Poetry is in trouble

Not the genre (or maybe it is, given Instagram, etc., but that’s for another article), the venerable magazine. I love Poetry Magazine and have been an off and on subscriber (depending on finances) for many years. I’m not sure how they manage to step in these things, but there always seems to be something controversial afoot. Usually, I think that is indicative of them doing the good work of art, which is far too safe and boring these days. But this time… eesh. Turns out that as part of an issue dedicated to incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated poets, they published the work of a pedophile. We lock the bodies of people like that up so they can’t harm society with their presence. Should we lock their minds up as well? It’s a tough call. There are plenty of non-incarcerated poets who have done terrible things, and only recently are we starting to see them face repercussions for this sort of behaviour (though truth be told, only a tiny tiny fraction of them seem to be getting the wrath that should be spread out a bit more), so this feels like an oddly timed choice. That said, are we looking at the poem or the poet? As a longtime despiser of French criticism, I tend to believe the author is very much alive. Especially in the age of the internet. Regardless, it’s not a public institution, but a private business, and they have the right to publish what they want. That said, the public also has the right to buy, subscribe to, and denounce what they want. So it’s back down to your wallet. In capitalism, each dollar spent is a vote cast. Some of Poetry’s statement is below, and while it makes logical sense, it (ironically?) doesn’t really capture the human element of things. I don’t know what I’d do if I were working there. Sometimes we make mistakes. But how do we fix them?

When a reader asked why the issue included Nesset, Poetry magazine said that its guest editors “didn’t have knowledge of contributors’ backgrounds”, because “the editorial principle for this issue was to widen access to publication for writers inside prison and to expand access to poetry, bearing in mind biases against and barriers for incarcerated people”.

“We recognise the life-shattering impact of violence and denounce harm,” the magazine said in a statement on Twitter. “People in prison have been sentenced and are serving/have served those sentences; it is not our role to further judge or punish them as a result of their criminal convictions. As editors, our role is to read poems and facilitate conversations around contemporary poetry.

“We maintain that these poems are an expression of a human experience and that poetry is a force to advance human engagement and critical self-reflection. We hope the poetry in this issue facilitates deep and empathic reading and extends our discourse.”

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