Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What perplexes me about the whole discussion over at Poetry Foundation is the revelation that editors still think that they are deciding what "good poetry" is. Particularly in a magazine that publishes one kind of poetry and a very thin range of voices within that genre of poetry. Why is diversity so frightening? Why can't editors accept the fact that they are not necessarily publishing the best of anything, they are publishing what they know, what they are comfortable with...


Joseph Hutchison said...

What would lead anyone to bother editing a publication at all if they didn't believe it was making "good poetry" available? It's not that diversity is frightening, it's that editing by definition involves discrimination. I don't think you're right that editors publish what they're comfortable with — at least not the best of them. When I edited a journal many moons ago, I looked for what I always look for in poetry: work that's frankly uncomfortable to read because it challenges my view of things — it wakes me up; but it also has to strike me as undeniably true (in the carpenter's sense, not the the idealogue's). I'm perfectly willing to admit that not everything appeals to me — and that I don't value diversity for its own sake. There are poets universally considered "great" whose work just doesn't connect for me: Milton, for example. I don't feel guilty about it, and Milton is past caring. But I also don't pretend that my taste is authoritative. Does any editor think that? (Well, maybe Harold Bloom.)

Having said all this, I have to add that I think I know what you're getting at: the undertone of arrogance that is the ground-note of PoBiz. I have in mind a so-called "Critical Exchange" between Marjorie Perloff and David Wojahn, in which both of these self-important snots, in discussing Robert Lowell's Selected Poems: Expanded Edition, sneered at the work of Sharon Olds: "Sharon Olds was not Lowell’s fault," Wojahn says, and Perloff agrees — one imagines with a gesture of brushing a fly away from her blancmange. Now I happen to find Sharon Olds to be one of those uncomfortably true poets I mentioned earlier. Am I supposed to bow before these two self-appointed "authorities"? All I can do is note their groundless egotism and move on. Hey — it's PoBiz!

lemonhound said...

Thanks for your note, and yes, I agree that good editors choose work that challenges, and of course to edit is to select... I just think that people need to come to terms with their biases. If you only want to publish men, or white men, or formal poetry, or experimental, or whatever, go for it. Just don't say that you are representing "poetry," or say you're only publishing "the best."
As for your point about Marjorie Perloff, I haven't read the piece in question, but I know that Marjorie Perloff has done much to promote "poetries" as opposed to "poetry."
All self appointed authorities are irritating. As is the preoccupation with best.