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January 09, 2013

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It must have been very rewarding spiritually for Don when he went from a fifteen year veteran of voluntary editing to the material munificence of a role as Poetry's senior editor? Who knows, behind the scenes he may have even nabbed Winman's old spot, destined to steer the thing all poetry editors covet, the tone of America's flagship publication of contemporary verse and richest ship in a sea of eternal solvency sailing into a coming tide of the new and the numerous majority not securing the handsome Poetry guerdon conferring poetic legitimacy in the minds of many driven by a tune of pecuniary validation.

Lucky to have floated and thrived at what is for most poetry editors voluntary or otherwise, a dried up well round which snarling jackals sneer, jibe and falsify their strings to the tune of whoever's paying anything at all; the speed of change one dare hazard was and/or is frightening to a fair number of other, less fortunate senior editors in the literary old guard with only their Editor-bosses' second-hand opinions to rail against the changes in publishing with.

Not that I'd have the faintest idea how many, but as an exercise in the conversational art of pondering in print, I wonder how many mid-rank toilers in the editorial saltmines who began 40 years ago with their futures in print seemingly stretched into a far horizon many lifetimes distant; find themselves washed up into lives very different, indeed opposite, from the ones they secretly envisaged when first they began tossing out poems and prose to all those now out of print quaterly journals and magazines?

Off the top of my head, as someone who after submitting and being rejected and accepted by enough editors to work out that all literature is merely a matter of individual taste and who chose -- (co-incident with discovering the earliest [1980's] English translations of an Archaic Irish 7th century 120 line prose-poem that asks and answers the question 'Where is the root of poetry in a person; in the body or in the soul?') -- to eschew the Caxtonian submit-reject-accept model of what's quaintly now referred to as traditional 'publishing'; one could not venture an answer but only guess at what number of brave, true and disillusioned intellectuals there are currently writing and publishing into that anonymous literary and/or financial oblivion all writers fear as we moil away on the bottom rungs of literary show-business hoping our brand of speaking keeps us with good health a constant companion, a coin or two in our pockets, the road rising to meet us, with a world of wishes at our command, warm words on a cold evening, the embers of an open fire warming us and our heart as light as a song?

Though I don't know the answer I do know that until recently a plethora of intellectual has-beens, derelicts and deadbeats were out there clinging to their bankrupt assumptions on what the future of publishing is. Or rather, used to be, once upon a time when the Editor was God and his or her taste the 'tone' of a publication.

One of the very oldest and greatest of Caxtonian con jobs. Find a wealthy patron to bankroll our very own platform and vehicle from which to spout whatever gut-knowing theories on life and literature our souls must speak as a matter of urgency to whatever Public is willing to listen. Give it a title that betrays our mindset, The Journal of World Affairs, pay the gifted and intelligent speakers to fill it and hey presto, immortality as an editorial nobody, never remembered to ever be forgotten. What awaits all but the very 0.0001% best of you.

The old war horse Bob McCrum at the Guardian, Faber and Faber Poetry Editor during his hyclon days of the 1980's, spent the noughties declaiming all sorts of rubbish about the future of publishing. In fear-mongering pieces full of gloomy and doom laden predictions that not only never came to pass but were proven 100% wrong; he'd begin by informing us the 'new' online readership of how he as someone with a lifetime in literary editing was very troubled and deeply concerned with the fact that the then technological changes seemed to portend a future where any old old Tom, Dick or Henrietta could unleash onto the public anything they wanted without the professional editorial input he thought vital if there were to be any chance for the genuine literary artifact to live, breathe and not fall into mortal peril and become redundant buried beneath a loud, demanding and mediocre avalanche of voices that he as a professional editor knew should not ever be published because by doing so the very cultural fabric of English letters would be undermined and 'we' the Reader debased.

He was professionally distressed for a number of years, until over the course of a short time he performed a total u-turn and changed his tone utterly. Once the new publishing avenues began springing up like hydra-heads towards the end of the Noughties he went from predicting the death of literature to telling us how it was now going to be enriched with new voices in a forest of opportunity fortifying the tongues of our tribe. Acting as though he'd never entered into the public record the reams of nonsense he had.

