In working on the staff of two separate literary magazines — one incredibly local and one on a slightly larger scale — I’ve come to develop my own biases when it comes to editing and selecting pieces for submissions.
Ultimately, I think my primary concern lies with the honesty and truth contained within a piece. For me, regardless of the genre — prose or poetry, fiction or not — a piece needs to transcend itself in order to claim any great worth. And the greatest sin a piece can commit is not to induce boredom — though that also ranks fairly high on the list — but to stake a false claim to transcendence. I’ve seen too many sub-20-year-old college students who believe that they are the next Shakespeare or Poe: “That big, dumb upperclassman with a chip on his shoulder the size of outer Mongolia just can’t see it; but I’ll show him!”
One such student once handed me a four-line poem, perceived by him to be the next “The Red Wheelbarrow.” There were only so many ways that I could provide constructive feedback: only so many ways that I could avoid using the terms “drivel” and “pretentious.” I will fully admit that my shit, too, stinks; but sugarcoating has lost its sweetness for me.
Someone like William Carlos Williams only comes around once in a great while; the rarity of the author is part of what makes “The Red Wheelbarrow” the poem that it is. Personally, I’m not so sure how much praise eight lines on chickens and man-made carrying equipment really deserves. And then again, maybe the imagery can stand alone. Maybe I’m just spouting off my own nonsense that fails in any attempt to approach a higher purpose or meaning…
I don’t sugarcoat it for myself, either.