Wednesday, 11 February 2009

What editors want?

There’s a good piece over on Alan Baker’s blog (it’s the second post down) concerning the whole process of evaluating your own work, and whether it’s possible to be a good judge of your own poetry.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because as he says, I tend to find that the work I’m keenest for people to like (and publish) gets the thumbs-down, while the stuff I’m indifferent to or have even come to dislike gets a positive response.

And as he says, I think in the long run that’s a good thing – it reinforces the need for a good editor, and the value of taking your time and looking at your own work from as many different angles as possible, and it makes you think about the whole idea of a readership.

Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that any poet should be writing purely to please the reading public (let’s face it – for most of us, that’s a pretty small group). Just, I suppose, that having written what you want or have to write, it doesn’t hurt to view it through the filter of wider tastes than your own.

Just recently, I’ve had a couple of poems accepted by magazines after they’d sat on my hard drive doing nothing (other than very occasionally being tinkered with) for about three years. In both cases, I’d felt that I’d made a pretty bad fist of a poem that I really needed to write.

But, after both were taken by editors at the first attempt, I can see them in a slightly different light, and see why, perhaps, they actually work a lot better than one or two ‘pet’ poems of mine. I don’t think either are any more obviously accessible, or of the moment, than the unsuccessful poems, just that they pull their weight far better. One, at least, also now suggests itself as the title poem of a small series or collection of poems that I've been writing - again, without the outside opinion, I hadn't necessarily made the link between it and one or two other pieces.


Coastcard said...

Good to be reminded of these things. I always find it strange how some poems fall into place while others that began well stay in draft 7 or 10 for months or years. Occasionally they eventually come together and get published - and how satisfying that can be. It is a good time of year, I feel, to try out a new magazine ... so I shall follow my own advice and take out my first subscription to Poetry Scotland.

Andrew Shields said...

I take magazine publication very seriously for precisely these reasons! Acceptance by an editor or editors tells me something about a poem that I may not have noticed.

And like you, I, too, wonder why my pets either don't get published or take so long to do so, while other poems that do not seem as significant to me get lots of attention!

Matt Merritt said...

Always great value, Poetry Scotland,and handy for slipping into a coat pocket for a bus journey, too.

And you're dead right, Andrew. Occasionally, as with the two poems I'm talking about, I despair of ever getting them quite 'right', so send them off anyway just to get my suspicions confirmed. It's always nice when they're not.

Andrew Shields said...

The flip side is that it is always worth persisting with the poems you believe in most! I've had poems published over ten years after they written, after having been rejected well over a dozen times!

PJ Nolan said...

This must be a shared experience for all poets - part of the charm of the art, I guess. Regarding those that don't feel quite 'right' - seeing them in print alongside other works can sometimes highlight the flaw, even if it's only a flaw in the eyes of the writer!

Anonymous said...

true words Matt and well spoken. James W Wood