The Process

As both the writer and the all-seeing editor for these pieces, I can share with you a bit more insight than most about the entire submission process of the following four poems.

First off, let me say, most of these poems have been written since July of this year, Necromancy being the exception. I know that they're not as tight as they will be eventually, but I was trying to find work that I felt was polished at the moment that hadn't been published elsewhere. The problem with this is that my computer crashed not too long ago, and I lost most of my poetry to the terribleness of technology. While I was able to find most of it, the drafts that I had were old and are in need of months of editing, that I simply don't have time to give at the moment. So I figured, hey, I've got new work. And new work is always exciting to the writer, while it may not actually be to the reader.

Our submission process is blind, and therefore none of the editors realized this was my work -- otherwise, they might have been smart to kiss a bit more ass. ;)

So here are the submitted poems as they were sent to the editors:

Deracinate : How the Gatlin Sisters Faired the Wary

"Traveling poor.
Will take anything
you can give."

-Sign held by two disheveled
             girls on Conklin Ave.


It wasn't the year her father said
if she left, he would spear
himself with kitchen knives. 
The year she lived on a nude
mattress.  The year he uprooted
the bathroom sink and flung it into
her mother's purple garden. 

That year her mother rescued,
when he was interred in prison cells.
When he was manic with needle-
eyed rage.

But things have a way of coming back,
like the apple tree her mother sacked
and replanted in their yard. Like the silver-headed
sprinkler her mother fought for more than her.

No it was the year she burglarized
her veins, tried to suck
the wretched color from her wrists.
The year she bled
the child from its tissue

There are too many stories in the sky,
she wrote, the night she tried with rope
and ladders. Too many nymphs turned
into trees.  These panes are not for me.


Their blue house was wilting.
The crocuses with which her mother
lined the sidewalk were arid with contempt.
The electric company had come,
sheared the maple to a hemisphere.

Last year she had run
across the four-toned map
to Chicago, where the buildings
were tall and weak as toothpicks.
She lived in a hotel pool,
sticky with heat, lived in a shopping
mall bathroom, a twenty-four hour
porn parlor.  She pierced her nose
with a thumbtack, lived off handouts
and back-alley blowjobs.
The day before they found her
she was throwing rocks
at the humpbacked waves
that shushed and cooed to her,
simple and content.

There were blackbirds nesting outside
her window when she was returned. 
The gurgling song of wet hatchlings
fracture the morning.  Not two days later,
her father ripped down the nest,
fed the feathered chicks to the neighbor's Labrador. 
Life is just that way, he said,
wiping his hands across his dusty jeans.


She could not remember the pasty
nose of her father, when he pulled
back the shower curtain. 
Never remembered the time he threw
her mother into the living
room windows, planting the smashed
glass in the snapdragons.
The fleshy red orbiting
of lights on their dirt road,
the night he was taken away.

Seven years younger,
with the look of a girl
who has played too long with boys,
she is hard-lipped and concrete.

She knew they were leaving,
her two sisters who simply sought survival.
She would be with them
if it weren't for the fish sound
of ground skates,
the dart of hard rubber
sending the net to shiver.
If it weren't for the breaking
of her father's lips
into praise, the coming together
of his hands, that said
he loved her the best.

From One Who Will Not

Love Poem to a Survivor

You are a tree beside me,
stripped of limbs by winter, by this terrible
freezing that finds no end. 
We are not alone, and still, I pull
your cold, dry hand to my lips,
and tell you that you will be like that flock
of blackbirds that returns each autumn
to suck the worms from our yard. 
Like them you will live.  You are a man
not yet broken by hunger, not yet
scaled by months of water
and bones.  You will live,
and I will lose my shoes,
my hair to the gnashing of scissors,
and while you live, I will be herded
to the head of the line.


After you left, I swept the house,
fingernails, fragile weeds of hair,
phone numbers smeared on yellow stationary.
I vacuumed the rug twice,
dusted the coffee table, Windexed
the windows with cool precision.

They say you can never remove
someone completely from a house.
That their skin is coughed up
through the dust in vents.
Fingerprints linger along the baseboards.
Hair held tenderly by drains.

Which leaves me to wonder
what I should do with this sediment,
these wicked stains of you.
Are these threads from your black tee
or left from the artist
who owned the house before,
with her pencil etchings, her eraser
ash?  Or from the man, prior even,
who kicked in the front door, breaking open
the delicate innards of knob and screw?

Are you still waxing away
my footprints from your linoleum,
still whisking out the sand I traipsed in
after our Delaware disaster?
When you dust your lamps, your living
room drapes, do you wonder
if that is my skin stuck to the shade --
if those are the last of my remains
meant for removal?


This morning I wrote letters
to the Susquehanna, and you were bound
in sheets and shade. 
I tried to wake you once when the plane
dragooned the windows, like a fleshy sun,
and again when the buildings were pared,
were peeled like an onion of skin.

The neighbor's cat rolls in our seamless grass,
yawning jaws, like a flower unfastening.
I close the window, seal blinds to obscure
the callous sun, which ruptures and sparks,
breaking the light into lines across the dark
wood floor.

This is how the world will end, I think.
A caramel cat unwound in orchids,
the cobalt sky entrenched with light.

After about a year and a half of receiving comments that were completely ambiguous in their like or dislike, I decided to implement a grading scale that everyone is familiar with -- except one of our editors, which thinks that F-------- is a legitimate and popular grade. This has helped to clear things up and make it easier for me to glance over comments quickly to get a brief idea of an editor's opinion. Occasionally it gets me in trouble though -- more than once I've decided to accept a poem based on grades only, and then start to read the comments in more depth, to find that they are decidingly negative. If anyone has ever read Entertainment Weekly, when they spend an entire review lauding a movie, and then you find a fat "C" at the bottom, or vice versa, well, it's just a head-slapper. :) But hey, it beats getting an email full of comments all saying "Well, okay." or "Nice."

