In Which If This Photograph of Jenna Elfman Doesn’t Scare You Enough This Assessment of The New Yorker Poetry Section Will

Notes on New Yorker Poetry in Light of All This Breast Cancer Awareness

by William Hubbard

Everything in the New Yorker is pink. A pink devoid of any symbolism, but still a very distinct pink, meaning it has a color. By which I mean it has a flavor, too, and a scent, a lovely one. Even the font does not change.

Such a pink magazine has mostly articles. They are funny and vibrant, intelligent in a most acceptable way. I would call it cogitation. Unfortunately, poetry is not cogitation. Not to say that poetry is anything in particular, but it is not cogitation. Nor is it pink.

This is not humor. This is the opposite of humor.

A magazine is a tank of water. The water at the New Yorker has been dyed pink. Everything that is dropped into that water turns a faint shade of pink. Which is not to say that it becomes any less lovely. Because it doesn’t, it’s just pink.

The New Yorker has a font. It is distinct and they own it. When they print poems they print them in this font. This font is metaphorical. I am using it metaphorically. It means that what is in the poems does not matter. Good or bad, they are still pink, same as the rest.

Pink sells. The New Yorker does not sell sex, it sells well-formed ideas. For the most part, this makes for a good magazine. In the case of poetry, however, it does not.

As the painter Philip Guston says, “the most clearly articulated thoughts are usually wrong.” This applies more to poetry than it does to articles and other cogitations. People like to have well-formed ideas at hand, even if they aren’t going to use them. Poems need not concern themselves with well-formed ideas, because no poem will be as good a cogitation as a New Yorker article.

When you are listening to an information session, it works best to pay little if no attention to whomever is talking. This way, you will only pick up on the interesting ideas. Everything else will be a distraction, in that you already know it even if you have never heard it before. This applies also to poetry, but not to the New Yorker.

It is better if a poem can be the color it is, rather than pink, or an equally arbitrary blue? Picking a color for a poem is not arbitrary, from the perspective of the poet. Nor is it cogitative. If a poem is to be dropped into a magazine, the water should be clean and warm. This is true even if the eventual color of the water is brown. More often, I think clean water will hold its own, keeping the fish healthy and happy.

Philip Guston is a lovely painter. I’m sure there has been an article about him in the New Yorker, and equally in the New Yorker’s font. Philip Guston loved the color pink, but not the same hue as the New Yorker pink. There is thus little relationship between Guston and the New Yorker, except that someone may have formed some complete and formidable thoughts about Guston’s paintings in the New Yorker.

Philip Guston had some friends that wrote poetry. Some, in their old age, have probably published poetry in the New Yorker. These were pink poems, every one of them, which is not meant pejoratively. Nor is it meant metaphorically. It simply means that these poems were in the New Yorker, and therefore pink.

The New Yorker has little if nothing to do with the New York School of poetry, which itself has little to do—in that it’s a name—with the poets who created it. There is a contradiction in this fact, but not a simple one. It has to do with a city being a tank of water, like a magazine. New York City is somewhat pink, but with a healthy amount of orange mixed in. This comes from the lights and air additives.

This is not to say that a magazine should not pick a font. But eventually all you can see is the font, which is a bad thing. Even beautiful rooms like to be redecorated. The implication is that rooms have opinions about how they should look.

The tulips that bloom heavily in the spring are sometimes pink. The rings around the eyes of an alcoholic or meth-addict are also sometimes pink. The poetry published in the New Yorker are, like the articles and cogitations, pink. Thus, you see there is nothing pejorative or metaphorical about my saying the New Yorker makes everything a faint sickly shade of pink. Oh, some meats are pink, too.

When poetry does occur in the New Yorker, it is like a tulip. Tulips flower in New York City even with the artificial light and air additives. Not to say that they are beautiful, because even flowers can be ugly when soaked in dog piss. Poems in the New Yorker can be beautiful, but not in the New Yorker. Every poem has its own natural color, and almost no colors look good when imbued with pink light. Pink poems, however, which are written and sent to the New Yorker, look great in pink light, but nowhere else.

