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Behind the scenes at The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010, part 1.

July 19, 2010 \pm\31 5:22 pm

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8extras

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 LevertovPhilip 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.

Dear XXXX,

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.

Best regards,
Lorin Stein

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.

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76 Comments
  1. July 19, 2010 \pm\31 5:37 pm 5:37 pm

    On the other hand, it sounds as if Philip Gourevitch was accepting far more poetry than he could possibly publish, and it seems fair to give a new poetry editor some scope to, you know, edit. I’ve known people with book deals who’ve been told – in one case even when the cover art was done and the books was about to be printed – that their book had not survived a company merger… This is just the kind of stuff that happens in business. I have a scriptwriting friend whose programme was actually in production when the production company pulled it – it just didn’t fit with plans to re-allocate budgets…

    • July 19, 2010 \pm\31 5:41 pm 5:41 pm

      Have to disagree, respectfully. I see what you mean–books and certainly movies and screenplays, are different; I have no doubt book deals go kaput. That’s business. But literary journals, I would argue, inhabit a different world. Accepted work moves from editor to editor all the time. We’ll see how it pans out. My initial thought is that this is pretty uncommon, and some muckraking is in order.

      • Jason permalink
        July 21, 2010 \pm\31 5:37 pm 5:37 pm

        If anything, literary journals inhabit a world far LESS professional – so in that regard, why is this news surprising? Just because it’s Paris Review? Still not very surprising, really – just look at the Tupelo Press open reading period fiasco from a few years ago or Dana Goodyear being published so many times in the New Yorker.

  2. July 19, 2010 \pm\31 5:38 pm 5:38 pm

    I should say – many commiserations, too! I remember all the articles when Gourevitch took over, and how they were going to be publishing many fewer poets (but with larger batches of poems) etc, etc.. so you did well even to have them chosen.

    • July 19, 2010 \pm\31 8:42 pm 8:42 pm

      I remember that being the case, to when Gourevitch took over. Can’t remember where I read it.

      • July 21, 2010 \am\31 11:17 am 11:17 am

        You can hear all about it from me! I was part of the earlier purge, bless Mr. Howard’s heart, and Mr. Gourevitch’s. I think both were caught in an impossible situation. I remain happy that Mr. Howard not only accepted my poems but planned to award a group of them–a suite of “duets” with Robert Johnson–the O’Connor Prize. Sometimes it truly IS the thought that counts.

  3. July 19, 2010 \pm\31 5:44 pm 5:44 pm

    I might be wrong, but I thought it was the poems selected by Richard Howard that were not published by the following editor after Howard left The Paris Review. I heard there was something like two years of poems in the queue. I’m surprised to hear of this new “purge.”

    I don’t think getting poems published in PR is what is used to be. I know lots of folks who had work appear in there, it definitely didn’t get them book deals or anthologized and I’m not so sure what the “reputation” garners. As an editor of a far less prestigious (cough) magazine, I regularly decline work that I don’t care for by PR contributors–meaning, it doesn’t score any special points with me.

    • July 19, 2010 \pm\31 5:50 pm 5:50 pm

      Yeah, one definitely could make the argument that that credit isn’t as great as before. There’s a whole other history of what kind of work the Review takes, styles. I think the credit does garner some notice, even today, though. I’m sure I’ve rejected Review poets before in my day as well!

      As for the person who followed Howard, that I do not know. But I would think of that as an unconventional move as well. Perhaps it’s the Paris Review’s way, and we–or I might say I–don’t know about it.

  4. Rita Konig permalink
    July 19, 2010 \pm\31 7:04 pm 7:04 pm

    GROW UP!

    • matt permalink
      July 20, 2010 \pm\31 6:05 pm 6:05 pm

      I don’t see how this is a response to anything written in the article. Unless, of course, you are telling the new editors of PR to grow up by honoring commitments.

