01 July 2010

Advice from Publisher, Zion Imprints on Poetry Part. 1

by Judith Angeles

A Letter to the Spoken-Word Artist Who Wants to be a Page-Word Artist

Dear Writer,

If you are thinking of submitting your original work to ZION IMPRINTS or would like some general advice on writing poetry. Please read on.

I have taught many classes about the wonderful world of revision to (generally speaking) Spoken-Word Artists. You know, the world where you look over your poem the second, third, fifth, sometimes the one-hundredth time, and you may change a word, a line, a comma, or re-write the whole thing. To get them out the world of writing poems to spit then move on to the next open mic or slam, is to have them look at revision in another way. For if you want to be printed in digital or print form the great pain in the ass, called Revision, must be sorted through. Sometimes when I teach this subject those writers who are reluctant to revision tense up, but for other writers it is their favorite part to do because revision implies another chance on getting it nearer to perfect. Think about it, in the past how many second chances did you get easily as with backspacing, crossing out, or erasing. The real world doesn't work that way. But, the reason why we are writers is to imagine and play. Right? And create worlds inside of worlds. Right? (Um… okay, I think I need to stop using the word world. It is not a good tool in writing; it is too redundant *message*.) So, with published poetry screwing up is a second chance not always acceptable, unless it is purposeful in the poem (more on that later).

Performance Poetry can be a tricky because it relies mostly on memory. When listening to a poem, one does not see/hear the poem line by line or word for word. All our mind is doing is listening for understanding and complexity. We are not searching for grammar or form. We are not thinking about spelling or word choice. We just sense rhythm and feel it out, which is why performance can trick you into believing that the poem is actually good. So, when the page becomes your stage all those elements of writing play a role in whether it is deemed good or not. In reading, one gets to scan in-between the lines. While with hearing, one relies on their memory to follow along. BUT that only depends on if you are hearing the poem for the very first time. How many times has someone bought a book or a CD because the performance was amazing, but when he or she read or re-listened to his or her investment, they may have felt cheated because the quality of the work is lacking?... It happens and it has happened to me.

In the spirit of receiving submissions and people wanting feedback on their writing, here are some brief and general suggestions in revising your poetry. Always remember that the first draft is just a free-write. It is your right in the free-write to not think about anything but getting your “thing” out. It is later, with revision, that one pays attention to the details. So, here is some ways to relook at the details:

  • Avoid overused phrases or clichés. They cheapen the craft of your writing. People want to read a good story that is written well. Not, hear what they already heard a million times before. So be careful of clichés. Be weary of those ghosts that sit around without anyone noticing because they are a casual and cool, but in poetry they can haunt your writing and make everyone run away from your work.

  • Form. Form. Form. Form. Form is incredibly important. Make sure that every indent is purposeful. Every comma has a reason. And that every line break holds the following one for ransom. Every line should pop. Every line should matter.

  • Rappers and the like, be careful with puns and punch lines. This runs rampant in Spoken-Word. Because there is a lot of that out there it can double as a cliché.

  • Over used words like -heart, love, revolution, peace, tears, cry, and so on- can also weaken the poem because of the ambiguity in those words. Images can always replace those kinds of words. Remember the idea is to be authentic and to present words in new and fresh ways.

  • Look at your metaphors literally. Meaning, follow your metaphor(s) and see if they would make sense even if they were true/literal. This is a tricky concept to grasp and may need another blog post to flesh out. But, follow the metaphor(s). And if there are too many, see if that serves your writing. If not, choose the strongest one(s) and expound on it, and make connections.

  • Write from a place of sincerity. Even if you’re a sincere jackass or afraid. Dive into the speaker and frame it for whoever he/she/thing is speaking/writing too.

  • Leave room for mystery don't tell us. Let the imagery work for itself.

  • Now, the most important rule of ALL. Your job as the poet is to break the rules. To prove the rules wrong and still create amazing work. If not, follow them and master them.

    I have been guilty of breaking rules, even my own. It is all a learning process…

    Thanks for reading and if you are interested in knowing a little bit more about my press and how to submit your work for publication, visit www.zionimprints.com.

    Be Well in Writing,



    1. I value what you have to say about sincerity. People sometimes get caught up in selling something or projecting an image to the point that they forget what truly moves us.

      You have to trust your audience and your readers enough to be sincere with them. Trust their intelligence and understanding. Let go and be yourself.

    2. Yes! Couldn't say it better myself!