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Behind the scenes at The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010, part 8: poets paid, 2005 post-mortem.

July 29, 2010 \pm\31 12:13 pm

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

Call it a happy end to a sad story. Or a respectful correction to a neophyte’s false step.

Paris Review editor Lorin Stein has begun to write Purgerati to offer the same $150 payment that would have been given to them if their work had appeared an issue, along with an offer for their work to be printed on Paris Review’s blog. We’ve also gotten some background the 2005 Purge.

Whether Stein will offer payment–75 dollars a poem–or web publication or both to all 2010 Purgerati remains to be seen.

“I received a new email and it feels utterly respectful,” Anna George Meek, one of the Purgerati, writes in our comment boxes. “I was offered compensation, a chance to appear on Paris Review Daily, an acknowledgement that this was an odd and not-to-be-repeated event, and best of all, warm greetings. This is the poetry community I love! Well done, Mr. Stein, and thanks.”

What follows is a copy of one email from Stein, not Meek’s; the email was sent along with the form rejection sent out 10 days before. The person addressed declined to be named or quoted; it does bear mentioning, however, that the addressee holds the title of editor at one of the top 10 literary journals in the United States.


Over the last week I’ve been persuaded–by very good arguments from friends and poets I admire–that we ought to offer compensation for all poems accepted by our previous editors.

I hope you’ll accept the fee of [XXX] that we would have paid had your [poem/poems] run in the magazine. (To receive this, please send me your mailing address and Social Security number.)

If you’re interested, we would also like to publish [X] in The Paris Review Daily, our electronic magazine, with a brief introduction by Meghan or Dan. (Since we launched the Daily, two months ago, we have had more than 80,000 readers.)

I hope this goes some way toward expressing my regret, and our admiration for your work.

Best regards,

Although accepting poems to cover a poetry section years into the future is not as rare for a literary journal, wholesale un-accepting years’ worth of accepted work is a sui generis and specific to Paris Review.

With the 2010 Purge  finally winding down into a resolution, it’s , the differences between the 2010 and 2005 Purges have bubbled up. Before Richard Howard left The Paris Review in 2005, and before the he was replaced by Charles Simic and, later, Meghan O’Rourke, now-former Paris Review editor Philip Gourevich disposed of years’ worth of accepted poems–sources set that number anywhere from five to eight years. Why Howard would accept so many poems so many years in advance of publication remains unexplained, as well as why former poetry editors turned advisory editors Dan Chiasson and Meghan O’Rourke would in turn accept what has been estimated to be one year’s  worth of poems.

Six days ago, poet Joel Brouwer, writing on the Facebook page of Don Share, a poetry editor at Poetry who has followed the story closely online, shared a first-hand account from the Gourevich-led Purge of 2005.

After Howard had taken “several” of his poems 2003, Brouwer was told in a 2004 letter that his work was scheduled for Fall 2005 publication. “[B]ut then in spring 05 I was told they’d been un-accepted,” he writes.

“I sent Philip Gourevitch a very windy letter, full of high-minded outrage, and he patiently wrote back to say grow up a little, this happens all the time in the magazine business, it’s called “killing.” I went to a freelancer friend and said, Really? Does this happen all the time in the magazine business? And she said, Yep. So I learned something there, and grew up a little.

“Clearly PR should get a grip and not let its poetry eds accept more poems than they can print in a timely fashion,” Brouwer writes, suggesting the current editors send kill fees to the poets, which they have since begin to do.”Given PR’s track record, I don’t know why anyone would send to them any more anyway. There are so many other great places to send.”

