Poetry magazine

4 posts

Random Thoughts on Another Mother’s Day in May

  • It’s Mother’s Day (don’t forget the apostrophe). Have you called your mother yet? If you have siblings, you should aim to be the first because delays are like weeds. Some people never get out of them.
  • This post is a 4-minute read. I heard you’re supposed to put that up front on everything busy people read these days, but I’m late. It took you six seconds to get this far, by the way.
  • Why do people have such little patience for reading but endless patience for the internet and TV? When you log on to the internet, do you see a page that warns you “6 hours” before you get lost clicking here, there, and everywhere?
  • Finally, some 70-degree (Fahrenheit) weather has found Maine. Every year, Maine is in fair Mr. Fahrenheit’s mostly lost and rarely found bin.
  • Speaking of lost, non-Americans may wonder how we not only lost Celsius but the metric system.
  • 70-degree weather can only mean pine pollen will soon cast a yellow pall over anything outside (or inside, should you leave the windows open).
  • Want to impress your kids? Watch a streaming movie they’d never guess you would on TV (any zombie movie will do), then tell them you actually liked it. They love to box and package your take on the world, so any unwrapping you can do is always fun.
  • Nota bene: If you do the above, be prepared for many more recommendations on what to watch.
  • Spring of 2023 and already we’re seeing too much politics related to 2024. As if we’d recovered from 2020! No, no, and no.
  • I love how people can get logical about President Biden’s age and the dangers of his running for office again but NOT get logical about the dangers of a psychopathic, sociopathic narcissist (among other things) running for office again. Remember selective hearing? This is selective logic.
  • How many outstanding poetry submissions is too many outstanding poetry submissions?
  • Better question: How long should a poetry submission be outstanding (read: “In Progress”) on Submittable? Slow progress. That’s the motto for understaffed, overtaxed poetry staffs.
  • I love it when you pay a $3 reading fee for a journal that never gets back to you. Literally never, I mean. After a year you query and they never get back to you. After 18 months you query and they never get back to you. So you use email vs. Submittable’s message system, but they never get back to you. Meanwhile, they’ve opened up new submissions reading periods as a means of collecting more reading fees (or, as they call them, “Ka-Ching! fees). I recently had this experience with the Southampton Review. What’s Latin for “Let the Submitter Beware”? It should be on the Submissions page of outfits like this.
  • Did you call your mother yet?
  • Speaking of matters maternal (and maternal always matters, let me tell you), it’s interesting that States-side we say “Mom” and Over the Pond-side they say “Mum.” I’ll keep mum on my opinion on that because Mom jokes (and Mum jokes) are not allowed on an upstanding website like this.
  • Am I the only one bewildered by all the streaming costs out there in TV-land? If only we could choose á la carte what channels we want, because most of these cable and streaming services are top-heavy with channels we never look at (or have reason to).
  • I’ve learned the hard way, too, that the channels you DO want are almost never ALL included under one umbrella. Instead, you’d have to pay for “plus” this and “plus” that. Interesting that anything with a “+” sign after it’s name will often lead to a “-” sign on your savings account’s activity log. (I think we’re back to “Ka-Ching Nation” now, further proof that we are indeed a Corporatocracy).
  • Why are you still reading this? You should be talking to your mother!
  • Walking the beach, I’m amazed at how many dogs are well-behaved and stay by their owner’s side instead of charging after people and other dogs like all of my dogs of the past used to. Wow, I say to myself. I wonder if this dog, at its home, actually stays off the furniture and out of its owner’s bed, too.
  • Dogs on the floor used to be “the way” in olden times, but now, in a world where dogs and cats have superseded humans in status, it’s rare indeed.
  • Your mother, if you were talking to her now, would warn you about all that pet hair in your sheets and on your pillow.
  • I like how POETRY the august (even in May) poetry journal has come under new leadership that does tributes to certain authors in each issue. They typically include a bunch of their poems as part of the tribute, too. Usually they’re under the radar poets that we should know better. In a world where a lot of us don’t know better, that’s a good thing.
  • If you write a poem and it falls in the wilderness, does it make a noise?
  • While you have her on the line, ask your mother. Guaranteed she’ll have an answer.

