This year we’re doing a series of blog posts on what editors in the publishing world are looking for. In February we heard from our fiction editor, Penny Thomas, and today our poetry editor, Amy Wack, lets us know what she looks for in submissions.
Isn’t this what everyone wants out of art? I want the book that makes me sit up at my desk, that makes my skull tingle, that intrigues and enlightens me, that seduces me with a fiercely intelligent music.
There is also a sense that someone has put the hours in. This is the 10,000 hours that it takes to become proficient at any art or skill. It involves a lot of reading, thinking and writing every day, often for something like a decade.
Sometimes, a writer will show evidence of talent or flair, but just hasn’t put the hours in yet. Sometimes a writer will show evidence of having put the hours in, but they need something else, that elusive spark that ignites language with feeling and relevance.
Some artists are gifted (or cursed) with a strong, sometimes tragic subject matter: a dark past, a difficult childhood, a divorce, or death, a powerfully dark story. These poems can feel like they’ve come from a pressure-cooker. There is a powerful sense of inevitability about them. They aren’t just asking for our attention, they are compelling it.
Others are gifted with a more work-a-day talent, are slow burners, and their work will build in layers, become more consistent, and over time will come to encompass a distinctive body of work. They have the luck of not needing tragedy to evolve.
Do I really need to say anything about presentation? White paper, black ink, one page cover letter, large return envelope, enough return postage. Get poems in magazines before you dream of approaching a publisher. Get used to multiple rejections. Do not take it personally. Keep your day job. Be polite to the Editor, be polite to staff.
I love classical poetic form and rhyme used well. But I also liked to be surprised out of my inclinations and persuaded by new forms. I also really like poems that speak to the average reader and not just to some esoteric coeterie, so I have time for the whole spoken-word scene, as I feel like this is entirely the point of poetry.
So, speak some words to me!
Amy Wack, Poetry Editor