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NEW YORK — In the late summer of 2001, while she was working as David Remnick’s assistant at The New Yorker, Dana Goodyear overheard her boss say there weren’t enough young female poets writing for the magazine. Goodyear was at the time in her mid-20s, a woman and a writer of poetry since high school. She hadn’t yet shared any of her work with her colleagues, save a few younger editors with whom she had a regular writers’ workshop.
“I felt that if I ignored that sign from God, I’d be self-defeating,” Goodyear recalls. “It emboldened me.” So she submitted 10 poems to Alice Quinn, the magazine’s poetry editor. The wait for a response was excruciating. “Being so exposed, it felt like a year.” But just a few weeks later, Goodyear arrived home to a message from Remnick: “I’ve got some poems from a very gifted writer,” said the voice on her answering machine. “I’m going to take two of them.” Her first poem was published in the magazine shortly after 9/11.
Given poetry’s relatively narrow audience, it helps to have The New Yorker’s seal of approval. “It’s not a genre that likes prodigies. It’s not like fiction that way,” Goodyear says. “It’s fine to be 60 and finishing your first [poetry] book.”
But the 28-year-old Goodyear didn’t want to wait until then. And after being rejected by nearly 10 publishers, “Honey and Junk,” her first book of poetry, will be published by Norton this month. Many of the poems in the book are about how the world can be disrupted by a sudden loss, how everything suddenly seems portentous.
“For a period while I was working on some of the poems in the book, I was much more aware of the precariousness of our relationships and the fragility of being human,” Goodyear says. Still, “Honey and Junk” is rife with black humor. “It’s about their tone,” she adds. “Trying to rescue terrible situations with a sense of humor.”
In January, Goodyear moved to Los Angeles, where she continues to contribute poetry and long-form nonfiction to the magazine as well as edit such writers as Hilton Als, Caitlin Flanagan and Francine du Plessix Gray. Adjusting her work to a sunny place where she’s “essentially very happy” has been easier than she expected. The poems she’s been writing have been less personal and somewhat more satirical.
This story first appeared in the April 19, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I don’t imagine becoming a poet of California,” Goodyear says, “but there’s so much new imagery in the physical landscape. I just have to make sure I don’t get so domestic that I start writing about what I cooked for dinner.”