Silver Blade publishes cutting edge science fiction, slipstream and classic and modern fantasy in the following formats: short stories (1,000-4,000 words), flash fiction (100-1,000 words), poetry (no longer than 1,000 words), and art. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a poem and why?
JM: By coincidence, I recently explicated these three things in my introductory remarks as guest poetry editor in another venue (Inkspill Magazine, Issue 5, Spring 2011). I’ll reproduce it here:
In making my selections, I look for several things:
First, the poem must grab me; connect on at least one level. I want to see emotional investment by the author. Though I am partial to rich imagery, I realize many contemporary poems are anecdotal. I adopt what Ted Kooser (U. S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006) says, “don’t rely on just the details of a good story to lift it into poetry. . .The story itself is merely the material. You have to do something special with that material if you want it to be a poem” (The Poetry Home Repair Manual, University of Nebraska Press, 2005, page 91).
Second, I look for a well-crafted poem. Though I favor free verse poetry, I appreciate traditional poems, if it isn’t sacrificed for form (inversions, forced rhymes, etc.). I look for the preponderance of crafting elements: poetic and distilled language, fresh expressions and images, music in the words, layered meanings and poetic structure.
If it is a lineated poem, I look for effective line breaks and eschew cut-up prose. If it is a prose poem, I adopt Robert Bly’s (Minnesota Poet Laureate 2008-present) working definition that it is a poem without line breaks (not a piece of prose) (Cited via Del Sol Review)
Third, in the final analysis everything must come together well: the poem sounds fluid when read out loud, has an appropriate appearance on the page, has the deft use of metaphor, is clear and has context. It should leave me with that Emily Dickinson reaction. She said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
SQF: What are the top three reasons a poem is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
JM: Though hinted above, it is worth spotlighting because it is the single most pervasive problem—the attempt to pass off prose, which has been cut-up, as poetry.
Failure to meet our aesthetic: cutting edge science fiction, slipstream, classic and modern fantasy. We like all cross-genre work that displays elements of fantasy, and in poetry, I specifically look for a literary edge. When a submitter has failed to study the poetry in previous issues, especially since I took over as poetry editor in the summer of 2010, it seems evident that a submission was rushed off. I highly recommend poets to examine issue 8 through the current issue before submitting.
Failure to comply with submission guidelines (in particular, we do not favor epic-length poems without query and we do not print previously published work without special consideration).
SQF: What other common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a poem?
JM: I am turned off by syntactic errors in the poems. Many of these errors could have been caught with a standard spell-checker. I don’t like beginning-of-line capitalization when there is no real reason for it other than an untrained Word application program. I become suspicious of limited creativity when all the submitted poems have the same structure. Other nuisances include unprofessional cover letters, first person bios, or missing bios. However, none of these have been showstoppers, especially since I work with the poet in resolving typos and minor crafting issues, but it is noteworthy that the careful poet is also usually careful in his/her poetry.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a poem?
JM: I nearly always provide a personal rejection letter. It often has general comments, but I also make specific comments, as well as recommendations, including other markets to consider. Perhaps this will change. I might have to revert to a form rejection when the submission rate increases, but at the moment, I field about 75 poems per submission period (a quarter). And I was also doing that many at the same time for the previously mentioned venue, so I can comfortably handle 150 per quarter. I suspect that when I receive 250-300 submissions per quarter, then I’ll only be able to personalize the short-listed poems. (Then again, if my poetry staff were to grow, I would encourage them to do as I have done.) In the worse case, I believe that Submishmash, our submission manager, can be set up with any one of several form rejections. There should be no more work in sending any of these rejections than it already is in sending one now. Editors can select the appropriate response, but now it will seem a little more personalized and be a little more useful because it won’t be the most generalized rejection possible. As a writer, I know that I would appreciate that, while at the same time respecting the valuable time of editors.
SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?
JM: Since I’ve become a poetry editor, I have learned a few things about writing. I like to think that they are helping me—shaping me into a better poet/writer:
Though I am always conscious of them, I am amazed at how insidious and ubiquitous clichés are.
I have become more sensitive to experimental forms.
After having seen some traditional forms deftly written, like the sestina, but especially when more modern poetic techniques are applied to them, I have developed a deeper appreciation of them. (But this is not a subliminal suggestion requesting more submissions of traditional poetry.)
Despite the subjectivity of the word, “good,” we are all capable of occasionally producing good work. Whatever one’s measure of that word might be, I am speaking in a relative way for the sake of comparison. I have seen good work (and not so good work) from the same poets whose names I recognize, whether in our venue or in another. But the one thing I learned (or should I say “had verified”) about the process of becoming a poet (or writer) is that good poets consistently produce good poems. And I believe that if the ability is already there, regardless how small, then an impressive publication record can follow with hard work at the learning of the craft and the diligence to pursue adequate markets. I have seen it a number of times in the past few years. So let this be an encouragement to the aspiring poet.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JM: I wish I could limit my response to one question, but I can’t. However, I will only give one response.
Do you closely work with the poet so that s/he will optimize their accepted work? And does that apply to conditionally accepted work, too?
Do you have any ambitious poetry projects planned for Silver Blade, say involving bilingual submissions?
I am told your poets have been contributing literary quality speculative fiction, do you think they might be eligible for nomination for the Pushcart Prize in poetry?
And the answer to all of those questions is a simple yes.
Thank you, John. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 8/4--Six Questions for Sue Babcock, Fiction Editor, Silver Blade