One Poetry Editor’s Epiphany

Christian Wiman, former editor of Poetry magazine and a poet himself, has been there and back. Not just the highs and lows that come with the life of a poet who gets hosannas one second (via acceptances) and brickbats the next (via rejections), but the more soul-searching variety—the one that comes with cancer, bone marrow transplants, and an arduous journey back.

I say this by way of explanation. Wiman’s new collection of essays are about poetry, yes, but they are also about art as faith (and faith as art). Thus, the subtitle in his new book He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art. Thus the reason Wiman walked away from one of the most prestigious editorships for other callings: art, love, faith coming in the form of writing, marriage, and Yale Divinity School (how’s that for a career shift of a higher order?).

The mix of art and faith, so seldom seen together in these troubled times (unless you’re in a museum or Florence, say), makes for a bracing read. And Wiman does not go wild with add-in poems by way of example—either his own or others’—instead choosing to fine tune his own prose voice by choosing support more selectively: the poets and the poems who have spoken to him on a transcendent level.

Who are these poets? They are A. R. Ammons (circular, as he appears at both beginning and end), Donald Hall, Mary Oliver, Craig Arnold, Susan Howe, Denise Levertov, Jack Gilbert, Wallace Stevens, and Mark Strand (among others). Of this lot, I’d yet to meet Ammons and Arnold, but all that’s changed now, which is the beauty of reading books—they create a new you under the currency of change.

First, though, Wiman tackles himself, namely his youthful confidence that a poem could be written that would outlast him forever (meaning: enter the annals of eternity).  He no longer believes this. Even Shakespeare will face a time when there are no eyes to feast on his lovely pentameters, Wimar reminds us.

A quote I liked: “Poetry itself—like life, like love, like any spiritual hunger—thrives on longings that can never be fulfilled, and dies when the poet thinks they have been.”

In addition to the poetry and the philosophy, there’s a rich vein of memoir running through this little book. Wiman recalls, for instance, reading poems sent to Poetry in Herculean 8-hour shifts. He writes, “An editor…especially one responsible for a monthly magazine, and especially one whose literary predispositions are, let us say, snarlish, quickly discovers that if complete critical approval is the only criterion for inclusion, then either he or the magazine is going under. I became a different kind of reader.

“I started out as a poet believing that greatness will out, as it were, that fate will find and save the masterpieces from oblivion no matter what. A decade of standing in that aforementioned storm, as well as making my way through the collected works of just about every American poet of note for the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement, has convinced me otherwise. Chance and power play a large part, and I feel sure that some genuinely great things fall through the cracks—forever.”

Wow. Your suspicions (and mine) affirmed! And even though you may be kidding yourself, you can’t help but believe that some of your stuff is some of that stuff. You know, the sterling silver being rejected as flatware. Through cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. In a cold, cruel poetry world where Chance and Power share the throne with an iron fist like Ferdinand and Isabella.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll share a few of my favorite poems among Wiman’s favorite poems. And continue writing for the cracks. Until then….





Poetry — The Word, Not the Genre


In recent months, the Poetry Foundation’s flagbearer magazine, Poetry, has been featuring the same cover, only with different typographical fonts and colors, using the six letters in the word “poetry.”

While I have not been ga-ga about what is being printed between the pages of this magazine, I do like the simplicity and beauty of laying out covers like this. I stare at them often, like a coffee-table book you never open but leave out for public amusement and occasional dust collection.

