I recently discarded some unnecessary texts, and among them were two past editions (the 17th and the 20th) of Len Fulton’s Directory of Poetry Publishers. This venerable publication, from Dustbooks in California, has for decades been an indispensable resource for poets seeking to find possible places for their work. It lists thousands of magazines and small presses, along with their editors, addresses, formats, submission guidelines, policies, and statements of general preferences—exactly what a poet needs when deciding where a particular poem is best sent. Fulton’s Directory is now available only as a CD, so the hardcover versions are a thing of the past. But it is always entertaining and informative to thumb through an old Directory, simply to see the kaleidoscopically varied nature of the po-biz scene. I decided to give one more look at the two editions before sending them to the recycling bin. What follows is a brief glimpse into some of the sheer off-the-wall craziness of contemporary poetry, at least as evidenced by the stuff in these two books, which date from 2001-2002 and 2004-2005. I doubt that things have changed very much since then. The first noticeable reality is the odd particularism and specificity that many poetry magazines insist upon. These are not just “small” publications—they are often minute in both theme and expected audience. When I first began consulting Fulton’s Directory I assumed that some of the entries were jokes or spoofs, but it soon became clear that they were not. Like rare strains of yeast, these magazines actually exist. Many small magazines are strangely self-sequestered and exclusionist, either in their appeal to a very limited niche market or concern with a fanatically focused topic. Examples are The Pipe Smoker’s Ephemeris, which only wants “poetry related to pipes, pipe smoking, or tobacco,” or Silver Wings Mayflower Pulpit, whose editor favors “Christian evangelical haiku.” Kaleidoscope wants “only poems relating to disability and disabled persons.” I suppose it’s perfectly understandable that The Wallace Stevens Journal only publishes “poems that relate to Wallace Stevens,” or that Lost Generation Journal should warn potential contributors to “send only poems about Paris in the 1920s, and the American expatriates who were there.” But how crazy is Dry Krik Review, which insists that all submitted poems “must speak in terms of the livestock business or the experience of range livestock culture”? I mean, how the hell many poems could there possibly be on those subjects? A magazine with the bizarre name of Literally Horses announces that all poems sent to the editor “must have a horse, rider, cowboy, or western theme.” There’s also Checker Cab Magazine, which only wants poems on—you guessed it—Checker cabs. The parochial localism of some journals defies belief. The Kelsey Review says that its contributors are limited “to people living and working in Mercer County, New Jersey.” (The magazine is published—mirabile dictu!—in Mercer County). The journal Manushi wants only “poetry relating to the lives of women in the Indian subcontinent,” and Driftwood Review says “We publish Michigan poets only.” Blueline says that “poems should be of a rural nature and relevant to the Adirondacks.” Red Rock Review proclaims that “we want works that treat of the southwest landscape.” But the weirdest of all is Acorn, the editors of which proclaim that their “focus is on the geography, environment, history, and society of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.” Anyone writing a poem about the eastern slope is out of luck, I suppose. Another maddening tic of some editors seems to be their fixation on avoiding not just the disturbing and the controversial, but anything at all that might unbalance the equanimity of their mentally bovine readership. The tic expresses itself simply at times, as when the editor of Red Owl urges submitters to “Try and stay upbeat,” or more explicitly when Nostalgia lays down the stricture that it will accept “no sexual references, no profanity, no long poetry.” St. Joseph’s Messenger emits the following saccharine bleat: “Poems should be contemporary, clear, concise, blithe, beautiful, and meaningful.” (Blithe? Gimme a break, please!) Bellowing Ark is “interested in a poetry which explores the human, the affirmative, poetry which transcends pain and opposition.” Then there is the bucolically named Country Charm Magazine, which warns “no religion, politics, sex, and/or violence.” (By my calculation that leaves out about eighty percent of human experience.) But the apotheosis of cutesy-poo niceness appears in the description of Writer’s Monthly Gazette, where the editor burbles “No morbid death poems, please! Only positive upbeat poems. Think positive, believe and have faith in which that, which is good , and expect a positive response. Never falter from your positive outlook.” This Norman Vincent Peale mentality is common among American editors, whose kneejerk positivity is stronger than their command of syntax. There is hardly any need at all for me to mention the one nearly universal stricture laid down by poetry editors, and that is the frosty declaration that they will not accept any metrical or rhyming poems. Such work, despite the minuscule formalist revival, is still as unacceptable as sending the editors the corpses of strangled kittens. This attitude is the product of several things: a century of pro-modernist propaganda put out by academics, critics, and publishers; the financial interests of those who run poetry workshops; and the sheer laziness of wannabe poets who can’t be bothered to study prosody. You have to go through Fulton’s Directory with a fine-tooth comb to find journals that will even consider formal, metrical verse. What is amazing is how utterly New-Agey so many of the descriptions given by editors can be. They sound like Ram Dass addressing a 1960s hippie commune. Each editor wants his contributing poets to “open up new boundaries,” or “explore higher dimensions,” or “connect with the universe,” or “listen to the inner child.” It’s hard to believe that these pathetic clichés have survived, but they seem still to be in the mouths of po-biz editors. Consider this solipsistic absurdity from the editors of ME Magazine: “ only interested in poems about ME as an idea. Art is self-involvement and manifestation. Send poems about the