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About Editing Poetry – Mine and Yours
November 18, 2016
Years ago, I first started publicly reading my poetry in 1994, and in just over a year, I started publishing other people’s poetry, I had a hard rule. I almost never gave advice about how to improve a poem, and NEVER gave it unless, not only was I asked, but the person insisted, even if I told them I might tear it apart for them. Even though I had already been writing poetry for nearly thirty years, I was not formally trained and did not feel like I was enough of an authority to offer advice and I also knew 99% anyone gave me advice about one of my poems, they just made me mad.
For some reason, each of the last three issues, we have had a poem that we almost wanted to publish, but it was flawed in such a way, we just couldn’t. In the day, I would have rejected and moved on, but now, maybe it’s the grandfather poet in me, I don’t know, but when a near miss comes in, I am inclined to respond with a suggestion or two.
So far, of the three, all have taken the suggestion, and we were happy to publish the edited work. One thing I have noticed as a common drawback is the poem that feels it needs to explain itself in the closing line or couplet. Often this is a restated title. The funny thing is, I have done that a great many times in my own writing. One of these days I might go back and purge this from my own work….
But I am such a weak judge of my poetry, I hardly know where to start. This brings me to my closing bit for this blog. When I first designed Better than Starbucks back in May, I envisioned “From the mind of” as being a bit of a hodge-podge, as I am. In the mix I thought I might publish a poem or two of my own. I haven’t. But now I think I will. Maybe I will publish my entire new unpublished volume in serial form here. And as an added benefit, I invite you, the reader, to edit my poems, as respond with your version.
First, the note the poet who submitted the “almost” poem this month. I hope I have disguised it enough you cannot tell which poem it was, then two from my Black Snakes and Happy.
Feel free to tear them all apart.
The page editor sent a note back saying “Close, but not quite, especially close on the last one, except the ending did not deliver.”
Sometimes, and especially in the past, I would have forwarded you our standard rejection:
We appreciate your recent submissions.
Unfortunately, we do not feel they would work for our publication.
We wish you the best of luck.
But, for a few reasons, not the least because you said you have not been published and I have a soft spot for helping a new poet get published, I will take the chance and offer some advice. I am not going to rewrite your poem. What I am going to do is ask you if you are interested in trying again.
Think about the little actions of no action. Think about losing the word which is usually thought of in the context of mental health therapy long past the moment of the event remembered.
Did the he quietly go to his room? Stand up and hug her? Open another beer and turn back to his TV show? You will have to return to the moment to finish it, but even if he did not overreact, we need an action, even if the action is almost the act of no action. If you would like to give me two or three lines as strong as your middle section, I think we can publish it. If you want to stand by your work, as is. I can respect that, but I can’t publish it.
And now mine (would love to know what you think of an editor giving you unsolicited advice):
Mama’s green dress
and hair in a tight bun
holding me on the old wooden porch of the tiny parsonage, while daddy and my big brother bring Happy and her twelve puppies around the corner of the house, looking for all the world like an unspotted version of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and me, a two-year old sitting on the porch amazed, transfixed and a little horrified, only now realizing
this is my first
memory of life.
Daddy and my big brother
rush into the house where
I am eating my biscuit with syrup and butter
“Come see, come see, Daddy killed a black snake!” my brother yelled. Biscuit in one sticky hand and mama holding the other I tumble out on the front porch to see a long black snake at the base of the steps neatly chopped into twelve bloody pieces. I peer over the edge down
the three feet to the dirt
and finish my biscuit.
Thanks to Vera, I now realize there isnt a simple way for you to respond. I thought this blog had a "Reply" button... So i suppose the best way is to email us at our regular email address, and we will posts the responses here as they come in!
or better yet, pop out to the main page of the blogs and stick you comment there. not sure how its going to work, but try it!
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!