Submitting Poetry Without Muse Endangerment
by Edward Ahern
Poets, more than fiction writers, are victims of the idiosyncratic tastes of readers and editors. Each journal nurtures its peculiar vision and spurns work that isn’t kosher. This leads to a lemming-march death rate for the publications, but that’s a subject for another note. Here are the niches to be survived.
The ninth circle is occupied by poets who write voluminously but never submit. This is masturbation as the path of least resistance. Submitting a poem is stripping in front of the guests at a party and having them comment on your private parts. Get used to it, eventually you’ll enjoy their shock.
The eighth circle holds those beginners who submit only to the New Yorker or equivalent. The inevitable rejection somehow validates the exquisite words that were spurned, although to outsiders it appears to be like sending a steamy note to Taylor Swift’s Twitter account.
The seventh circle contains those seeking indiscriminate acceptance. Publication however pedestrian, in fledgling journals without contributors and sites which publish the first two hundred poems that don’t violate any laws. This is promiscuous behavior, acceptable to a point in poetic post-puberty, but to be put in the past. Like excessive alliteration.
The sixth circle imprisons prudes and snobs who feel that only formal poetry conveys elevated meaning. They put syntax and rhythm through a contorted Kama Sutra that painfully ends up in the same missionary positions that have been used for centuries.
The fifth circle encapsulates the current fetish of narrative poetry. It requires relatively little talent to stutter through a story in cleaver-chopped lines, but telling a story well is as difficult at reciting a dirty limerick in a convent. And that’s the smell test. If, on listening, the aroma of overused men’s room comes through, listen to something else. However, many editors love flatulent narrative poetry, so maybe just put up with the smell.
The fourth circle shrilly rings those on missions. ‘Ion’ publications — revolution, conservation, revelation — all the bastard children of the ‘isms’ excluding of course contemplation and reflection.
The third circle insists on rope-cinched uniforms of acceptability. Appropriate for children, agreeing with a theology, conservative (or liberal) enough. There’s no danger of heresy because stray thought is never let in.
The second circle is a plastic chastity belt: write only to a certain length, to a specific theme, for a limited audience; enter only if one is a woman or gay or Jewish or Hungarian or, ideally, all four. Poetry, after all, needs limits.
The first circle is the complexity of a crown of thorns. No readily understandable poem need apply. Outré and difficult are prized. But dense poems can be misinterpreted, and it’s proven (by the writer) that literate-sounding gibberish is accepted by elitists.
The poet is to be congratulated if she survives this; she’s been through hell.
Copyright © 2020 by Edward Ahern