  5. Bobby Sands permalink
    July 19, 2010 \pm\31 7:38 pm 7:38 pm

    This happens ALL THE TIME, when magazines are relaunched no one uses the old unused material, in fact the reason there is usually a relaunch is because the previous choices were so ASS

    • July 19, 2010 \pm\31 8:30 pm 8:30 pm

      A relaunch? I’m not sure if those are the terms used by the magazine. This might happen in other arenas, but, like I said, it’s rarer in literary journal circles. As for “ASS,” I’ll address that later. Stay tuned. For ASS.

  6. July 19, 2010 \pm\31 10:42 pm 10:42 pm

    In terms of ethics, I don’t know that the PR did anything really wrong. One could argue it’s the same as getting a new boss and that boss saying, “I know you were told you were going to get to go on that three week, low-responsibility business trip to Paris, but actually, I’m firing you.”

    So you didn’t get to go to Paris. It’s not what it used to be. It’s not the end of the world.

    But does it suck? ABSOLUTELY. Even though it might not mean a swanky book deal or anthology, I’d be pretty excited about getting published in the Paris Review.

    One thing I do wonder–I imagine the PR pays for poetry. (I could be wrong, but it seems of that caliber). Think these folks got paid?

  7. July 19, 2010 \pm\31 11:03 pm 11:03 pm

    I guess the word that springs to my mind is “tacky.” I don’t see what would have been so difficult about honoring the PR’s commitments to work it already accepted.

    This sort of move earns a very shabby 1.5 on Countess LuAnn de Lesseps’ patented Class-O-Meter.

  8. July 19, 2010 \pm\31 11:40 pm 11:40 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this, Nester. It is an unfair thing to do, and if there was some sort of contract already signed, then I’d call it unethical. But either way, it’s important that it’s public, and I’d say it’s really disappointing that the Paris Review was not public about it.

    But at the same time, you know, most people read the PR for the interviews.

    • matt permalink
      July 20, 2010 \pm\31 6:07 pm 6:07 pm

      I’d say that with or without a signed contract this move is unethical.

    • Banshee Babel permalink
      July 22, 2010 \pm\31 8:43 pm 8:43 pm

      “But at the same time, you know, most people read the PR for the interviews.”

      Oh.

      Like Playboy magazine.

      In my experience, this sort of arrogant behavior is not all that uncommon when you put your feet under The Big Poets table.

      Which is why not everyone aspires to be seated among Those Who Find Themselves So Rare.

  9. Keith S. Wilson permalink
    July 20, 2010 \am\31 5:32 am 5:32 am

    I was accepted for two different publications and had something like this happen. Except I wasn’t notified by either one that my acceptance was rescinded. One, at my college, told me I was accepted, and which journal I’d appear in, and when it came out, I found that I was not in it at all. I emailed them, and they never responded.

    Can’t say it wasn’t infuriating, but it’s not as if the world of poetry is any more of a utopia than the rest of the world, which itself makes me want to smack people in their face.

  10. Ros permalink
    July 20, 2010 \am\31 6:29 am 6:29 am

    Very shabby, indeed. I believe Reb is correct–Gourevitch, Simic, and O’Rourke dumped many poems when they took over. Howard had a reputation for over-accepting, thus those famous 2x issues. Bit, what’s really weird, to me, is that Chiasson & O’Rourke are still on the staff as advisers or editors or something–that seems awkward, too. “We see much to admire” in your selections, but, sorry….

  11. July 20, 2010 \am\31 10:13 am 10:13 am

    The only reason I can see for a literary magazine to do something like this would be if the mag lost its funding and had to fold before it could print the issue; but even then, and especially in this case, there are MANY other options for dealing with a backlog of accepted work–i.e. a double issue or anthology like you mention, Daniel, or now a downloadable PDF or e-book “special” edition. If it’s a matter of one Editor disagreeing with the aesthetic taste of the previous editor, that doesn’t seem like a conflict that should be pushed off on writers. I also don’t believe this is something that happens regularly; or perhaps I should say that I WANT to believe this doesn’t happen regularly. Thanks for the coverage, Daniel. I’ll stay tuned . . .

