Behind the scenes at The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010, part 1.
Picture this: you have your poems accepted by The Paris Review. Such an acceptance can mark the start of a great career, lead to a book deal or to be anthologized, or perhaps solidify a reputation in the small world this correspondent and others call Poetryland.
After all, these are the same pages that were and are inhabited by T.S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, Donald Hall, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Barbara Guest, Blaise Cendrars, Ted Berrigan, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Anne Waldman, Leroi Jones, Adrienne Rich, James Wright, Jim Carroll, Diane DiPrima, John Giorno, Clark Coolidge, Alice Notley, Mahmoud Darwish, Robert Bly, W.S. Merwin, Denise Levertov, Philip Levine–in short, nearly every poet of every aesthetic stripe who has been invited to the Big Poets Table in the past half-century. The lineage of editors, too–a list that includes Donald Hall, Yvor Winters, X.J. Kennedy, Tom Clark, Richard Howard, Charles Simic–reinforce the idea that, once one’s name has appeared on The Paris Review‘s table of contents, one has been admitted to a special club.
You have this acceptance. Months, even years pass. As is the custom, your writerly bio, which you include in work you have accepted elsewhere, mentions you have work “forthcoming in The Paris Review.” You wait for the issue with your poems to appear.
Then you get an email from Lorin Stein, the new editor of The Paris Review. With perhaps the memory that there had been an announcement, written about in New York Observer, about a change at the Poetry Editor desk.
Recently I replaced Philip Gourevitch as editor of The Paris Review and appointed a new poetry editor, Robyn Creswell. Over the last month, Robyn and I have been carefully reading the backlog of poetry that we inherited from the previous editors. This amounts to a year’s worth of poems. In order to give Robyn the scope to define his own section, I regret to say, we will not be able to publish everything accepted by Philip, Meghan, and Dan. We have not found a place for your [poem/s], though we see much to admire in them and gave them the most serious consideration. I am sorry to give you this bad news, and I’m grateful for your patience during the Review’s transition.
In my 20 years of small press involvement–journals, books, websites–I have never heard of a literary journal, let alone one of a world-class reputation as The Paris Review‘s, rescind publication after at first accepting it. Publishing it years later, sure; tucking it away in a double-issue, quite often. This is not, it needs to be pointed out, the same as killing a profile or story for a magazine. Accepting a poem or short story, part of “news that stays news,” in a world where so many things are interrogated or made ambiguous, is just that: an acceptance.
Scratch that. Asking around today, it turns out such a practice is not unheard of; thing is, the only case of un-publishing I heard about, from a couple poets and editors, is another are many of the other former Paris Review poetry editors, who allegedly un-accepted work–when he they took over for his their long tenure years ago.
I pitched this story today to several web and print outlets and, some out of deference to their relationship with the Review, passed on it. Good for them, I guess. I’ve also asked to interview some of the poets who have been affected by the purge, as well as Lorin Stein and the new poetry editor, Robyn Creswell. I hope to hear back from them.
Consider this post part 1. If anyone has any information about The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010, please do email me at danielnester at gmail dot com. I’d like to get to the bottom of this. I plan on stopping by their offices on Thursday, when I am in town to see Brian “Is God” May lecture on stereo photography in Tribeca. So stay tuned.
UPDATE: ad-hoc navigation part with all the part of this story at the top of this post.
UPDATE August 2010: I never heard back from Lorin Stein or Robyn Creswell.