I sent in a poem to The New Yorker a few weeks ago. (I know, who do I think I am anyway?) I figured what the hell, you never know. I was bored and did it on a whim. That’s kind of how I operate in general.
I’ve pretty much always dismissed TNY poetry for drippy, tepid pap. Could never stomach it. And I could never read most of them without feeling the presence of the pompous, prissy and/or pretentious poets looking over my shoulder narcissistically reading along with me. I got to the point where I would avert my eyes when there was a poem on a New Yorker page, the way I do when I see lions catching zebras on TV. Every now and then, a couple times a year, I’d think “they can’t all be that bad” so I’d read one, gag, and kick myself for masochism.
So they e-mailed me a rejection, as I expected, but it was enough to think that somebody at THE The New Yorker might have read my little poem. No guarantee that actually happened, of course, but I can dream.
This morning, evidently, there’s a big scandal in the poetry world (about which I know nothing, I might add). Basically there was a TNY article that was criticized by a New York Times article for being biased bullshit. The poetry feud is explained in this Huffington Post article if you’re curious.
This is an excerpt from the New York Times essay by David Orr:
The New Yorker tends to run bad poems by excellent poets. This occurs in part because the magazine has to take Big Names, but many Big Names don’t work in ways that are palatable to The New Yorker’s vast audience (in addition, many well-known poets don’t write what’s known in the poetry world as “the New Yorker poem” — basically an epiphany-centered lyric heavy on words like “water” and “light”). As a result, you get fine writers trying on a style that doesn’t suit them. The Irish poet Michael Longley writes powerful, earthy yet cerebral lines, but you wouldn’t know it from his New Yorker poem “For My Grandson”: “Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?” Yes, the fluffy chimney.
Since one is generally expected to say “The New Yorker” with a hushed and preferably nasal voice accompanied by a knowing expression to prove that one is among the rare few with the attention span, vocabulary, and sophistication to read the magazine, it was nice to see somebody else finally comment on the crap poetry in the sacrosanct publication.
Thank you, David. I feel vindicated. “Fluffy chimney” is gag-worthy, indeed. But now that I think about it, the poem I submitted had epiphany, water, and light. I guess it was that I lacked the name. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the poem sucked, too.
I do have to say that there was one TNY poem I read that so blew me away that I’ve carried it around since my son was about eight. It was on my fridge for years and now it lives in a keepsake file. I even sent copies of it out with my son’s high-school graduation announcements. It’s my favorite TNY poem ever.
If you are a parent and not a reptile, you’ll appreciate it.
THE RED HAT
It started before Christmas. Now our son
officially walks to school alone.
Semi-alone, it’s accurate to say:
I or his father track him on the way.
He walks up on the east side of West End,
we on the west side. Glances can extend
(and do) across the street; not eye contact.
Already ties are feeling and not fact.
Straus Park is where these parallel paths part;
he goes alone from there. The watcher’s heart
stretches, elastic in its love and fear,
toward him as we see him disappear,
striding briskly. Where two weeks ago,
holding a hand, he’d dawdle, dreamy, slow,
he now is hustled forward by the pull
of something far more powerful than school.
The mornings we turn back to are no more
than forty minutes longer than before,
but they feel vastly different—flimsy, strange,
wavering in the eddies of this change,
empty, unanchored, perilously light
since the red hat vanished from our sight.
You can buy Rachel Hadas’ selected and recent works on her website.
I gathered from these articles that the problem with TNY poetry is that they care more about the poet than the poem. A shame but not a surprise. That’s the way it works everywhere, I guess.
If only the poems were as extraordinary as the cartoons!
Thanks to serendipity and a generous anonymous benefactor, it looks like I’m going to the annual Paris Writer’s Workshop in July! But I’ll be attending the novel workshop, not the poetry workshop…