Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

When is an acceptance not an acceptance?

Crossposted from The Rumpus

When it comes from The Paris Review, apparently.

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.


July 20, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Brian, this is a shameless threadjack, and I apologize. I’m considering starting a wee alternative to TNC’s open thread and a) wanted to let you know and b) wanted to let those who follow you know and c) wanted to elicit your thoughts on the matter. I’ll be leaving similar comments all over the TNC webring.

    If you do want to share your thoughts on the idea, here’s my post about it:

    (Also: I never comment here because my working knowledge of poetry is so veryveryvery slim, so I’m sorry about that. I do like to come by and read the folks who more literary than me, though!)

    Comment by emilylhauser | July 20, 2010 | Reply

  2. whaddaya expect from careerist hacks like o’pork and chiasson the assassin

    … bad poets make bad editors

    Comment by Bill Knott | July 20, 2010 | Reply

  3. Except that Chiasson and O’Rourke didn’t make this call. Stein did. Blaming Chiasson and O’Rourke is like blaming Venezuela for the housing bubble, or the oil spill in the Gulf.

    Comment by Brian | July 20, 2010 | Reply

  4. if venezuela was on the bp board,

    as the porker and the assassin have secured their slots to remain on the PR masthead as “advisory editors”

    … if they had any ethical allegiance to anything but their own curriculum vitae,

    they would have resigned in protest

    Comment by Bill Knott | July 20, 2010 | Reply

  5. Oh, I get it. Because they didn’t do what you would have supposedly done in their position, they are to blame for the decisions of the people who replaced them. Must be nice to breathe the purified air from atop your high horse.

    Comment by Brian | July 20, 2010 | Reply

  6. but it’s interesting that you compare pork/ass to Hugo Chavez,

    given the CIA’s genocidal attacks on South American social democracies like Venezuela—

    as you probably know, one of the Paris Review’s founding editors was a CIA agent …

    and pork/ass haven’t been “replaced” as you put it, they’ve been paid off with the plush post of “advisory editor”,

    hush money to pad their resumes with . . .

    Comment by Bill Knott | July 20, 2010 | Reply

  7. Tell me, do you have your glasses perched on the end of your nose and are you scribbling furiously on a chalkboard when you come up with this stuff, Bill?

    Comment by Brian | July 20, 2010 | Reply

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