Unreal Nature

June 23, 2017

Sometimes I Do Get Carried Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… I see the light eventually, but sometimes too late to spare myself the burden of self-rejection …

The following are letters — or portions of letters — found in Between the Lines: A History of Poetry in Letters, 1962-2002 compiled and edited by Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young (2006). John Frederick Nims and then Joseph Parisi was the editor at the time these particular letters were exchanged:

John F. Nims to Brian Swann …………………………………………………. Chicago, 17 March 1978

Dear Mr. Swann,

I guess we’re having trouble keeping up with all of your MSS — especially when you send revised versions of some poems.

Can’t we slow up a little? It seems to me — if I may diffidently say so — that you are writing too much. The result — again an “it seems to me” — is a kind of thinness in what you write. It seems to come too easily. I don’t suppose we want all poets to be like Philip Larkin, who writes, or at least publishes, about one poem a year. One excellent poem! Maybe we could be more like Auden — who averaged seven, wasn’t it?

Anyway, I think editors would take your poems more seriously if you would send them out more selectively: maybe four or five poems you really like two or three times a year? To one magazine, I mean — say Poetry?

Excuse me if I presume
All best wishes,

Sincerely yours, / John F. Nims

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John F. Nims to Mona Van Duyn …………………………………………………. Chicago, 12 December 1978

Dear Mona,

I am pleased to see your name on the envelope you sent the ballad in, because I’ve been hoping that we’d have some poetry of yours before too long. I was even about to write and plead.

“Ah,” I thought, “here will be one of the Great Poems of our time — one laying bare the mysteries of Life and Death that have long perplexed us weary mortals..”

But that’s not exactly what I found. This was not the kind of seminal poem I expected. At first I was disappointed. “This is not,” I felt, “major Mona. This is more a mere bagatelle, albeit not sans charm.” (That’s how I talk to myself.)

But then I got to like it. Why not? Why not just tickle the Muse instead of allus [sic] bowing and scraping to her? I think this would be fun to run next summer, say next July or August, when nobody wants to read another “The Waste Land” anyway. Poems to be read in hammock by lake.

[ … ]

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Gary Soto to John F. Nims …………………………………………………. Berkeley, Calif., 5 January 1981

Dear John Frederick Nims,

Thanks for your observation about my similes. Sometimes I do [get] carried away, as you pointed out in the two poems you accepted for publication, but for some strange reason I can’t stop it. My hand keeps thinking in unlikely comparisons.

[ … ]

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Jonathan Holden to Joseph Parisi …………………………………………………. Manhattan, Kans., 14 December 1984

Dear Joseph Parisi,

Thanks for taking the four poems and for the note. You mention my “patience” as if to apologize for having taken too long to report, but actually this was by far the fastest response I’ve ever gotten from Poetry. … I must say that from the editorial chores I’ve occasionally undertaken — judging contests, especially — I don’t know how you do it, it takes such stamina, not to mention an endless reserve of … would “spiritual generosity” be the word? Much harder than being a psychoanalyst and for rather worse wages. (It was Peter Lorre — the actor — who studied psychoanalysis for a while in Vienna. He quit that study in disgust, saying that psychoanalysis is like trying to “treat a disease” by focusing attention exclusively on “the asshole.” The connection between this parable and editing thousands of unsolicited poems I’ll let you complete.) …

[ … ]

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Carl Dennis to Joseph Parisi …………………………………………………. Buffalo, N.Y., 15 January 1985

Dear Joseph Parisi,

I’m glad you liked “The Greenhouse Effect,” one of my favorites, but in a massive housecleaning and revision spree the two other poems you took have been dismantled and put away in my drawer of near misses. I think the end of “Clean Thinking” is strong but the tone is blurred so that the reader is not sure how exactly we are to take it, and the connection to Aunt Esther is by turns too tenuous and too emphatic. The poem seems to creak along and to be finally unconvincing. …

One of my New Year’s Resolutions, you’ll be happy to know, is to hold my poems a few months longer before I send them out. I see the light eventually, but sometimes too late to spare myself the burden of self-rejection when a hard-pressed editor has already given his time to them. I’m sorry for the inconvenience I may have caused you here. If you’d like to publish more than one of my poems, I’d be happy to send you some poems I have at hand which have escaped with their lives from the jaws of revision.

Sincerely, Carl Dennis

A note below Carl Dennis’s letter reads “J.P. wrote to ‘unaccept’ the poems on 22 January.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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