[more stuff here TK]

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  1. Clare permalink
    August 8, 2010 \am\31 12:56 am 12:56 am

    Just a couple of thoughts to bear in mind from my own experience. (1) Editorship at the Paris Review is a hard job to get. One has to be hired by a distinguished board of old-school literati who will agree among themselves, quarter to quarter, on how well one is doing and whether one should be fired; (2) one is expected to fill the shoes of their adored friend George Plimpton while at the same time striking out a bold new path that will make a quarterly literary journal financially feasible in the age of the end of print; (3) unlike most high-profile poetry editors (of, say, The New Yorker or The New Republic), one only has four issues a year in which to make one’s mark. Paul Muldoon has fifty issues in his first year through which to spread Alice Quinn’s backlog and let his voice be heard; Lorin Stein has only four. Not to say this matter was handled gracefully, but a person with editorial experience might say that some of the coverage of it has not been too worldly about the realities of literary publishing in waning days of print. Paris Review is deeper in those realities than most quarterlies for the very reasons that poets, for better or worse, want to be published there.

    • August 8, 2010 \am\31 7:37 am 7:37 am

      Thanks, Clare. Good points, some that have been brought up in different incarnations. There are others things to bear in mind. I suppose this might the first time I’ve articulated some of this, and my nine-month-old is climbing over me, so forgive my typos and clumsiness; I’ll fix them up later, but I want to get this down.

      — Muldoon, by several accounts, allowed the Quinn backlog to run out for a good six months or a year before his New Yorker picks saw print.

      — No one, in the poetry editor position at least, is trying to fill the shoes of Plimpton per se–he admitted to Donald Hall, his first poetry editor, that he lacked knowledge of poetry to be an editor himself. Rather, the poetry editorship at the Paris Review has a lineage all its own–there’s Hall, Yvor Winters, XJ Kennedy, Tom Clark, Richard Howard, Charles Simic, Meghan O’Rourke, Dan Chiasson–all accomplished editors and writers in their own right, all with their own tastes and epochs in the Paris Review history.

      — In greater and lesser degrees, then, we’re talking about the new editor, sure; but we’re also talking about a new poetry editor, and, in the case of the new one, one with no editorial experience as far as any one could see; which, by the by, might be the reason that, for the first time in decades if not ever, the previous poetry editors of PR are staying on as advisory editors.

      — This is a new thought I have had, probably jogged up in my mind thanks to you. The poetry section has shrunk over the years at the Paris Review. Check out the tables of contents from the back issues if you need to refresh your memory. I bring this up because you point out “the realities of literary publishing.” There are two things that are unique to the Paris Review:

      1. the 5- to 10-year backlog by the time the change of editors happened in 1995, and the 1-year backlog in 2010;
      2. the unacceptance of all of those poems when a new editor took over

      Now, #1 has happened in greater and lesser degrees in many literary journals–perhaps the more “low profile” as you might say, but it happens. When a new editor takes over, the work runs, perhaps in a mix of new and older work. But it runs. But #2, in this former editor’s “worldly” opinion, is sui generis. I mean, one could say there are several other things unique to Paris Review–the board, for example, or Plimpton’s stewardship, the parties–but specific to the publishing of literary writing/poetry, those are the unique ones that county.

      Where did this all go south? Stein’s hyping of a “holy shit” poetry section to the Observer, might be a good place to start, since this happens a few days before the plan to un-accept all the previous poems. Factor in also that many purged poets were already high-profile and accomplished and often editors at “high profile” journals in their own right, while many 2005 Purgerati at the beginnings in their careers. Factor in the form email all the poets recieved. Factor in the scenario of web publication was not offered at first. Factor in that the new poetry editor has not said one word about this matter, except some Paris Review blog posts. Then factor in that some poets actually said something about it.

      But I do think it’s resolved as best as it can be resolved. Stein’s second email to these poets seems to be a genuine attempt to make things right, and he’s still sticking to his guns to give his poetry editor room to do his work. Some have asked “what’s the rush?” as far as getting down to a clean slate for the poetry section. Others question a non-poet as a poetry editor. Those aren’t as interesting or compelling to me as looking at the whole affair as a study of a culture clash of commercial and literary publishing, which some might say the Paris Review has always embodied, and, as you say, the stakes for a poet when he or she is accepted into one of the more renowned journals around.

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