Today, Oyez Review 41 reader/forthcoming fall intern Brendan Delaney explores common tropes in submissions and how to make one’s polished work stand out. Brendan will have another post here next week; stay tuned.
A staggering number of submissions use technology as a casual theme for a loss of humanity. “Technology is killing us” is a new trope. Of course, there are valuable things to be said about disillusionment and depression related to an ultra-connected digital culture, but creative works that have substance and subtlety on this topic are harder to find. We pride ourselves as editors to look dispassionately and wholeheartedly at an individual poem or story, yet we read hundreds of pieces in a very short time, and it’s impossible not to be affected by the sheer volume of what we read.
So when the first twenty poems I review are all about how no one goes to the library anymore and kids would rather fiddle with video games than play outside, my reaction becomes “so what?” I become hostile to the work I’m reading. We all know it’s important to set yourself apart in language and structure in whatever creative piece you’re submitting. It’s even more important to have something unique to say. Think about your topics. No, really think about it. Too often, creative works feature surface-level meditations on given subjects.
We crave submissions with fresh perspectives. Write a poem about a couple at a romantic dinner, their faces buried in their phones, not talking to each other or making any eye contact. Instead of leaving it at this voyeuristic perspective, take the reader closer. Show the couple texting each other from across the table, a private language that connects rather than alienates. It is this last part, where technology and humanity are complicated by their relationship, and harsh conclusions are not drawn. Don’t be afraid to be funny, wacky, or happy in your submissions. I would jump out of my chair if I read a polished work about the positive effects of technology and our connected culture.
Literary journals like Oyez Review need and want to stand out. There are many ways in which we strive to do this, but the biggest factor is unique content. Most submissions seem to be about depression and angst. If you want to stand out, dare your work to smile.
Brendan Delaney is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University. He served as a reader/editor for Issue 41 of Oyez Review, and will serve as the student editor/intern this fall for Issue 42. He hails from Baltimore, loves basketball, and appreciates a rousing discourse about Jimmy Butler’s defense.