Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Kathryn Starbuck

Dear Editor,

I was astonished when I realized, as I’ve been reading your excellent centennial issues, that I’ve very likely read every issue of Poetry for fifty of those one hundred years, starting in 1962 when I went to work for Paul Engle at the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City.

I read Poetry for most of those decades not because I was interested in poetry or because I was a poet. Rather it was because almost everyone I knew was in love with poetry (or a poet!). And most of them published in—or wanted to publish in—Poetry.
When I worked for Engle, the extraordinary poets Donald Justice, Charles Wright, Mark Strand, Marvin Bell, and George Starbuck taught at Iowa. All of them became my friends. After a tumultuous love affair with a student poet, I moved to Chicago in 1966. Paul Engle retired. George Starbuck reluctantly agreed to succeed him as director for three years.

George and I married in 1968. He had been a contract writer for the New Yorker since 1958. When he died in 1996, my connection to poetry was over. Or so I thought. But I did not sever my connection to Poetry.

About six months before we married, George asked me to host a cocktail party for him at my 2828 North Pine Grove apartment in Chicago. Saul Bellow, Karl Shapiro, Henry Rago (who was the editor of Poetry at the time), Paul Carroll (of Big Table fame), and Bill Knott (who spent the entire evening secreted away inside my clothes closet) were among George’s friends from his Chicago days, and all attended. I invited Nelson Algren. He brought along his buddy Studs Terkel.

I especially remember Poetry’s Rago, because he was determined to persuade me to sell him two unusual lamps that decorated my bedroom. I’d picked them up at thrift shops. I was equally determined not to sell them. We had fun talking about lamps, not poetry. Those lamps light up my living room today.

I’m glad I still read Poetry, glad that when I turned sixty I finally 
got around to writing poems, well after George died, after I’d lived all my other lives. Yet nothing has been as surprising as the joy I found in grief, managing to stay alive in the hard years of widowhood. 
I feel gratitude toward those poets I knew almost five decades ago at Iowa. They must have been implanting their poems in me as I read them then (often just to be polite) so I could lean on them now that I am releasing my own.

Originally Published: December 4, 2012

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This prose originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2012


 Kathryn  Starbuck


Journalist, essayist, and newspaper editor, Kathryn Starbuck started writing poems in her 60s. She is the author of Griefmania (Sheep Meadow Press, 2006) and Sex Perhaps (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014). Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Sewanee Review, and Best American Poetry 2008. Though she was a practiced prose writer, it was the experience of grief that led her to writing poetry. After the deaths of her . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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