Poetry New York: A Journal of Poetry and Translation grew out of a creative writing workshop being held at the CUNY Graduate Center in the mid-1980s, when I was a doctoral student there. William Elton, a Shakespearean scholar, composed poetry from time to time; he started the workshop then. Soon he got the idea to start a poetry magazine. In naming it what he did, he was not thinking of Poetry New York: A Magazine of Verse and Criticism—famous for having published Charles Olson’s game-changing essay “Projective Verse,” in 1950. Our magazine was meant, in Bill’s conception, to rival Poetry Chicago and other “Poetry [Name of Place]” journals.
Our first issue appeared in 1985. Our intention was that Poetry New York (PNY) would be an annual. It came out more or less yearly, for twelve issues, ending in 2001. Having worked on the magazine’s inaugural issue, I became its coeditor for the second number; after that I served as the editor, for a couple of issues, then as the senior editor until the tent folded. Coeditors included, variously: Page Delano, Cheryl Fish, Halima Gutman, Emmy Hunter, Benjamin Sloan, Tod Thilleman, Robert Thomson, Robert Timm, Gyorgi Voros, and others.
PNY featured, along with poets and translators still trying to make their mark, a great many bright lights.
Poetry New York: A Journal of Poetry & Translation 2 (1988). Cover photograph by Star Black.
We also featured compelling artwork. Equally notable, PNY became a destination for translations. Our editorial policy was skewed toward publishing more than the occasional translation, perhaps because we originated within a doctoral program—our thought being that translators did not get as much opportunity to publish as did mere poets, and translation was also a scholarly endeavor. So translators had us in their sights.
PNY didn’t set a pace. It was not especially the nexus of any conversation; after all, we were an annual. Nevertheless, we were involved in the conversations of the day, and poets were glad to be represented in our pages. We had a terrific distributor, Bernhard DeBoer; I always got a kick out of seeing our new issue magically appear one day in a bookstore or even on the occasional newsstand. My own proclivities affected what was, in the end, a collective editorial policy. Our taste was always open to the experimental—over time, it gravitated toward the increasingly edgy. Principally, PNY’s contribution of significance had most to do with supporting avant-garde initiatives.
Some years after we had gotten off the ground, Harvey Shapiro sent me a back issue of the Yale Poetry Review, whose editing he had taken over when he was young, turning the publication into the original Poetry New York. I was both amazed to learn from Harvey, and embarrassed to admit I hadn’t known, of the Olson essay’s first being published there. For me, quite a bit their junior, Olson was a god whom I first read in 1965.
Poetry New York: A Journal of Poetry & Translation 3 (1989). Artwork by Michele Spark.
The irony in all this had to do with the fact that the work of Olson, and of others who were part of the post–World War II avant-garde, was a guiding spirit for me and other young writers I was hanging around with, first in the sixties. It drove much of our editorial decision-making when we were putting out a college magazine titled Transition. In 1967 my coeditor, Sherry Kearns (née Moore), and I had some grant money that a faculty advisor, David Toor, made available to us to spend. We arranged for Olson to be the keynote speaker/reader at a poetry convocation we hosted in Cortland, New York; its participants, some of whom would appear in the later iteration of PNY, included many Beats, Black Mountaineers, and others.
Two decades after that gathering in Cortland, when I would become PNY’s senior editor, a fellow doctoral candidate, Cheryl Fish, took on the main editing duties. Soon thereafter the magazine relocated from the Graduate Center, with Tod Thilleman assuming the editing while Emmy Hunter became our associate editor. We had shifted our center of operations to my apartment in Brooklyn, while maintaining a Manhattan post office box. Later PNY would be set up in Tod’s apartment, when I moved to New Jersey. In order to support PNY, which was no longer getting help from CUNY, I applied for a grant from NYSCA (the New York State Council on the Arts). Successive annual grants from there carried us through the remaining issues until, perhaps out of exhaustion, Tod and I called it quits.
It was a great run.
— Burt Kimmelman, New York, May 2017