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“Most poems published are probably not ever going to be any good, as Randall Jarrell and others have observed.”

Because re-Xing is the new X, and because reposting is the new writing, and because curation is the new original thought, I offer to you Bill Knott’s recent read-through of all the poems in the latest issue of Ploughshares.

On March 31, 2012, Knott wrote that since his retirement from teaching, he has not had sufficient income to subscribe to many journals, but he gets Ploughshares free because he guest edited an issue almost 30 years ago. He calls his stroll through the pages “not a ‘review’ really, more of a report: impressions and feedbacks about each poem.” He does not name the poets of the poems he dislikes (or, as he puts it, is “inadequate to appreciate”), but just lists the page numbers; for the ones he likes, he gives the poets’ names  as well as the page numbers.” Highlights among the poems Knott did not appreciate include:

p. 35-36: two poems in couplet stanzas, each with the same title.  I read them both all the way through.  Nothing impressed me in either.  Pretentious attitudinizing.  Hooey.  It looks like 2 poems from a series, or a book-length Project of "Sermon" poems.  Yawn in church.  Even the Methodists can't be this boring.

p. 161-162: a poem about the poet's mother committing suicide.  If it isn't about her mother committing suicide, or considering committing suicide, then I don't know what it is about.  The writing is so oblique and grudging of detail I can't really follow its trajectory.

p. 168: a poem titled "Clip Clop."  Wretched.  Not the worst poem in this issue, but one of the worst.

p. 169-170: wait, this one's even worse than "Clip Clop"—

Highlights among the ones he did enjoy include:

p. 55: a lowercase poem by Mark Conway.  Depiction/evocation of horses in a blizzard.  Not bad: should be shorter.  Cut the middle part (lines 8/9/10).  And cut that ghastly "medieval orders / of spiritual pilgrims" please!

67-68: a poem by Monica Ferrell.  Good, good, good.  Very good.  Bravo.  Details effective; presentation engaging; narrative flow first-rate.  Imaginative.  Rhythmic.  Surprising similies: "There was a drip, of course.  Drip drip drip / Endless in the bathtub's white expanse as Napoleon's / Soldiers entering Russia . . . / A whiteness like that is staggering!"  That's the 3rd stanza: the 4th begins: "A woman alone is a cave of violets, / A man alone a squirming rat, who squeaks. . . . "  Wow.  I love it.  This and the Bang ones are the stand-outs so far in my readthrough of the issue.

p. 114-116: a poem by Eileen Myles.  Well, hurt me for a fool, but I think this is really two poems, the first is 37 lines long, and the second begins line 38: "mountains / surround us / and I say / they are more / marvelous than / the sea //. . . . And I like the second part/poem (it's a love poem actually) much better than the first.  If Myles were to listen to me, and there's really no reason she should, is there, I'd ask her to separate this into two poems, revise the first and leave the second stet.

At times it was hard to distinguish between the two:

p. 57-58: a poem by Michael Dumanis, who needs to stop reading Dean Young immediately.  Aleatory okay, you got it.  I liked a lot of this, but it could have been much better without the goofy swervitudes which by now are so mandatory they're detachable.  Take a number and wait.

He wraps up his read-through with the quotation that I’ve used for the title of this post, as well as two caveats, first to “remember that magazines like Ploughshares […] have to come out with two or three or more issues a year, containing the best poems and prose they have, even if those poems are mostly mediocre, or worse,” and second to remember “that my personal opinions are biased and limited. If I didn’t like your poem, so what: other readers, probably smarter and more perspicacious than me, will. If I did like your poem, maybe I’m wrong to like it.”

There are 35 or so further reports in addition to the ones I’ve included here; I encourage you to peruse the rest.

Originally Published: April 16th, 2012

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and creative writing at DePaul University and is...