Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Psst! Your Poetry is Showing!

Today, I got not one, but two rejections! I don't mind the rejection so much; however, I'm puzzling over the editor's comments on one.

Usually, I just get the standard, polite, plain-vanilla rejection notice saying that my work is not suitable for their specific publication at this particular moment in the space-time continuum, blah, blah, blah; which suits me just fine because it saves me from knowing their real opinion of my work. (Although it doesn't stop me from imagining them sitting at their desks, snorting derisively at my submission and saying, "Hey, Bryce. Ya gotta read this hackneyed juvenalia! It's hilarious! Har har har!")

So, anyway, this rejection came back saying, and I quote:

"Some interesting work, but overwritten and self-consciously poetic....I applaud the rhyming poem, but the meter is too regular and sing-songy."

I know that editors are madly busy people, and I appreciate this person taking the time to jot a few notes down about why my work was rejected. But...I would prefer helpful notes that I can understand. This is not a helpful note, in that I don't understand it. And here's why: I don't understand the phrase "self-consciously poetic." If any one else does, could you do your best to explain it to me? I admit, I am genuinely dense about these things. In tandem with that, I'd also like to know what "overwritten" means.

I was working under two assumptions: One, that I was writing poems. And two, that I would be using some words to write them with. I didn't see the need to hide the fact that I was writing poems. In fact, I would like people to be able to recognize them as such, upon viewing, reading, or hearing. And I wrote them until they seemed finished, at which point I ceased to write them any longer. So, my confusion lies therein. I was, indeed, consciously attempting to create what would be recognizable as a poem. Trust me, I'm no expert. I don't have any formal education in poetry and I'm almost completely self-taught. But I was under the impression that poems should have something of the poetic about them. And I didn't think I was "overwriting", I just wrote them until I felt like they had more or less done their job.

The other thing, about the meter of one of the poems being too "regular" is also confusing, since I used the meter specifically in order to create, you know, some regularity in the poem. I used it again, and again, and again, and yet again. I will be the first one to say that it's sort of an archaic poem. I personally liked the songy sound of it, but I'm primitive that way.

So if any of you experts, or those simply opinionated about poetry, can help me unravel this mystery, I would much appreciate it! Please explain the meaning of "self-consciously poetic" and "overwritten." Help a fledgling poet out! Thanks.


40licious said...

I think you should make a poem out of that letter and send it to them. Good work, lovey!

The Good Typist said...

Hey, 40! Good to hear from you! That's an interesting idea :) Actually, I think the problem is that, pretty much everything I say in a poem, I mean. I'm not being ironic or exaggeratedly poetic or hyperbolic; I'm being completely honest. I get genuinely excited about things like glaciers and jellyfish. I think maybe they didn't know quite how to take it. Or maybe we've come to a place where a sincere expression of excitement about anything comes across as mannered and affected, because everything is supposed to be about irony and keeping the world at an arm's length. Or maybe I just stink up the place. It's a mystery to me.

Dana said...

"One, that I was writing poems. And two, that I would be using some words to write them with."

That's where you went wrong!

I am just kidding. Did you see the email I sent you about this? I don't think you have anything to worry about.

Kate Bernadette said...

By "self-consciously poetic," the editor probably felt that the poem sacrificed honesty to literary striving. "Overwritten" means the diction seemed overblown and/or the sentiments histrionic. Dial it down a notch, is what s/he is saying. Sing-songiness can be a real problem with metered verse; today's metered verse usually makes a more natural sound than that found in nursery rhymes and such. If this publication routinely publishes formal work, then this comment is well worth pondering; if its emphasis is on free verse, then it is possible that regular meter just isn't their cuppa.

The editor's comments aren't helpful the way a line-by-line critique would be helpful ... but if they make you look at your poem anew, they're valuable, right?

Feel the pain and keep on writing!

The Good Typist said...

Thank you, Kate, for that explanation! (I wasn't able to access your blog to thank you personally). It makes more sense to me now. I never strive to be literary; in fact, I'm not even sure how to be literary; but I can certainly see the "overwritten" part--why they may come across as histrionic or overblown. I'm not sure how to fix that, but I'll take a look at it. Part of it may be that I use a lot of humor in my work, even some of my "serious" poems, and it may not be coming across the right way. Anyway, that is certainly a helpful explanation. Thank you!