On perspectives about poetry
A misconception people have about poetry is that poetry and Keats are synonymous. There’s a misconception that poems are about melancholy and 19th century vocabulary like “steadfast” and “ripening breast.” I’m amazed at the number of people who say they hate poetry when I tell them I’m the poetry editor at Guernica. What, stabbing me with a fork wasn’t an option? I try to nod politely, but I want to ask, “Do you really dislike it or just your high school English textbook?” Given enough time with skeptics, I think I could find at least one poem that would change their minds.
In terms of misconceptions within the literary community, I’m sometimes amused by the reverence. As if poems are artifacts to be kept inside of glass boxes at museums. Many of my favorite contemporary poets are rabble-rousing; they hold no punches.
I’m a bit of poetry addict. I have my favorites, sure, but in a pinch, any type will do. Recently, I re-read Kenneth Patchen’s poem “I Feel Drunk All the Time,” and I relate to the exclamation point in “Great mother of big apples it is a pretty / World!“ Given my druthers, I curl up with the weird and lyric, let the language stomp all over my heart. A good poem should be startling. And I do like muscular language, though there’s a magic in the simplicity of someone like Jack Gilbert or Ada Limón that I can only admire. I don’t know how the trick is done, and maybe I don’t want to know.
A few years ago in a meeting, editors were lamenting that everyone takes us so seriously. We spent about ten minutes brainstorming for ways to include funny content, then abandoned all our terrible ideas. We’re not a listicle kind of place. We were excited about an essay called “The Messy Business of Tacos” in 2012 because it was, at least on the surface, about snacks. The author, Jeffrey M. Pilcher, was really exploring culture and classism, though, so even when we try to be light-hearted, our “but what does it all mean?” impulses take over.
For my first six months at Guernica, we were having technical problems with our emailed submissions, so I solicited more than I would have otherwise. Perhaps it was a happy accident, though, because many of my favorite poets said “yes” and sent poems. So I definitely don’t regret publishing any of those wonderful pieces, but I’ve tried to make up for that time period by rarely soliciting now. Thankfully, Guernica attracts a diverse, impressive group of writers. I’m a lucky duck.
Erica Wright is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine as well as an editorial board member for Alice James Books. She is the author of the poetry collection Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and the chapbook Silt (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). Her latest novel is The Granite Moth (Pegasus, 2015).
In Two Weeks: Elizabeth Scanlon of The American Poetry Review