Earlier this week, Barnstorm Fiction and CNF both wrote insightful blogs on what it is they look for when selecting a piece of writing for publication. As editors for Barnstorm Poetry, we rely greatly on the eclectic and often differing styles and proclivities of our Readers to find the best work for publication. To our fellow crafters of poems, here are some of those characteristics as well as a glance at which poets we are reading right now— directly from our Readers’ mouths!
Kristen Bulger and Jerome Daly
What We Look For:
Justin Burkart: I look for a sense of mindfulness on part of the poet and whether there is an awareness of the moment. To a degree, the poet is a sculptor, so I’m looking at what tactics he or she is using to sculpt the poem and whether it is working.
Katie Brunero: I’m really interested in a feeling of newness and freshness when I read submissions, but a newness that is approached in a way where you feel a real emotional reality to it— not something that is “new” in a formulaic way like placing a shark into a tree in a poem. I want delicious, concrete details that go beyond vagueness and superficiality.
Stephen Brand: What I look for is the occasion of the poem. I know that is brought up a lot in workshops, but the poem needs to articulate something about a moment that is worth reading and hasn’t been said before.
Brian Evans-Jones: My approach is a lot less idealistic: I’m always reading these poems under time constraints, so my process is first the negative screening and then looking for a sense of newness. Also, I think it is important for poets to know that the occasion itself doesn’t justify the poem. As Stephen mentioned, you have to do something different with that topic.
Kayla Cash: I often look at the beginning and ending of a poem and whether it has an interesting evolution. I probably end up caring the most about how a poem develops in language, tone, etc., verses where it actually begins.
Chris Messinger: I’m often afraid to categorize poems into topics because we are all human and we all experience things differently, but I look for the sense that the poet is discovering something for herself/himself that s/he didn’t already know. That is very exciting for me. And yet, while there are concrete things I can say I look for, a good poem is definitely something you feel in your gut.
A Look at What We Are Reading Now:
Chris Messinger: Larry Levis’s The Darkening Trapeze is great and unsurprisingly so. I have also been reading Ruth Stone who I was not familiar with. Her collection, In the Next Galaxy, is something that I have been having a lot of fun with.
Justin Burkart: Tony Harrison as well as the new collected poems of Frank Stanford which just came out last year. I also just finished a collection by Louise Gluck as well as Abraham Smith’s Ashagalomancy— it’s really sonic!
Stephen Brand: Jack Myer’s Blindsided. I can’t get enough of that. The occasions of his poems are wrapped in domestic life with these surreal, bold, and at times comic insights that are just great. The way he is able to describe remodeling a kitchen through descriptions of sounds is fantastic.
Kayla Cash: I continually revisit James Tate, but mostly I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels, particularly the series Low, about a dystopian society underwater. The book has made me think a lot about how explicitly stating our emotions in poetry can be considered cheap, and it has really made me wonder why.
Katie Brunero: Chris turned me on to Sándor Csoóri, a Hungarian poet. The sounds of the words he is using feel as though they could stand on their own, and there are multiple levels of emotional complexity so you feel like the poem is operating on all cylinders. He also has really inventive uses of metaphor, which I am a softy for. Further, I am also reading Elizabeth Edwards’s The Chronic Lair Buys A Canary. Her tone feels sardonic at times and yet it has heart.
Brian Evans-Jones: I actually read a really good novel recently I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith so I enjoyed that. Poetry is something that I read really slowly, and I find the pressure to read in an MFA actually makes it harder. But I have just started reading Ted Hughes’s Moortown Diary.
Jerome Daly: The past couple of years we've lost many great poets, so I've been going through poems by Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, Tomaž Šalamun, Philip Levine, Tomas Tranströmer, James Tate, and C.D. Wright, but I've been focusing a lot on the New York School poets—Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and John Ashbery. For more contemporary poets, I've been delving into the books The Water Inside the Water and Rapture by Susan Mitchell as well as Richard Jackson's Alive All Day.
Kristen Bulger: Two books that have really resonated with me lately are Dennis Schmitz’s About Night: Selected and New Poems as well as Michael Burkard’s Ruby for Grief— both books are astounding and deeply moving. And I’m excited about getting my hands on David Blair’s Friends With Dogs. But I always return back to Emily Dickinson, Louise Gluck, Lorine Niedecker, and Patrizia Cavalli for grounding purposes… though they are certainly not grounded poets!