And though he leaves a legacy of failed prophecy during this time, in the process of changing its tune McCrum's voice gained a richer, more honestly human resonance, as the discomfort of his editorial predicament eased the more he wrote and fell into acceptance and understanding, cognizing how the new online blog form he wrestled with first as a middle-aged man with a lifetime at the top of a closed print shop, in the thickest reaches of Bloomsbury and Soho, was not a threat to him personally and professionally as a respected micro-celebrity intellectual; but a form and future where all manner of magic and banality mix into the literary and journalistic realism those from the order of post-modern bardic bores will turn water to wine with, misery to joy with in the self-validating acceptance slips the universe write and return one in that nod and wink lingo a poem itself is when finished staring newly from the open page.

Rescued from oblivion by a formal poetic spoke first in the one cornerstone 7C prose-poem of literary instruction nobody but a few Old Irish professors and poetry bores know of and fewer still have studied or read. A piece that lets the Reader into secrets unknown since Amergin first leapt from the deck of his ship onto a bank of land at Wexford, Kenmare or the Boyne, when he took possession of an island by uttering his invocation, Song of Amergin.

A cryptic and condensed few lines of impenetrable 'iron speech' incomprehensible to all but druid, bard and filidh, until its gradual deciphering by the earliest 19C Old and Archaic Irish Ogham solvers decipherers unraveling the riddle of this tightly wound linguistic puzzle that to this day still causes dippier spacers and pagans to write seized by faux paroxysms, an excruciatingly conventional and pedestrian class of spiritual poetry informed by nothing more than the misunderstood rantings of an ancient author with only two short tinchetal, mystical utterances amounting to a few lines, and the very much longer and more fascinating 120 line poetry instruction detailing to its Reader what poetry is and where it comes from.

According, of course, to the authentic 7C bardic mind writing this piece without a title and found complete only once, on velum, in Dublin, at Trinity College Hartley manuscript 1337 (formerly H.3.1), written 1500 AD, pages 43-47.

Do you know it?

I suspect it has no title because it didn't need one. As familiar to fifty generations of poets in Ireland as Pounds Do's and Dont's are to four generations of above averagely interested English language poetry student.

It was first translated in 1978, before the definitions of poetry and musings of Angelou, Ashbery, Bernstein, Collins, Creeley, Eliot, Howe, Kenyon, Levertov, Lowell, Millay, Moore, Niedecker, Olds, Plath, Pound, Rexroth, Silliman, Shakespeare, Stein, Whitman and Yeats.

1200 years before the literary gimmicks and gags inherent in contemporary American modernism, prior to the epic pomo pop-rants and mix-and-match enlightenments dimly unread in the limp and disposable anti-poetic praise rants and literary satires which appear indistinguishable from the objects of their tame uneventful joys and ire; this very important 7C poetry instruction is a wonderful thing of immense literal beauty because it's all you poets need to progress positively through the choppy, confusing waters and cut-throat climes where rejection is the norm for those 99.9999% without its profoundly poetic wisdom and brilliantly simple formula for and definition of, successful validation in visits by

'active voice, in passive silence, in the neutral balance between,
in the proper construction of rhyme,

which bestows the merit of every art,
through which treasure increases,
which magnifies every common artisan,
which builds up a person through their gift.'

Where the root of poetry is in a person, 'in the soul of a person because the body does nothing without a soul, and in the body of a person where the arts are learned, passed through the bodies of our ancestors'.

Where 'it's said that the good knowledge of poetry in a person comes not into everyone via their ancestors, but comes into every other person.'

Every other person. 50%, half of you born with 'the good knowledge' 'poetry', a basic linguistic gift capable of reaching the heights of a Franz Wright or Travis Nichols, speaking with the complexity and depth of a Robert Haas, with the spritual insight and intellectual balance of an Emerson, or Micheals Hoffman Robbins or Longley.

Coire Goiriath, Coire Érmai, Coire Soḟis. Check them out these cauldrons of Incubation turning 'upright in a person from the beginning, that distributes wisdom to us in our youth'; Motion, the linguistic gift itself 'tipped on its side' in half of us and 'on its lips' upside down in the other; and your cauldron of Wisdom, born upside down in all of you and which well turning cauldrons of motion upright to pour and purr from the highest streams of poetic speech, mystical utterance, in the abc of practical poetry and contemporary bardic verse, from 100,000 voices in the post American army of dangerously comic and deluded micro-celebrities and two second icons declaiming edgy unfiltered words ushered into being by a plethora of grifters wheedling, whining and ranting for a buck whatever boring and uninformative poetic brand of bourgeois babble their bosses demand they professionally believe and half-heartedly parrot on the pages of tone and gravitas nobody's buying anymore.

