Posts Categorized: Poetry

What We Look for in Poems: Sizzle & Steak

Dana Johnson, the Final Judge for our 2012 Fiction Contest  (which closes on October 31st, fictioners!), told us in an interview that she has no patience for “stories that are clever but have no heart.” She went on to explain that, though linguistic fireworks are important to a piece, what’s most important (to her) is whether or not the piece is trying to initiate a larger conversation with the reader and the world. In poetry, I think about this as a distinction between sizzle and steak.

You know how, when you go to Applebee’s, somebody always orders that dish that comes out sizzling and smoking, and it smells great (by Applebee’s standards), and everyone thinks, man, I should’ve ordered that? I’ve always been intrigued by that dish, but I suspect that the steak leaves much to be desired. In the same way, while I love sizzle in poems—dynamic use of language, surprising lines, dope images, lovely music—I’m also concerned about the steak. The ideal poem has both, I think—sizzle and steak, dazzle and stakes—and that’s one of the main things I look for when reading for Indiana Review.

(Read more after the jump!) Read more…

Five Marks of Oft-Rejected Poems

There’s a bug going around the IR office. We’re drinking plenty of fluids, popping lots of pills, but everyone’s on edge. Just yesterday, I shook hands with Fiction Editor Joe Hiland, and I think I caught it: I caught the grouchy bug. So, I think it’s time for a poetry take on Joe’s post about what we often reject:

 

1. Boring first lines. I get that the first line often needs to set up the scene or narrative or conceit of the poem, and so there’s a desire to use it as a kind of exposition, but if I, while getting paid to do this, don’t want to read past your first line, potential readers probably won’t, either. Don’t just tell me you met Janine when you were twelve, or that the moon was overhead, or that May became June. Hook me, flatten me, fuck me out of my senses with your first line. It should be one of the best lines of the poem.

2. Over-associating. I’m not a minimalist by any means, but I do believe in earning your fireworks. Your winter breath is not a constellation of fireflies axeing their way through the winter like little lumberjacks. There’s not a hot air balloon filled with jackrabbits in your chest every time she looks at you like a prison guard bleeding sugar. I don’t care that it’s Tuesday. A poem ought to be, I think, more than just a collection of assorted images. What is your poem doing? What does it add up to? How is it governed?

3. Abstractions, clichés, stale language. This one should be obvious, but, apparently it isn’t. Fire licks, smoke curls, sunlight dances and dapples. Clouds of grief. I receive so many poems that are generally interesting and well-crafted and then drop a big fat cliché in the middle. Regardless of how honest, genuine, or deeply felt these phrases are, I’ve read them many times already. Be fresh.

4. Refusal to transcend. Whether a poem originates in a painting or myth or fairy tale or memory of the poet’s first boyfriend or phrase in another language, it ought to transcend its originating material. How is the poem, the poet, the speaker, or the reader changed by the end of the poem? Where have we gone? I want to be MOVED, in any and all of the wild and various ways a poem can do that to a person.

5. Weak endings.  I think the phrase “but the ending…” is probably the most-said phrase in the IR office. Across all the genres, we get so many pieces that are killed by their own endings: pieces that sputter out or say too much or don’t say quite enough, pieces that end on a confusing phrase or an abstraction after so much crisp imagery, endings that go in a whole new direction and leave that direction undeveloped, endings that repeat what the whole piece has already said, endings that aren’t emotionally resonant and endings that are manipulative. Anything less than a great ending is probably going to kill the poem, for me. Endings are hard, man. Like drawing hands.

I don’t mean to suggest that these are all-important rules for making a good poem, that there is never a reason to do one or more of these things. But a great number of the poems I reject from the slush pile, or that don’t make it out of our editorial meetings, are turned down largely for one of these five reasons. Hopefully, this gives you a better idea, via negativa, of what kinds of poetry we like.

Vievee Francis: Coming to the “I”

Vievee at breakfast with IR staff and friends in Bloomington this past April

Vievee Francis is one of those poets who is often described as ‘visionary.’ Her poetry is deep and rich and so strong, and as a fiction writer I feel pretty inadequate trying to describe it. I was amazed to discover, when I sat down and spoke with Vievee in Bloomington (when she was in town for the 2nd Annual Blue Light Reading this past spring), that her voice in conversation is as complex, thoughtful, and passionate as it is in her poetry. You can hear the audio of our interview on The Bluecast page (forthcoming!), or read it below.

 

Vievee Francis: My name is Vievee Francis, I’m a poet, I live in the city of Hamtrammack, which is a small town—2.2 square miles—in Michigan, completely surrounded by the city of Detroit.

Rachel Lyon: Your poems have a distinct relationship to both city and a rural or country sort of landscape. Can you talk about landscape in your poetry a little?

VF: Landscape plays a strong role in my poetry. I’m from Texas originally—from West Texas, but I’ve also lived in East Texas off and on through my early childhood—but then, I’ve lived in cities as well—Atlanta, Detroit. And I think the play, back and forth, between the rustic and the urban, as well as what is Southwestern or Southern and what is Northern, those are always being juxtaposed in my work.

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Announcing Our 2012 Poetry Prize Winner & Runners-Up!

2012 Indiana Review Poetry Prize Winner

“The Sublime”

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller

Houston, TX

Runners-Up

“Mulberries”

Missy-Marie Montgomery

Springfield, MA

“Visiting Seattle”

Hannah Oberman-Breindel

Madison, WI

A big congratulations to Joshua Gottlieb-Miller, the winner of IR’s 2012 Poetry Prize, and our runners-up, Missy-Marie Montgomery and Hannah Oberman-Breindel!

“The Sublime” will appear in Indiana Review issue 34.2, due out this winter. Of the winning poem, Dean Young, our final judge, writes, “A beguiling and ambitious poem, ‘The Sublime’ combines a meditative calm with an imaginative sprawl to give a sharp and poignant sense of the instability and absurdity of this dear life.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Many thanks to all who participated. Your support helped make this year’s Indiana Review Poetry Prize a success!

Spring Has Sprung, So Has Young

The deadline for our 2012 Poetry Prize with guest judge Dean Young is fast approaching! Make sure you get your submission in by midnight (or postmarked) on Saturday, March 31st. There’s no going wrong with this entry–for $20 you have a chance to win $1000 in our prize, appear in our next issue (even if you don’t win, your work is still considered!) and get a subscription to the one and only Indiana Review.

You can find submission details here. We can’t wait to read your work!

A graduate of our MFA program here at Indiana University, Dean Young released his most recent collection of poems titled Fall Higher. His numerous books of poetry include Elegy on Toy Piano (2005), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Skid (2002), a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize He has received a Stegner fellowship from Stanford University, as well as fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Young’s awards also include an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His poems have appeared seven times in The Best American Poetry series. Young has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Warren Wilson College, and at Loyola University, in Chicago. He is currently the William Livingston Chair of Poetry at the University of Texas, in Austin.

 Photo courtesy the Poetry Foundation