Shortly after the great editor Robert Giroux arrived, in 1955, at the publisher then known as Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, some of the best American poets of the time—and, as it happens, of all time—followed him. John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Bogan, T.S. Eliot, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, and Allen Tate were all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux during the Giroux era, among many others, and it also published works by such poets as Pablo Neruda. According to former FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi, New Directions was arguably FSG’s only worthy poetry publishing rival at the time.
As the decades passed and new editors joined the press, FSG’s list grew to include authors as wide-ranging in form and style as Charles Bernstein, Joseph Brodsky, Eleanor Chai, Carol Ann Duffy, francine j. harris, Seamus Heaney, Ishion Hutchinson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marianne Moore, Carl Phillips, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, James Schuyler, Derek Walcott, C.K. Williams, Charles Wright, and Adam Zagajewski. Then there’s Frank Bidart, whose Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 won the National Book Award for poetry in 2017 and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2018, and Louise Glück, whose Faithful and Virtuous Night won the 2014 poetry NBA, and who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021. Both poets published new books with FSG last fall, and Galassi said the press will publish a new prose work by Glück, titled Marigold and Rose, this year.
The FSG Poetry Anthology—edited by Galassi, who is now FSG’s chairman and executive editor, and Yale University associate professor and FSG consulting editor for poetry Robyn Creswell—culls some of the best work from the publisher’s formidable poetry list. Published last November, in part to celebrate the press’s 75th anniversary, the anthology reads as a history in verse of the past century of American poetry, as well as a forecast of verse to come.
That, Galassi said, was by design. When discussing the anthology, he was quick to note the works by young poets, acquired by rising FSG editors Jackson Howard and Molly Walls, included in the anthology’s final section, dedicated to the 2020s. “Those are two of our young editors buying and reading great things,” he said. “It’s not just us acquiring, and it shouldn’t be. Young people should be reading young poets’ work.”
While other presses, such as Minneapolis’s Graywolf Press and Brooklyn’s Nightboat Books, have seen their profiles in the poetry world skyrocket over the past decade, FSG remains a force, even putting aside the works of Bidart and Glück. Recent books cited by Galassi include Carl Phillips’s Then the War: Selected Poems 2007–2020, as well as works by Roya Marsh, Iman Mersal, Ange Mlinko, Nelly Sachs, Chet’la Sebree, and Hannah Sullivan. Titles to come this year include books by Les Murray, Shane McCrae, Ange Mlinko, Henri Cole, Nelly Sachs (in a new translation), and Maggie Millner.
“Nearly all” of the poets published by FSG throughout its history have work within the pages of the new anthology. Creswell said he and Galassi compiled it by “divvying up the spoils.” He added: “There were lots of surprises,” including the poets themselves (“We hadn’t even read some of them,” he said with a laugh). Other surprises came from finding the influence of earlier poets in the FSG backlist on today’s poets. “I was actually surprised at how often I heard echoes of Berryman on later poets at FSG,” Creswell noted—“sometimes even poets that I wouldn’t have expected.”
Galassi noticed a broader trend, which he explained by way of anecdote: “A British editor I know was talking to me about the poetry list at their publisher, and they said, ‘Well, we have our commercial poetry, and we have our, you know, poetry poetry.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, well, we don’t have that.’ Poetry, for us, has always been a form of literary expression. The poets that we have published traditionally have been really preoccupied with matters of language—although all poetry is part of a tradition, as it’s all based on what’s come before—but that conscious tradition is still at the heart of what we’re doing. But I think that people are not afraid of poetry the way they used to be. They’ll read anything, if it captures them at all, which is a great thing.”
That is the hope for The FSG Poetry Anthology. And for Creswell, there’s another hope, as well: “I hope that the anthology suggests that the poetry is actually getting stronger, and that it’s getting more varied."
This story has been updated for clarity.