Upcoming Events

  • February 25 - Assignment #2 (6" x6") deadline
  • February 25 - Assignment #3 (The Truth) deadline

Thursday, September 25

Post-review meeting musings

This upcoming issue is the "all-inclusive" issue, so the only review necessary was the barest level of oversight to make sure nothing obviously unacceptable got in, but without the usual roundtable discussion to select the best pieces. The strange thing is that if anything the proportion of high-quality pieces was higher than usual; on the other hand, there were no pieces I was merely ambivalent about. I suspect that the people who submit the merely mediocre but not quite dismal pieces to other issues decided that getting something into this issue wouldn't be worth it, since there were only a couple of dozen written submissions this time in contrast to the usual flood of around sixty.

Had this not been a special issue without quality control, if the past two years are any guide, I would have had a hard time getting the rest of the staff to see things my way anyway. I don't have any fixed rules by which I decide which pieces I think should get in, but rather I take a more Bayesian approach. If I don't want to read something again (though I do read most submissions several times), I generally vote "no." If I don't much care, I vote "maybe," and if I want to read it many times in the years to come, I vote "yes." I also vote "yes" for my own work, because abstentions count as Nos in the voting process. (I'll discuss the voting system below.) Some factors that often combine to warrant a No vote in my mind include unmitigated dark themes or imagery, unnecessary verbosity, or unwarranted violations of literary norms. That last point includes what I call the "random-newline school of poetry," wherein the alleged poet writes prose (usually not very good prose) and randomly adds line breaks, but also includes avoidance of standard punctuation or capitalization. (Not that these effects are always inappropriate; when they were first used they were perhaps even necessary. But they've since become a substitute for worthwhile substance instead of a mark of it as they were at the beginning of the century.) There are two quotations that illustrate my point, but one of them is from a book that's not to hand, so I'll paraphrase it. That one is from A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer (strongly recommended, by the way), and says something to the effect that one must know the rules (and, I would argue, generally follow them) for one's not keeping them to mean anything. The second is from the email signature of someone on a mailing list on which I lurk. It's attributed to Barry Malzberg (never heard of him), and in part says: "Only the rigor and discipline of the delimited can create art. Musicologists considering Bach, who worked within desperately restrictive format, will concur as will those considering the sonata form. The sonnet and the eight-bar chorus of almost all popular song and operetta give similar testimony." Someone suspending grammar, flow, spelling, etc., must both have something overwhelmingly worthwhile to say and obviously know what he or she is doing.

In past years, the review meetings have used a simple voting system to select the small pool of literary pieces to discuss. Votes of Maybe are one point and Yes votes are two, while a No is none. I've argued strenuously for a more nuanced system, like the nine-point scale, with defined meanings for the numbers, used to grade the essays on the AP tests, as well as for a longer discussion cycle to enable the real consensus of the sort the College Board requires of its graders--no two votes may be more than two apart on the final ballot, with the middle score of the three-point range becoming the final grade.) Somehow, it seems like I always end up on the opposite side from the majority on nearly every vote, and my own work is always misunderstood. But that's life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One question...who are you?