Instructing you how to become a successfully 'published' poet with a world of wishes at your command, warm words on a cold evening, an 'understanding grace accumulating knowledge and streaming poetic inspiration as milk from the breast, at the tide-water point of knowledge where a union of sages stream their sovereignty, glory of the lowly, mastery of words, swift understanding, reddening satire the craftsman of histories cherishing pupils, looks after in the binding principles distinguishing the intricacies of language and moving toward music in the propagation of good wisdom, enriching nobility and ennobling non-nobles, exalting names, relating praises and through the working of law, comparing of ranks and pure weighing of nobility with fair words of the wise, with streams of sages, creates the noble brew in which is boiled the true root of all knowledge which bestows after duty, which is climbed after diligence, which poetic ecstasy sets in motion, which joy turns, which is revealed through sorrow and which is a lasting power of undiminishing protection.'

Love.

This is to Desmond,

Aren't you the dearheart who "responded to a few of my posts here last year, saying relatively little?

For the rest of us whining, self-deluded American poets, here's a translation of his 1000 word screed:

1. Desmond is suspicious of Don Share's move up the ranks of American poetry editors.

2. Desmond has received, as all poets have (and I chief among them recently) many, many rejections from editors at poetry magazines.

3. Desmond has few kind things to say about contemporary American poetry. And he misspells Hass' last name.

Desmond, what is it, man? In a few clear words. You know, like poetry.

Don, you may never publish me in Po Mag, but I respect your years of work as an editor and I've been reading these posts of yours this week with great interest.

Leslie, I'm glad you translated Desmond because I got pretty lost in there. Also - why is his name linked to a Telemusica site? I don't understand...

Anyway, Don, I echo Leslie in my admiration of you as both a discerning editor and a classy guy. (And no, I've never been accepted by POETRY, either.)

Hello Lesley.

Apologies for the spelling mistakes in the above screed merely a performance of experimental 'speculative discourse' riffing on several things that lead to a recently (1978) translated 7C Archaic Irish poem (you exhibit no an interest in).

As regards your other points:

1 - I don't know what you mean when you accuse me of being 'suspicious of Don Shares move up the ranks of American poetry editors.'

Suspicious in what way?

Fair play to him I say.

2 - I have submitted around fifty times and been accepted and published in around 25 of these, in print and online; so your second assumption is completely wrong.

I do state my publishing history in the above verbal performance, admittedly, after reading it back, not as well as it could be.

I began sending stuff out in 2004 during the final year of a writing studies and drama BA, in the way I imagine the rest of you do. After a few acceptances and rejections I began to see it as a game and how it is all a matter of personal taste. Stuff I thought wouldn't get accepted did, and vice versa.

After two years of this, seven years ago in 2005, I lost all interest in sending my stuff out after discovering the earliest (1978-92) translations of the Amergin poem which has no title but is known by the name Cauldron of Poesy. I went from seeking literary validation from editors to seeking poetic truth in this poem, which, remember, was a touchstone text to 40 generations of Irish poets and was written by a 7C bard.

So, you see Lesley, I am not the perennially rejected person you suggest. Indeed poetry has been very good to me personally. Through it some very kind and generous people have become part of and enriched my life immeasurably. Poetry has brought me 'the prosperity of bardcraft' mentioned in the Cauldron of Poesy.

But yes, you are right, a majority of American poets in the 100,000 strong poetry army I do not rate as 'competition'; though respect them and would encourage them every step of the way with their poetry.

