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Journal, Day One

By Jonathan Galassi

Poetry is my thing in life, my chosen field of play, and I actually spend a lot of my time on it almost daily, in spite of the fact that I write very little myself. I’m an editor and publisher by profession, and lucky enough to work in a house in which poetry is understood and accepted as central to our self-definition. How I lucked into this privileged situation I don’t know, but I have always been able to work with poets in all of the publishing houses I’ve been associated with, in spite of the general impression that so-called commercial publishers abhor poetry; and I’d hazard that most of them will tolerate if not exactly welcome the activity, if the editor can show he or she is informed and committed, has something real to contribute. . . .

What it really takes to publish poetry, like anything else, is will and commitment, decisiveness and taste—not to mention diplomacy, maybe a little financial legerdemain now and then, and a certain blind optimism.

I’m often frustrated in what I can do nowadays because our small house has a large program relative to the overall size of our list and therefore I have to be very careful—way too careful—about taking on new work; I’d like to be able to do it much more often than I can. When I was greener I had those chances more, both as a book editor and the poetry editor at a literary quarterly. Discovering something truly original and wonderful is the greatest experience a reader can have. Now I often feel more like a curator, responsible for work the world has already decided it needs. Which has satisfactions of its own; but I miss the thrill of coming on utter newness.

This spring our poetry offerings include Louise Glück’s new book, Averno; District and Circle by Seamus Heaney; James McMichael’s Capacity; The Curved Planks, Hoyt Rogers’ translation of the French poet Yves Bonnefoy’s latest book; Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box, a compendium of Elizabeth Bishop’s unfinished drafts and fragments edited by Alice Quinn; and two related prose books: Blue Peninsula by Madge McKeithen, which explores how poetry has helped the author confront and live with deep personal grief; and The Poem That Changed America: Howl at Fifty, edited by Jason Shinder—essays, comments and documents about Allen Ginsberg’s epoch-making poem. You could say these books map my own poetic landscape in any number of ways—but only partly. What’s missing is the terra incognita, the new and previously unknown. One of my own goals is to find a way back there somehow . . .

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, March 20th, 2006 by Jonathan Galassi.