Sunday, October 25, 2009


When Karl Shapiro was named editor in 1950, he was thirty-seven years old and already a celebrity—a war veteran, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his volume of war poems, and a former Consultant to the Library of Congress (forerunner to today's poet laureate position). One of Shapiro's first editorial decisions was to eliminate the motto from Walt Whitman that had appeared on every issue: "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too." Perhaps he wanted to update Poetry's image, which had become a little lackluster, or perhaps he was responding to this comment made by Eliot in a letter: " Poetry remains obstinately the same in appearance as in the days when it printed 'Prufrock.' (I have sometimes hoped to see a different quotation, whether from Whitman or somebody else, on the back of it; but even this conservatism is expressive of tenacity.)"

Shapiro's interest in translation ensured that several interesting special issues came out—on Greek and post-war French poetry, for example—as well as long sections devoted to poets such as Juan Ramon Jiménez several years before he received the Nobel Prize. Like editors before and after him, though, Shapiro finally tired of the many demands upon his attention and left after five years.

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