Another thing that drives me nuts is this:  “Um, it’s poetry, and you can’t criticize it because it’s poetry.”  Never mind the circular logic there.  This comes from the attitude — which again, is often found in High School English classrooms — that poetry is about FEELINGS.  I have a list of do’s and don’ts that I attach to all submission guidelines that I issue.   I entitle it “The Fast Track To Rejection.”   And, to be honest, I stole the idea from Nick Mamatas, when he was editing fiction at Clarkesworld. Basically, the list over at Clarkesworld spells out a list of cliched tropes and ideas — things to avoid at all costs when submitting.   Basically, the last book I editted (Death in Common, which will be released soon) didn’t have this.  And after reading a terrible poem about “The Hyborean Age” — for a themed anthology about serial killing — I found myself needing a Clarkesworld styled list.  Here’s mine, and I may add to it over the coming years, but I think it speaks for itself.  And never mind my personal tastes, I think it’s fundamentally good advice to follow, if you’re writing poetry.

The Fast Track to Rejection

1)      Centering each line on the page.  Scattered lineation is okay, so
long, as the late Robert Creeley would have it, the form is an
extension of the content.


2)      Cliched and abstract uses of words like heart, soul, void, mind,
falling, melancholy, and things like that.  The internet is full of
this stuff, so finding an example of what not to do should be easy.

3)      Cliched end-rhymes:  June/moon, blood/flood, heart/apart, et cetera.

4)      Writing that’s obviously been taken from your personal journal. If
you want to be a confessionalist, read Plath, Sexton, Lowell,
Snodgrass, and Berryman first.  If you’re writing as “therapy,” seek
out a therapist, not a poetry editor.

5)      Standard horror tropes: vampires, gothic brooders, werewolves,
zombies, and so forth.

6)      Overly purple metaphors that, while flowery, say nothing.

7)      Anything that sounds “flowery.”

8 )      Heroic couplets.

9)      Hack and Slash torture porn.  I’m more interested in how humanity
and inhumanity intersect, not the squish an eyeball makes when
squashed by a hammer.  Gore has to fit into the poem naturally, not
the reason for the poem’s existence.

10)      Badly written sex that has nothing to do with what the poem’s
overall aim and project.

11)     Porn.  Please save your purpled helmeted love warriors and moist
cavern spelunking for somebody else.  And never, ever send anything
that contains euphemisms like man-paste.

12)     Surrealism that isn’t grounded in some sort of reality or
perceived moment.  No offense to the spirit of William S. Burroughs,
but read the more long winded parts of Naked Lunch.  Please avoid
doing that.  (And that’s not meant as a harsh critical assessment of
Burroughs or his work, either).

13)     Anything that looks like Ogden Nash wrote it.

14) Antiquated language (thee, thy, thine, etc) that makes it look like you’ve read nothing but centuries old romantic poetry.

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