Behind the scenes at The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010, part 5: analysis paragraphs and other quotes.
As I said in my first post, I had queried editors a couple places where I’ve written before, and they passed on the story. So I made the decision to blog the story here instead, and the result is a series of posts, a couple of interviews and links. Some of those publications have gone on to link to the stories here, or stories that were written because of the reporting done here at this site.
What follows is a draft of what would have been the middle and end paragraphs of a feature-type story. Lorin Stein and Robyn Creswell at The Paris Review still haven’t gotten back to me, but there are paragraphs slugged down here (with “TK,” the old school abbreviation for “to come”) to indicate to readers of at least one place where their words, as well as others who would have been interviewed, could have appeared.
As usual, I need an editor, but there’s some research here, some analysis, that might be interesting to some.
This past July 9, Christopher Cox, senior editor at The Paris Review, sent a mass e-mail to all “Paris Review Poets” to announce his departure. He would start a new job, as senior editor of Harper’s, “effective immediately.” Response to this email from the poets—some wishing him well, others asking about the status of their poems—were met with a one-sentence autoreply: “Christopher Cox no longer works at The Paris Review.”
This might have been the first sign that another Paris Review Poetry Purge was immanent. [Quote from Christopher Cox TK]
The last Purge took place in 2005, when Richard Howard, the Review’s long-serving poetry editor, in his words to a New York Observer story, was “dislodged” from his position. That piece begins as a feature on the transplantation of the Review’s offices, under new editor Philip Gourevitch’s direction, from co-founder George Plimpton’s far east side townhouse to White Street in Tribeca, and then shifts in the second half to focus entirely on the Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2005.
Some noise was made a half-decade ago as well. “At first I thought they were doing something wrong by not even publishing them on the Web,” Observer reporter Sheelah Kolhatkar quotes one poet. “It would have been a really nice gesture to put the work online. But I don’t necessarily blame them.” One poet went to Poet’s House to ask about if any recourse could be taken.
One difference between the Purges of 2005 and 2010 is that, in the former’s case, the news was carried by Richard Howard personally and specifically to each poet, whereas in the latter a form email was sent by newly hired editor Lorin Stein, the only difference the words “poem” or “poems” customized to each recipient.
[Quote from Stein TK]
“I stand proud among the ranks of the Paris Review’s ‘Purgerati,” one poet, Anna George Meek, wrote in the comments section in this space. “My own email from Stein was identical to that posted in Part I. How gratifying to see that my unacceptance (and alleged “most serious consideration”) was so personally and thoughtfully rendered. Honestly, at first, I thought it was a prank. Journal publishing is already so mercurial that such a note (“we’re publishing you!..NOT”) surely came from someone’s dark absurdist side.”
Meek, like all those who have come forward as a member of the purged, have had a piece of the poetry publication pie already: with Poetry, Kenyon Review, and the Brittingham Prize already in her credit line, Meek says, “it’s Paris Review that loses my esteem, not my sense of myself as a writer. For other poets who may have taken a hit, please know that in this break-up, it’s not you, it’s them.”
This year’s Rejectorino-Purgerati body count is inexact. Some guess the number 15, others as high 20. The number is most likely still up in the air and fluid. Attempts to interview both Lorin Stein and Robyn Creswell by phone and email have been unsuccessful.
One would be hard-pressed to make a blanket statement on style or school the purged poets, except that each one that has come forward has an excellent track record of publication.
Take G.C. Waldrep, for example, who declined to go on record with his comments, but is willing to have his name counted in the list. An editor-at-large at Kenyon Review, author of three collections of poetry, editor of three anthologies, and professor at Bucknell, Waldrep’s fourth collection, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, a collaboration with John Gallaher, in production at BOA Editions for an April 2011 release. [Quote from publisher TK]
[Funny takes from across Poetryland] [Behrle] Graham Foust, professor of writing at Saint Mary’s College and author of four collections of poetry from two top experimental presses, took to Twitter, with the funniest tweets using a Poetryland in-joke or topical subject to great effect. Here are a couple, annotated with hyperlinks.
The next 50 issues of the Paris Review are going to be Kenny Goldsmith re-typings of the last 50. Hence the lack of space.
Okay, I watched the unedited videotape of Lorin Stein going through the PR acceptance pile. Turns out they all sucked. Damn you Fox News!
This just in: Lorin Stein will be the keynote speaker at next year’s Rethinking Poetics conference.
There is also debate over whether the act of purging years of accepted work at a world-reknowned journal is a big deal. Comments at this HTML Giant post, for example, bear this out. One school of thought emerging is that the writers should receive a kill fee, a negotiated payment on ‘killed’ or cancelled pieces, then that would make things right. This brings us to another difference between the two purges: Kill fees have not been paid to this year’s Purgerati, accordng to those I interviewed on- and off-record. Kolhatkar’s Observer story reports the Review did send fees in 2005.
So has the whole Purge story been blown out of proportion? Certainly not at The Paris Review. “I don’t think this move is unprecedented,” Ernest Hilbert, an editor and well-published poet himself, writes to me. “Nothing new under the sun.” Hilbert, who interviewed former Review poetry editors X.J. Kennedy in 2008 and Donald Hall this year, says it might have taken years to get through what he guessed were dozens of accepted poems.
“Perhaps fault should be laid at the doorstep of the editor who accepts too much, not the following editor who has been unduly burdened,” he says. “It’s a sticky situation.”
But is this purging standard practice at other publications? [Quote from CLMP or AWP person TK]
Online accounts of receiving “un-acceptance letters” from editors of high-profile journals, or any journal for that matter, were as rare as the spotted owl before this the evening of July 16, when Stein sent out his emails. Some isolated, single-author stories have since emerged. No instances of wholesale poetry-section purges have turned up, however, other than those marking guard-changes at The Paris Review.
Which leads back to the new poetry editor, the mystery man at the center of it all: Robyn Creswell, graduate student at NYU who will be completing his dissertation, “Modernism and Melancholy: Arabic Poetry in a Transnational Era,” while shaping and representing his new direction for the Paris Review’s poetry section. His credits in criticism, certainly for a graduate student, are impressive: long-form reviews in Partisan Review, Harper’s, as well as Yale Review. Although he’s been discussed as a non-poet himself, Creswell’s published at least one poem. Entitled “Foreign Correspondent” [page 1, page 2], it appeared in Yale Review’s Janury 2004 issue and begins bears the epigraph “(after Seidel),” which refers to Frederick Seidel, who Creswell profiled in 2002 for The Nation and reviewed as in Raritan Review.
[Questions, last word-type quote from Creswell TK]
 This link in turn links to a site Stein began in 2006, Translator’s Notes, which has expired and is now a site for Professional Escort Services, offering the company of escorts who are, “intelligent, forthcoming and sociable.” (NSFW.)