When is an acceptance not an acceptance?
Crossposted from The Rumpus
Here’s the short version of the story–Daniel Nester fills it out a bit at WWAATD (part I, part II): The Paris Review accepted a bunch of work. There was a change in the editorial staff, and the new editors decided that some of the work selected for publication wasn’t Paris Review quality, I assume. Out go the un-acceptance emails.
I’ve never written one of those emails, and I hope I never will. I’d hope that if I found myself in the position of an editor taking over a situation where there’s work in the pipeline that I’d honor the decisions of the previous editor(s), even if I disagreed with them, and I’d do it because I’m a writer first and foremost, and if an editor did that to me, I’d be looking for a way to exact some revenge. As Nester points out, The Paris Review is “an anchor store publication credit in the shopping mall of a book’s acknowledgments page, one of the first that would be mentioned in a short and essential writerly bio.” We can argue whether or not that reputation is still deserved but it’s a major publication. It’s a reputation-builder.
To have that snatched away would be painful, to say the least. Those kinds of acceptances mean way more to the writer than they do to the magazine, or the editor, and to un-accept a piece in this way strikes me as unnecessarily cruel. Rejections are a way of life for writers; we grow inured to them over time, classify them as to their coldness, learn to interpret the euphemisms editors invent to hide the severity of their no’s. This is different. This is insulting, both for the writer and the previous editor(s). And for what? So the new editor can publish, in his words, “a ‘holy shit’ poetry section for his first issue on September 15.” Seems to me Lorin Stein just made that impossible.
Update: what follows was not posted to The Rumpus.
Some of the comments over at WWAATD seem to assume that Daniel Nester, who wrote the piece, has an axe to grind, that perhaps he was one of those poets who was shafted by The Paris Review and so is taking this out on them. He says that’s not the case, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. But even if he were, would that change the crappiness of this editorial decision? Not at all.
I’d also like to expand on my contention that Stein has just made his “holy shit” poetry section impossible by doing this. Every piece in that issue, whether chosen by Stein and Cresswell or by their predecessors, will be judged far more harshly than they would have otherwise. Readers who know about this story won’t be looking at those pieces in the moment–they’ll be looking at them through the lens of “what makes these poems so special that the editors screwed over other poets to give them room,” and what’s really crappy about that is that those readers won’t know which ones Stein and Cresswell picked and which ones Chiasson and O’Rourke (the previous editorial team) picked. Everyone in that issue is tainted now, and what should be a happy moment for those writers may be dulled because of this. And the worst part is that the writers, both the included and excluded, aren’t to blame here. It’s all the fault of the editors who just had to make their mark on the magazine immediately.