Evan Mantyk is the president and co-founder of the Society of Classical Poets. He teaches courses in literature and history at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts, in upstate New York. He previously worked as a news editor and reporter in New York City.
Please describe your website and your duties as editor/writer.
The Society of Classical Poets is dedicated to the proliferation of classical poetry. What does that mean? It means poetry usually with rhyme and/or meter. It also means poetry of good character that puts the reader first, not the poet. The government’s “Survey on National Participation in the Arts,” found, over the last twenty years or so, a sharp decline in the number of people who had read or listened to a poem within the last 12 months while other literary forms stayed static. This is not puzzling or surprising to me; these figures are the natural outcome of an artistic form that has lost its way and is dying. When ordinary non-poets and non-academics can’t recognize that the free verse in front of them is a poem and can’t make heads or tails of the meaning or why it’s worth caring about, then something is wrong. The Society is changing all of this and reviving true poetry.
My job is to review submissions, publish them on the website, edit the annual print journal, judge the annual competition, work with poets and writers, and coordinate with the Society’s executive staff and Advisory Board.
Tell us about your career.
After college, I worked in a myriad of literary capacities as a writer, researcher, and editor in the journalistic, legal, and educational fields. My coworker at the time, the award-winning journalist Joshua Philipp, and I were both poets disillusioned with the state of poetry today. In what seemed a simple conversation in July, 2012, we saw before us a narrow path forward fraught with trials and tribulations that, nevertheless, held the promise of renewing lost traditions and bringing hope to mankind. We are on that path now.
Which recognitions/achievements have encouraged you the most?
People contact us and say that they are happy that there is still a publication that accepts classical or traditional poetry. I’ve heard some people say that other contests, journals, or degree programs specifically state “no rhyming,” which is sad. I’m also happy when I see people writing about topical matters of international importance, like human rights in China, terrorism, and the environment. These are powerful topics that are meaningful to all of humankind and urgently need addressing.
What writers have influenced you the most?
My biggest poetic influence has been Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was at one time America’s favorite poet and a household name. Before the influence of the internet, television, and even radio (which in fact is the vast majority of our human history), poems rang out like rousing and echoing bells. They were the movies, news media, and popular songs all in one. Can you imagine what sort of vivid thoughts and perspicacious state of mind people must have been in at the time? This was the state of mind, or realm we might say, where Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth built poetic palaces of beauty and grandeur. Longfellow is close enough to the present that his language is accessible and his sense of storytelling is close to our own today, but he still draws upon and fully utilizes that rich heritage and poetic realm of the past. He was a bridge for me and continues to inspire me.
How has the Internet benefited you?
Certainly. The internet is the location of our website, which is our base so to speak. We put out an annual print journal based on the website’s content. I wish it were the other way around, with a monthly print journal and a token online presence, but we are relatively new and of course strapped for cash and time so our birthplace was the internet and it continues to be our frontline.
What classes have helped you the most?
I took a Polish poetry course in college, in English, where I studied Krasinski, Mickiewicz, Slowacki, and others. I felt awed by the poetry and writing there. It was rich and profound, sublime and captivating. I’m half Polish but can’t speak a sentence of it. Thus, I was looking at this poetry from afar and it made me realize what an incredible vehicle and forum poetry is, whether English, Polish, Greek, or whatever.
In some ways, I feel that a lot of the literature courses I’ve studied deprived me of truly good poetry. I studied the vast majority of it on my own. This is why our 2016 Journal includes a mini-textbook that includes some of the best of classical poetry of the past as well as explanations on how to write classical poetry. We want to make education in classical poetry more and more accessible.
What advice would you give others?
You may not realize it, but a new era is beginning. The old order is vastly bloated, flagrantly immoral, and falling apart, and a new artistic and cultural movement is beginning. Tradition and discipline in outer form, good character and virtue in inner form are the key traits emerging. People label these traits as passé, boring, or stiff and are always trying to overthrow them or subvert them, but they never go away. They are perennial and foundational. They should be embraced and utilized as best as possible, while adding the positive and uplifting insights, wisdom, and contexts of our present time.
What is your favorite quotation?
I meditate every day and study the teachings of Falun Dafa, which is an ancient cultivation practice of mind and body. The number of quotes I carry with me is large. This one sticks out, though:
“When you take a step back in a conflict, you will find the seas and the skies boundless”
-‘Zhuan Falun’ by Master Li Hongzhi