Alice Quinn in The New Yorker:
In California recently I introduced the poet Kay Ryan by admitting to the audience that I took an awfully long time to catch up to her work while I was poetry editor at The New Yorker. Kay had been sending in poems through the late eighties and early nineties, and I always responded respectfully, asking for another chance, politely declining the poems she’d sent. Eventually, she chided me, and I asked to see all the poems from her forthcoming book that had not been published. She sent them—a packet of ten or so, including poems I’d seen and sent back to her, and we accepted several, publishing three in one issue. Sometimes it takes the first big yes to unlock someone’s work. We read all the poems differently after we’ve fallen in love and been changed by that single poem.
Since Jack Gilbert died, on November 11th, friends have written to me of their passion for his work and of the big string of his poems that ran in The New Yorker in 2004 and 2005. I was late catching up to his work, too, in spite of my exposure to it. I was at Knopf when Gordon Lish published Jack’s second book of poetry, “Monolithos,” in 1982. At the time I didn’t peer into the book deeply enough to be captivated by the poems as I later decisively would be. Perhaps I was a little jealous— Gordon had obviously landed a big fish. It wasn’t until I made my way to The New Yorker and to the poetry desk that I took the measure of Jack’s immense singularity and had the opportunity to hold his work aloft myself.