Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: Poetry Magazine (Oct. 2015) – Part I: Introduction; Matthew Sweeney, Guillaume Apollinaire

The October 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine can be found here.

links to individual texts:
Matthew Sweeney, “Five Yellow Roses”
Matthew Sweeney, “Dialogue with an Artist
— headers to the sections are also links to the texts


the other posts in this series



– some editing, Apr. 3, 2016


If you at all have read this blog you might know that I am more than willing to take shots at Poetry Magazine, the touted flagship of verse journals in the U.S. But, then, I have always been far more puzzled by than impressed by the magazine. Never in the many years that I have looked between its print covers have I considered its contents worth the price of possession. Even with it now in electronic format, I have never found it worth the price, counted in time, of reading. Even its reputation has for me, over the years, become less and less impressive. The more I come upon references to Poetry Magazine in the history of U.S. literature, the more the supposed stature of the magazine within U.S. literary culture has become more myth than reality, a myth based primarily on popularity and after the fact branding than on any actual, positive effect the journal may have had upon literary culture. As example, if perhaps an easy example, take this moment from John Tytell's biography of Pound:

By summer [of 1913] Pound was back in London and beginning an involvement with a new magazine. He had already experienced difficulty with Harriet Monroe: her taste had to reflect that of her backers, who were mostly wealthy businessmen or their wives who preferred inconsequential light verse to what Pound regarded as real poetry, so each issue was a balancing of the inane and the more serious. Pound objected strenuously to what he called the 'rot' in Poetry and wanted a magazine in which he would have more control. (Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (1987): 89)

For as long as I have been picking up and putting down the magazine, "inconsequential light verse" has been a more-than-apt phrase to describe both the output and orientation of Poetry Magazine. Though, "inconsequential" may be too kind a phrase, for as equally, and perhaps more and more in the last years, "incompetent" has become a necessary adjective.

[FN] It should be said that I have never given Poetry any extended consideration before these last few years; in those years only because it has been available on-line. As implied above, I refuse to pay money for a magazine of valueless verse, verse that rarely prompts thought beyond that of "why would anyone consider this worth publishing?" Because of this, any observation by me of trends across time can only be casual. Though, I have generally found Poetry Magazine unimpressive if not pervasively uninteresting.

It is my observation that Poetry Magazine has always and only been a flagship of pop-poetry in the U.S., never a standard bearer for intelligent literature, for literature qua literature. If Poetry wants to be the Hollywood pulp of the literary world, that is fine with me. However, where I cross swords with the magazine is in the pretense that it is something it is not, whether that pretense be created by the magazine itself or created elsewhere and never by the magazine denied. When Poetry Magazine publishes barely competent pablum, when it publishes incompetent shamwork, it holds that shamwork up – simply through association to the magazine's own banner, its own history and importance (however mythical) – as meritable verse. In that, Poetry Magazine offers only detriment and progressive deterioration to literary culture – to its values, its standards, its intelligence. Literary culture in the U.S. today is dominantly pop-lit: I say dominantly to distinguish it from majorily pop-lit, which is and always will be the case in any culture. It is not merely, today, that pop-lit is the majority of what is published and praised, it is what defines what is published and praised. In that lowering of standards, in that eliminating of standards, we have created a culture of literature, a culture of participants in verse, be they writers or readers, incapable of intelligent discernment of what is merely competent verse, what is incompetent hackery, and what is genuinely meritable literature.