What I have been trying to say
of both. What a poem is
aspect in which I see my own
unthought corroboration of essence
The Iliad, the Odyssey, the Book of Genesis,
bestow upon us
from “The Impossible Indispensability
of the Ars Poetica,” Hayden Carruth
I WAS PLEASED and honored when Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian asked me to serve as the new poetry editor for Narrative Magazine, but I must admit that the responses as I’ve started telling people about this new role have been a bit odd. The immediate reaction—particularly from poets—is a bit of confusion, as if I were telling folks that I’m the poetry editor for a magazine called Prose, or the running back for the New York Yankees. After nearly twenty years in the business of publishing poetry books (which is not an oxymoron, although it may approach the level of a Zen koan), and after years of working almost exclusively with poets, I’m looking forward to the challenge of bringing poetry into an online magazine format, particularly one that has until now concentrated mainly on prose.
Despite the tendency of poets to make jokes at the expense of prose writers as readily as musicians poke fun at violists or banjo players—yes, I’m certain novelists can say a thing or two about poets and their inability to fill a page—and despite the slightly confused responses I’ve encountered at the mixing of the two, I see no incongruity. Poetry is vital to a magazine called Narrative. Many of the poets I admire have been known as much for their prose as for their poetry (often more so). They would likely say that prose allows them to do things that poetry cannot (e.g., pay the bills), and vice versa. Even some of those writers who are known exclusively as poets have not been able to lay off the occasional prose poem. To quote the poet Margaret Atwood, “With a lyric poem, you look, and meditate, and put the rock back. With fiction you poke things with a stick to see what will happen.” Each allows us to access different parts of the human mind. Oh, yeah, I guess Atwood wrote some fiction too.
As an editor and reader, I am drawn to (and encourage) the tension between prose and poetry, between the lyric and the narrative, be it in the connected stories of The Canterbury Tales or in the poetry of One Hundred Years of Solitude. As meaningful expression goes, the lyric is inseparable from the narrative. For every Sappho we need our Homer.
I have long hoped to bring poetry to an expanded audience, to make it available in unexpected places, as well as in obvious ones. In my work at Copper Canyon Press I am put into daily, joyous contact with a wide array of lyric and narrative poetry. In the coming months I look forward to sharing some of it with you. You can expect new poets alongside masters of the genre, translated works alongside original works in English, conventional works alongside the more experimental. I hope you will enjoy them and not begrudge the poets all that unused white space.