Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hello again!

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?



Stop by Our Table (E7) at AWP! We’re Having a Contest

Here’s how our 2012 Postcard Contest works…

1. Find us at AWP 2012 in Chicago (Table E 7) and get a Bluestem postcard.
2. Write an amazing poem, story, or essay on that postcard.
3. Mail that postcard to Bluestem Postcard Contest c/o English Department, 600 Lincoln Ave., Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL 61920. Don’t forget to give us your e-mail address.
4. Top entries in each category will be considered for publication in an upcoming contest issue of Bluestem (online and/or print).
5. One grand prize winner will be awarded $50.00.
6. Limit three entries per submitter. No submissions considered by current or past students, faculty, or staff of EIU.

Hello everyone!

I’ve been reading some of the poetry submissions lately, and I’m loving the experience almost as much as the poems themselves.

Unfortunately, this bitter, cold weather here in Illinois only serves to drive me to the nearest window–wherever I may be–to look out at the nearest trees, barren and lifeless, and contemplate everything. Through this contemplation, I’ve begun to reread some beloved poems I read a long time ago and had almost forgotten. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?

So here’s one that’s always there to remind you of the past, make you thankful for it, and make you appreciate the sacrifice that always exists in love. Here’s something for those cold, unforgiving winter Sundays:

Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

I love that poem. I remember reading it as a sophomore in college and not thinking much of it upon first glance. Several reads later would change that incredible oversight. I suppose that’s how it is with poems and books, though. Sometimes upon the first read, you aren’t aware of everything it’s trying to accomplish or invoke in you, and you certainly never retain everything right away. So the lesson here, I suppose, is that to have an accurate and enlightened ear for writing, you have to be a good, astute reader. You have to read and reread and reread again. I know the first time I read Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo I was so disappointed in it, but after reading it again years later, it’s become one of my favorite books.

It’s time for bed. Hope you enjoyed the poem; and again, I’m really eager to read more of your poems, so keep sending them!

~Emily Bowers