Saturday, January 24, 2009

Letter in January 25 New York Times Book Review

Sometimes a long shot pays off.

When I wrote a letter to the Times Book Review a couple of weeks ago, I expected to have a few paragraphs to share with friends and possibly expand into an essay at some later point, as well as the satisfaction of venting a little bit.

My expectations were dashed when I received a message last week informing me that my letter would in fact be printed, and it appears here.

If the link presents any problems, you can see the text of the letter following this post.

I may be punching above my weight, and making more enemies than friends in the process, but they can only hang me once, whoever "they" may be.


To the Editor:

Ginia Bellafante’s welcome appreciation of Phyllis McGinley (“Suburban Rapture,” Dec. 28) errs only in referring to “the disappearance of light verse” in contemporary poetry. Established poets like X. J. Kennedy and R. S. Gwynn, not to mention Richard Wilbur, have written and published light verse throughout their careers, and Light, the quarterly edited by John Mella, consistently provides a forum for the best practitioners of light verse in English.

Light verse has, however, become much harder to find. With rare exceptions, The New Yorker and other general interest magazines have abandoned light verse, as have the larger publishing houses. This development is particularly baffling given that light verse is consistently well received at readings and appreciated by audiences who are not themselves poets.

This disconnect between poets working in light verse and the reading public represents an accident of American publishing history rather than an artistic or commercial necessity. The British poet Wendy Cope’s collections are published in first editions of some 50,000 copies, a figure nearly unheard of among “serious” American poets who are not otherwise celebrities. The fact that Dorothy Parker’s work has never gone out of print suggests the existence in this country of a similar and largely untapped audience. Addressing the unmet need for the wit and insight uniquely available in light verse would assist publishers in strengthening anemic balance sheets and aid readers in enduring the present dark times. If they are not careful, publishers might even find themselves expanding the audience for poetry in general.

J. D. Smith

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