Issue 259 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I was so wrong about your magazine. I thought you welcomed new voices, gave unpublished writers a chance. But you do nothing of the sort when it comes to poetry. I open your magazine and see the same poets, time and time again: Sparrow, Antler, Alison Luterman. There are so many other voices waiting for a chance to speak. How dare you profess to be “receptive to new voices”?

Name Withheld

Does Sparrow have a contract out on your editor’s life? Does he know Sy Safransky’s deepest, darkest secret? What sinister hold does he have over The Sun?

When I saw his name on the cover of the May 1997 issue, I just couldn’t take it, much less read his “Why Didn’t You Vote for Me?” And I’m not the only one — I’ve spoken to other subscribers who share my feeling of “enough is enough.” Sparrow may be a lovely human being and a good friend, but, please, give us readers a break.

Lynn Park Alameda, California

As I am quite fond of whimsy and silliness, I enjoyed Michael Gorelick’s (a k a Sparrow) sprawling campaign diary — except for one crucial omission: Sparrow neglected to mention that Bob Dole is, at times, a very funny man. Unlike Sparrow’s, Dole’s sense of humor is deep, and his delivery is succinct. Bob Dole is funny not because he is a character, but because he has character — yes, not unlike Honest Abe. Character is something that cannot be learned mechanically or faked, like whimsy or slapstick.

That’s why I voted for Dole and not for Sparrow or for Clinton — especially not for Clinton, who has zero sense of humor (although breaking his ankle might qualify as slapstick). And I would vote for Dole again, even if he were ninety-three and had only enough breath left for a couple of his razor-sharp one liners. I hope it’s not too late: all Americans would benefit from a Dole presidency. Sparrow possibly would benefit the most, as I suspect Dole might have the required sense of irony to appoint him poet laureate. Even Sparrow would be a (slight) improvement over the last couple of pompous clowns who have occupied that absurd post.

Harvey Goldner Seattle, Washington

As a subscriber for many years, I have watched you give steadily increasing space to the insipid ramblings of Sparrow. Over the years I’ve found that his work is usually of questionable value, but nevertheless harmless.

But “Why Didn’t You Vote for Me?” — and, in particular, the poem “Sparrow’s Message to God” — offended and hurt me. His piece is tantamount to an act of pure hatred. I suspect that its anti-semitic equivalant would never have found its way into your magazine. The persecution and ridicule of Christians is certainly nothing new, but I expected better from The Sun. There is a sad irony here: Jews have long lamented and mourned their history of persecution and genocide, yet here is one Jew who apparently sees no problem with printing a “message to God” that defiles the beliefs many hold sacred. If I were a Palestinian, perhaps I, too, would pick up a rock.

Delora C. Ward Sneads Ferry, North Carolina

I found Sparrow’s “Why Didn’t You Vote for Me?” to be disrespectful beyond the bounds of good sense. He dehumanized Bob Dole with the sole intent of provoking a reaction from readers. But what really did it for me was his proposal that God might be a fish.

I could have peed my pants laughing. Sparrow, I want to marry you.

Zoe Lewis Wilton, Maine
Sparrow responds:
  1. It’s not my fault The Sun publishes me. It’s The Sun’s fault The Sun publishes me.
  2. I’m not that lovely a human being, actually.
  3. I once read a long list of allegedly humorous quips made by Bob Dole. None of them were funny.
  4. a) “Sparrow’s Message to God” never mentions Christianity. If a Jew can’t denounce God without annoying bystander Christians, 1997 is scarier than I thought.
    b) I completely support Palestinians throwing rocks at me.
  5. This is the response I am seeking from my readers: I want them all to pee in their pants, then propose marriage to me.

After reading “How I Lost My Mind, and Other Adventures” and “Man Standing under a Rocket Taking off for the Moon” [April 1997], we now know why Poe Ballantine is still in search of a publisher for his novel. He could use the services of an editor as well.

A quarter of the issue was devoted to the self-important drivel of this Jack Kerouac wannabe. Ballantine could learn a lesson from Dan Wakefield [“The Clear Path to Creativity,” April 1997] on the value of clarity, true spiritual creativity, and discipline. As Wakefield said (quoting Murray Kempton), “The devil never comes offering you something evil. The devil comes offering you a larger audience.” May The Sun offer Ballantine less of an audience in the future.

