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Apologia Pro Trinacria

Does the world need another poetry journal?

In the blizzard of print that engulfs us, the immediate answer would seem to be No. One real problem today is that much good poetry is simply lost in the shuffle, as thousands of amateur versifiers churn out text, and hundreds of editors rush to enshrine it in hard copy. As Ovid might say, the song of Orpheus is drowned out by the howls of the maenads, and cannot be heard.

What has brought this about? Two events: the explosion in population growth, and the spread of universal education. We have more poetry because we have more people, and more and more of them are literate. And since the urge to poetry is innate, many persons are going to use the acquired tools of literacy to express themselves. It’s as simple as that. In this sense, the current flood of bad poetry is an unforeseen consequence of a positive development. The spread of learning and literacy is a good thing, but one result is that we have a lot more chaff to sift through.

Of course, if bad poets merely filled up their rooms with reams of wretched verse, there would be no problem. We could leave them in the oblivion of Gray’s Churchyard, unmourned, unremembered, and unpublished. Unfortunately, more and more worthless material sees the light of print. And that is the fault of editors.

I’m amazed that so many people who want to be editors of poetry magazines are lacking in the basic skills required for the task. Some of them can’t spell. Some of them have no appreciation of good typography. Some of them can’t write decent prose, or have only a sketchy grasp of English grammar. But most damaging of all, some of them have absolutely no literary sensibility in the traditional understanding of that phrase. They are not part of the world of humane letters, in the sense of being steeped in texts, and totally at home in language as a codified and ritualized product of long cultural development.

Instead, many of them think that editing a poetry magazine should be “fun,” like a picnic or a barbecue or a tailgate party. These editors are happy and smiling. They burble with optimistic enthusiasm. They are “encouraging” and “positive,” as if literature were a kind of therapy for mental defectives. Their countenances are plastered with good will and tolerance.

Such editors lack the severity, the asceticism, and the Apollonian coldness that are essential to the pursuit of high art. Poetry is an ancient craft, with a heritage that goes back for millennia. And even when poetry is being silly and rambunctious and Dionysian, it is still a holy endeavor not to be treated lightly. Editors who think that writing poetry is just another “lifestyle choice,” like aerobic exercise or wife-swapping, don’t have a clue as to the importance of literature. And because of their innocence, they can’t normally distinguish a really good poem from a piece of fluff. They are “inclusive,” in that horrible way that only silly moderns can be, making their magazines a farrago of good, bad, and indifferent material. Hey, we’re inclusive! We must be good guys!

A general idea of what underlies this magazine’s aesthetics can be found in the Statement of Principles that appears at the end of this issue. In art all rules are rules of thumb, so there isn’t anything in that Statement that need be taken as carved in granite. When it is necessary to be flexible, I will be so. But under no circumstances will TRINACRIA be the sort of amorphous, open-ended, ungrounded potpourri of confused elements that many editors believe is essential in our time. The world of contemporary poetry is indeed a bewildering multiverse, but the little cosmion of TRINACRIA is going to be its own well-defined universe.

TRINACRIA will include only poems that, in my view, are precisely crafted verbal artifacts. I don’t apologize for my tastes, nor do I expect them to be shared by everyone. My sole concern is to provide an outlet for those poems that I find pleasing, and to put them into the relative permanence of print. For this reason, publication in the magazine is by invitation only.

One final note: the poetry published in TRINACRIA is chosen according to my criteria of aesthetic excellence, and nothing else. No poet is discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin, or political viewpoint. I make no judgment whatsoever as to a poem’s content, which in any case is merely one more factor in its rhetorical structure. These editorial decisions are made by myself, and are not subject to discussion. If there is anything in TRINACRIA that you dislike, do not write to me about it. Simply read a different magazine.

Joseph S. Salemi

Woodside, New York