One thing that I respect about Poetry magazine is that they include digital archives of all of their back issues on their website. Recently, as I was looking through said archives, I began to notice a disturbing trend that became increasingly apparent the further back I perused: the vast majority of poets that the magazine has published are white. Upon discovering this trend, I had to ask myself the obvious question, “Is Poetry magazine racially biased?” It’s common knowledge that Poetry solicits around 95% of the poets they publish, so I knew random chance could not be a factor. I decided to look closely at the past 50 issues in order to accurately break down the magazine’s cultural scope. What I found was dismaying. The two charts I’ve included illustrate just how racially narrow Poetry magazine is.
I can’t say that this sample is necessarily representative of Poetry’s entire history, but their archives go back to 1912—I can’t imagine it gets more diverse the further back one looks. What is to be done with this troubling information? I find myself only laden with more questions. Is Poetry magazine racist? Is this racial bias prevalent throughout all of the big magazines? Throughout all of publishing? Does it extend beyond poets to other literary realms? Or is Poetry simply an anomaly?
The data I’ve compiled comes from the November 2008-April 2013 issues. I’ve done many hours of research and have utilized every resource at my fingertips to compile this data; however, I make no claims as to its infallibility. I urge whoever reads this to do their own research and come to their own conclusions about the hard data that is available.