Anne, Carla, Emily, Janet, and Laurie Charlottesville, Virginia
Dan Wakefield responds:

Not only was it a pleasure to be interviewed by Patrick Miller for the April 1997 issue of The Sun; it was a joy to read that whole issue cover to cover. The thoughtfulness, humor, and grace of the writing, and the individual styles and voices of the authors were like fresh spring water compared to the canned, formulaic glop offered by most media, large and small. The writing was so personal and made such a deep impression that I dreamed the magazine’s staff and authors came to visit me, laid out sleeping bags, and spent the night, talking, singing, and reciting poems.

Now, if only there were a Sun Press to publish Poe Ballantine’s novel, Kim Stafford’s memoirs, Jennifer Bosveld’s poems, a book by Ellyn Bache titled Who Is This God, Anyway?, and collections of essays and poems by all the other contributors, there would be even greater hope for the future of civilization.

Jennifer Bosveld once published a chapbook of my poems, and I will always be grateful to her for it. Without her, my words could have been specks of dust carried away on a pickup bumper or blown into Wyoming to be snorted up by a snotty Holstein.

So I was delighted to find, in the same issue as my Readers Write essay on “Habits” [April 1997], her poem “Thus You Have Five Yellow Cards and Still Have Not Advanced: A Question of Scruples.” By strange coincidence, my son and I had just been discussing what is and isn’t moral. He’d said, “TV stars making half a million dollars an episode and then accepting offers to make commercials is immoral.” Our conversation had spread to the rest of my family, and we’d had a lively debate: the capitalists versus the idealists.

Later in the day, I was riding in the car toward Lincoln, Nebraska, and reading Poe Ballantine’s “How I Lost My Mind, and Other Adventures.” Many people think of Nebraska as someplace to fly over on your way elsewhere, so it was startling when Ballantine spoke of Scottsbluff, where I go at least once a week; Chadron, where I grew up; and Alliance, where my husband works. This was more than coincidence; The Sun weaves connections in our lives.

Mary Jackson Krauter Bridgeport, Nebraska

Congratulations to John McNally for his story “The Vomitorium” [March 1997]. Any author who can pull off something immensely funny and grotesquely sad at the same time deserves a pat on the back.

Leslie Lindborg Point Arena, California

Reading Sy Safransky’s “One Man, One Vote” [March 1997], I found such phrases as “the predatory forces of the free market” and “a guarantee of decent jobs” particularly irksome. If what Safransky says is true, why isn’t there massive emigration from the U.S.? Although far from perfect, this country does offer a remarkable opportunity for all to create meaningful existences for themselves. Those unwilling to put in the hard work required to fulfill their dreams must realize that idleness — not low social-spending levels — is the root cause of their unhappiness.

Douglas Towne Phoenix, Arizona

I’m glad Sy Safransky wrote about voting for Ralph Nader. I used to really love Clinton. I found, and still find, his ability to bounce back from adversity inspiring. His first three years in office, he did some good things and some bad things, tried to achieve some idealistic goals and made some shitty compromises. The moment of truth came with welfare reform. He was 20 percentage points ahead of Dole in the polls with only three or four months before the election. He had angels whispering in one ear that he could veto the bill, make the moral case to the people, and still withstand the Republican assault on the issue. Then he had the devil (Dick Morris) whispering in his other ear: “Sign this bill and the election’s a piece of cake. The most important thing is for you to get reelected. After all, if Dole is elected, it’ll be much worse for the welfare mothers and children. You can always fix things later. Take away the one weapon the Republicans have.”

When Clinton signed that bill, he may have cinched the election, but he lost my vote. I was happy to see that someone else felt the same way.

Marc Polonsky Berkeley, California

Thanks so much for Sy Safransky’s insightful, depressing, uplifting “One Man, One Vote.” I, too, voted for Ralph Nader, for many of the same reasons. Would that more voters understood about the precarious state of “democracy” in the U.S., or, better yet, that Bill Clinton would read your piece and actually digest it. I think I’ll send a copy to the White House, but I don’t expect to be invited to dinner.

Alice S. Hardesty Ashland, Oregon

I am behind on my reading and just finished the February 1997 issue, in which letter-writer Ellen Rosner describes Sun readers as “liberal white people with long hair living in the country, eating grains, wearing Birkenstocks, and home-schooling their children.”

I am a middle-of-the-road white reader with short hair who lives in the big city of Chicago. I eat everything and wear Enzo Angiolini for casual occasions and Evan Picone for dress. The children in my care have attended both private and public educational institutions. When I wish to read about “dire and critical issues,” I refer to Time, U.S. News and World Report, and the newspaper.

I might add that I am a well-educated, late-middle-aged executive who enjoys the content of The Sun.

Mary Anne Mupo Chicago, Illinois
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