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Hey, What's Wrong With Alaskan Poets? The 49th State Sticks Up For Itself

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From the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, two northern retorts to David Remnick’s recent comment on having picked Paul Muldoon to replace Alice Quinn at the poetry editor post: “It’s not just a matter of picking the best poet you can think of. It’s also somebody who would know how to be in touch with an enormous range of poets, and that narrows it down a little bit more. And also somebody who’s not in Alaska.”

I was looking forward to the first poetic Alaskan defenses against this slur (which is of course no more than humorous hyperbole, but I suppose if I lived in a state of humorous hyperbole, I too would be easily offended), since they were inevitable.

Here are two. Will there be an Alaskan poets’ protest, in the manner of Sparrow, outside the offices till Muldoon relents and publishes “A Moose and a Musket, My Love” (ridiculous joke, I know) in TOTT?
1. Why not in Alaska? I was in Barrow in June (with Auden in my suitcase, as it happens) and my e-mail and web access worked fine at the Top of The World Hotel. The notion that a person writing, or editing, general-interest material needs to be in a particular location sounds a bit Eisenhower.
— Alan Contreras Sep 21, 04:03 PM

2. As an Alaskan, a New Yorker subscriber, and a teacher of poetry, I can testify that all of these are compatible. We regularly communicate with and visit the rest of the planet.
— Judith Moore Sep 21, 09:40 PM
And regardless of what you think about Quinn’s departure from the poetry editorship and Muldoon’s taking up the challenge—there’s been a riot of opinions about it all—I liked this remark from the blogger Baroque in Hackney:
The controversial, sainted novelist John Gardner once wrote (in his book “On Moral Fiction,” I think) words to the effect that if The New Yorker published real, vital fiction even once it would shatter all the fine glass in the ads.* Now, Paul Muldoon has, I know, been published in the magazine and as such must bear an implicit share of responsibility for not shattering the glass (though for all I know he may have shattered it, because I don’t always read the magazine, as it is £3.90 every two weeks in this country, but I do read it sometimes and always check the poetry). But the man has written many, many poems that would be more than capable of shattering it. He has a wonderful quality of play. He will bring a wide-ranging wit, and circle (and district) of poetry contacts, to his editorial practice.

I am entertaining a strong hope that he will smash the Steuben paperweights.** Come on Paul!

*This is unfair, of course; the New Yorker publishes lots of good fiction. I’ve always thought that the magazine’s format is not kind to art - the font is wrong and the paper’s too glossy.

**Also unfair. Steuben is a fine old firm that makes beautiful luxury goods. We have a Steuben apple at my mother’s house which was a christening present to my brother, which is exactly the kind of thing.
Elsewhere, here’s Vulture on James Wood’s unlikely (or possibly likely) first choice for book-review scrutiny, and a very amusing excerpt, in the Guardian, from Latin Love Lessons: Put a Little Ovid in Your Life, by Charlotte Higgins. Trust me, it’s very funny.


I live on Baffin Island, which is even more northerly than Alaska. The New Yorker comes in by dogsled. Just kidding. When I moved here eight years ago, I brought just three books with me: Helen Vendler’s “Part of Nature, Part of Us,” Seamus Heaney’s “The Government of the Tongue,” and Zbigniew Herbert’s “Barbarian In The Garden.” Vendler is a goddess in my life. I first encountered her writing in The New Yorker. Her disappearance from the magazine’s pages was perhaps the only downside to Tina Brown’s renovations. Paul Muldoon is every bit the equal of Vendler as poetry critic and he is - like Heaney and Herbert - a great poet prose-writer. I congratulate Remnick on his choice of Muldoon as The New Yorker’s new poetry editor.

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