Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Introduction to the 50th Anniversary Poetry Issue

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Introduction to the 50th Anniversary Poetry Issue

Article excerpt

The Midwest Quarterly published its first issue in October, 1959. The first two issues contained articles on issues of contemporary interest, as the subtitle asserts. But the third issue, in April 1960, contained nine poems by Charles E. Guardia, a member of the English Department faculty at Kansas State College of Pittsburg (now Pittsburg State University). Since then, except for perhaps one or two issues, poetry has been a regular part of the journal, though it did not occupy a central role in its content until 1973. More about that later.

During the early years, the unofficial poetry editor was the literature editor, English professor Rebecca Patterson, though I suspect that the editor in chief, history professor Dudley Cornish, also had a strong say in poem selections. Stuart Friebert, whose poems appeared frequently in early issues, was the only poet selected to have poems in the special issue dedicated to celebrate Cornish's retirement from the editorship. From the beginning, The Midwest Quarterly published work by established poets--a poem by Lewis Turco appeared in the Summer 1960 issue--but it also opened its pages to new writers--Arlene Bates Kirk of Parsons, Kansas, published her first poem in a national magazine in the Winter 1962 issue. Both traditions continue to be characteristic of the journal's poetry selections up to the present day.

The early issues usually contained two to four poems scattered like filler among the academic articles. The editors increased the number of poems in each issue to eight in Winter 1963, citing for reason "the sharply increased number of verse contributions" (96). The number of poems per issue gradually increased thereafter until it stabilized at twelve in about 1965. In the Summer 1964 issue, the poems began to be clustered in groups of three or four, and women poets were represented about equally with men. Most of the poems used traditional forms and were heavily laced with literary, historical, and mythological references, as one might expect in a literary journal whose editors were not poets. The first contemporary poem in a more subjective, personal voice appeared fairly early, with David Pearson Etter's, "Homesick in a River Town" (October 1964).

Some of the journal's early poetry contributors went on to become very well known. Mary Oliver, James Tate (who graduated from Kansas State College of Pittsburg in 1965), and Ted Kooser become Pulitzer Prize winners for their poetry. Raymond Carver went on to win fame for his fiction.

Poetry in The Midwest Quarterly might be said to have reached its maturity with the Spring 1970 issue when Michael Heffernan, who joined the English faculty at Kansas State College in the fall of 1969 and was at the time getting his own start as a poet, became the first poetry editor to be officially designated as such on the title page. From then on, the poetry in the journal, whether free verse or formal, was definitely in the contemporary idiom, and many of the poets he published are now among the most well respected in American poetry: Tess Gallagher, Gib Ruark, Thomas Lynch, Robert Bly, William Kloefkorn, Philip Dacey, Peter Cooley, Ed Ochester, Albert Goldbarth, Greg Kuzma, David Bottoms, Ed Hirsch, Gerald Costanzo, Ron Wallace, Alicia Ostriker, Jonathan Holden, Robert Dana, Harold Witt, William Stafford, X. J. Kennedy, and others.

Heffernan also began the journal's tradition of publishing special poetry issues. Some had a regional flavor while others revived a tradition, begun in the journal's very first issue, of featuring the work of individual poets. Heffernan's first special issue was "A Gathering of Kansas Poets" (Summer 1973). This was 'also the first issue in which the poetry all appeared together at the center of the issue. During his fifteen years as poetry editor, Heffernan also published the following special sections:

* "Poems in Rhyme" (Summer 1974)

* "Poems of Albert Goldbarth" (Winter 1975)

* 20th anniversary poetry section (Spring 1980), featuring poems by Dave Etter, Tess Gallagher, Albert Goldbarth, Ted Kooser, Greg Kuzma, Tomas O'Leary, Mary Oliver, Gibbons Ruark, Judith Johnson Sherwin [Judith Emlyn Johnson], Dave Smith, William Stafford, Maura Stanton, James Tate, and Alberta T. …

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