    Respectfully,

    Steven Church
    Editor, The Normal School

  12. July 20, 2010 \am\31 10:19 am 10:19 am

    I think this is, as someone above pointed out, tacky, though, as a former editor, I do understand the impulse. If there’s not a shared aesthetic, it can be hard to swallow putting something out there that you’re not so proud of, with your name on the masthead. But, whatever, that’s part of the cyclical nature of lit publishing.

    This smacks of a sort of imperial arrogance that I’ve often encountered amongst newly minted editorial boards, and a misunderstanding of the smallness of this small world of which these editors are inhabitants. It’s practically reverse nepotism.

  13. July 20, 2010 \am\31 10:21 am 10:21 am

    “I don’t think getting poems published in PR is what is used to be.”

    I think what the PR probably needs, again, is the CIA’s measured stewardship.

  14. July 20, 2010 \am\31 10:50 am 10:50 am

    Come on, this does NOT happen a lot with literary magazines that have a good reputation (deserved or not). I’ve been involved with New York City literary magazines, online journals, and other publishing ventures for nearly 20 years. I’ve never heard of this happening before. No doubt, it has at times, I mean there are thousands of literary outlets that publish new issues sometimes several times a year. But that I know personally a lot of writers who publish in a wide variety of outlets and have never heard of anyone having been unaccepted does suggest that the practice is certainly not common. Yeah, screenplays get fucked with and abandoned or postponed all the time–it’s a completely different type of business than literary fiction. Also, books get dropped when publishers merge or fold or change editorial staffs, but its often A big fucking deal when it happens. Lawyers and lots of fighting and lots of ill will follow. It’s not a no-big-deal kind of event.
    As for the Paris Review not being an important place to publish, bullshit. I’m not arguing whether or not people (meaning writers, of course, other people don’t) read the magazine or like it. I’ve had many conversations with agents, publishers, editors, reviewers, and writers with book deals and ALL of them pay attention to what’s in the Paris Review. Certainly have a poem in the Review doesn’t automatically get you a deal, but it does matter.

  15. July 20, 2010 \am\31 11:53 am 11:53 am

    Wow. I’m not sure what’s more surprising to me: The Paris Review’s decision or that there are actually defenders of it.

    This strikes me as cruel, arrogant, and callous, regardless of whether or not there is some sort of justification because this has happened before at another literary journal. I’m still a little too stunned to write coherently about this.

    @Daniel: were contracts to the authors signed? How does PR handle contracts, author agreements, or whatever it is the author’s signed on acceptance (if they did)?

  16. Frances permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 12:01 pm 12:01 pm

    “Certainly have a poem in the Review doesn’t automatically get you a deal, but it does matter.”

    I don’t wish to sound rude, C.E., but in poetryland–there are no deals. There are no agents. There are no publishers scouring PR or APR or POETRY looking for the next big hit! In poetryland, the poet pays the publisher $20 to $30 for the privilege of being rejected! Sure, maybe an editor of a magazine reads something in PR and contacts the writer. Perhaps. I, too, think the writers were treated poorly. I hope they received a kill fee. They should have received a personal letter from Robyn Creswell. But let’s not cry too hard, Mr. Nestor. I’d guess most of these poets were solicited by O’Rourke or Chiasson. Don’t you think?

  17. Dan permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 12:08 pm 12:08 pm

    I actually had a piece unaccepted once, but it wasn’t obviously by the PR. Thanks for bringing this to light, Daniel. We should appoint you ombudsman of writers.

  18. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 1:13 pm 1:13 pm

    From PR submissions guidelines :

    “Simultaneous submissions are also acceptable as long as we are notified immediately if the manuscript is accepted for publication elsewhere.”

