Jonathan Galassi on the state of poetry and publishing.
Why does art have to be mainstream to be significant?
THERE is a good chance that you have read something published by Jonathan Galassi. One of the wunderkinds of the New York editing and publishing world, at age 30 he was the head of Houghton Mifflin Company. He moved to Random House and then to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, where he is now president, and he was also the poetry editor of the Paris Review for a decade. Alongside nurturing contemporary poetry and new American writers, he is a poet himself and a translator of Eugenio Montale, a late Italian author.
How have publishing and editing changed over the last decade?
Publishing has changed a lot because of the ways books are delivered to the reader. Not so much with poetry so far, because e-books are not hospitable to poetry yet, though it will unquestionably happen. But I donâ€™t think the actual editing of books has changed much at all. I think that the continuity of what I do as an editor with what I did when I started out 40 years ago is very direct. The delivery system is changing and will continue to, but the actual interaction between publisher and author is exactly the same.
Does your own work as a poet and translator inform your work as an editor?
I love poetry; it’s my primary literary interest, and I suppose the kind of reading you do when you are reading poemsâ€”close readingâ€”can carry over into how you read other things. I guess I see it as all one thing: whether you’re working with someone on his or her book, translating someone else, or trying to write yourself. For me, one thing flows into another. And I find translating very invigorating. Itâ€™s fun to exercise your instrument that way.
You were taught by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Did they inform your interest in poetry at all?
I had both of them as teachers at Harvard. Elizabeth Bishop in particular had a big impact on me personally as well as artistically. Her insistence on clarity is something I rate very highly.
After Harvard, you spent two years at the University of Cambridge. What are the differences between American and British poets, or the relationship between them?
I remember feeling how oddly unrelated British and American poets were in the ’70s. At the “high” end, there’s more interchangeâ€”we read Seamus Heaney; some people here read Geoffrey Hill. You read Robert Lowell, or even John Ashbery in certain quarters. But in the middle it sometimes feels that thereâ€™s almost no connection. I remember going to hear poets like Lee Harwood read, sort of British â€œNew York Schoolâ€ poets, in London when I was a student. They were very much on the outer edge of experimentalism in Britain. As students, of course, we would read David Jones and people who had historical relevance, and Philip Larkin was still alive then, who was very great. I remember being totally overwhelmed reading “The Whitsun Weddings” on a train in England. But a lot of the “everyday” poets donâ€™t really speak to each other. Itâ€™s almost as if they are reading each other through a glass darkly. I think thatâ€™s particularly true of the Britons reading American poets.
Read the full article by E.H. here.