Late in the dregs of 2014 I made a commitment: I would read and write more poetry. It’s a commitment I’m happy to say I cleaved to for the duration of 2015–a commitment that was aided considerably by one simple act: subscribing to Poetry magazine.
Poetry magazine has been on my radar for quite some time. When I was fresh out of college, trying to pry my way into Chicago’s publishing industry in any way I could manage, The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine straddled the city like a Colossus. Nearly every other publishing endeavor in the city seemed dwarfed by their monolithic shadow. Being a young poet, I was enraptured. I even went as far as collecting old copies of the periodical, but during those times, an actual subscription was an extravagance I couldn’t afford.
That’s not the case for me anymore, and in one quick-decision swoop I subscribed to the magazine almost exactly a year ago, and I so happy I did. I’ve read every issue published this year–often I bring them with me to work to peruse over lunch–and I’ve taken in a wealth of fantastic poetry.
The most obvious and yet still most important thing to note about Poetry magazine is the quality of the verse you will find between its covers. Poetry is the longest-running periodical dedicated entirely to poetry, and their mission, since their first publication in 1912, has been to feature a diverse range of poets and poetry and to create a space where new poets can share their work. I think they’ve succeeded with that endeavor. Each issue of Poetry magazine is an excellent collection of the best of contemporary poetry–and in the past that included some very well celebrated poets and poems, including one of my favorites by Sylvia Plath.
I found myself enjoying the trappings of the journal as well–particularly the cover. While I didn’t love every cover that was published–for example, September’s cover is little better than a crayon drawing of the quality any child could reproduce–I did appreciate the overall minimalist aesthetic and that every cover was unique. May’s modernist cover was gorgeous. I also enjoyed that the magazine includes a “Comment” section with scholarly essays on poetry. I particularly liked Christina Pugh’s On Ghosts and the Overplus (though I may be partial to her work because she was my thesis advisor when I got my Master’s) and James Longenbach’s Lyric Knowledge, which was an excellent dissection of the importance of line order in poetry.
What didn’t I like? To be honest, most of the “Comment” section’s essays and reviews needed improvement. Far too many of them were in-depth reviews of books I hadn’t read, and thus couldn’t really enjoy or find useful, or overly pedantic essays on specific poems that were too focused and too scholarly for the average reader to really sink into, like Jaya Savige’s essay in the May issue.
As a matter of taste, I didn’t particularly care for the truly abstract poetry and many of the features on visual poetry or photography–mercifully few as they were. The portrait series in the May issue and the visual poetry in the December issue both felt out of place to me. A good example of the too abstract is Luke Kennard’s Anagrams series. When I read poetry like this, I honestly just feel like I have no idea whats going on. But that said, I know that many readers enjoy this kind of work, and it’s good that Poetry has a lot of variety.
Given Poetry magazine’s focus on variety, I found that I also wasn’t partial to the issues that were regionally or thematically specific. I particularly disliked the Split This Rock issue in April which focused entirely on politically active poetry, and the Australia focused issue as well as the New Pacific Islander section of the June/August issue were both pretty weak. I find that when you limit the selections to specific topics or places you often get a lower quality of poetry overall. Just because something fits the theme doesn’t mean it’s a good poem.
These complaints, however, are trifling. Overall, Poetry magazine is a stellar publication, one that anyone interested in poetry or even literature in general would be wise to read. I recommend subscribing, or gifting a subscription–if you’re in need of Christmas ideas. I, for one, plan to re-up my subscription for 2016, and likely many more years to come.