    I guess they should add another sentence : “We also consider it acceptable to accept your work for publication, and hold it for an undetermined length of time, and then, later, change our minds. Sorry. C’est la guerre, as we say over in Paris.”

    • Banshee Babel permalink
      July 22, 2010 \pm\31 9:34 pm 9:34 pm

      And this is the precise reason why their actions are so arrogant and alienating. And their submissions guidelines so dishonest.

  19. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 1:46 pm 1:46 pm

    BRIAN “IS GOD” MAY IS IN TOWN???!!!

  20. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 1:47 pm 1:47 pm

    Cheesy. Tacky. Ill-mannered. Ick.

    This is why I tell naive darlings not to publish that little ‘forthcoming’ business in bios…when the acceptance is from smaller, less-likely-to-thrive (survive) journals. But TPR…wow. I don’t care what the reason. To spike the acceptances is…well, see technical terms above.

    So very sorry.

  21. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 1:49 pm 1:49 pm

    Oh, wait — that’s LA. CRAP! Now I am mad!

  22. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 1:56 pm 1:56 pm

    Dear Mr Nester,

    I am sorry to hear that your poems didn’t make it into this publication.

    as a writer myself I find your article to be a little pretentious, you basically wrote 8 paragraphs of you whining about not getting into The Great Paris Review when you could have summed it up in one.

    things happen, people change their minds, I can’t believe you even had an inkling of the impression you would be guaranteed a place amongst your gods as you put it.

    I am saddened to hear there is still writers out there who feel they deserve a spot in society because they wrote a poem or two, it’s just words that rhyme together, please pick yourself up and try again.

    Thanks, I’m sure you are going to be quite bitter after reading this but I just tell it like I see it.

    • Elaine permalink
      July 20, 2010 \pm\31 3:14 pm 3:14 pm

      “…I can’t believe you even had an inkling of the impression you would be guaranteed a place amongst your gods as you put it.”

      You aren’t a writer, Mr. Shawn–you are a prose genius! Roll over Proust, and tell Nabokov the news. And you read as well as you write! (Tss, Shawn… Daniel wasn’t writing about his own experiences.)

  23. jmb permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 2:43 pm 2:43 pm

    Not surprising, and who would accept a job as a poetry editor knowing that their work was backlogged for a year? They would have been wiser to say, “Sorry, your work won’t appear in the print edition, but we would be willing to post it to our blog if you agree to those terms.”

    Also, were you already paid? If they already bought the poems, they can do whatever they want with them…

    • July 20, 2010 \pm\31 3:32 pm 3:32 pm

      Who would accept a job as a poetry editor knowing their work was backlogged for a year? I would. I’d even consider leaving the previous editor’s name on the masthead for the period while their work was making its way through the pipeline, either by itself, or alongside my own, just to give credit where it’s due. It’s not the writer’s fault that the new editor doesn’t like the work, and it’s crap to slap the writer because of it.

      If there are other journals out there that pull this same kind of move, let me know so I can avoid the whole situation by not sending them my work (not that they’ll be heartbroken by my decision). I wouldn’t want to be a writer on either side of this deal–wouldn’t want to be bumped, and wouldn’t want my work to bump someone else.

  24. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 4:13 pm 4:13 pm

    Um, yes, Frances, there are deals in poetry land. I’ve lived in poetry and small press land for most of my adult life. I know many people who have gotten deals. No, they are not six figure (or often five figure deals), but it makes it much, much, more likely that you will have a book published if you have poems in the Paris Review.

    Also, Shawn, Mr. Nester never said he was one of the unaccepted (and, I happen to have my sources, he isn’t). To assume that every blog post is nothing more sour grapes on the part of the author really doesn’t show much imagination or generosity or tact. A quick search on Mr. Nester would have revealed that he’s published several books with one of the country’s best-regarded small press (and, more from my sources—which are good to have so that you know what the fuck you’re talking about before you post it on a website, he actually sells books, gets second printings and all—which is rare for small press land).

