Volume 104, Number 3/4
|The mystery of beauty there is no gainsaying. The heart of it cannot be plucked
out by any editor or commentator. The approach to it, however,
like that to any other mystery…is a path one may search for as well as chance upon…
—Charlotte Porter & Helen A. Clark, 1889
In the global village we now inhabit, where a protester in Tehran can send a digital image around the planet in seconds from a cell phone, it’s hard to imagine how exotic far-flung cultures seemed to one another in 1889. Our cover offers an image of L’Exposition Universelle, the sprawling world’s fair that opened in Paris that year, drawing 28 million visitors through its entrance arch: the startling new Eiffel Tower. It was here that Claude Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music and came away transformed as a composer. And it was here, too, that the exhibitors infamously constructed a carnival-like “Negro Village,” placing 400 indigenous people on display.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke were launching Poet Lore, a journal that set out to examine “Shakespeare, Browning, and the Comparative Study of Literature.” With uncanny foresight, these two scholars, who were also life partners (they exchanged rings in a commitment ceremony and lived together until Clarke’s death at 65), published a wide spectrum of essays and book reviews as well as translations of the original work-plays, poems, prose-of such writers as Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg, Gorky, D’Annunzio, Mistral, and Tagore, presenting those authors to American readers who may never before have heard their names. As Porter later described the journal’s mission: “Our standards were evolutionary and relative in principal in a day when the static and the has-been rather than the dynamic and coming-into-birth constituted the measure in criticism.”
The editors read voraciously and found relationships among distinct cultural movements of which few Americans were even aware. To list only three of the essays they published in those early years-“Dante’s Imperialism,” “The Modernism of Hafiz,” “Shakespeare in Japan”-is to suggest the range of their inquiry. They moved beyond Europe in their search for literary innovation, extending their sphere of interest to the Middle East, Asia, South America. And they looked with respect upon what was invisible to so many at home, publishing translations of indigenous American chants. In 1914, introducing the journal’s 25th anniversary issue, Porter and Clarke wrote: “Poet Lore is introducing to its readers today the unknown geniuses who are to become world famous tomorrow.” It seems a wild boast-until you read what they’d published.
With humility, curiosity, and a keen sense of service, we carry on the work they began and passed into the care of so many dedicated successors. Although today’s Poet Lore is clearly distinguishable from its early incarnations, its central purpose is unchanged: we are mindful of tradition and eager for discovery. In this special anniversary edition, along with our regular content, we offer you a showcase of 15 celebrated contemporary poets who first appeared in Poet Lore decades ago, along with reviews by 11 poet-critics of outstanding books that were largely overlooked. In the next century, other readers may peruse what we’ve published here. We hope that what they find transcends our own short moment.
Special 120th anniversary showcase of work by: Kim Addonizio, David Baker, John Balaban, Philip Dacey, Cornelius Eady, Gary Fincke, Dana Gioia, Colette Inez, Pablo Medina, D. Nurkse, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Linda Pastan, Carl Phillips, and Myra Sklarew.
Second-Hand Coat by Ruth Stone; fingering the keys by Reuben Jackson; and Resuming the Green by Roland Flint.