Monday, February 03, 2003

My very well-meaning grandfather sends me every clipping that comes his way that's even remotely poetry related—often things I've already seen, such as that teeth-grindingly sycophantic profile of Anthony Hecht in the Times a few weeks back. This time around it's an article about Poetry and its pharmaceutical millions by someone named David Zivan in Chicago magazine. The article describes the editor, Joe Parisi as "a trim, avid weightlifter" with a "rather classical bent" and notes that "he hasn't been to a movie in years—'Not that I'm missing anything,' he grumps." After describing some of Parisi's plans for the Lilly millions (including hiring another staff member—gosh, full-time with benefits, Joe?), the article ends with this sweetheart of a paragraph:
And the grandest plan, designed to nourish future readership, is undoubtedly Parisi's initiative to develop a national education program for school teachers, providing training materials for the appreciation and teaching of contemporary poetry. "Not the writing of poetry, you understand," Parisi says, gesturing broadly at his cluttered office, and reaching to answer the phone. "There is no need for yet another person to write poems."
The effrontery of this remark is breathtaking. Full disclosure: I've been published in Poetry magazine, and Mr. Parisi has been exceedingly courtly in the letters (always actual letters) he's sent me accepting or rejecting my poems. I still send poems to Poetry, in spite of its conservatism and arrogance (exemplified by this and other ex cathedra remarks, such as this gem: "We see just about everything"), because I refuse to believe that any magazine that calls itself "Poetry" should be off limits to mine. But seriously, Joe: where do you get off? Here are the "necessary" poets appearing in the current, thoroughly typical issue of the magazine: Stephen Dunn, Jerald Winakur, D. Nurkse, Andrew Grace, Sophokles (translated by Reginald Gibbons and Charles Segal), Ronald Wallace, Mitch Roberson, Belle Randall, Elliot Figman, Joyce Sutphen, Len Roberts, Winifred Hughes, Steven Barza, Charles Simic, James Tate. Thirteen men, most of them white, and three women. Three of the men (Dunn, Simic, Tate), whatever their individual merits, are grossly overrepresented in this and other mainstream (in the non-flarf sense) magazines. I can't access the poems online (except for Dunn's demonstrably dull "Dismantling the House"), but they have titles like "Marriage in a Rented House," "Every Day We Are Dancers," "Ever After," "I Can't Forget You," and "Personal at the Podium" (this is a grossly unfair way of characterizing poems: sue me). After posting this I feel vaguely obligated to go to the Barnes & Noble and flip through the latest issue to see if I'm wrong about what seems to me to be the utter boringness of this table of contents; but I really want to know what's necessary about these particular poems from these particular poets. Either all poetry is gratuitous or none of it is—it's borderline criminal, I believe, to try to discourage anyone—even little old ladies in tennis shoes, even Billy Collins—who happens to pick up this issue of Chicago magazine from writing poems. I'm all for a superfunded poetry-teaching initiative in the schools, and I think the little varmints ought to be made to memorize Shakespeare, and Auden and Dickinson too. By all means start 'em climbing the canon walls, and climbing 'em young, so that they can see how much wider the world of words is than they can learn even from such sages as DMX and Harry Potter. But to the suggestion that any of us who aren't (gross generalization alert) forty- through sixtysomething tenured white men who think a mild surrealism is the ne plus ultra of linguistic adventure need not apply our pens, I can only reply, How dare you, Sir?

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