Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Jar of Tang. James Moran gave me (scratch that: sold me) a copy of On Spec (issue #69, Summer 2007) last week. Science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy fic -- not usually my bag, but then, it's good to get taken out of one's comfort zone. James's story is an interesting one; it sounds like an excerpt from a longer work. It's set in a future where the 32 "conditions" necessary for human life are all in flux. We learn about four of the conditions in the story: time, gravity, oxygen and unemployment. I would say there's more where that came from. Anyway, I'm a poor judge of fiction to begin with, so pile on a genre I'm unfamiliar with and I'm pretty lost.

Anyone who has judged submissions for a magazine or press will empathize with the palpable frustration On Spec's poetry editor, Barry Hammond, conveys in his submission guidelines. Peppered with bold and all-caps, the text eviscerates pedestrian rhymes, overly emotional work and antiquated language. He fully admits his personal biases; he claims, I think rightly, that he is saving both himself and writers time by being explicit. Is his tone uncharitable or do you have to be cruel to be kind?

"If you want examples of the kind of poetry I do admire," writes Hammond, "here are a few names: Al Purdy, Lorna Crozier, Christopher Dewdney, Gary Geddes, Alice Major, Stan Rogal, Lillian Necakov, John Yau, Bob Perelman, Clayton Eshleman, Lyn Lifshin, Anne Waldman, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Bukowski, Jim Carroll, Diane Ackerman, and John Giorno. Have you at least heard of some of these people? Do you admire their work, or at least relate slightly to it? If you haven't and don't, then don't bother sending me your stuff. I'm probably not going to like it."

But wait, there's more. There's not one but two further pages of don'ts. Anyway, as someone who (a) has spent a couple of years reviewing for local poetry mags and (b) has seen plenty of rejection letters, I appreciate the honesty. And sometimes there's nothing like a good dust up.