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Poetry Magazine

October 27, 2003

Some dream of redemption, others think they’ve never sinned. In between are the wise ones who can let the past go.

I don’t know where I am on that scale — for ending the library’s 74-year run of Poetry Magazine in 1995 after I took the reins as library director — but I know how to buy indulgence when given the chance.

I’ve renewed the subscription and filled in many of the missing years.

With the renaissance of poetry in our neighborhood, I have rued ending our run of “Poetry,” but for years up to that time I’d been certain that only two people were looking at it. One was me, and the other person had stopped coming.

I had been consistently disappointed during my monthly skimming of the magazine, which I admit was done distractedly after I stamped each newly arrived issue with the library’s name.

Then one day, a poem caught my eye; It was called “The glove.” The poet told a tale of missing a glove, of two winters spent warming up the car with one hand, of finally tossing the lone one away.

It was so much what a good friend of mine would think and do that I copied the poem and sent it to him. And he recognized himself.

Recently, I was reminded of that poem when a librarian sought help on Libnet, the Colorado librarians’ email list, looking for a quick copy of Philip Levine’s poem, “One for the rose.”

I thought, That’s the guy! I looked around but found only the last few lines:

” … Instead I was born
in the wrong year and in the wrong place,
and I made my way so slowly and badly
that I remember every single turn,
and each smells like an overblown rose,
yellow, American, beautiful, and true.”

I liked it enough to order the original book for the library. And I nodded to myself: Yup, that’s him.
But it’s not. I checked. “The glove” was written by Philip Booth.
So, I found there was less magic in the world than I’d supposed. But this rekindled the forgotten coal of sin and reminded me of the long-ago transgression.

I called the Poetry Magazine offices in Chicago to see what could be done. It was no problem, except that not all the intervening years were readily had. They’d only brought five years’ worth of back issues with them during their move into new office space. The others were still in boxes and probably wouldn’t be accessible until next spring.

I was understanding. They’ve had quite a busy year since receiving a $100 million dollar bequest last fall from Ruth Lilly, heiress to the Eli Lilly fortune. But they were also inclined to be accommodating: We could fill in the years at the annual subscription rate.

You might wonder why I desired to fill in a run of a magazine that had disappointed me. First, I enjoyed it enough to go back to it every month. It repayed me now and then, as with “The glove.”

Second, it was part of my learning to read and enjoy poetry of different kinds, to find people like the two Philips whom I would never meet but who became part of my life.
Also, it’s a leading poetry magazine and has published many famous and influential poets in its 90 years of continuous publication. And we had such a nice run going. It’s nice to have a second chance.

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