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Editor Wants to Share Free Lunch, His Literary Magazine, With Poets

Penelope Moffett is a free-lance writer who contributes to various sections of The Times

Who’s likely to offer a starving poet recognition and reward?

Another starving poet.

Ron Offen, 58, isn’t really starving. But the native Chicagoan, a published writer who now lives in Laguna Niguel, isn’t rich, either.

Nevertheless, he is promoting a concept that is probably unique in small press publishing: Offen wants to make his new literary magazine, Free Lunch, available at no charge to other U.S. poets he admires.

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A poet with a national reputation can receive the magazine, which debuts in January, just by sending in a subscription request. Others should submit work for publication, and “even if it’s not accepted, if I think the work has merit, they get (the magazine) free,” Offen said.

“I’m not going to give it to someone who writes greeting card verse,” but he will give it to serious, even if not-ready-for-prime-time, bards.

Many small magazines pay their contributors with copies and a very few actually pay hard cash for verse, but Offen says no other magazine gives poets entire subscriptions free just to reward the writing of good poetry.

“I guess I am setting myself up as the arbitrator” to decide what’s good and what isn’t, said Offen, “but who doesn’t?” He won’t be paid for his editorial role.

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Offen presently manages Niguel Hills Junior High School’s library. He has published one poetry collection, “Poet as Bad Guy and Other Poems,” and has had work accepted by many literary journals, including the prestigious Poetry magazine.

He got the idea of initiating a free magazine about 10 years ago, shortly before he moved to California, because he has long thought it inappropriate that literary magazine editors are continually “dunning” writers to subscribe. “Poets are usually not all that wealthy,” he noted.

A nonprofit organization, the Free Lunch Arts Alliance, was established in late 1987 but didn’t really swing into operation until this fall. Its three-member board of directors includes Nancy Teel and Carolyn Williams, two English teachers at Niguel Hills Junior High, and Phyllis Lutjeans, the assistant curator of UC Irvine’s art gallery.

In launching the magazine, the board and Offen decided “to see if we could support it with charitable donations and (paid) subscriptions,” Offen said. The cost of publishing the first issue is being covered by private donations.

Offen, who helped edit three different Chicago literary magazines over the years, has also free-lanced newspaper and magazine stories, film scripts, stage plays and radio plays.

He has worked as an insurance adjuster and as an editor for consumer and trade magazines, and he wrote and published three nonfiction books. He and his wife, Rosina, ran a theater company called “The Peripatetic Task Force” for several years before Chicago’s fierce winters finally drove them West.

Offen’s new magazine will feature a 32-page format and press runs of 300 copies per issue. Regular subscriptions cost $10 for three issues a year. In addition to poetry, “I do hope to include news items, to give poets some idea of the opportunities open to them,” Offen said.

So far, he has collected about half the material he needs for the first issue. Much of the work has come from poets he knows. There are no famous names among the contributors, but this doesn’t bother the editor.

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“I don’t think (famous poets) have any problems getting published, and I’d rather foster some lesser-known poets,” he said. He is particularly looking for work by women and minority writers.

Offen plans to comment on every submission he receives. “That’s the business of an editor, I think, to comment and maybe make suggestions. I really do try to do that all the time, I’m not kidding,” he said. “I want to foster talent.”

Submissions can be sent to Free Lunch, P.O. Box 7647, Laguna Niguel, Calif. 92677.


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