Thursday, January 11, 2007

Missing it?

Do you ever read a poem and wonder whether you've just missed it? Why did that poem get published (when so many of yours were turned down—possibly by the same magazine)? This probably sounds insecure and whiny. It probably is. But sometimes I wonder: What catches an editor's eye? What in this specific poem stood out? (And why am I not seeing it?)

Most days around lunch time I check a couple of poem-of-the-day. It's a good way for me to get a quick bit of poetry and inspiration in the middle of my day. These are sites that choose poems from publications that have been sent to them. Sometimes, I see a poem that I really like. Sometimes, I see a poem that I like so much that I wish I had written it. Sometimes, I see the same poem on both sites (which means that one editor chose this poem for publication in print and two more sets of editors chose to publish it online). Sometimes I read a poem a few times through and I just don't feel that spark. Or I might enjoy parts of it—a line or a stanza—but I don't get it as a whole piece. What am I not seeing? (And why am I not seeing it?)

Maybe I'm being too picky or too competitive or too pedestrian or too dense. (Or a little too hard on myself?) But I try to step back and look at it more objectively: What did the editor find compelling? What do editors want? (And is that what's missing from my poetry?)

I can say, "I'm not good enough," and maybe I'm not (or maybe my poems are not). But that is just not specific.

At work, we talk about knowing your audience. The first thing you have to do before you write technical documentation is to understand who is going to be reading it and what the want to find out, how they want to find it out.

Because poetry is not like technical documentation, it gets a little trickier. The poems that I send out have, potentially, has two audiences: the editor and the reader—although the editor has already been tasked with knowing what the readers want. It gets more complicated, because poetry is supposed to be the soul's voice, what the muse gives you. Next to all that, figuring in your audience sounds kind of calculated.

That's one way to look at it. Or I can think of it as craft: What makes a good poem? What makes a good poem better? Is it momentum, or rhythm in general? Is it stronger imagery, more original metaphors, a better idea in general? I keep trying to see it. I keep trying to learn.

Knowing what editors are looking for could provide some clues. I'd rather have a pretty good idea about it, and then make my own decision, than just not see it.

No comments: