On November 3rd in 2007, Emily Warn wrote a blog post on the Poetry Foundation’s website titled, “Essentialism? Say What?” in which I and a few others were mentioned by name. It generated quite a lively and, at times, testy stream of comments for a couple of days, including one on November 4th by yours truly that started: “Dear Don Share:” and wound down this way:
“Is that Poetry’s official response for not reviewing, for example, Bent to the Earth by Blas Manuel de Luna and nominated for the National Book Critic Circle’s Prize in 2005? Or Alberto Rios’ latest book, published with Copper Canyon, Theater of Night, and also a winner of a recent award by PEN American? How much longer does your magazine intend to keep this perfect record intact? F”
The perfect record I was referring to was the number of books by Latino/a poets (0) that Poetry had reviewed since 2003.
Shortly thereafter, Don Share, to his credit, took the initiative and e-mailed me directly.
Through the course of our back channel e-correspondence, we grew to become cordial colleagues, hearing each other out to better undersand the challenges that our respective work in the field presented to us. Over lunch in Chicago once, for example, he re-counted how he had tried, without success, to find a reviewer for The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry. And so I grew to view him, in the end, as an ally. So much so that last spring at AWP I was delighted to introduce and moderate a session I had conceived of called “Sons of Boston,” which featured him and Tino Villanueva.
When it was announced that he’d be taking over the top post at Poetry a few months ago, I decided to ask him if he’d be open to taking a few questions. We’ve decided to hold on to the interview until now—on the cusp of Poetry’s October issue, which will be Don’s first, editorially speaking.
Letras Latinas Blog:
Back in 2010, Letras Latinas and the Ragdale Foundation, with funding from the NEA, hosted a week-long residency for 8 poet-editors. We called the initiative 8 Poetas. During that week, we convened a series of conversations on the challenges of being both practicing poets and editors of verse—something with which you are very familiar over the course your career at various publications, including Harvard Review and Poetry. How would you describe the role poetry editing has had on your own work as an artist, and how has that dynamic evolved? The second part of that question: now that you are assuming the helm of Poetry, do you see that changing in any way, and if so, how?
As an editor, my work is entirely in service to readers and to writers, so it’s a very separate endeavor. But it’s fair to say that when I’m writing, I have to avoid doing things that strike me as ill-judged in work I’m considering for the magazine. I don’t think that writing poems and editing involve the same skills, frankly; you can be good at one without being any good whatsoever at the other!
As you understand it, how would you describe the difference between the role you are now occupying at Poetry and the role you’ve had at the magazine for the last few years? Do you see that changing? For example, will there be someone stepping into the Senior Editor position you are leaving behind? If so, will you have a say on who is hired?
Well, there’s a big difference between what I did before and what I am doing now. I enjoyed and learned a lot from my collaboration with Christian Wiman, in which we combined our complimentary strengths and were very successful; but… I’ll be flying solo now. I have an amazing crew with me, though. Our new Assistant Editor is Lindsay Garbutt, who just finished three great years as Editorial Assistant. Fred Sasaki, formerly our Associate Editor, is now Poetry’s Art Director, and in that role he’ll continue to create the look, feel, and texture of the magazine, but he’ll also bring in all kinds of new visual content. Our brilliant Managing Editor, Valerie Jean Johnson diligently and creatively navigates a rapidly changing and complex environment for publishing. Christina Pugh, who was our long-time Reader, is now Consulting Editor. And we’re in the process of hiring a new Editorial Assistant. I’m also hoping eventually to bring on board several Contributing Editors to broaden the scope even further.
It has been said that a national search for Poetry’s new editor had been underway for some time now, and you made it known that you had “thrown your name into the hat.” One imagines that applicants for this post had to articulate what their particular vision and philosophy would be as the new editor of Poetry. I’m assuming that, as an applicant, you had to formulate such a statement yourself. Would you share with the readers of Letras Latinas Blog a few of the highlights of your “poetry editing philosophy.” In other words, aside from your trajectory as a poetry editor at the previous publications you’ve worked for, what will Don Share be bringing to the table as the editor of Poetry that he couldn’t bring as Senior Editor?
Well, to be very succinct, I want to have more diverse – in every way – content, and alongside that, a more diverse readership. You can read more about this in an editorial I’ve written for the October 2013 issue, my first.
Without getting into specifics, could share with our readers some areas in which readers of the next iteration of Poetry magazine can expect some changes? One assumes that the magazine, over time, will evolve and that that evolution will reflect your vision of what the magazine can become. Will the translation issue, for example, remain? If so, will it change in any way, be enhanced, etc?
I’m going not going to spoil any surprises I have in store! In addition to the diversity I’ve mentioned, I have a pretty good list of changes to implement, but you’ll have to keep an eye on the magazine (in both the new digital edition and print) over the next few years to see what they are. So I’m going to ask readers to bear with me in good faith as I move forward.
Don, the fact that you agreed to take on these questions from Letras Latinas Blog speaks, I’d like to think, to the dialogue you and I have been engaged in, behind the scenes, since shortly after you came to Poetry. You reached out a few years ago when I was more public with my disappointment about the dearth of reviews at Poetry (well, the non-existence, really) of collections written by Latino/as. It was very instructive and helpful to learn of the challenges you faced in trying to get reviews of books by Latino/a poets into print. Since we initiated that dialogue, Poetry has reviewed Bird Eating Bird by Kristin Naca. So you’ve been able to witness first hand, and from the inside, how slow progress can be. So here is my final question: do you foresee being able to do things in your new position that will assist Poetry in improving this number (1)? Is it something you’ve given, or will give any thought to? If so, can you share with us what's on your mind?
Francisco, as we’ve discussed, there are people who are afraid or unwilling to address work done in communities other than their own, and this is a great problem, not just for Poetry. Our conversations have been salutary; and Barbara Jane Reyes has brilliantly addressed the question of communities and where nurturing comes from, and should come from. There are big questions involved, as she points out: Is there a mainstream? Who should be in it? Who wants to be in it? Is the so-called mainstream good or bad? Whatever one’s answers, there’s a lot of work to be done. Discussion is vitally important, but as a practical matter, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked for poems and reviews from people who don’t come through for various reasons.
Yet I’m extremely hopeful. The response to Eduardo C. Corral’s first book, for example (which included poems that first appeared in Poetry and earned him our highest magazine award), shows that the mainstream ice can be broken in very significant ways that actually alter the landscape of poetry. Just the other day we got the news that Alberto Ríos, who was in the magazine quite recently, is now the Arizona Poet Laureate. There are many more examples. As we all know, the ice is melting everywhere.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been in the job just one month and already have new work for Poetry from Tomás Morín, Gina Franco, Deborah Paredez, Rafael Campo, and Jacob Saenz; Erika L. Sanchez, as I write this, is a Lilly Fellowship finalist. But there’s much more to do, and there’s more that will be done. The word, however, is out… Thanks for helping me get it out, Francisco!