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Marion Kingston Stocking

Marion Stocking, who died this May just shy of her eighty-seventh birthday and her hundredth review for the BPJ, offered us a home in poetry, as she did for hundreds of others—students, contributors to the journal, and devoted followers of her reviews among them.

For us, that home consisted of a welcome—in 1976 and 1987—as full participants into the workings of a journal whose rituals had already been well and amicably established when Marion joined the staff in 1954. One of those rituals was a weekend-long quarterly editorial session during which everything flowed in abundance—most particularly, poems to read, comment on, and finally choose in a marathon session in which we recited all poems still in contention. We took meals at Marion’s table, which filled with two or three different soups, breads with crust and texture, cheeses, Marion’s dilly beans or cucumbers sliced thin and marinated in rosewater, and homemade pies. The table talk—about poetry, politics, birds, opera, teaching, blueberries, cattle-breeding in Australia—also had crust and texture. Like all good conversation it began in one place and ended up, surprisingly, in another. For these occasions, Marion was the welcoming host—discerning, attentive, and appreciative of every passion her guests offered up. Her capacity for delight seemed inexhaustible. She licked the whipped cream from the bowl.

For thirty years, Marion and her husband, David, did most of the day-to-day work of the journal; after Dave’s death in 1984, Marion assumed full responsibility. She kept track of subscriptions and finances, ferreted out cover images, negotiated with the typesetter and printer, read every transcript that came in over the transom, and corresponded with poets. All the while, Marion kept up with dozens of other journals and the books that poured into her house for possible review. Between 1968 and 2009 she wrote ninety-eight reviews for Books in Brief, including almost every review the journal published from 1978 onward. When the two of us took over the bulk of the editorial tasks in 2003, just after Marion’s eightieth birthday, we learned by doing just how heavy a responsibility she had been carrying. Or call it rather Marion’s—now our—devotion, a life in poetry that cycles poetry back into the world.

That devotion had its methods and guiding principles: Read manuscripts as soon as they come in, out of respect for the poets and to keep the piles from becoming mountains. When reading, stay open to surprise. Be demanding and meticulous—keep the reference books beside you, and catch the poet who mistakes the wood thrush for the hermit thrush (she’ll thank you). Proofread until your eyes cross, then proof again. Above all, be generous—with your time, your attention, your decision-making power. Marion edited the journal, but her home in poetry was a democracy. How many times, when the decision about publishing a poem went against her wishes, we heard her say—“Oh well, trust the process.”

In the weeks since Marion’s death, we have found our grief giving way to the joy of realizing how fully her spirit lives inside us—her cry of delight that rose and fell like a warbler (we won’t name which one lest she rise from the dead to correct us) when we telephoned or walked unannounced through the unlocked door of her house looking out on Frenchmans Bay and across to Bar Harbor, her refusal to sentimentalize her own or anyone’s dying, and her admonition to get on with the business of living. We have much of that to do, including preparing the Marion Kingston Stocking Library, which will house her 30,000-volume collection of poetry published over the past sixty years.

The notes and letters received since Marion’s death have shown us how capacious her home in poetry was. Many wrote to remind us that the BPJ had published their first or very early work or to tell us how important their communication with Marion was to their growth as writers, teachers, and scholars. We have posted on our web site a selection from these appreciations of Marion so our readers can trace the authors’ unfiltered voices. In addition, our full-text archive makes accessible all of Marion’s reviews.

Because Marion graciously passed the editorship of the journal to us six years ago, the day-to-day operation of the BPJ continues uninterrupted, and nothing will visibly change in the journal itself except for Books in Brief, which will remain a place for discussion of poets and poetry. The process of defining its features will be gradual, and we welcome feedback on what you would like to see there. With this issue, we enter our sixtieth year of continuous publication; sustaining the journal as a home in poetry is the best tribute to Marion we can think of.


© 2009 Beloit Poetry Journal       Design by Jim Parmenter