eyes in OPUS meetings. Even sometimes both Douma and Peschiera are sad when a piece they like doesn’t get a majority vote in the semester’s edition.
Another thing that is important to them about OPUS’s critiquing process is that everything is anonymous so there is no bias. Peschiera said, “That’s something that we’ve grown to inhabit: this air of critique where, because we don’t know who’s poem it is, it’s very much like honest ideas coming forward.” Sometimes, if you know whose poem you’re reading or art piece you’re viewing, it can be hard to be blatantly honest, and normally, the critique is sugar-coated.
Douma talked a little bit about how when someone’s work is being discussed, they tend to get really quiet and listen, so maybe the anonymity is only to an extent, but it takes a strong-willed person to not pitch in their opinions about their own piece.
“You have to lose yourself a little when you’re receiving a critique because they’re not critiquing you.” Douma said, “They’re critiquing that work, that timeframe, and that period of you, and you change by the hour, by the day.” It can be hard to not take a critique personally, but hearing what your peers have to say can definitely improve your artistry if you consider the comments that are given.
What can we expect to see at OPUS Soup?
OPUS Soup is a time when the artists being published can show their work to the campus. Douma said, “I’m really excited to see the faces behind the work that I loved so dearly.”
At Soup, many of the student authors will read their work and artists will show their pieces. There will be copies of the OPUS book to read and view as well as a hot chocolate to sip.
Peschiera is especially excited about the cover of the book, which she had the privilege of designing. “We definitely went for a digital collage, something more edgy. Definitely inspired by the ’80s and, like, new wave art styles. As well as glitch and vaporwave aesthetic, where it’s pink and pixeled, and grids, and marble heads sometimes,” Peschiera said. “It’s very — what I would say, Tumblr-wise — it reminds me of middle school Tumblr days. So, it’s very nostalgic and fun.”
And, on the topic of theme, she also had loads to say, “Subject-wise, we’ve run the gamut of things to do. I feel like a lot of people for a while thought that we were the nature poetry magazine,” she said. “When I first started at OPUS there was lots of like ‘I went on a hike and an eagle flew by and wow… nature.’ I also think that that’s great and I love the poetry, but we’ve now gotten tons of weird ones, like, ‘Is a watch like a mother?’ and a lot of different types of medical ones, a lot of ones about pretty serious topics like Black Lives Matter, minority voices, as well as sexual assault, life decisions, and a lot of grief poetry. It’s been really interesting to see how it’s changed in the past year.”
Peschiera is excited because there isn’t a core theme in this semester’s edition, which is different from anything the publication has done before. OPUS has certainly changed a lot in the last 50+ years, and it has come a long way in discussing serious topics that artists feel should be addressed, even if that means losing a clear theme within the book as a whole.
So, get ready to read, get ready to look at some art, and get ready to drink some hot chocolate at this semester’s OPUS Soup.
P.S.: Peschiera wanted me to let you know that there will be a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT at Soup, so get excited!
To find more information about OPUS, follow them on Instagram by clicking the link here.