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Molly McQuade
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My dear Miss Monroe, The centennial anniversary of Poetry magazine's founding was at hand, some months ago. What was I to do about it? Well, write. Write, of course, about you. But no one wanted it. I tried wherever I could think of: book publishers, who roundly insisted that a book about you would never sell. A New York literary agent, who informed me that, unless I could uncover a great love affair for you with an even more prominent and famous person, my project would never find a home. Was the secret lover to be William Jennings Bryan, I... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, The train got stuck, stopped, could not start again, and we the passengers were called to evacuate it. But I made my way anyhow in another train through a lot of stops with names like Odenton, where abandoned toilets enjoy free range in the backyards, to the Library of Congress--just to meet you. Just to hear Harriet speak. It took me a while. "I have no idear when you will arrive," announced the train conductor helpfully to us in his Southern twang. He looked like a pregnant male boar. But on the trip at least I... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, Anyway, what did you write? Much of it was resented or pilloried by your fellow writers. But poets could only resent Miss Monroe's poetry fairly if they chose first to read it. And evidently they do not. Your volume, Chosen Poems (Macmillan, 1935), collecting your own favorites from your books to date at the age of seventy-five, has been checked out by borrowers from Columbia University's Butler Library for a grand total of five times in the last twenty years, when I last looked. I have chosen Columbia as a measuring stick of your prevalent unpopularity... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, Of course, my letters to you are a kind of work-in-progress. Even by now, you barely know me, and I haven't quite explained exactly why I want to write to you. With that in mind, let me confess something before I bid you a goodbye, later today, temporarily. (Surely, I'll write to you again.) My confession: I write to you because I like to read your letters, as well (of course) as read the letters that were written to you. The letter is an unappreciated form. Usually it's reckoned as informal, except when writers go to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, Ezra Pound was the one with whom you may have fought most memorably while you were the founding editor of Poetry and he was the magazine's foreign editor. Maybe you fought most memorably with him because of Pound, or maybe it was because of you. Did you hate him? Did he hate you? Yes, there were other antagonists. But when I happen to mention to a noted Pound scholar that lately I've been paying close attention to Harriet Monroe, the tall man only stoops and titters. His amused contempt for you is amazing. Normally, he is... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, With a covetous zeal, you valued the hate mail you received. For decades you stashed it all in a file, labeled "knocks." The knocks now bring stray, sundry dead readers back to life in oddly flamboyant, unguarded performances, as though the audience for American poetry surely could strike back. Wrote one Walter Surrey in an undated letter to yourself: "I think, indeed I know, that there are poets in America, but I make the assertion that they knock in vain and will continue to knock in vain at the gate of Miss Harriet Monroe, in whose... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, As the founding editor of Poetry, you wanted to discover whatever you could not make or do yourself. Would the poets hinder you, or help? Some might help and others hinder. Some reached toward you, with a kind of warmth. Others kicked and grumbled, in retreat. Some were able to work quite serenely with Miss Monroe on revising their poems, almost as her coeditors. Others staged all manner of revolt. The reclusive and itinerant American poet Laura Riding, for instance, changed addresses so often that we read her correspondence with you, over the years, as if... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
My dear Miss Monroe, I believe you never would have built Poetry magazine without having seen firsthand what it was like to rebuild Chicago, a burned city. How did you build Poetry? Only after the hither and thither of energetic failure. You weren't well educated, except in the sense that they let you read anything you wanted in your father's library. You were not welcomed into a profession. As a feeble-bodied teenager, you were thrust instead, on doctor's orders, into a convent school boasting a mild climate. There the nuns were to "finish" you. (Same thing happened to the future... Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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My dear Miss Monroe, Were you, founder of Poetry magazine in 1912, a good editor? Now, we cannot see straight through to you. After all is said and done, your very own poets have come to obscure you. They got in your way (sometimes). Even today, they get in ours. Ironically, Miss Harriet Monroe has become well known for imposing her will as an editor on poets who were often quite reluctant to receive it. Their complaints, some shy of a century old, still rustle in the contemporary ear--whispered betimes by living poets, some of whom are no more friendly... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Jan 30, 2013