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Perhaps Too Much Poetic License?

Tue., April 8, 1997

Poet Edward Field was pleased when his work was accepted by The New Yorker.

Then he got a call from the magazine’s fact-checker. Could he really say, in a poem about the British royal family, that Queen Elizabeth prevented her sister from “marrying a divorced man”? Or forced her into “a loveless marriage that ended, like a slap in the royal face, in divorce”?

Yes, Field said, rejecting the complaint as “irrelevant.” “The fact-checker told me to rewrite the poem, which was outrageous,” he said.

When he balked at making changes, the New Yorker spiked the poem.

Poetry Editor Alice Quinn denied the fact-checker had asked Field for changes, but said Field could not support his version of history.

Quinn says she believes in poetic license for abstract or fanciful poems, but this one was different.

“In a poem that’s grounded in a historical situation … and involves public figures,” she said, “the reader can assume the situation to be grounded in truth and not hugely distorted.”


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