LATELY — 15 April 2003

I Feel So Virtuous

If there’s a halo above my head it’s because I’ve just been through seven or so garbage bags of party garbage and extracting the recyclables. (I was wearing gloves but—have you ever unexpectedly found your fingers covered in green dip?) I feel so virtuous.

A memo from Harold Ross (founding editor of The New Yorker) to Katharine S. White, defending his decision that payment for poems should take into account not just a poem’s length, but also its width:

September 9, 1947

Mrs. White:

The new poetry payment scheme is in to stay, or the principle of it is. It’s the only way I, for one, can operate, with any idea of what I’m doing. We pay for everything else by space—or at any rate we measure everything, and space is one factor—and we should unquestionably pay for poetry that way, too.

I think it is a mistake to explain the rates to poets, unless some one of them asks for an explanation, which is unlikely. All through this payment thing one factor sticks out to me: Prose writer, artists, poets, are appalled at the thought of space entering into the appraisal of their, and other people’s work, but space is certainly a factor in the value of a contribution to the New Yorker Publishing Company, Inc. If we measure poems by their length (which we have always done, and which practically everyone else does), it seems to me absurd not to take into consideration also the width.

H.W. Ross