January 6, 2011

A lot of inexperienced trainee poets send examples of their work to Snakeskin. We are always pleased to receive it, but they may be interested in this list of things likely to annoy an editor.

1. Sending fifty poems in a batch.
The editor will use two or three at most. If he starts wading through a huge batch and finds them not very interesting, he may never reach the good one you put at the end. On the other hand, he may choose the three best, and ignore the rest. Whereas, if you had sent half a dozen, he might have chosen two or three from that selection, and would have been open-minded about the six more that you sent the next month.

2.Pointless fancy formatting.
About once a week we receive batch of poems that are centre-justified. Why? This makes them hard to read, and really does not impress. One can’t help suspecting that the author is not very aware of how poems are usually printed…
Fancy formatting can have a positive role, and if it somehow relates to the poet’s subject or style (I’m thinking of George Herbert’s The Altar) then that’s fine:

The Altar
A broken ALTAR, Lord thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workmans tool hath touch’d the same
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy Name:
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctifie this ALTAR to be thine.

Not many of the centre formatters who send us poems are anything like as good as George Herbert, though.

3.Rhymes that don’t.
Some poetry magazines are allergic to rhyme, poor things. Snakeskin is not. We love rhyme, and cherish it as one of the finest tools of our craft. Or at least, we love good rhyme that adds something to the poem.

There’s nothing quite as limp as the poem that starts off with rhymes and then fades away into free verse (probably because rhyming has become difficult). If you begin with a form, and can’t maintain it, the poem is surely not yet ready for an editor’s eyes.

4. Words that are only there to fit the rhyme (and sentences skewed around in an unnatural way to accommodate the rhyme-word). Every word in the poem should be there for a purpose, and every sentence should be constructed to communicate meaning – not just to get the poet out of a rhyming difficulty.

5.“Poetic” words
Nothing sinks the editorial heart more swiftly than the sudden appearance of an archaic word in the middle of a colloquial sentence, when it seems to be there just to sound “poetic” – in other words, to strain after an effect. “Azure” is an example that comes to my inbox with depressing frequency. Has it actually earned its place in any good poem of the last hundred years?

There are plenty of other annoying habits that poets contract. I’ll post some more soon.

12 Responses to “Don’t”

  1. Ms Says:

    Do post more please. This, so far is the most helpful, plain speaking directive I’ve read in awhile.

  2. Hi George, may I chime in with one of my peeves as a guest editor? I find it irksome when people submit poems without every using their names in the message — especially when the email address is something anonymous like I don’t like to have to reply to a submission with “Dear Whoever-You-Are…”.

  3. Good point, Jessy. It’s also teime-wasting when poets submit work under one name – and when it’s been put online explain that their pen-name is something quite different…

  4. Dominic Cheetham Says:

    Who would ever think ‘azure’
    Could be word you could abhor?
    After all, it rhymes with ‘poor’
    And ‘bore’ (perhaps), ‘obdure’, and
    Yeah, and,
    ‘Don’t forget to close the door,
    Behind you’.

    • ‘Azure’ is contentious
      Because it’s pretentious.
      The word denotes no exact shade
      But is used in the hope that a line will be made
      To sound more ‘poetic’.
      I find that emetic.

      • Dominic Cheetham Says:

        I stand corrected,
        And have reflected,
        Deeply on the said ‘a’ word.
        And will refrain
        From using same,
        Hereafter and forevermore.

        Thank you!

  5. William-Stephen Taylor Says:

    What about adult poems with colorful, bawdy langauge. I have one that came in the top 276 entries of a Wergle poetry competition and there were 23,000 entries. Are you interested?

  6. William-Stephen Taylor Says:

    Ooops! The entry was in 2010.

  7. The solid good sense of this is refreshing 🙂
    I’ll make no promises about not azuring things, however. 😛

  8. Monty Says:

    Regardless of its merits, or otherwise, for being used in a poem . . the word ‘azure’ seems to’ve been depicted above as some sort of general adjective; but, effectively, it’s adjectival only in the sense that it describes a certain hue of the colour ‘blue’. Just as there’s a ‘royal blue’ and a ‘midnight blue’, so there is an ‘azure blue’: and the word ‘azure’ can only be used in that sense (for example, the southern coast of France – where I live – is referred to as the ‘Côte d’Azur’; because the sea, in the summer months, takes on the appearance of azure blue). It has no other function.

    Thus, by default, the word ‘azure’ can and should never be used in a poem (or in any form of writing) unless the author is attempting to convey that explicit shade of blue.

    Rant over.

  9. Joe Crocker Says:

    “Has [azure] actually earned its place in any good poem of the last hundred years?”

    The latest edition of Snakeskin (279), would suggest that it has. Diane Elayne Dees uses it in her poem, Missing. It’s about bluebirds and I guess “azure” may refer to a particular bluebird shade or sub-species (Sialia sialis fulva). But anyway it’s a good poem and also good to know that rules (even self-imposed rules) are there to be broken.

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