Thursday, December 14, 2006

Patterns in book manuscripts

A while back, C. Dale Young made some comments about the patterns in submissions to the New England Review (he is the poetry editor). Just now, he made some comments about patterns in book manuscripts (I take it he is working as a reader for a prize):

"Over the past 2 days, I screened 100 first book mss. What did I learn?

1. people seem to love the word "ochre"
2. the simple, present-tense sentence is still the choice of most poets out there
3. Abortion is a fairly common topic for poems (I saw no less than 20)
4. a good story does not always make for a good poem
5. many seem capable putting together a 90+ page ms. without difficulty
6. Rothko is making a comeback
7. most poets are like me in that they come up with god-awful titles for their mss. (I always have to have friends guide me to a better title)
8. a lot of people must visit Italy (I mean A LOT)
9. many poets use spell check but don't check the spell chack changes!
10. God and religion is everywhere in these mss."

I stopped submitting my book manuscript for a year (though I am going to start again in January), so all I can do is take Dale's comments as advice, rather than respond with a list. So I will avoid "ochre" and Italy. :-)

But seriously, the most important of these points is number two: so many poems today are written in the present tense when they would surely work better as the past-tense narratives that they "really" are (but see number 4!).


Donald Brown said...

100 in 2 days is daunting. At Yale Press, I used to look at about 300-400 over several months . . . towards the end, it was more and more months. But here's some of what I learned (doing this for 7 years):

1. Most people who work at poetry manage to publish their best poems somewhere, and often the rest of the ms. doesn't compare.

2. The family is the root of all evil. Or: ills that befall the family are the stuff of poetry.

3. Poems about or in the persona of historical persons are very popular.

4. Formalists tend to go abroad and write about it; free versers tend to stay home (sometimes I think they never leave the room).

5. The Wallace Stegner program at Stanford admits and produces writers capable of professional quality poetry.

6. The names of famous people can be used as metaphors.

7. Many poets live lives of quiet desperation -- and are glad to write about it.

8. Humor is making a comeback.

9. Writing programs must be assigning at least some of the following: a villanelle, an ars poetica, a prose poem, a "loose" sonnet, a poem based on a mythological story (jazzed up versions of Persephone are plentiful), a poem in response to a work of art.

10. A collection of poems, even if most are good quality, does not necessarily make "a book."

Andrew Shields said...

The one that really hits home for me is number one. The poems that are not getting accepted in journals just may not be as good as the ones that are. Or am I understanding you incorrectly?