Don, I am very glad to host this piece (and glad, too, to be mentioned in it). The magazine was dear to my heart. With an influence that dwarfed its circulation, it published as you note so many key essays such as those by Clement Greenberg that gave Abstract Expressionism its intellectual foundation. The magazine epitomized modernism and prized brilliance of mind. Delmore Schwartz's first and finest fiction. Regular contributions from such as Lionel Trilling, Mary McCarthy, Irving Howe, Robert Warshow, Dwight Macdonald, Susan Sontag, Cynthia Ozick. For a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s John Ashbery was informally their poetry editor. I got involved when I found myself wanting to review certain books at greater length than "Newsweek" allowed me. I got a lot of encouragement from the editors and recall with particular pleasure the pieces I filed on the PEN Writers Congress of 1986 and on the state of the American publishing industry a couple of years later. Also, I was inspired to write a parody of a freshman theme that still cracks me up today. Mr. Phillips, Edith Kurzweil, Lionel Abel, Steven Marcus, Morris Dickstein, and Daphne Markein were regulars at editorial meetings that met at an apartment near Lincoln Center, and some of us made the effort to recruit new voices: Mark Stevens, Louis Menand, Deborah Solomon were guests at meetings. Some of the meetings were extremely lively.
I should write about it sometime especially if, as you say, you never hear the magazine's name mentioned nowadays. In retrospect it was naive to imagine that the magazine could long survive the death of its last founding editor, William Phillips, and in a way the magazine's later years constituted a great monument to itself as an institution.

Desmond, it would be easier to take your concern for the dismal state of the written word more seriously if you proofread your own writing more carefully.

Thanks Laura. I know what you mean. For many years, in the rush to see my comments published on the page I learnt the long way how to write a long sentence, because inevitably, after hitting send, what I wrote would not appear on the page how I meant it when it was being written in the buzz of poetic imbhas, full of errors which, as you know, with just one misplaced comma, can render the sentence totally meaningless.

Reading back the original windy response I see how you will have become lost in it. It seems I am feted to favor creating experimental speculative discourse over acquiring the networking and niceness skills a majority in the American poetry village seem most interested in cultivating as artistic beings composing spoken song at the beginning of the 21C.

My original point that got buried in the avalanche of verbiage above, is that today the Caxtonian submit-reject-accept model is redundant because technology now allows anyone to publish a poetry collection (or any other form of writing) on a level playing field that has total parity with Faber and Faber or any other publisher.

We are all in effect the potential editors and publishers of our own work. For virtually nothing, sixty dollars, anyone (in Europe at least) can publish a book distributed globally by Gardners and available in all online marts and orderable from all bricks and mortar shops the world over. Often with the same and even better royalties one gets with traditional publishers. Aamazon ebooks sold below a certain price attract 70% author royalty.

This is the point I was making. That the old model in which the taste of a few affects how the many write, is changing rapidly.

(contd)

(DS on fb account. The editor must have imposed a word limit since my orignal post.)

What interests me is how our mentality takes its time to disconnect from the old model and onto the new.

I am not having an envious pop at DS, merely using his post as a springboard to launch what's on my mind, and though it could be construed as tangential to the point of him spending fifteen years at Partisan Review, it's not wholly unrelated, in the broadest sense, as what is being discussed is editing and publishing.

Indeed it can be argues ones whole time in writing is nothing but learning how to string a sentence together by the act of practising writing. Often failing, but nevertheless, anyone can take full advantage of the new media opportunities the unpublished neophyte without a reputation can avail of and by doing so learn important writing, debating and publishing lessons, for free.

Great post, Don. The ways in which we are called and show up to do the work have great impact on the outcome, but we never know that when we're working.

But this is what struck me:
"I typed RW's letters, day after day, week after week, and in the process, learned a great deal about tactfulness, kindness, generosity, empathy, and other qualities the very best editors cultivate. It was a large and crystal-clear window on the everyday world of working writers."

I can't find many young poets who are actually interested in being an apprentice in this way. In actually putting in the hours to learn the craft of poetry in all of its facets (corresponding, selection, etc...). There is a kind of trajectory that is slower and more nuanced than the world of Internet poetry can offer...I miss that.

I want to foster it.

The Partisan Review--my very first literary magazine subscription--just out of college. Four times each year, plain-clothed, and meaty. I wish I could remember who told me to subscribe.

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I've read each of them with great interest and much appreciation. I'm grateful to all of you for reading and thinking about my reflections.

WhatEVER, Desmond Supafast!

Don,

I am intrigued by this sentence of your post and wonder if you feel inspired to elaborate a bit?

"Though it was hard to believe that such an important magazine could be shut down, the truth is that it had lost its way for a very long time."

How had The Partisan Review lost its way?

Surazeus Simon Seamount

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