The Process

Valet Parking at the Salvation Army

In a dream, I hand my car keys to a pretty
blond boy, a young GI Joe in desert fatigues
who helps me get the baby stroller out
so I don't have to stand on my head to unfold it
like a map of the universe, like the Century
Deluxe I once hurled across the mall parking lot
because two hands were never enough.

Inside the store, racks of angora sweaters, like new:
sweet pastels with rhinestones and seed pearls
I'll wear, in this dream's daydream, to the Star Community Bar,
where I'll be the best swing dancer,
and an aisle of records, all compilations:
Dance Fever, Love Songs for Candlelit Evenings.

Then Josie's beside me, asking,
Why do you have so many dresses in your closest with the price tags
     still on?
They dangle like suicides
beside John's starched shirts.
It takes awhile for the answer to come,
like the middle name of my eighth-grade boyfriend,
or ketchup through a paper towel,
and it wakes me: Every time he promises me
a romantic evening, I buy a new dress.

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

Editor #1 -- great title, great imagery, but does it just peter out? I don't get a big enough "whomp" at the end.
Editor #2 -- I like the easy conversational tone and the down-to-earth feeling in this one. The ending was poignant, but subtle, and even made me wince a bit for her pain and loneliness. I wasn't too fond of the first verse and for me the poem really began with the second. But here was one metaphor so visual and dead-on, I wish I'd written it myself:

"Why do you have so many dresses in your closest with the price tags still on? They dangle like suicides beside John's starched shirts."

Dangle like suicides - boy is that a good one! I also liked this description:

"It takes awhile for the answer to come, like the middle name of my eighth-grade boyfriend, or ketchup through a paper towel"

As I said, very simple, but effective and strong. Easy to visualize and relate to. I felt I knew this narrator by the end and she felt like a friend with a very familiar story about love that lies limp from inattention and neglect. I found this piece very personable and the language friendly and unintimidating. I'm giving it a grade of B.
Editor #3 -- A- "Price tags dangle like suicides". I really think there is something good here.
Editor #4 -- surreal and detailed. Loved this one. A
Editor #5 --
Editor #6 -- Lovely. B
Editor #7 -- Great Images, very moving. A
Editor #8 -- Too prosaic or chatty. Not enough imagery. C

"Valet Parking at the Salvation Army" was a holdover from a set of submissions that Tania Rochelle sent us back in August. We published "The New Lover" last month and out and out rejected "Watching 'A Wedding Story' with Jack," which was a good poem, but not up to the standards she had already set for herself.

Typcially there are three ways to get your poem heldover. The first, and most common, is when an author sends us multiple submissions and more than one of them receives publishable grades from our editors; as that we rarely publish more than one poem per poet per issue, the extra pieces get pushed back to the next issue. Sometimes we'll hold over work for multiple months, publishing one poem from the poet in each issue for four or five consecutive issues, even though they all came from the same batch of submissions. For example, earlier this year we published four of Tania's poems that appeared from March to June, though we received them all as submissions in February. The second way to get your poem held is to have it receive high marks, but have those marks be not quite high enough to make it into the current issue. Usually this happens when we have an exceptionally strong month or an excess of poems that received split opinions from our editors. The last way is if we don't have enough editor comments on the piece for me to feel comfortable making a decision on it one way or another.

For our first year and a half, we didn't hold work at all and would publish a maximum of one poem per poet's set of submissions, regardless if the entire editing crew loved them all. I changed that rule after the June 2000 issue, which still remains one of my favorite issues of all time, and there were probably another twenty poems that I easily could have published from those poets, or other poets who simply couldn't quite break into the level that those other authors had set the bar to. It hadn't even occured to me to hold people's work for more than a month, because I really prided myself in Stirring's turn-around time with poetry. However, I found that few authors had any problems with their work being held for another month or so, and often it was to their advantage; we publish about 60% of heldover poetry, as opposed to about 1% of submitted poetry. And it's a good thing I implemented the rule when I did, because two months later Jessica Bush sent us one of the best sets of submissions we have received all time, which include two of my favorite poems ever published in Stirring -- "for our dead cat ..." and "In Retrospect."

As obvious, most of the grades were strong, but there were a few detractors. I tended to agree with some of the thoughts that the critics had, especially Editor #1, which is why I put "The New Lover" in last issue and continued to hold on to this piece. However, Editor #2 is usually fairly harsh in their comments, so when they give a B or higher I always sit up and listen, and when Editor #3 doesn't hide some sort of negative comment under a nice grade, again, I also start to pay attention. I also didn't really agree with the problems stated by Editor #8, which isn't to say I disregarded the comment altogether; I don't pay as much attention to comments as to the grade itself.

I had figured that we would publish this piece from looking at the grades that I had already received last month, but I think it's a no-brainer really. Sure, I'd like to see the ending a live up to the best lines in the piece, but I do like how the idea closes and I am also a fan of the image of the price tags. If I'm ever uncertain as to whether I should publish a piece, I think to myself, "Would I be pissed to find it in another magazine in two months?"

Check our issue to find out the answer.

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