Don’t

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.

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3 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 StarTrekRules99@hotmail.com. 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…


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