Friday, February 6, 2009


Last night I attended the reading/release party for the latest issue of Birmingham Arts Journal, graciously hosted by the Birmingham Public Library. As always, the room was full of wonderful writers and artists and lots of inspiring words.

Near the end of the reading, I spoke to the audience about how I select poems for the journal, and I wanted to share that information here as well.

When I review a poem, I am looking for two things:

1. Does the poem acheive what it sets out to acheive?

This of course is based on my perception of what the poem is trying to achieve. But whether or not my perception is accurate, it matters. Because I am a reader who cannot possibly know what's going on inside the writer's head. All I have to go on is the words in front of me. So, if it works, I know it works. And if it doesn't quite get there? I discard the poem.

But. If the poem works, I move on to the next Very Important Thing:

2. Does the poem make me feel something? Do I feel I've been punched in the gut? Does my throat start to tighten up? Do I gasp? Do I instantly want to re-read to better absorb that feeling, whatever it may be?

THAT is what I am looking for in a poem. And that is what I strive for when I write poems. It might be a raw piece of writing, or it might be something more polished, but if it meets those two criteria, I want it for the journal.

"One kind word can warm three winter months."

- Japanese proverb


  1. Great criteria to look for in poetry. It reminded me of something that happened to me recently--

    I got a call from a friend and she was obviously upset. I asked her if she was okay and she said "well, sort of. I just read your short story and I can't stop crying."

    Woo hoo! Best thing anyone has ever said to me!


  2. Ah yes, "does it work?" This is a question to live by as a writer. Not just for poetry, although a poetry class is where I first heard the phrase and learned what it meant. It's a magic phrase because it takes a lot of the sting and angst out of critique. If it's "bad writing," that is an emotional blow, but if it "doesn't work," why, that is fixable. The trick, of course, is to determine WHY it doesn't work, but regardles of whether a particular piece ever makes it, that journey will lead to better writing.

  3. Yes, SF, that is just about the best compliment in the world!! I've GOT to read some of your work! And Teresa, you know how I feel about your writing. And good point about this approach providing some distance from the material so that it doesn't feel so much like personal injury...


Your thoughts?