I am brokenhearted and furious. Right now I am furious with The New Yorker.
Mostly I am furious that some old, famous poet, still alive and probably still able to write beautiful verse had something so second-rate published in the July 11th edition of the New Yorker Magazine.
This is Frederick Seidel, born in 1936 in St. Louis and now living in NYC, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. I'm not thinking of the content of his poems. This article in the currently available New York Times shows you the power of his writing. And it illuminates some of the controversy surrounding his work.
It's just that the selection in that issue of the New Yorker...is so pathetic. Ah...here's a blog that posts the poem: Before Air-Conditioning.
What don't I like about it? It seems unpolished. Maybe the author was going for a kind of child-like rhythm and rhyme. I just feel it seems like something half-worked on. If I sent something like that in to The New Yorker, do you think they would publish it? No way. It would be rejected out of hand.
So it's not Frederick Seidel that I have a beef with. It's the New Yorker. I no longer consider the New Yorker to be an arbiter of literary taste.
Now this is almost as bad as becoming disillusioned about my parents, the end of innocence, so to speak. I love the New Yorker. When Hendrik Hertzberg defended the magazine's editorial choices against conservative critics, my heart swelled with pride. This is what it meant to be thoughtful and liberal and intellectual. This is what freedom of the press was all about. This was a magazine I had been reading my whole life: from my childhood, paging through the cartoons whose meaning I barely understood, to my adulthood: reading for instruction, pleasure and a sense that people of like mind were reading along with me. I had the sense that editors who understood me and my fellows carefully selected articles, stories and poetry for us...with only occasional missteps. And these missteps I took to be--oh it's just not my style or taste--and therefore excusable every once in a while.
But now I just think...why bother even thinking about the magazine as a venue for the young and talented, when its poetry selections are just aimed at mid-level mediocrity. Thus I am left disillusioned and brokenhearted. I will quote Shakespeare, his 87th Sonnet:
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate,
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing:
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gav'st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me to whom thou gav'st it, else mistaking,
So thy great gift upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.