Among the many ways of thinking about poetry, there is the notion of an ongoing
conversation. There are poets who have acknowledged and exploited this aspect of the art
in surprising and inventive ways. George Garrett and Richard Wilbur, for example, have
given poetry readings together in which one would read a poem and the other would find, in
his work, some response, some comment or addition or enlargement of the subject the first
poet had raised. It is also the case that each poet, alone in his or her study, is
surrounded by the work of colleagues alive and dead with whom it is possible to confer,
converse, or conspire. Harold Bloom is too gloomy and Freudian about the anxiety of
influence. What he ought also to acknowledge is that there can be encouraging,
playful, and even soothing encounters one can have with other peoples poems.
Poets also converse as friends and fellow sufferers. A writer, in this society, is an
eccentric if only because the center, if there is one, is somewhere else. At reunions, my
college classmates ask me if Im still writing, as if it were some kind
of minor vice (which it probably is). My writer friends know better or have better
manners, and because Im grateful to avoid that combination of tedium and slight
distress, many of my friends, it turns out, happen to be writers.
When Messieurs Spalding and Shahar asked me to guest-edit an issue of The Cortland
Review, I accepted at once, figuring that it was a way of inviting some of these friends
into an issue together. (There arent largeor even smallsums of money involved,
after all.) Is that vain? Not at all. I think its only natural, or even inevitable,
and it is anyway an occasion for my public declaration of gratitude to those in whose
company I take delight and solace. Im grateful, too, to the Review for making this
There is a two-volume James Pope-Hennessy biography of Monkton Milnes, a nineteenth-century dandy whose main claim to fame was that he gave great breakfasts at which enormous
numbers of intelligent, decorative and amusing people would appear. When I first became
aware of this odd life, I thoughtmany years agothat it was silly. A lot older and a
little smarter now, I understand that this was, in its way, a great achievement.
So Im happy to be here, not as a writer, but, even better, as a giver of
breakfasts. Have a cup of coffee. Meet some of my friends....
David R. Slavitt, Guest-Editor