ISSUE NINE
November 1999

ISSUE NINE

Editor's Note

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 people’s 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 I’m “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 I’m 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 aren’t large—or even small—sums of money involved, after all.) Is that vain? Not at all. I think it’s 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. I’m grateful, too, to the Review for making this possible.

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 thought—many years ago—that it was silly. A lot older and a little smarter now, I understand that this was, in its way, a great achievement.

So I’m 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

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Editor's Note
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue NineThe Cortland Review