Almost everything I have said here applies equally to the Paris Review. Paris is nice, somewhat grey-blue.

William Hubbard is the editor of CapGun, a literary journal based in Brooklyn. His first chapbook, A Suggestion Regarding Vacations, is forthcoming this fall.

Mr. Hubbard reading on 5/10/07 at the Peel Reading Series at Stain Bar in Brooklyn. The faulty camera work is my fault. The lighting is not. The tremendous Bronwen Tate also read, although I did not have enough space on my camera to record her. You can see her reading here.

“Crush” — Mandy Moore

“Monkey Suite” — Madvillain

6 thoughts on “In Which If This Photograph of Jenna Elfman Doesn’t Scare You Enough This Assessment of The New Yorker Poetry Section Will

  1. from some notes on Selah Saterstom’s “Pink Institution”

    ‎“You could see it if you held it open…it was pink inside.” The book is not a ‎laboratory—a tool shed of tabletops and jars, blades—but a display of findings ‎‎(the lab itself being the memory field, the conscience of the main personality ‎who examines her history and environs). Along the way of examining her ‎family, her history, and immediate environs, the narrator finds herself ‎examined—the scalpel, having seared and penetrated and shorn layers of the ‎flesh and lard and the pink, taps the glass of a mirror, unearthing the core of her ‎family’s bones—her own life. The sound is not unlike the “clink when head and ‎tooth hit glass” described in the section “Repetition.” The book advances that ‎the study of history’s flesh could lead to encounters with the white bone of the ‎present.‎

    I want to pursue the pig image, but not without disrobing the animal from its ‎garbs connoting sloth, ignorance, stupidity, dirty slogging devil’s angel ‎circumstance. The reason is, I want the pig to stand in as the body of a family, ‎and possibly a region (because it’s pink, on the cover of the book, and a messy ‎body heretofore thought understood by its stereotypes and judgments alone—as ‎are one’s family, the American South, races of humanity…)‎

    I used to walk a dirt road threading through a farm area in North Carolina. ‎The walk toured the barns, silos, feed troughs, and the pig yard. I admit that my ‎arguments for the validity of karmic rebirth on a scale of consequence began and ‎solidified with my observations of pigs. My attitude likely stems from personal ‎nature, what I consider enjoyable (walking down the road) pitted against what I ‎rue and almost fear (lethargy and a slogging routine of eating, trundling toward ‎sleep, rising to eat and trundle again). I’ll try to restrain these observations and ‎advance others pertinent to an analysis of the book.‎

    The pig has a hide, obviously thick and repellent, as the pig’s behavior too ‎repels. Unless they’re still babies and uniquely cute and nice because small and ‎puppy-like, pigs snarl and fart and slobber with a disposition that can only be ‎called bestial. On my bathroom wall hangs a scroll used for a reading exercise ‎program that runs on a reel. The curriculum instructs readers new to English on ‎some basic nouns, accompanied by spelling, both literal and phonetic, as well as ‎an illustration of the word visually and contextually, in a sentence. For the word ‎beast a boar stands next to its caption, which reads: “This is an ugly beast.” A ‎boar could be a synonym for a pig, if details are unimportant and one only wants ‎to convey bestial…‎

    As history is a beast, a snaring and ungainly one, which lessens none with the ‎scale of the subject. The family history is the grandest sow, and though Paul ‎Johnson has 800 pages over your 200 for his history of the year 1819, there’s not ‎one gesture in his history of girth as in the exact situation of a grandfather, ‎naked and stroking himself, ogling his granddaughter to join him, who in ‎response sprints and looks to hide but fears he’ll find her on any route, on the ‎road or in the woods. And then, at supper later, the incident unspoken, he cuts ‎into his side of beef. The guts are numerous and thick.‎

  2. And The Pink, a bar here in buffalo, is certainly a story worth relating. Being new to town, as I am, I am rather unfit to relate it.

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