My own work depends on a certain quiet. Not a physical, surrounding quiet necessarily, but a quiet inside my brain that empties it of all else & shifts the focus to the poem on the page, a living, breathing thing that pulses with energy throughout the course of its creation. I guess you could say my space for poetry can occur anywhere, anytime I have a method of recording. The subject doesn’t matter: only the words, the sounds, the rhythm & cadence. Echoes & image in the sphere of letters.
As far as my approach to the editorial process, much of my method for examining poetry comes from my experience completing an MFA program, where I spent hours & hours sitting around a table with other poets, dissecting poems line by line. Through these conversations, I learned the language for expressing how a poem manages to succeed, pulling me immediately back into itself as soon as I finish reading the final word. I also learned how to pinpoint why, exactly, I might read that final line & not care an iota whether I ever saw the poem again. Here are some questions I’m constantly asking (both consciously & subconsciously):
What images stick with me past the final line? Was there a series of thematically-linked images, or perhaps just one striking snapshot I can’t seem to shake? What is my physical response to that image (shudder, sigh, smile, laugh, cringe, wince, deep breath, increased pulse)?
How do the verbs used contribute to the movement of the poem? What is the ratio of verbs to adjectives? Both in poetry & in prose, a few carefully-chosen verbs are so much stronger than a litany of adjectives or adverbs. For example:
Tired & sad after her sister’s death, she walked slowly down the dry, dusty cemetery path.
Blinking back a film of dusty tears, she trudged towards her sister’s grave.
The first sentence has one verb, four adjectives, & an adverb. And sure, we get the details of what’s happening. With just two verbs, just one adjective, & not a single adverb, the second example brings this character to life, because we are not simply told that she is tired & sad; we see the evidence. The very description of her physical movement—“trudged” vs. “walked slowly”—indicates both her physical & mental state.
When I read any genre, I’m most drawn in when it’s clear to me that the writer is paying attention not just to image but also to things like syntax, diction, mood, & tone. Each word contributes; each word should be essential. Poetry presents such a small box for packaging things that are often weighty, full of vibrant impact. So let’s treat it the way we might put treat a gift we’ve chosen to mail to a faraway friend. Choose the items carefully, wrapping them in paper for protection & nestling them together in a perfect puzzle within that box. When our friend opens it a thousand miles away, she is delighted to unwrap & inspect each piece deliberately & attentively. She will arrange the items on the table in front of her & know that each one was chosen with a distinct purpose. Every word, every letter, every line—your gift to the rest of us, your readers.