In honor of the current special theme for Gyroscope Review, “The Crone Issue”, let’s talk a bit about the theme. When we put out the call, we decided to limit it to an underserved section of the population, women and those that identify as women over the age of 50. It’s around that age that women really start to disappear in society. They are not valued any longer. Having outlived their usefulness as mothers or sexual objects, they are discarded and disregarded. From the heartfelt cover letters we are getting, it’s apparent older women are eager to have an opportunity to submit, and disappointed that this kind of opportunity doesn’t present itself more often. Older women need to be include, invited, and embraced.
Older women contain a wealth of wisdom. This is what we want to celebrate. Crone has been turned into a derogatory term. Let’s take it back. The dictionary defines a crone as ‘a cruel or ugly old woman’. The dictionary was not written by the enlightened. We prefer the more modern take, as identified in Wikipedia. “In New Age and feminist spiritual circles, a “Croning” is a ritual rite of passage into an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power. Some feminist authors have defined the crone archetype in a positive light, as a powerful and wise old woman.”
By taking back the word Crone, women are recognizing the power, wisdom, and abilities of aging. We want work that celebrates the ideas of crone: wise woman, matriarch, post-menopause, grandmother, elders with strength and experience. Tell your story. Tell what has been digging at you the past 50 years. What are you not going to stand for anymore? What is your source of power and strength, be it quiet or fierce?
Women have a wealth of life experiences to share with others. Remain silent no longer.
Here is a poem that resonates with the theme of Crone.
by Marge Piercy
It happens in an instant.
My grandma used to say
someone is walking on your grave.
It’s that moment when your life
is suddenly strange to you
as someone else’s coat
you have slipped on at a party
by accident, and it is far
too big or too tight for you.
Your life feels awkward, ill
fitting. You remember why you
came into this kitchen, but you
feel you don’t belong here.
It scares you in a remote
numb way. You fear that you—
whatever you means, this mind,
this entity stuck into a name
like mercury dropped into water—
have lost the ability to enter your
self, a key that no longer works.
Perhaps you will be locked
out here forever peering in
at your body, if that self is really
what you are. If you are at all.
“Dislocation” by Marge Piercy from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
We hope your summer is going swimmingly. Ours just got better now that the work on our Summer Issue is complete. This issue makes us happy for a lot of reasons: great poets who share their work with us, a cover that showcases a white line print done by our very own Constance Brewer, and a nice new font to give us an updated look. The issue has a summer feel from start to finish, with poems that evoke the pleasures of the season: skinny dipping, filmy dresses, canoeing, gardening, travel. There are other topics addressed between summer moments, too, and we hope you get a copy of this issue as soon as possible so you can see for yourself. Pour yourself something cold to drink, take off your shoes, and settle into a nice hammock with our print edition. Or, if that’s not in the budget, you can find a PDF version on our Issues page on this site.
While you’re settled in your hammock, you might find a moment to consider whether you have any work of your own you would like to send out into the world. Are you a contemporary poet? Submissions for our Fall Issue are open July 1 – September 15, or until we have enough submissions to fill an issue. This is a new way for us to take submissions; once the issue is full, we will close submissions even if it’s not quite September 15 yet.
Why the change? We’ve seen an increase in submissions this year. Because we have a small staff, we have to be smart about how we manage to get everything read and evaluated in a fair, reasonable way. After a couple of reading periods that found us scrambling to get everything done at the close of submissions, we decided a change was needed. And this is it. So, get your submissions in early if you want a space in the fall issue and any issues after that.
There is one more bit of news about our Fall Issue. We decided to open a themed category alongside our regular submissions. The theme is The Crone. If that puts images in your head of an old witch stirring stuff in a cauldron, let us gently move that idea out of the way. Here’s what we are thinking: Women poets over the age of 50 are underrepresented in poetry publications. But they shouldn’t be; women over 50 have a breadth and depth of experience, knowledge, and wisdom to celebrate. So we want to hear from poets who identify as women and are over 50. We want you to shake things up, make us rethink your demographic, let us share your magnificence with the world. Same rules apply here for submissions; the category will close when the issue is full or on September 15, whichever comes first.
