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Co-host of the Episode Party podcast, author of Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-rock, editor at ATTN:Magazine.
If this conversation with Don Share has a theme, it’s the premise of excess. The editor of Poetry Magazine received a harsh lesson on the subject as a teenager, when he mailed one of his poems to the great Allen Ginsberg. After an anxious wait, Share finally received a response: his poem returned to him along with a note that read, “I crossed out some excess verbiage.” Every single word had been struck through.
It's apt that Share now spends his time as an editor – a job that could otherwise be described as the artful culling of excess (he mentions that he receives around 150,000 poems every year, a vast majority of which never make it into the magazine’s pages). Throughout this interview – deftly steered by Danez Smith and Franny Choi, hosts of The VS Podcast and fantastic poets in their own right – Share digs into the ethical responsibilities of playing gatekeeper to such an important publication, and how saying “yes” or “no” to a particular poem can come with profound, occasionally controversial ramifications.
It’s a difficult subject to pick apart, although with Share spending most of his days poring over the intricacies of language, it’s no surprise to hear the quandary articulated with confidence. At one point they turn their attention to a poem that was published in the November 2018 issue of the magazine, which attracted criticism for containing imagery with Neo-Nazi connotations. “A poem is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world,” explains Share, elaborating that we can’t know the intentions behind a poetic gesture any more than we can predict how the audience will react to it, particularly when the meaning and interpretations of a poem evolve over time. Yet he also warns against stoking controversy and harm for its own sake. It’s a problem without a solution, although given how poetry has always granted precedence to captivating questions over unequivocal answers, there are perhaps few professions better qualified for throwing the issue into the open.