ME, poems written to ME.” But beyond all this, there is an asphyxiating gas-cloud of Smiley-Face benevolence in many descriptions, as when one editor writes “When a poem reaches the reader deeply and says something important or comic or human or sweet in a fresh way—we joyously publish it!” Now there is nothing at all that one can object to in such an effusion—it is a good description of how any thoughtful editor works. Nevertheless, there is something so oleaginous and icky-poo about the tone of the sentence that it makes my skin crawl. Can’t you just picture the glassy-eyed, mooncalf face of that editor, like an ecstatic Justin Trudeau gazing in adoration at some Indian guru? In fact, it’s the insufferable gassy jargon expressed by many editors in the Directory that makes me lose all hope for a restoration of sanity to the po-biz world. I simply cannot conceive of how any literate human being could publish this sort of mindless effusion, which comes from the editors of Pavement Saw, talking about the kind of poetry they want: “The work should not merely startle, but rather employ academic structural techniques to indirectly encourage the readers to search for resolutions within their own experience and context of the work.” Huh? Does the writer of that atrocious sentence have some cerebral disability? But it is hardly less vacuous than this one, from Ebony Energy: “ diverse expression that embraces human experience with keen awareness of both the failures and successes within the collective human desire for community, healing, and health.” This is the kind of helium-pumped balloon ride that H.L. Mencken contemptuously called “the Uplift.” Of course the great majority of poetry journals are boringly leftist or left-liberal, in accord with the requirements of the po-biz establishment. Typical is the Minnesota Review, which wants “writing which is socially engaged, in radical, progressive ways.” Both Sides Now is dedicated to “nonviolence, eco-spirituality, grassroots democracy, and social responsibility.” Left Curve is more explicitly radical, declaring that “our general orientation is the recognition of the destructiveness of commodity capitalist systems to all life, and the need to build a non-commodified culture that could potentially create a more harmonious relationship among people.” (The left is notoriously verbose.) The aptly named Struggle calls for poetry that is “critical of any facet of the oppression of modern capitalist life, including cultural life.” In other words, the struggle is not just against capitalism, but all of Western culture. One of the most off-putting quirks of poetry editors throughout the United States is their reflexive need to give their magazines silly and goofy names. It’s as if they were preadolescent grade-school kids, coming up with deliberately puerile titles that proclaim “Hey, Look at us! We’re playful and creative and not hidebound by stodginess and formality!” Here’s a representative list of some actual magazine names, along with their provenance: Kumquat Meringue (Pine Island, Minnesota) The Imploding Tie-Dyed Toupee (Columbia, South Carolina) Jack the Ripper Gazette (Jefferson, Louisiana) Fuck Decency (Sacramento, California) Bathtub Gin (Bloomington, Indiana) Medusa’s Hairdo (Ashland, Kentucky) Ant Ant Ant Ant Ant (Eugene, Oregon) Nanny Fanny (Indianapolis, Indiana) Lilies and Cannonballs (New York, New York) Erased, Sigh, Sigh (Cleveland, Ohio) Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (Easthampton, Massachusetts) The Dirty Goat (Austin, Texas) Creosote (Lake Havasu City, Arizona) The Ram’s Chin’s Goatee (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Nuthouse (Ellenton, Florida) Pogo Stick (Tuscaloosa, Alabama) When one sees title after title like these in the Directory, one’s immediate reaction is This must be a goddamned joke. Why would an editor, presumably dedicated to the world of letters and literary endeavor, come up with a name as stupid and tasteless as these? But when I ask this question of certain persons in the poetry world, they reply by saying that I don’t appreciate “the comic spontaneity of the creative process,” or some similar jargon-laced excuse. Well, comic spontaneity may be acceptable in a kindergarten fingerpainting session, but in a literary magazine’s name it looks like a symptom of arrested development. For this reason, when I teach my poetry seminar I warn students never to submit work to any magazine that bears a name that is stupid, outré, bizarre, goofy, or weird. Do you really want your poem—no matter how good it is—to appear in Orange Ourangutan Maypole? (Yes—that’s also listed in Fulton’s Directory). I’m not making fun of Fulton or his Directory. He’s done the poetry world a major service by providing a convenient place for finding potential venues of publication. And Fulton is not responsible for what’s out there; he simply makes the names and addresses available. The larger point is this: poetry is in the terminal state that it is in today because of certain ingrained and intractable attitudes shared by millions of persons. And these attitudes are peculiarly American, although at this point they are becoming world-wide in scope. The first is a cultural tendency to worship hyped-up creativity at the expense of craft. The second is the strong American dislike of formality, ritual, and hierarchy. The third is the unshakable conviction that poetry is about your feelings and personal experiences. The fourth is the idea that poetry above all is a form of communication, and therefore should be at the lowest possible level of discourse and vocabulary. The fifth is the notion that poetry is about emotional effervescence rather than aesthetic restraint. You can put all of these things into one word: Whitman. And the ghost of Walt Whitman hangs over the Directory of Poetry Publishers like a mushroom cloud over an atomic detonation. As long as we let these five attitudes dominate our thinking and reactions, we will never make the long trek back to genuine poetry. We’ll just have a smorgasbord of craziness, where people think of poetry as an “anything goes” parlor game where you can do whatever you please as long as you are honest, sincere, positive, open, friendly, center-left, and nice. And come up with a silly name for your journal, of course. The kids will like that. Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.