I’m a firm believer that when I submit poems to journals, that I am entering a kind of conversation with the editors. I’m not just sending my work and hoping for a publication–I’m really looking for my work to resonate with another human being. If it results in a publication, that’s wonderful, and I’m pleased.
But more important, I think, is that moment of connection–or disconnection–when the editor decides Yes, this is good poem, or Eep! No chance in hell. What is that moment like? What is it about one poem that speaks to an editor, where another completely fails?
And what would it be like if an editor, recognizing this conversational moment, responded to the poet with some thoughts about the work the poet sent, either with publication acceptance contingent on suggested revision or just some candid and constructive (but generally kind) thoughts about the work?
Of course, most editors are too burdened down with work to bother to send more than a form rejection or acceptance. But today, we read a poem that the first half was brilliant and absurd and very intriguing–spoke to us on a level that none of the other work submitted in the batch did. But it was ruined by the second half that contributed nothing to the inner (absurd) logic, and moreover was offensive and clearly lacking that which made the first half so impressive. In other words, the second half completely obliterated the first half, and we were terribly disappointed.
So we wrote the poet a note and (in kinder terms than what I have expressed here) asked what he thought about ditching the second half. I know, it was a terribly presumptive thing to do–and we did mention that our journal’s aesthetics were by no means the “right” aesthetics, blah blah.
Needless to say the comments went over like the proverbial lead balloon. I wonder why I’m even surprised. Poets can be sooo touchy and territorial about their words.
But I think about the few times editors have asked to make changes on my work and offered a rationale for the changes. In all but one case, the editor’s change improved the poem. Now, to be fair, no editor has ever asked me to cut a poem in half, and again, I admit that was a pretty ballsy change to suggest, but it seems to me, if the submission of a poem is a conversation initiated, wouldn’t it be more useful to really talk about aesthetics and what we think makes a good poem?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just naive. Maybe it’s simply not done to share your thoughts about a piece of writing, like editorial trespass, though I’d still argue they invited it by submitting work in the first place. Maybe it’s better to send form letters either way.
All I know is I got into editing because I like to read poems and I like to see what people do with language and I want to share the poems I like with others. However, from now on I think I’ll just confine my conversations and insights to myself. At least I’ll spare myself the wrath of an indignant poet .