February 24, 2024

what kind of town?

The February/March issue of the Boston Review arrived in my box at work today. Ever since I found out Timothy Donnelly is one of the two poetry editors on staff, I've been paying a lot of attention to what they have to say and what they have to publish. I was intrigued by a triptych review by Stephen Burt called Their Kind of Town. Check it out. Burt is generally pleased with three new collections by three new young hip New York poets -- Jordan Davis, Mark Bibbins, and Brenda Coultas.

To quote Burt's opening paragraph ...

"More now than in decades, perhaps, younger American poets are gravitating toward big cities. Those who earn MFAs in prairie states decamp to Manhattan or Brooklyn, where they start quarterlies or Web-based journals; later on they may take (or turn down) jobs in the provinces. Poets who eschew academia find themselves all the more dependent on the poetic communities that big cities provide. It should be no surprise, then, that some of the most interesting debuts from the past year not only emerge from New York City but return to it for subjects and for sources of style."

What I noticed right off the bat about the three poets Burt reviews is that two of them are published by venerable houses here in Minneapolis -- Mark Bibbins by Graywolf and Coultas by Coffee House Press (Davis is published by Faux, in Newton, MA). So the very same provincial centers that poets decamp once they've received their all-important MFAs (Why? Because they feel too small? They lack a historical cache? They don't have an H&M?) in turn contain just the right mix of atmospheric conditions that make it possible for reputable, small presses to survive that will in turn take a chance on their collections.

I don't think poets and writers flock to New York now more than at any other time. In fact, the reverse might be happening (and sooner in one's career than Burt guesses). There's a part of me that longs for New York -- but it's more of a dream, quickly shredded by anecdotal evidence I have from friends who discovered first hand that living in New York is fucking hard and takes a lot of fucking money and energy. New York still possess that aura of the 'place where things happen', and that's true to an extent.

But there's a lot to be said for Minneapolis. We're certainly more literary than Chicago, which is two thousand times our size. Good publishing houses (of both fiction and nonfiction, I might add). A couple of non profit writing centers. An okay collection of print and online media sources. Plus, the cost of living is such that one can achieve a modest lifestyle without busting one's ass. We are missing a top-rate MFA program. But just think ... you're publisher is just down the street -- you can visit them whenever you want! (Okay wait that's a really bad idea).

Posted by Jason at February 24, 2024 10:05 PM | TrackBack

Funny... Burt teaches at Macalester. I guess he's part of the prairie academy that he says these poets are eager to decamp from. I wonder how this informs his perspective as a reviewer. Do I detect a hint of NYC-jealousy? I liked the review, though. Keep posting links to lit. crit., and you can be my "crit-bot."

Posted by: Brian at February 25, 2024 08:51 AM
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