Monday, March 29, 2010

I spent most of the weekend reading poem submissions for the Beloit Poetry Journal; and during that session I embroiled myself in two lengthy disputes. The first involved a poem that I found supremely, almost unbearably, boring but that everyone else liked very much. The second involved a set of poems that some of us admired and that others of us believed were, among other things, "old-fashioned."

All the poems under argument eventually won their way into the journal. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

Manifesto: What Dawn Wants from a Poem, As of March 29, 2009

I want grace of language and syntax, along with deliberate, sinuous grammar.

I want music.

I want images that matter to one another and to the thematic arc of the poem. I do not want a list of fractured visual details.

I want dramatic progression: of action, thought, and emotional discovery.

I want a moral commitment to revelation, to saying what is nearly unbearable to say. This does not mean that I require victim narrative, sexual innuendo, hallucination, or war crimes, though of course any one of those topics could be the basis of a good poem. It means that I want the poet to put his heart into my hands. That metaphor sounds both nasty and banal. But there you have it. I want the heart.

Surely I've left something out of this manifesto, but you can remind me of it.


Lucy Barber said...

Perhaps you want it to actually sound good read loud? I am always amazed at the difference between poems heard vs. poems read. But since I've never actually critiqued a poem (and I do like the unmentionable M. O. whom I like both read aloud and in print) I probably don't really know all it is. I did recently read some of the diary of Hart Crane where he complained that Marianne Moore had edited one of his poems in someway that he thought made it hideous, but he was too desperate for the payment to complain about it. It stuck with me.

Dawn Potter said...

Poor Hart.

Yes, "sounds good aloud" is a definite criterion. That's where the music and grammar come in, I think. A well-crafted sentence is a beautiful thing to hear and to comprehend.

charlotte gordon said...

So good to read you again. I want more Dawn manifesto s (I don't know if there is an e in the plural). Sorry to fall off the reader wagon. I Was sick.


Mr. Hill said...

Interesting list . . surely you can think of many, or several, poems you like that break more than one of those rules, though. Is that true? Or no?

Dawn Potter said...

Oh, of course I can. That's the problem with manifestos.

jenne said...

Perhaps you could cross-post this at the poetry group on She Writes. It's quite illuminating. I'd better not submit to Beloit, then. xj

Dawn Potter said...

The editors at Beloit are not a unified front, which is, I'm sure, a good thing for poetry.