Happy submitting! But first, happy reading.
Now it’s time for another pass through your poem, the final pass if you’re confident, one of many final passes if you’re an incessant tinkerer. (Not that I would know anything about that ….) If you find yourself skimming through the poem, or feel sick of it, put the poem away and revise another day. The object is to look at it with fresh eyes, as if you flipped open a magazine and saw it for the first time.
Examine your word choices. Are they appropriate for the poem? Is there another word that conveys your overall idea better? Make every word in your poem pull its weight – use strong verbs. Is your poem predictable? Part of the charm of poetry is a work turning your expectations sideways, or even upside down. If I know how it’s going to end, why should I read further? On the other hand, too much disassociation between reader and poem is what makes the audience believe poetry is only for ‘snobs’ and the literati. Reader accessibility is important. Who is your target audience?
Just like a novel, your poem tells a story. How it tells the story is up to you. Is it a mystery, a thriller, a romance? Does your language reflect your poem/story? Are your lines and stanzas lyrical, short and to the point, or dense and chewy? Don’t forget about pacing. You don’t want your reader skimming over the stanzas to get to the end. Take them along for the ride, let them enjoy the trip. Does your poem shoot the rapids, or canoe along the shore?
Can you reorder the poem to make it more exciting? Will shifting stanzas change the meaning of the poem? Maybe changing the meaning leads you in a direction you never would have considered otherwise. How much poem can you remove and still have it make sense? How much poem can you add, and still maintain tension? Change stanzas in a poem, lines in a stanza, words in a line. Open yourself to the possibilities.
The thought to keep in mind through all revisions – What am I trying to say here?
Distance yourself from your work. Step back, remove the rose-tinted glasses, and shine a halogen spotlight on the poem. Sometimes when we’re too close to a subject, our attempts to write a poem about it come off as syrupy or maudlin. Can you remove yourself, the “I”, from the poem and still tell the story? Should the poem about a relative’s fight with cancer be told from your POV, the relative’s, from that of a nurse, or a delivery person passing down the hall outside the chemotherapy rooms? From the POV of the hospital room? Each time you switch perspectives, you open up new possibilities for telling the poem/story. Maybe your love life crashed and burned for the fifteenth time, but no one really wants another poem that whines about how unlucky in love you are. Make the experience something your audience can relate to – everyone’s been there – But – how do you approach the subject in a fresh way? What’s general about your experience as well as unique? Try humor. Find the universals and use them to draw your readers in.
Remember – It’s Not About You.
Research – it’s not just for novels. A false fact will make the reader uncomfortable at best, at worst? A blunder and they may never read your work again. You’ve lost credibility. Even if the reader doesn’t know exactly what’s wrong, most people have an innate bullshit detector that lets them know when a writer didn’t do his or her homework. The more ambitious reader will do the research you should have done on the subject – then rub your face in it. Publicly. Put forth your best effort with a poem, your readers will appreciate it. You may never hear the acknowledgment, then again, you might. I still hear from people about a poem on Gorgonzola cheese I read at a festival ten years ago. I get accosted in the aisles at Wal-Mart. “Aren’t you the cheese poem lady?” Not necessarily the title I wanted, but the poem obviously struck a chord. I had one person tell me they even went out and tried Gorgonzola cheese thanks to my poem. Another wanted to know if I had any more ‘funny food’ poems. If I had to choose between being known for Shakespearian sonnets on metaphysics, or weird food poems … I’ll take weird food poems any day. It makes for interesting conversations.
When revising, trust your reader to be intelligent. You don’t need to spell out every detail. Don’t mediate between the reader and your poem. You won’t be there to interpret when the reader flips open a book and finds your poem. Your work has to stand on its own.
