It seems I’ve been remiss. I’ve forgotten to introduce myself. My name is Emily Bowers, and I’m the new assistant editor for Bluestem. I’m interning with one of the editors, Dr. Abella, who has helped me considerably with getting associated with the process. I basically read a chunk of the poetry submissions and help your dreams of being a published writer–if you aren’t already– come true! So, please, keep sending your poems! I’d love to read them.
I thought I’d take this time to share a book I’ve read recently that I enjoyed. I had to read James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime for my graduate class–it’s my first grad class!–and I actually thought it was really interesting. The perspective was unique, it derives from a narrator watching relationships, as well as the world itself, unfold before him, and yet he rarely actively participates in it, but he almost always covets certain aspects of it. Perspective is something ever writer needs to consider in writing, and perhaps it can even help you in your poetry. For instance, would your poetry or work be better served from a distant third-person or even second-person perspective? I think that’s a valid consideration when you are editing for effect. Writing in those perspectives can do well to illustrate and expound upon the content, to distance the narrator from what’s going on or has happened.
Another aspect of writing to consider, that I think Salter does extremely well, is attention to sentence structure. When you are writing a poem especially, each word, even each syllable is paramount to the effect, success, and images of the poem. That’s an area I think Shakespeare was exceedingly familiar with and one I think all good writers should be familiar with. Take a look at that sentence I just crafted, for example. It’s a terrible sentence, and I wrote it for that purpose. “That” or this, as a general rule, should only be used with a noun. Also, I used a filler word, a useless, superfluous adverbial: exceedingly. In general, when in doubt, leave it out. Adverbs, even when I’m reading some of the submissions, don’t add much to the content usually, and unless they do(in rare cases), why color up what’s already strong enough to stand on it’s own? As always, the writer has the right to disagree with that statement, but most of the time, adverbs don’t do much except add to your word count. Lastly, in the sentence mentioned, I did something Winston Churchill would have gasped at: I ended a sentence with a preposition.
While these may seem like basic precepts in writing, and you may think they are useless as they pertain to your writing, they are nonetheless repeated as we grow up and evolve as writers for a reason. And believe me, it’s easy to overlook small mistakes when you read nothing but dense literature all the time. After all, how many of us can remember what we learned in 8th-grade Algebra, let alone all we learned before more serious considerations like syntax came into our minds?