A Witless Poetic Itinerary

Simon Brooks Poetry Blog PostBlog Post by Simon Brooks

As a reader and writer of poetry, being a reviewer for Silk Road literary magazine has taught me a few things about the wide world of publishing. First off, there is a lot of material devoid of merit floating through the tubes of the internet. Secondly, there are a lot of journals and magazines that don’t publish certain kinds of pieces, regardless of the merit they actually might have. At Silk Road, we have been trying to find written work that lends an international perspective to an audience, and for some reason, I have had to sift through countless poems about death and approximately four poems about frogs.

As a writer, one should probably find out which publishers accept which kinds of material before deciding which publisher he or she would suit best, and only then should a decision be made about where the piece is sent. Of course, this is all granted that a written work of a specific theme or genre is worth the paper it is printed on. Honestly, I am not pretentious, arrogant, condescending, dismissive, snobby, or presumptuous, but lately, I have been reading lots of good poetry, and it would be an understatement to say that basically every poem I went through paled in comparison.

Now that that’s off my chest, I would like to say a few things about themes of poetry: Some are fitting, and some are not understandable to regular people. It pains me to say so, but readers constitute the entire reason that anything has ever, in the history of any language since the beginning of thought, been published, and most of those readers are regular people. Without the reader, one’s poem is pure catharsis, just as cutting cans with a samurai sword is.

I have heard many a person say “people are stupid.” I have said that myself. During my stint as a reviewer, there have been many poems that seemed to not be about anything when I finished reading the last line. Some poets would tell me that I am stupid, and others would sit down with me and try to articulate the poetic motif that had struck their very hearts with an inspiring bolt of sluggish transcendence. Both of those poets need to work on their writing. Other poems I read during my reviewing stint were slightly entertaining and instructing, but Silk Road magazine was not a publisher that wanted anything to do with their subject matter.

In the art of poetry, there is a cunning connection that one can make between style and content. In the realm of publishing, there is an immediate relation between what was written and what is desired. A great writer works with all of these aspects in a way that brings the written word to life, so to speak. A mediocre writer works with two of these aspects, if “what is written” is still being counted as one. There is just one way to fix a disparity between either association, and that is with research or study.

What I Look For in a Poem

Robert Peake

By Senior Poetry Editor

Robert Peake


In addition to a cornucopia of silly-sounding euphemisms for sex, dating-game television shows in America in the 1970s and ’80s were obsessed with having contestants list their “turn-ons” and “turn-offs.” Remember that? In attempting to communicate what I look for in a poem when I read for Silk Road, it occurs to me that this model illustrates the important point that one editor’s taste in poetry can be just as intimate, revealing, peculiar, and visceral as a “turn on.” And while we collude socially to raise up certain things as universally “attractive,” who can say why a particular accent, object, or romantic setting turns over the engine of one person’s libido while leaving another stone cold? In aesthetics, as in human sexuality, the closest we can come to truthfulness is to recognize the existence of theme and variations.

I will begin therefore with my “turn-offs.” These are the things that sometimes cause me to stop reading a poem before the end. Yes, I do that. Even though what I receive has been carefully read and deliberated upon by assistant editors, I still have hundreds of poems to get through. There are certain ways that a poem can signal to me that, out of respect for so many others awaiting my attention, it is now time to move on. The single biggest mistakes are actual mistakes—not so much typos, which I can overlook, but errors of grammar or malapropisms that betray an incomplete understanding of the language being used, laziness, or both.

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