- …;…!!!!!…;—-;, ETC.
- Greeting Card Verse
- There’s More To Trim Than The Trees
- Bad Poems & Great Last Lines
- Ontogeny Recapitulates Philogeny
- Beautiful Words That Say Nothing
- Titles…Why They Make A Difference
- Are You In Adjectival Overdrive?
- What’s Wrong With English?
- Religious Zealots
We hope that when you are in a bind about what to do and pull out your ellipsis or dash that you know what it is used for other than getting out of an uncomfortable grammatical jam… get the drift — hope so; whatever!!!
Periodically, we receive poetry from poets and we want to tell them that their verse would sell a million, if written inside a beautiful card. However, greeting card verse has somehow been relegated to just above doggeral.
While we do not use it in The Comstock Review, there isn’t one of us who hasn’t spent countless hours searching the card racks for exactly what is in front of us as a submission. How can we say, “We love this just for what it is” and not be held in contempt for destroying a poet’s vision? How can we say, “If we had the skill to write like this, there would be no blank cards safe from our verse?”
When anything takes on a pejorative connotation such as “greeting card verse.” it makes it difficult to communicate our appreciation for the form without denigrating the poet. There’s $ to be made in the field, and if you think you can do it, check into it.
One of the most common complaints we have regarding the poetry submissions which come our way is the excess baggage they carry along, all those little adjectives and adverbs which do wonders in describing things in prose but which do nothing to help the development of a poem.
We find ourselves constantly telling poets that they need to trim their poems; sometimes, especially if we sense this is a beginning poet, we will show him/her what we mean by “trimming” one of the verses of a submitted poem, usually one of theirs which has possibilities. We can imagine their dismay at not seeing some of he phrases which they spent hours thinking up, wondering how some heartless creature could discard their beautifully worded phrases and lay the bones of the poem so indecently bare. Or they may find whole stanzas eliminated because they indulged in a little discourse or philosophizing somewhere in the middle, telling the reader instead of continuing to show him/her. Many an otherwise good poem has been returned for this reason. Luckily, our poets generally listen to our suggestions for improving a piece and often the poem returns, far superior in its new casting.
It is important to remember one distinction between prose and poetry. Prose is expanded language while poetry is compressed language. Adjectives and adverbs must give way to metaphor and simile. It is the idea which must be stunning, not just the words in which it is clothed.
Sometimes we are all in danger of forgetting that words do not the poem make. Before a poem is anywhere near complete, the poet should read through it and remove all qualifiers to see which ones are not germane.
Chances are, most of those adjectives will stay out once s/he sees the uncluttered poem and revision may take the poem in a slightly different and more unique direction than the poet had originally planned.
Take a cruise through your collection… without a doubt you will find one or more poems whose only life depends upon a great last line… a hook, or dynamite conclusion, a twist. But can one line save the entire poem? Not usually! Get that poem out and throw everything except that brilliant last line in the revolving file and write a poem worthy of the line saved. If you wrote that line, there’s more greatness in you… dig down and find it today.
In ninth grade General Science, the only thing I learned was this phrase. Isn’t it magnificent? Why did it stick in my memory… not the theory, not the concept… just those three wonderful words? Easy. At age thirteen, it was very neat to be able to run three big words together and watch the reaction of others. As poets, we have the capacity to do that in our work. Sadly, many poets do just that.
We do not, by any means, imply that we are seeking monosyllabic grunts.
We want words that work. However, as editors, we refuse to read poems that require myriad forays into Webster’s. If we cannot grasp it, it isn’t going in CR. Call us picky but don’t call us Thesaurus.
We read an absolutely lovely collection of words recently. And we read it again and again. We loved it but what did it say? In truth, nothing at all. We couldn’t justify printing it though there would be those to argue the point. What do you say to the poet? What do you say to yourself who feels betrayed by a glib poet with a magnificent gift for sound and no gift for sense? You say, if I could have done that in college, I’d be a Ph.D. in B.S. today. Develop your sense and your sound will make you great.
Titles are one of the toughest parts of writing a poem, mainly because they are much more important than many people credit. A weak title weakens the entire piece. A title grabbed from an interior line doesn’t add to a poem. No title gives you one less opportunity to communicate (and looks awful on the printed page). A pretentious or silly title demeans the piece. Soooo, when you think your poem is finished start to look very carefully at its title. An oversight here may mean the poem won’t be accepted… a coup here may mean a less than terrific poem has just been elevated and will be accepted for publication.
We read a few poems submitted recently and saw a very promising poet drowning in adjectives and metaphors. There are times when poets jam their work with so much wonderful imagery that the reader just wallows. Some poems should be broken out into several pieces.
Look at your work. Do you have too many metaphors in a poem? Are they climbing over each other in an attempt to be seen (heard). Do you have more adjectives than nouns? Is your language so rich, your reader gains weight?
Simple is good sometimes.
We think it is a perfectly acceptable language. Why, then, do so many so-called poets feel they can abuse the language? STOP… don’t cry “creative” writing. We are 100% in favor of using language to its utmost. What we reject is the absurd notion that a “poet” is anyone who puts words down in the shape of a poem without regard for the principles of English.
We do not publish people who, for whatever reason, elect to use no punctuation until, say, the end of the poem and throw in a period. We publish fine poetry only when the lack of punctuation is consistent. Two stanzas of no commas, periods or any other sign of punctuation followed by a punctuated stanza is just silly. We, ain’t? interested! no how,
No one would argue that the spiritual dimension is an important aspect of our lives; most people have been raised in a traditional faith and have either retained their early belief systems, somewhat modified and developed as they themselves have developed, or have embraced a faith more congruent with their adult values. There are also many adults who, while not denying their spiritual needs, satisfy them in nontraditional ways, not subscribing to any particular code of belief or set of rituals. Poetry is often a celebration of the spiritual; who has ever equaled the Psalms?
Unfortunately, belief in the infinite does not guarantee a good poem. The same care for craftsmanship, originality, fine imagery and superb language usage is as necessary in religious poetry as in any other subject matter. Everyone can write God love letters, but no magazine is required to publish them. Be assured, we, at The Comstock Review want to see fine poetry dealing with the spiritual dimension of our lives, but poems dealing with “what a nice day God made…” just will not make it in top literary journals.
We do get many poems with a religious theme but rarely an excellent poem on a universal theological theme. The ones we see are often paeans to God, Christ or love as a beatific wonder. They remind us of the litanies from the Baltimore catechisms. They are heartfelt, sincere and lovely for the genre. However, they fail to meet the standards set for poetry in secular journals. It is very tricky to write on a religious theme without that preachy, sermonette quality that detracts from the purpose. We are never adverse to poetry with spiritual themes. We just have difficulty with proselytizing and poor imagery.