It’s a bit of a tic-tac-toe, really. Going with contiguous letters, you find a few familiar friends hiding in the word:

  • POE as in good old Edgar Allan
  • POT as in a saucepan or a hippie’s best friend
  • PET as in the little furry fellow at your feet
  • YEP as in an informal consent
  • YET as in “not…”
  • REP as in a shorthanded representative (it was probably caught in the POT)
  • PERT as in saucy and flip
  • OPT as in “out”
  • TOE as in the ten (we hope) lowest parts of your body politic
  • TOPE as in drinking to excess or (who knew?) a type of shark
  • TRY as in what poets do every day, supposedly
  • TREY as in being related to the number three (e.g. basketball’s 3-pointer)
  • RYE as in pumpernickel bread or a field of Holden’s own
  • POET as in the mirror you’re gazing at or the writers you should be but probably are not reading (coward)

poetry 2

Of course, once you move on to jumping letters, all poetry breaks loose:

  • ROPE as in a useful tool for sailors and hangmen
  • ROT as in a useful British expression
  • PREY as in, if it didn’t exist, PREDATORS would go out of business (or, like that “successful businessman, Donald Trump,” declare bankruptcy early and often)
  • ORE as in iron or Oregon, maybe
  • YORE as in “years of…”
  • PRO as in a professional abbreviator
  • TOY as in what hijacked Christmas
  • ROE as in the eggs of fish or lobster (ew)
  • PORT as in ships seeking a safe harbors, or a specialty wine
  • TROPE as in a used and abused figure of speech from days of YORE

And so on and so forth. You might get a subscription to try the game yourself, but I’m off this judging-a-magazine-by-its-cover kick so will make the Beatles and let it be.

Still, if you find more words and want to have useless (to posterity) fun with POETRY, feel free to comment away.



A Sunday Stream of Consciousness


  • It’s Sunday, but there are no Sabbaths for the monkey mind.
  • “Monkey mind” being the enemy of Buddha-like meditation and the friend of poet-like brainstorming-without-a-banana.
  • I kind of like the “free” subscriptions you get when you enter a poetry publication’s annual contest. It kind of makes up for the expense of missing first place by kind of making you deceive yourself about the meaning of “free.”
  • In poetry, you cut to the bone, taking a scalpel to expressions like “kind of,” for starters.
  • While drafting poetry, I have found that many bad long poems are hiding good short poems. Ones in the second trimester or so.
  • I proved this to myself by rewriting a long poem Dickinson-style. All I needed was a few random dashes and capital letters (found in Aisle Emily, bottom shelf, at Ocean State Job Lot).
  • The cover of the October issue of Poetry reminds me of the BeatlesWhite Album.
  • Speaking of, I wonder how Jorie Graham feels about being the centerfold.
  • There’s a new sheriff in town (starring Kevin Young) at The New Yorker. Too bad they had to close submissions on July 3rd. The good news? The market reopens on Nov. 1st, and just because your poems were sent home before doesn’t mean they will again
  • Which reminds me: Poetry is subjective. A lot rides on particular editors’ eyes. If it gets that far.
  • Which is not to say there’s no such thing as “bad poetry” (I often send it to its room without supper).
  • Still trying to get over my prejudice against form poems by reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Art of Syntax.
  • Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who warned about two sure things in life: death and syntaxes?
  • As usual, the list of National Book Awards for Poetry includes books and authors a.) I haven’t read and b.) I haven’t even heard of. Guess I need to listen better.
  • Does anyone still write poems with pencil and paper? I do. But it’s ideas for poems only. Once I start writing, it’s on the trusty word processor.
  • When a poetry manuscript is accepted for publication, the toughest part is starting the next poetry manuscript. Especially with so many laurels lying around, waiting to be rested upon.
  • Poets need more patience than doctors. Can you say “wait time”? As a submitter of your work, you’d better be good at it. The competition is fierce and the numbers are legion.
  • My first love in poetry is predictably Frost.
  • I do not think “Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening” is corny. So sue me.
  • If you call yourself a reader but don’t read poetry, are you really a reader?
  • If a tree falls in the wilderness, does it make a sound?
  • No and yes.