COREY ZELLER: You’ve become one of the most popular and applauded editors of a literary magazine in recent memory. It is really amazing! I wonder what factors you’d attribute to your success. Why do you think poets are so happy with what you’re doing at Poetry?
DON SHARE: Nicest. Question. Ever! Thank you so much – I’m very grateful. I just hope that it’s all true! I’ve only got a few issues of the magazine out so far, so it remains to be seen just how much applause I get, or deserve. But there has been a noticeable buzz, and I’m thrilled at the enthusiastic response. A few days ago, a reader tweeted that our new issue was the best she’d read in 30 years of subscribing to the magazine! That’s pretty exciting. I think people can see that I’m attentive to diversity – in every sense of the word – in these new issues; it’s work that has an intense energy that seems to be radiating nicely. Also, we’ve been doing things that are visually appealing, like the New York School “painter among poets” portfolio in January, and Douglas Kearney’s daring “Father of the Year” series, which has both a bold typographical component and a performance aspect. And wait till readers see the Matthea Harvey artwork that will go with her astounding “Telettrofono” piece in February! Even the covers have a bolder feel to them. Anyway, I certainly do hope poets are happy with what I’m doing at Poetry – that’s extremely important. You know that canard about how poets write for an audience of other poets? It would be very damn strange if they didn’t! I want and need poets to be on board with me, as readers and contributors. But look, most of Poetry’s readers aren’t poets – they’re general readers, and I hope that they, too, are excited by the changes. All that said, I won’t be resting on any laurels. Just as poets (another canard?) are only as good as their last poem, an editor is only as good as his next issue. And what ups the ante is that future generations of readers and poets will also judge what I’m doing. Editing Poetry is like putting together a book whose pages are always open. One can’t do it for the praise of the moment.
CZ: What does a typical day at your job involve? What do you do and who do you see?
DS: A typical day for me is actually a day-and-most-of-a-night. I don’t really see too many people besides my wonderful colleagues (not that much of them, even). There’s a tremendous amount of solitude involved. Most of my time is spent reading omnivorously, and being in constant communication by email or Facebook or Twitter with poets and magazine readers. I wake up early and keep going till I reach whatever wee hour my eyes won’t focus anymore; then I start all over again when dawn comes. If I wake up for any reason in the middle of the night, I’m kept awake by thinking of poems, of the magazine, of its readers. I don’t need much sleep, though, which is lucky: poetry, like rust, never sleeps. In terms of my real time workflow, by the time it’s morning in Chicago, the poets east of here have been stirring for hours, and by the time night falls, the poets to my west are still at work. Somewhere right between my eyes there’s a blurry international date line of poetry!
Then, too, there’s the hard and unceasing work of producing a monthly magazine for print and digital formats, which is complex. Poetry has a small staff, and we work on three or four issues at a time – adhering to a tight production schedule. It’s a challenge, certainly a fun one, and what keeps us going is the sheer love of making this magazine. Happily, my colleagues Fred Sasaki, Valerie Jean Johnson, Lindsay Garbutt, and Holly Amos are the most talented and ingenious and devoted people I have ever met. And they seem to need (or get) as little sleep as I do!
CZ: In your opinion, who are some of the best editors of literary journals (or presses) you can remember throughout the years. Are there any who serve as inspiration for your work?
DS: Well, my biggest editorial hero has always been, will always be Henry Rago. He was capacious, eclectic, prescient, courteous, and tough, and he had a clear, plain humanity that was rare when he was Editor of Poetry… and is rarer still, it seems to me, now. My thoughts constantly turn to Harriet Monroe, who invented so many things we take for granted now – not least the idea of a monthly poetry magazine – and to whom I owe so very much. I also always think of George Plimpton. Once, back when I was a novice poet making my debut in the Paris Review, I got up the nerve to call their office to ask some piddly question. George himself answered the phone, to my surprise. I was caught off guard hearing his legendary voice, so I tried to back down from asking whatever it was, but… he wouldn’t hear of it! When it came to the magazine, nothing was too small for him to attend to, and that has never been lost on me. I learned to be honest and gracious to writers from Rosanna Warren at the old Partisan Review, which is where I got my start, typing up her marvelously sharp letters. But let me name one more tutelary spirit. Across from my desk, there’s a large framed photograph of Ezra Pound, staring intently, or so I imagine, right at me. I think of this as a kind of poetry feng shui! That portrait – something about the look on his face – keeps me honest, as if I’m always under his scrutiny. Whatever his many foibles, Pound’s famed generosity to other poets keeps my energy level up, always. What would Henry do? What would Harriet do? What would George do? What would Ezra say? There are lots of people to live up to in the work I do.
CZ: Does editing enrich your own work or hinder it? Have you been editing for a long time?
DS: A long time, yes. I’ve done editorial work of one kind or another for half my life now; and until I came to Poetry, that work always necessarily overlapped with holding down some pretty dire jobs to pay the bills. It took me a long time to get here, but there was much to learn, and the labor was true love. My own writing… well, it feels completely separate from the things I do in service of other people’s. I put my own poetry second without hesitation, though it’s fair to say that I’ve paid a certain price for that. But I’m not complaining!
CZ: If you were to write a top ten list of things you dislike about the submissions you receive, what would the list include? In other words, what can perspective writers do to enhance their chances of getting published in Poetry?
DON SHARE: Oh, good heavens, I don’t have any such list! People should send what they want someone to read and think about. There’s nothing mysterious about it. Christina Pugh and I, along with Lindsay, read and talk about submissions together day after day. That’s what we’re here for. And that’s what we live to do, and love to do.