Editor Tic-Talk

The Kenyon Review's online feature that allows an editor to vouch for a particular poem or story is, if a little too "this is why I am smart and can spot good art," a really good thing.

Why We Chose It is KR's way of opening the sacrosanct box of editorial decision making. When we pick up a journal at the bookstore, or flip through one that has been shoved in our face by a man with a beard (call out, Patrick Harned), we read knowing little to nothing about the editorial process that went into shaping the work now held. The chances are high that at least one piece of work will beg the question, "Why was this in here? I hate it." KR's Why We Chose It will tell you, kind of.

The current featured poem is called "Why We Must Have Canonical Hours and Islands" by Elizabeth T. Gray Jr. The poem in full:


To resist the hollowing, difficult to bear,
that draws us across an expanse of sea or year
to meet, in winter, on a narrow stair,

a desolation folded in a cowl of wool
or winged lions at the edges of the air.
To allow some story from a hill or well,

or this sere call, through mottled glass, of gull,
the rise and fall of prayer, this full
and relentless curl and then recoil of swell.

To pull us past the brittle mainland’s edge
where the great beasts stand in gold and there
break open for us abbeys in the air.

The editor assigned to tackle the rationale for inclusion of this poem is Tyler Meier. In his reasoning, he mentions the pull of the title, the rhythm of the poem, its vowels playing tricks in your mouth. And he ends with a nod to John Keats's idea of Negative Capability, capable of dwelling in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

Basically, the the poem boggled him, leaving Meier "asking questions," so he was constantly drawn back to the poem partly because of its musical qualities and partly because he wanted to figure it out. The poem certainly leaves one asking questions, but so does the Why We Chose It feature. After reading the entire thing, I'm not sure if I'm any more knowledgeable about the reasoning for this particular poem's selection. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the poem and agree with what Meier is saying about its positive aspects, but perhaps a side-by-side with a "lesser" poem by this editor's standards might take the online feature a step further? Anyone, at KR, the lid has at least cracked some.

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Julia | January 24, 2011 at 2:03 PM

Thanks for this, Joe. It gives me hope that the Kenyon Review is a little smarter than some, and willing to do a little bit of work, a little bit of feeling, before having it all spelled out for them.

Had to laugh at your shout out to Patrick. ;-)

joe betz ii | January 26, 2011 at 8:04 AM

I'm glad you liked it Julia. I was just looking at the Sycamore Review's website today (Purdue U), and they have a similar feature as well. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet though, ho hum.

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