Gerald Stern on Corruption in the World of Poetry
from Number Your Answers: An Interview with Gerald Stern
Stern: . . . But at the same time there is so much corruption in the world of poetry. I guess there’s corruption in every world, but I’m embarrassed by it. Because poetry is holy, and we confound it with corruption—and there isn’t even much money involved. If you want to make money, go out and make real money, not be a famous poet. I guess it doesn’t behoove me to get into details, but I watch the careers of people who start magazines and, typically, get people to do favors, who scratch backs, who write letters—and I get a lot of these letters—who are relentless, and finally they make the connections, and get their books published. They do it endlessly! Do I talk about this too much?
When I lived in western Pennsylvania, we had rats in the cellar. We couldn’t get rid of those fucking rats, and we had to move away. We gave the house to the rats. Some of us have to move away from the house of poetry because the smell of rats is, as they say in French, partout. Everywhere. It’s absolutely revolting. I’m in my last decade, or next to last decade… I don’t how long I’m going to live… I watch this, and I know all the moves that people make but it does poetry no good. Why don’t we say anything to each other? Why don’t we say, “Shame! Shame!” Does nobody say, “The emperor has no clothes.” Am I the only one who says it? You say it, too, I know. All right, go ahead, next question. Enough of that.
If it were up to me, I'd ask Stern to go back to this little bit and be more specific as to his actual complaint here. I have to admit I’m not sure to whom he’s specifically referring with the rant about journal editors writing him letters, but whomever it is, I’m glad to know not to send him one. On the other hand, I’ve sent out plenty of letters and emails to poets, and the goal has not been for me to publish a book. The goal has been for those poets to send poems to The Laurel Review for consideration.
I mean, who wouldn’t want a poem by Charles Wright or Jean Valentine?