The past three years have been a very lively time here at Poetry. We’ve been in three different offices, have completely changed our design, and have introduced all sorts of features new to the magazine. Our circulation has increased by over 150 percent, and we’ve received a good deal of publicity—some good, some bad, all of it, because it brings more attention to our writers, valuable. Journalists like hooks, though, and the hooks are in the prose and the reactions it elicits, so much of the publicity we’ve received has focused on the back of the magazine. The prose is important, beyond question, for reasons which we have detailed in this space before. But we thought it might be time to acknowledge the only reason that the prose, and the publicity, and indeed this very magazine exist. We thought it might be time for an issue devoted exclusively to poetry.
People frequently ask us—with varying degrees of curiosity, incredulity, and fury—how it is we make our decisions about which poems to publish. All manuscripts go through exactly the same process. They are read first by our reader, Christina Pugh, who selects the manuscripts warranting further consideration and makes written comments about their strengths and weaknesses. Then those winnowed manuscripts are read by three editors here in our office and further winnowed. Every Wednesday we meet for a weekly editorial meeting and hash out what to reject, how to respond either to longstanding contributors whose work we can’t use this time or to promising young poets whose work isn’t quite ready for publication but soon will be, and what to accept.
On the whole it’s a good thing this process isn’t public. Whether it’s because we see so often the vulnerabilities of poets in a society that does not value poetry, or that we’ve all had some experience with the difficult and so often dispiriting process of sending work out to editors, our editorial sessions tend to be pretty serious and earnest. Then, too, the great majority of editorial decisions are not difficult to make. The best work leaps out immediately, and it’s striking how often the four people involved in this process, who have quite different tastes and affinities, agree on which poems to publish. It would, we fear, make for a pretty dull reality show.
On the other hand, sometimes we wish readers had more of a sense of the backstories behind the poems. When reading for the current issue, for instance, since we knew she hadn’t written new poetry for several years, we were astonished to receive from Mary Kinzie not simply a submission of new work but a splendid, poignant, and surprisingly funny long poem. Or consider Todd Boss, whose first appearance in Poetry comes in the form of two poems that are so musical and well-crafted that they have made us wonder if we might have missed something in the dozen or so submissions of his that we’ve returned with “encouraging” rejections. Clive James gave us his chiseled, intelligent poems after they had languished accepted but unpublished for years at a couple of mainstream magazines. The casual and unprofessional attitude toward poetry held by so many editors, the sense that it is the poet who is lucky to be published rather than the magazine that is lucky to have the work, is appalling and something we try hard to counter here. Unfortunately, we don’t always succeed: Robin Robertson was generous enough to give us the lovely poem in this issue despite the fact that we failed to run three poems of his before they were published in his new book, Swithering.
But enough: look how much prose we’ve written explaining why there is no prose. For this one month we wanted to clear some space for the poems, both in terms of pages and silence. We hope you will find the work in this issue as striking and memorable as we have.