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Poet and Editor Dance and Dialogue
Reproduced here with gratitude from www.dance-with-words.com
by Permission of Paul Mallory and Edwina Peterson Cross

The Question:

”Does anyone think my poem is good enough to submit to a literary
journal?

If a girl dies with a snail in her pocket,
does it go with her to the sudden lights?
Pondering questions like these,
how will we ever breathe?
Make room for nothing,
so everything moves into
the space we've set aside.
Slide in on a tender moonbeam;
land your thoughts,
but never cease
wondering how minds
are weaved into our names
and years, which stretch
infinite bonds, forming
One.

c Paul Mallory

The Answer:
”Does anyone think my poem is good enough to submit to a literary
journal?”

Paul - since you have asked for feed back I will offer some. I have worked on both sides of the fence - as a writer and as an editor. Let me answer your simple question first. In my opinion, yes, the poem is good enough to be submitted to a literary journal.

Now. I’ll say all sorts of things that you DON’T want to hear! What you don’t want to hear moves the question out of the realm of simple, out of black/white into all kinds of grey. They are important things to understand however. The first thing is that the words “good enough” are far too simplistic - you probably know that. If you decide that you want to submit the poem to a literary journal there will be all sorts of things that will come into play beyond whether or not the poem is “good enough.” First of all, whether or not it is “good enough” is my opinion, it may not be the opinion of the person who happens to read it at the literary journal. If you are going to submit for publication the first and foremost thing to understand is that your work will be being read by humans - humans who have different ideas and different criteria of what constitutes poetry, of what constitutes “good.”  Whether or not something is accepted for publication is even more complicated because it has to do with what else the editor has waiting for publication, what was published last month, what else is running in the edition and all sorts of other arcane criteria. At the publication I worked for, I set aside poem after poem with the comment “It does not fit our format.” This means that though the poem might be completely fantastic, it didn’t fit our publication.

When you read all those fun little things for writers they are always telling you “know your markets.” They aren’t kidding. That is a writer’s first job. Another is to have a nice thick skin and be ready to turn the poem around and send it somewhere else as soon as it is rejected. I will admit that even after years of working as an editor, even though I KNOW that a rejection of a poem is NOT a rejection of a poet, I still have such thin skin that I’m practically useless. I’m better than I was at twenty, but no where near where someone needs to be to do this constantly. I know that poems are rejected because they happen to come through with a batch of 300, or because the editor had a migraine and had to finish the batch in a half hour and did them too quickly, or because there was a poem a great deal like mine that ran last month, or because there are 35 poems sitting ‘in the can’ and they just can’t hold anymore. I KNOW it doesn’t mean that my poem is crappy or that I can’t write when a poem comes back. I still have a hard time submitting because of the rejection involved. Go figure.

That’s my first lecture! Here comes the second. Don’t ever write with publication in mind - it leads you into a blank wall and turns words slowly into concrete. Open the veins and let the words pour. Write. And Write. And write and write and write. You have to keep things liquid and moving, and if some of those pourings find their way into envelopes and into journals, well and good, as long as you are still pouring more words in the meantime. When you start thinking “I will write this to go here” it becomes set from the beginning and you lose the flow of the words.

Your poem: I was struck by the question in the beginning . . . by the question itself and by the fact of beginning the poem with that kind of a question. It left me with a big, white, split of light myself asking all sorts of questions . . . why did he think about a girl dying with a snail in her pocket in the first place? Why would the snail go into the light? Why wouldn’t it? I had a Near Death Experience - I was on the ceiling of the operating room looking down at the doctor’s head. In the next room Mr. Hooker (owner of Hooker Appliance) died of a heart attack. Mr. Hooker and I had come into the emergency room at the same time, everyone shouting “Code Blue” all over everything, he went into one operating room, I went into the other, he died, I only sort of died. I’ve always wondered . . . if I had died indeed, if I had walked through that wall instead of getting back in my body, would I have run into Mr. Hooker on the ceiling of the hall? But the snail wasn’t dead!

The beginning of the poem definitely caught my attention. Exactly what the poem goes on to say, pondering questions like these, how will we ever breathe? As I happen to be one of the people you are speaking of, I understand what you are saying, all the way through the slide through the moonbeam, being woven through our names and finally stretched through infinite bonds, end - as the poem ends, quite beautifully - at one. But then. I went around thinking about that snail in the pocket for days after I read the poem.

The poem worked for me. I found it full of fluid movement, full of truth. It begins with an indrawn breath and ends tied in a satisfying knot. I like it a lot.

Is it ‘good enough’ to send to a literary press journal? I think so. Only one person’s opinion, of course.

I would like to see more of your work.

~ Winnie

c Edwina Peterson Cross

_______________________________________

The Beauty:

Thanks a bunch Winnie, I appreciate your thoughts, along with your time and effort. . . it was most encouraging and informative.

Thanks for the thoughts about the poem as well. I'm glad it could resonate with you.

You are right, we should write just for the sake of writing, and I do that, by all means; however, there are times when I do write with a specific publication in mind. I'm just a goal-oriented person most of the time. You are also right in saying that "good enough" is very vague. I should've phrased it differently.

In any event, I'm going to try and send some stuff off. I was
always afraid to thinking that it would automatically be rejected...but...I won't really know until I try.

Paul Mallory

 

 

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