I’m first-round-reading again for a poetry contest, and it’s usually very informative (I’ve written several blog post about lessons learned). But this time feels different. I think it’s because I myself am doing no writing, and have received a rejection every day for a week from work I’ve sent out. So as I encounter manuscripts I think are weaker than others, they seem to become a mirror of my own fears about my own work. Which is working me into paroxysms.
All the manuscripts are competent. All have merit. But my job is to choose only up to 5— out of 25+ manuscripts — to move on to the next readers. So that’s a lot of manuscripts to say no to, and I have to, in my own mind, identify why I’m moving them into my No pile. I have to have good reason. But I can’t always articulate it, and that’s got me agonizing over my assessment prowess. And then as I articulate it I begin to question not only my own assessment but also my own work. Aargh.
For example, one manuscript: again, perfectly fine poems, but the thought occurred to me that too many of the poems seemed, and this is the word that popped into my head: “solipsistic.” But wait, I said. What the hell do I mean by that? That’s a terrible word.
As I’ve already talked about in the past in this space, I use a lot of “I” in my poems. Is that solipsistic?
But wait, here’s another manuscript that I’ve shuffled into my Good Maybe pile. And look: a ton of “I” poems. So what is this other manuscript doing?
It seems like the Maybe manuscript is using the “I” to look through the speaker self at the world, but the No manuscript poems seem to stop at the speaker self and never really get beyond.
So which kind of “I” poems am I writing? Oy.
In the end, also, the No manuscript had an awful lot of poems talking about writing poetry or the act of seeing, which ended up calling attention to the speaker rather than the act. Note to self: don’t write poems about me writing poems.
Here’s another one I put into the No pile, and my reasoning was that it felt, and here’s the word that came to me: “overwritten.” Okay, what on earth does that mean? Ridiculous word.
My analysis of my own analysis of “overwritten”: Too many multisyllabic words, overly lyrical descriptions, overly lofty tone, and for all that readerly work, insufficient poem payoff. OH MY GOD, EXACTLY LIKE MY POEMS!!
This process may kill me. Or indeed I may never write again. But I’m certainly going to think twice before I agree to be a first round reader again, I swear.