When is a poem finished? That’s a tough call. There comes a time when you have to back away from the poem and say, “That’s it. I’m done.” Leave it; stick it into your ‘finished’ folder, and move on to the next. I tend to write poems in batches, and revise in batches. Once you get your mind into revision mode, it goes easier. When I’m ready to submit, I open the poem and give it a once over, to make sure I didn’t overlook anything, or misspell a word. Since I’m not in ‘revision’ mode, I can resist the urge to tinker yet again. Usually….
It’s a never ending process. I have poems in print I’ve revised yet again. I want my best work out in the world. There are poems from years ago I cringe at, but also there are old poems with a snippet of something good hidden in their clumsy verse. I steal the good and rework the idea. (Can you steal from yourself??) We all learn more tools and tricks as we gain experience *coughs* – get older – so apply that knowledge to your poems. Your readers will thank you for it.
Image courtesy of Pixabay. Originally published in Life on the Periphery by Constance Brewer
One of the hardest jobs an editor has to do is say no to the majority of submissions that cross their desk. Yes, that’s right: the majority.
There are a lot of reasons for this, many of which we include in our responses to hopeful poets whose work we decline: poem is not in a style we publish, it’s out of season, it’s already available all over the internet. But by far the biggest reason for declining work is that the poems aren’t ready.
For aspiring poets who have given us work that they feel is wonderful stuff, a result of their own passion and vision, this is a hard realization. But it is the most important realization that must be acknowledged if a poet is ever to graduate to the status of published poet. We are so disappointed when we read a piece that shows great promise, but the end feels slapped on or as if the poet just ran out of steam and the piece dwindles away. Or if a poet hasn’t found the right words, settling instead for vague descriptors: beautiful, lovely, awesome, big, small, dark, standard. You get the not-a-picture. Passive voice, too many adjectives or adverbs instead of specific verbs, exclamation points or ellipses in place of better word choice – these all kill poems. Too many words when just a few will do drag the reader down; distilling the poem to the only words necessary is a must.
You know what you have to do. Really. You may have even heard this before.
Share your work with people who have language skills and an ear for rhythm. Hear critiques as the helpful tools they are rather than as harsh criticism. Return to the work with a commitment to making it better and stifle any reactionary cry that this work is simply beyond the understanding of those who said no to it. People who offer critiques and people who serve as editors do their work out of love for language and a hope that they will help people be the best artist they can be. No one does this to kill dreams as far as we know.
Read poetry. Read more. And read more after that. Choose poetry that is published where you would like to be published. We can’t stress this idea enough. Here at Gyroscope Review, we are occasionally surprised by a submission that tries to use old English or has a Victorian tone, neither of which fit a contemporary journal. Acquire books of poetry by those who produce the kind of work that interests you. Are you hoping to be a contemporary poet? Then aside from reading Gyroscope Review, go read Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Claudia Rankine, James Longenbach, Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong. Find the Button Poetry YouTube channel and hear what is being produced right now. Search for contemporary poets on the Poetry Foundation’s website. There are many options for finding published work that fits any interest.
Remember that poets do not live in a vacuum, that poetry is an art that poets work at and hone. Anyone can produce underdeveloped art that cannot connect with an audience. Not everyone is in love with poetry enough to break through to that accomplished space where the work is accepted for publication.
There is no shame in learning that poetry is not your calling. But if you choose to continue on the path of the poet, then enough humility to know that all of us on this path keep learning and improving, keep listening and observing, is essential. Think of this as your graduation speech in this month of graduations all over the country. Your education as a poet is only beginning. It is up to you to make use of it.
Gyroscope Review’s reading period for the 2018 summer issue closes on June 15.
The summer issue will be available on July 1.
The reading period for the fall issue opens on July 1.
The reading period for the special fall themed section, “The Crone”, also opens for women, and people who identify as women, who are over the age 50 on July 1.
Images courtesy of Pixabay.com