Much Ado

By now, most poets have read the debate (if you could call it that) between critic Helen Vendler and poet Rita Dove about Dove’s selections for the Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. I find it disappointing that the conversation is not really centered on the quality of the poetry included, but rather on the poets excluded from the anthology and the race/ethnicity of the writers Dove chose to include. Being the editor for any sort of comprehensive anthology cannot be easy, much less putting together an anthology in a field as wide and diverse as contemporary American poetry.  I haven’t picked up the book to read and form my own opinions, and I certainly would not deny anyone theirs. I hope that the conversation can turn to discussion of the poems themselves, on their own merit. But I doubt it. Sigh.

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Without giving away any names, I would like to say how weird and lovely it was today to get a rejection notice that gave VERY specific commentary (positive) about two of the four poems in my submission, even making an insightful revision suggestion about one of them that made total sense to me.  It made me happy that there are editors out there who read with such care, and it reminded me that rejections don’t necessarily mean the poems are not good. Sometimes all of the anxiety about a “no” has a simple answer and all that angst is much ado…about nothing.

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Happy Winter!

Last winter at the lake

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5 thoughts on “Much Ado

  1. Beautiful photo. I too, have received some very helpful and insightful comments from editors–recently (so maybe the same editor?!) and over the years. They did help me rethink and revise!

  2. In addition to picking and choosing (and being apparently confined by rights issues), looking at poetry in retrospect is frustrating too. I get the feeling that Dove and Vendler’s opinions on Gwendolyn Brooks, for example, differ because Dove’s “hyperbole” about Brooks being as capable as any male poet is more in the spirit of when she first published (when a black woman publishing poetry, period, was astonishing), while Vendler took it more at face value (like Brooks = Shakespeare). But then, reverse it: Vendler seems to want to accord poets the same acclaim as when they first appeared, which for minority poets was not much until relatively recently. It’s somewhat impossible to regard poets and their work the same way from decade to decade, as the world re-contextualizes itself: why do we bother with these anthologies at all?

    Anyway, thanks for pointing out the skirmish, I hadn’t known about it. And congrats on your happy rejection and a merry winter season to you!

    • Interesting question you pose at the end – why do we continue to make these anthologies? I assume it is mostly for the academic purposes of higher education. The only reason I own both volumes of Norton’s Anthology of American Lit is due to undergraduate English classes. I doubt that I would have sought them out as reading material on my own…

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