"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." —Robert Frost
What does an editor want? That is the million-dollar question. As a writer, I often feel like I’m navigating shark-infested waters trying to understand the ins and outs of editor lingo; so, as an editor, I’m here to give you a lifeboat (at least for those of you who are submitting to the San Antonio Review).
When I read poetry (or prose), the first thing I look for is clarity. Do I understand the message of this piece? If the answer is no, that piece will most likely go into the reject pile. Why? Because good writing should be accessible to all readers. There’s enough pretentious “literary” writing in the world, so writing that offers clear, thoughtful, insightful messages to others is highly valued. Besides, if no one understands your piece, for whom was it written?
The second thing I look for is aesthetics. Does the piece flow from line to line? Is there a distinct tone, rhythm, and balance? This is where some authors fall short because they may forget someone is at the other end of their stream of consciousness dying for a comma, a dash, or a period so that they can breathe. Check your line breaks. Do they make sense? Check enjambed lines — have you used lowercase letters to continue a line that carries over from the last line? Unnecessary capitalization can destroy the flow of the poem, as can long-winded lines without punctuation. Also—use the power of indentation. You want a line to pack a punch? Indent it. But be selective.
The third thing I look for is imagery. Of all forms of writing, poetry undoubtedly relies most heavily on imagery to make its impact. That does not mean poetry is all flowers and rainbows, but it does have to invoke a strong reaction in just a few lines. Think of the five senses: what do you want your readers to hear, taste, touch, smell, and see? What type of simile or metaphor could you use to create a powerful image? (Avoid clichés!)
Example (tell): Mary was excited.
Example (show): Mary leapt off the couch and fist-bumped her brother, her face flushed with joy.
Use a thesaurus (that’s not a dinosaur). There are billions of cool words waiting to be used. But don’t use “big words” just for the sake of using “big words.” Just look for those subtle (but powerful) little changes:
exuberant vs happy
paramount vs important
clamorous vs noisy
Proofread your piece for errors.
Last: Please include your active e-mail address in your submission!
Arvilla Fee is San Antonio Review’s Poetry Editor. She has a Masters’ in Education from Weber State University and a Master’s of Liberal Arts English from Auburn University of Montgomery. Arvilla has been an English teacher, and now English adjunct professor, for over twenty-two years. She is also a published author and her work can be found in Poetry Quarterly, Contemporary Haibun Online, Drifting Sands Haibun, Stone Poetry Quarterly, Teach.Write, Orchards Poetry Journal, the San Antonio Review and others. Her new poetry book, The Human Side, is now in print as of December 2022. It will be available on Amazon and through the publisher soon!