Globe Throws Poetry a Bone

I was surprised (and pleased) to see poetry given space in the Globe and Mail’s Tuesday Essay column (I guess there’s more space on Tuesdays than Saturdays). It took the form of this essay from poet and blogger Shane Neilson about the tendency of editors to include their own work in anthologies. The examples he used were poetic anthologies, but is likely similar across projects.

I know many of the people quoted or referenced in the essay, so I’ll try to stay on the periphery of this one. I’ll just say these two things, because they’re more fact than opinion, and relatively separate from any personal biases.

1. The editorial insert in the A-frame anthology was an afterword. Afterwords are generally written by editors.

2. In an essay on the self-pleasuring nature of editors who include themselves in their own anthologies, Neilson gives his argument a big negating kick when he includes himself on the list of selfless editors who did not give in to this impulse. It’s a bit like grabbing a bullhorn to tell the neighbours to keep their voices down.

To Neilson, everyone’s character flaws are obvious and glaring, except his own. This is why they never let us write the essays. Yawn.

Explore posts in the same categories: Canadian Literature, Newspapers, Poems in the Wider World, Toronto Poetry Cult

7 Comments on “Globe Throws Poetry a Bone”

  1. Shane Neilson Says:

    Hi Mr. Mooney,

    Let’s trot out another ethically dubious “fact.” You and Mr. Vermeersch are roommates. (No self-pleasuring jokes, I promise.) You’re not on the periphery at all! I expected Vox Pop to come to Mr. Vermeersch’s defense… peripherally, of course. And,”fact,” it did. Now if only Bloggamooga will demand a investigation into the Globe’s editorial policies as it did a recount of one of the Alberta literary awards Stuart Ross was up for…


  2. voxpopulism Says:

    Nailed me. Headshot.

    I didn’t want to comment on this thing, being as it involved friends and the predictable counterargument (see above) was pre-scheduled for delivery.

    I’m pretty sure, Doc, that if you hadn’t volunteered yourself as the chief example of not volunteering yourself, I wouldn’t be typing this predictable rebuttal, to your predictable comment, to my predictable blog post, to your predictable essay.

  3. Nathan Says:

    I only sorta know the people involved, and I haven’t read the anthologies in question – am I peripheral enough?

    Jake is right, Shane – roommate or no roommate: the A Frame was not, strictly speaking, a poetry anthology. It’s a tribute to Purdy, and therefore having the editor add his own thoughts seems well within the bounds. As far as I know, the Harper anthol, too, was more an example of editor/poets getting the ball rolling than saying “here’s some great work – oh how did my thing get in there?”

    And using yourself as an example of a non-vain editor undercuts the whole point of the piece.

    I’ll go further: the other example of a “good” anthology is one you contributed to, and put out by your own publisher.

    These aren’t fatal points, but they do start the bleeding.

    I agree completely that editors should (mostly) restrain themselves from including their own work in anthologies – the way professors should restrain from including their own books on the syllabus – and I know for a fact there are plenty of strong examples of prose and poetry anthols where this didn’t happen, but your essay as it stands amounts to “editors should be self-effacing, like me!”

  4. Shane Neilson Says:


    As one interested in hemostasis, I’ll try to stop the bleeding. Mr. Vermeersch’s book is indeed not an anthology of poetry; but it is an anthology, about one of Canada’s major poets, and call it what you want, Mr. Vermeersch’s essay is similar to the rest of the essays in the book. To me, it’s not any different. If it were distinctive, offering anything other than Mr. Vermeersch’s personal perspective, more of an overview or excavating something new to the Purdy canon about the A-Frame, then I wouldn’t have singled him out.
    Indeed I wrote an introduction to my completed anthology which did not investigate one of my own poems but which considered what it takes to conceive a poem. If you read that anthology, you’ll see that the tack taken is entirely different from that of all the contributors.

    Excusing the Proroguists as you do baffles me. What is your argument, exactly? “Let’s pick randomly, not look for the good stuff, and put our own work in just to get the ‘ball rolling'” I’m just not sure what you mean.

    As for mentioning anthologies in which I appear, I assure you the decision was strategic. It was all in terms of the anti-Harper anthology: I picked two anthologies where I was a constituent, and therefore placed to comment. This of course can be misinterpreted.

    Finally, I felt it important in a piece about ethics to comment on my own. I find it richly comic that the ethical stance I’ve taken in my own projects is being used against me in the response to this piece. I felt I needed to establish credibility in the Globe piece; mentioning my two editorial projects as I did gives the reader perspective, and ensures that I’m not a hypocrite.


  5. Nathan Says:

    Neither of the anthologies you cite as being problematic aspire to some authoritative gathering of the “best work out there.” They are both the literary equivalent of barn-raising or “hey, let’s put on a play!” As such, editors including themselves is not really a big deal.

    (Just off the top of my head I can think of two much better-known poet/editors who put together much better-known anthologies that DID aspire to some kind of authoritative status and yet included their own work: Atwood and Geddes.)

    And if you can’t see what’s funny about citing yourself as an example of a self-effacing editor, well then, I guess it’s true that humour is a very subjective thing.

  6. Heather Cadsby Says:

    Here’s how I see it.
    (1) SN believes editors should not include themselves in anthologies.
    (2) SN states that he didn’t include himself.

    Within (1) I can accept this position or I can argue against it.
    Within (2) my emotional response directs the focus. I can say, Good for him for placing himself within his ethical perspective. Or I can say, What a goody-boy showing off his deed.
    The response becomes fixed on point (2) whereas it is point (1) that I need to consider.

  7. voxpopulism Says:

    Hey Heather.

    A worthwhile breakdown, but I’d like to amend number 1 a bit, to reflect the situation of, at least, the A-frame book.

    An afterword is not an example of an editor “including themselves” in an anthology. An afterword is an editorial tool used for summarizing and reflecting on the anthology, and is an ancient and accepted editorial tradition. Shane’s point is invalid for this reason. Seems clear enough to me, friendships or no friendships. Though I’ll admit, when my urge to publicly defend friends works in conjunction with my urge to identify amateurish hose jobs, that’s the stuff of magic, right there :)

    Nice to see you reading this thing, btw.

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