The New Yorker is notorious for it rigorous fact-checking. But I never realized the same standards were applied to poets:
To a literal-minded reader, “Lust for Life,” a poem Michael Robbins published last April in The New Yorker, would have raised a few questions. Are elephants ever cannibals? Has the poet ever operated a meth lab? Did that meth lab often explode? Is Mr. Robbins really often compared to Britney Spears? Has John Milton ever jumped out of his birthday cake? Does he really think everyone in Sweden is an idiot? For the magazine’s fact-checkers, perhaps the city’s foremost partisans of the literal, the issue was, Who invented refrigeration?
“The idiot Swedes do a number on me/ They invent refrigeration and sleep in shifts,” ran the offending lines.
“This magazine,” New Yorker poetry editor Peter DeVries wrote poet Richard Wilbur in 1948, “is notoriously fastidious about points of fact. And we feel the same way about poetry, rightly or wrongly.”
DeVries was asking Mr. Wilbur, who still publishes in the magazine, to change a line at the behest of a fact-checker. The poet refused, and so his poem, the first of his the magazine had warmed to, was refused.