• John Mella

One of my favorite publishers died a few weeks ago. And the magazine he created in 1992 and managed to keep going ever since is now close to folding. Would that be for the best?

I speak of John Mella, founder and editor of Light: A Quarterly of Light Verse. Mella’s quarterly gave light verse a place to stay after it had been run out of all the joints where it once held court—tony establishments like the New Yorker and ma-and-pa hangouts like the Saturday Evening Post. Mella knew why it happened. “I blame a whole generation or two of academics and the grist they produced—the cheerless, obscure, and finally forgettable muck that serves no other purpose except to oil the engines of their pointless professions,” he once told me.

Supported by Mella’s pension from his three decades with the Chicago Post Office, Light enjoyed a national circulation in the high three figures and the devotion of its contributors and subscribers. Its website asserted that it “discards what is obscure and dreary, and restores lightness, understandability, and pleasure to the reading of poems”—a worthy mission if ever there was one. But although light verse survived in Light, it didn’t regenerate itself there. The populist insurrection that pried the fingers of the academics off the throat of poetry emerged from a much rougher neighborhood. “Poetry slams simulate Light Verse in their utter rejection of academic obscurantism,” Mella allowed eight years ago in an e-mail. “The difference comes in the way each worships the Goddess Claritas. Light Verse does it through polished lenses, and through a kind of delicate approach that would be destroyed by the smoke, cymbals, war dances, of slams.”