As readers know, a large portion of this magazine is devoted to poetry. Because this is general knowledge, a considerable percentage of the submissions (which number over twenty thousand a year) are sent in by poets. Two years ago the editors looked into the “bin” (as it’s called) to see what was available for publication and discovered that the bin was not only full but overflowing: it was estimated that Richard Howard, the poetry editor, had accepted enough worthy poetry to fill two or even three complete issues, thus driving fiction, essays, artwork and so forth to the sidelines. A moratorium seemed the only solution. For a year now, the self-addressed envelopes have brought back to the senders the melancholy news that poems were not being accepted because of this. For once, the degrees of skill were leveled off— Hallmark rhymers and poet laureates treated alike ... all sent news of the suspension as stark as if the magazine had ceased publication. For some poets, the notice may have seemed preferable to getting a rejection slip (“Ah well (sigh), they would have published my poem if pages were available”). To help solve the situation, the present volume has been prepared not only to clear the bin for acceptances but to celebrate with its distribution National Poetry Month, which is always April.
The editors felt that it was a mistake to devote the entire issue to poems (it would smack too much of the anthology) and thus have buttressed it with a number of features. These include Robert Pinsky’s essay on occasional verse, Dan Glover on following Ezra Pound’s footsteps in Italy and Simon Worrall on the discovery of a new Emily Dickinson poem and the resulting brouhaha. The Review’s ongoing feature, The Man in the Back Row Has a Question, returns, this time with queries to distinguished critics, largely on the state of poetry today. In the tradition of the magazine’s Writers at Work series (which started in 1953 with an interview with E.M. Forster) four poets (Robert Bly, Geoffrey Hill, Carolyn Kizer, Derek Mahon) have been questioned at length about their craft.
Last year, not long after The Paris Review sold its archives to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, its editors were given a tour of the premises and were shown some of its treasures—which included drafts of works-in-progress by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Byron, Keats, Poe, Pope, among them. The editors thought it would be an interesting and illuminating exercise to send facsimiles of these worksheets to a select group of poets and have them comment on them in general and in respect to their own work. This portfolio starts on page 200. A more controversial exercise involved the editors thinking up eight titles, some of them quite quixotic, and asking a number of distinguished poets to write verses to them—much as the poet laureates were once asked to celebrate particular occasions. Some of the poets rebelled at what they considered the genre of a junior-school exam (“goofy”, “childish”) but many more fell in with the idea and had fun with it. After all, The Paris Review, with its countless interviews on craft, has always focused on the phenomenon of bringing a work of art into being. The results, and a commentary, begin on page 83. It is entitled Pomework: An Exercise in Occasional Poetry and provides a nice fit to Mr. Pinsky’s essay on the same subject.
One final word: the gates at the barricade have now been lifted. The bin is bare, the moratorium is over, and poetry submissions are eagerly awaited. Subscriptions as well!
This issue is dedicated to Richard Howard and the poetry editors who have preceded him over the years—Donald Hall, X.J. Kennedy, Thomas Clark, Michael Benedikt, Jonathan Galassi and Patricia Storace.