I should let you know that some of the editors seemed to think that Deracinate was three different poems. I can't say that I blame them; I'm starting to think that they are too. So the comments on that are split up occasionally.

You can also see that Editor #3 was not on the ball and didn't send me any comments, which means they are fired, and won't be receiving that lovely pension I've been promising. ;) Actually this happens quite a bit. Sometimes things get in the way, and editors simply don't have time to get to all the poems, especially when I'm a dork and send them their last batch three days before the issue is due, as I may have done once or twice in the past. When this happens I either make the decisions myself based on the comments that I did receive, or I hold the poem until the following month when closer to all of the editors can read and comment on the piece.

Below are the comments that I got back from our editors, whose names have been changed, because I don't want anyone beating down their doors in disgust.

Deracinate : How the Gatlin Sisters Faired the War
Editor #1 -- holy fucking god. when I was in high school, my heart was first and foremostly broken savagely by two sisters----Gloria and her little sister Cheryl---GATLIN. I almost died from shock when i saw this title. but then to my chagrin and relief, it wasn't about my galtins, but just another daddy banged me in the night and left my other siblings to rot on the hemp and vine style poem. As I said. I voted for the first five this year. I'm not voting on any more.
Editor #2 -- A
Editor #3 --
Editor #4 -- Story nicely told. B+
Editor #5 -- ADDIE: A- -- this poem would be an A if the last stanza was gone. It ends so perfectly on "carriage" -- the last stanza seems like a completely different voice. JENNA: A -- oooh. I wish I had the words to say how this one makes me feel -- the introduction of the father comes at the perfect moment, with the perfect words, the perfect emotion. This is good. KRIS: A - Again, the father makes the perfect entrance -- tight, perfect.
Editor #6 -- ADDIE: D hasn't made me care. Again, too self-aware, the writer is getting in the way of the poem. JENNA: A much better KRIS: D for "draft" This could be excellent. The last five lines make me shiver.
Editor #7 -- A Great Narrative
Editor #8 -- B

From One Who Will Not
Editor #1 -- no
Editor #2 -- B
Editor #3 --
Editor #4 -- I like the ending. this read very smoothly. A
Editor #5 -- A -- what a great batch!
Editor #6 -- D Hallmark
Editor #7 -- B I like the imagery
Editor #8 -- A-

Editor #1 -- curious. give it a 90
Editor #2 -- C
Editor #3 --
Editor #4 -- Love this one-- the retelling of casual chores is very subtle and dramatic. A++
Editor #5 -- A -- I've been enthralled with this idea since I read Raymond Carver's "Collector" -- and this is such a fresh look at the end of a relationship -- excellent.
Editor #6 -- Hallmark. First half was strong, then it deteriorated.
Editor #7 -- A Perfect! Powerful, Moving and Beautifully written
Editor #8 -- B+

Editor #1 -- this is how the world ends. God, Damn. Now where have i read that before------------50.
Editor #2 -- B
Editor #3 --
Editor #4 -- Very beautiful ending, I love the imagery here, it all works so well. A
Editor #5 -- A -- you know this is the editors' batch, because everything is incredible. The imagery, the senses, everything in this poem just rings out clear and honestly. That last stanza is haunting and beautiful.
Editor #6 -- B for "better"
Editor #7 -- B Wonderful Diction
Editor #8 -- A-

As you can see, no one agreed on any one poem -- my opinion on agreement is A's and B's from all editors. Once we start to get C's, D's and F's involved, it gets ugly. According to our standards, our grading system goes as follows:

A - If you don't publish this, I will hunt you down.
B - Put it in, but understand it's not the best I've seen.
C - Put it in if there's nothing better.
D - Be forewarned, we may look like idiots if we publish this.
F - That's it. I'll fucking walk if this is published!

This is not to say that we've never published anything that has gotten an F from someone on the crew, or that there haven't been there fair share of A's that didn't make it in. There are very few poems that everyone agrees on -- even the big wigs who get published here usually get at least a few C's. It's hard to please everyone, and that's what I love about this group of editors. None of them agree with one another. And that makes their occasional concord all the more telling about a poem.

So, why did I publish "Jenna" from Deracinate? Why not just publish Reckoning, which got almost all decent grades? Actually, I'm asking myself that right now. (In a few months, when I look back at the piece in its current form, I will probably hate myself for publishing that at such an early stage and curse the editors for their decision. :) ) All in all, though, I think it's because the Jenna part of the poem got a few mentions that were particuarly strong, and because I agree with Editor #6 that some of the other parts of the piece just aren't strong enough yet. Ironically, I felt that Jenna was the weakest part of the poem, but goes to show you how much the poet actually knows about their own work. :)

Typically I would hold Reckoning for further review in another issue, as that we do not publish a poet twice in the same issue, unless they appear in two different sections. However, I personally believe that publications should not publish their own editors because it's easy and that makes it tacky. And if your submission process isn't blind, wouldn't all the editors make it through the rounds by default? However, after I had begged my current and former editors for submissions for the Editors Only part of the Special Edition (which lowers the tacky factor . . . maybe.) coupled with the fact that Editor #1 thought David Arroyo's work was mine (A huge compliment, might I add, being that David seriously rocks.), I felt compelled to send in some work. Plus you can't go wrong with a free, honest critique. The lovely irony in the whole situation is that while Editor #1 gave remarkable grades to the poems that they thought were mine (a 230 out of 100, might I add! :) ), the pieces I actually did write received must more modest grades. In fact, if it weren't for Editor #1, you would have seen Reckoning in Stirring this month. Go figure.

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