Monday, July 13, 2009

On the turndown (not the economic one)

You can tell it's a poem because it's swimming in a little gel pack of white space. That shows that it's a poem. All the typography on all sides has drawn back. The words are making room, they're saying, Rumble, rumble, stand back now, this is going to be good. Here, the magician will do his thing. Here's the guy who's going to eat razor blades. Or pour gasoline in his mouth and spit it out. Or lie on a bed of broken glass. So, stand back, you crowded onlookers of prose. This is not prose. This is the blank white playing field of Eton.

And you can read it for yourself on page sixty-seven. Of this New Yorker. Alice Quinn. The magnificent Alice. This was back in the day, when Alice was the poetry editor. God bless that hardworking cheerful nice woman. She left recently and now it's Paul Muldoon, and I hardly know Paul Muldoon. And really I hardly knew Alice Quinn, to be honest. But at least she actually accepted some of my own poems. Thank you, Alice! And rejected some of them - damn her! Things that just hurt me to have them come back saying, This isn't for us. This one didn't quite work for us, but we're glad to have something from you.

"We're glad." The crafting of these kind no-thank-you letters. I assume Paul Muldoon will do it well, too. The really good editors have the gift. And they hurt so bad when they're nice. You get a turndown and then you flip though the magazine and you say, Why? Why did Alice accept this firkin of flaccidness here on page 114 and not one of my poems? Why?

-- Nicholson Baker's character, "Paul Chowder," in the forthcoming novel The Anthologist

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