    • July 20, 2010 \pm\31 4:55 pm 4:55 pm

      whoa is this the part where I put down my mint tea, remove my spectacles and stare off into my impressive library collection?

      English is not my first language, hopefully that clears up Mr.Nesters Pseudonyms.

      I just find it humorous people actually think getting their work published is a crowning achievement., I could care less what this man has posted or is going to post in the future.

      It’s what he contributes to society that really matters, and honestly crying about this is definitely not going to earn him any brownie points either.

      ps LOL @ small press

      • July 21, 2010 \pm\31 2:08 pm 2:08 pm

        Shawn, I am bilingual in Internet and English. Did you know they share the word ‘troll’? Amazing, right?! Same meaning and everything. Look it up!

  25. Ros permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 5:15 pm 5:15 pm

    “I’d guess most of these poets were solicited by O’Rourke or Chiasson. Don’t you think?”

    “Dan Chiasson—who is a mensch-y guy and deserves no blame for what’s happened—got in touch with me and asked to see some poems. I sent him a packet of four or so, and after a few days he emailed to say that he really liked one called “Failed Sestina for My Daughter” and was going to pass it along to [Philip] Gourevitch.”

    Voila, Frances.

  26. Mark Brown permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 6:40 pm 6:40 pm

    Tactless…by the way the link to part 2 is broken.

  27. John Morgan permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 7:25 pm 7:25 pm

    Long time ago, but the same thing happened to me with the Partisan Review. A poem was accepted, the poetry editors changed and when I inquired I was told the poem would not be published. The poem eventually appeared in APR.

  28. Alex Fong permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 7:31 pm 7:31 pm

    Recently Fence magazine accidentally sent out false acceptance emails to people, before rejecting the work, due to a new editor’s unfamiliarity with the system, but I’ve never heard of a journal that wasn’t going bankrupt actually kill a poem post-acceptance before. For larger magazines like GQ and Playboy this happens, and but even then there’s a ‘kill fee’ paid.

  29. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 7:50 pm 7:50 pm

    Hmm, I’d always heard that Tom Clark did the same think to Yvor Winters’ backlog when he rebooted as poetry editor.

  30. Richard Spilman permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 9:53 pm 9:53 pm

    This isn’t often done, but in the past, when it was done and the magazine was in the habit of offering payment, they gave you a cut fee. I got one from Partisan Review. Then they went under.

  31. Colin permalink
    July 20, 2010 \pm\31 10:44 pm 10:44 pm

    For what little it’s worth:

    Were I running the Paris Review I would, in my own clumsy way and making allowances for whatever budgetary restrictions apply, try to turn a minus into a plus by publishing the forelogged poems separately, as in a book.

  32. July 20, 2010 \pm\31 10:45 pm 10:45 pm

    Publishing in the Paris Review is hardly the big deal it was forty years ago.

  33. July 21, 2010 \pm\31 12:04 pm 12:04 pm

    Thank you Erich.

  34. Laura Lee Washburn permalink
    July 21, 2010 \pm\31 10:53 pm 10:53 pm

    They should have published a special issue with all the poems in it if they just didn’t want to deal with a former editor’s choices. Those poets have been prevented from publishing the poems elsewhere for a long time. Another piece of the disturbing trend of dismissing poets in deference to “oh woe are the editors.”

  35. Ron Silliman permalink
    July 22, 2010 \pm\31 1:46 pm 1:46 pm

    Part 2 is not showing up — it goes to part 1 & if you try to type the # in (the way it is with 1 & 3), it goes to a 404 page

  36. July 23, 2010 \pm\31 5:55 pm 5:55 pm

    There should be a new reality show: “The Poets Not of The Paris Review.” My condolences to all who were and are disappointed by this unprofessional and decidedly unpoetic behavior.

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