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What On Spec looks for in poetry submissions
By Barry Hammond, Poetry Editor
This is what I want:
- Strong voices that don’t sound like anyone else. Original ideas would be great, too, though they’re much harder to come by. Beautiful, startling images and language. Current and future science would be nice.
- Basically, I’m interested in contemporary poetry. That means blank, free verse, or discursive prose poems.
What I’m NOT interested in:
- Rhyming poetry. If you send Pindaric, Horatian or Cowleyan odes, pantoums, sestinas, sonnets, villanelles, haiku, ghazal, or any kind of rhyming couplets — iambics, anapestics, dactylics, be they pentameter, tetrameter or any other kind of rhyme scheme, I’m probably not going to like them. I’ll still read them. They just won’t get published. The only exceptions I can think of is if the poetry you’ve written is better than something written by Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Alfred Noyes, Li Po, Mallarmé, Baudelaire, or any of the other poets who perfected and (to my mind) pretty well exhausted those earlier forms. Of course, I know you think you’re a genius but, TRUST ME ON THIS ONE, if you haven’t published extensively in magazines devoted to these traditional forms YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT.
- I despise pedestrian rhymes most of all. This means obvious ones like moon/June, sigh/sky, blood/flood, dark/mark, etc. If you can’t be more subtle than this, I REALLY don’t want to see your stuff.
- Antique language. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me, when the poetry batches come in, is how many people seem to think writing poetry, especially horror and fantasy poetry, means you have to use antique language. No. No. No. If your work contains words like “thee, thou, hast, methinks, begot, forsooth,” or anything of that kind, don’t send it to me. You don’t talk like that (I hope) so why are you writing like that? It’s a mannerism and poetry isn’t about mannerisms, or shouldn’t be. The only exception is if your work is set in a specific historical period – – not just “the olden days.” The “olden days” isn’t a specific historical period. It’s a feeble generalization used by lazy writers who don’t want to research the period they’re writing about. And if you do set your work in the past, then I don’t want to see modern words like “guys, really, cool, gross,” or scientific terms that hadn’t been invented yet creeping in, because that’s just as bad.
- Religious poetry. If you have strong religious feelings, that’s great, but ON SPEC is a Speculative magazine. Send your religious poems to magazines that specialize in that subject.
- Poetry that only describes your emotional state. I’ve nothing against emotions but, as in the previous point, ON SPEC is a Speculative magazine. We want more than that. We want speculation and ideas. If your poem is only about your emotions save it for another magazine, for your analyst, psychologist, social worker, friends, or family members. They might care. I don’t. Well, maybe I do, but not when I’m reading ON SPEC batches. As for ideas, if you’re just pondering the mysteries of the universe without coming to an original (different) conclusion about it than anybody else, why would I want to know about that either?
Well, as you can tell, my list of what I want to see is much shorter than my list of what I don’t want to see. If you want examples of the kind of poetry I do admire here are a few names: Al Purdy, Lorna Crozier, Christopher Dewdney, Gary Geddes, Alice Major, Stan Rogal, Lillian Necakov, John Yau, Bob Perelman, Clayton Eshleman, Lyn Lifshin, Anne Waldman, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Bukowski, Jim Carroll, Diane Ackerman, and John Giorno. Have you at least heard of some of these people? Do you admire their work, or at least relate slightly to it? If you haven’t and don’t, then don’t bother sending me your stuff. I’m probably not going to like it.
A good guideline is to look at the anthology called Poly: New Speculative Writing edited by Lee Ballentine, or (even though it’s not poetry) the kind of writing in Storming The Reality Studio edited by Larry McCaffery. And don’t try to copy them, or anybody else, because I read extensively and I’ll know. I want original stuff, remember.
Naturally you’re thinking, well, that’s just his personal taste. You bet. All editors have their own personal opinions of what they want to see. I’m no different. If you don’t like it, send your poetry to another magazine. Better yet, start your own magazine. You’ll soon see you’re no different.
Having said all this and making myself sound like a cranky old fart, please send in your poetry. I want to read it. Really. –BH