We’ll never tell you what to write about, but…

As a poetry editor, the sheer amount of poems you read can be very daunting. When you read hundreds of poems, you begin to notice that there are a few topics everyone seems to want to write about. It only takes a couple of these poems for you to sigh whenever you see certain themes emerging from the words in front of you. Not this again, you think, and push the thought back and give the poem a chance. But by choosing a topic that has been done so much and by so many, and by the greats before us, the poet has created an uphill job for themselves in trying to give a fresh face to these old themes.

I’ve seen too many poems about death. These poems are usually about the death of someone close to the author. Death and love have to be the two most written-about subjects in the world. It is very difficult to say anything new about them. I won’t say much about this because death is a heavy, permanent thing that I don’t care to make light of, but it is universal, and almost everyone has lost someone. This doesn’t mean you will now be able to write meaningful poetry about that experience.

Now, if I can’t make light of how many people write about the losses they have experienced, I can definitely find humor in how many people send in poems about nature. I’ve read poems about birds, about seasons, and so many poems about gardens. We are so enraptured by the beauty of the world around us that it just pours out of us, in couplets, in sonnets, in free verse. Please stop. Your garden is lovely. Your roses are astoundingly crimson. The sparrow you saw embodies hope. The sunset last night was a thing of wonder. But stop writing poems about them.

Please don’t send me a poem about the ocean. Please, please don’t write a poem about the ocean. If you must, please leave out the word “cerulean”. I think this is my least favorite kind of poem, and I think it’s because when you realize a poem is going to try to describe the ocean to you, you already know 50% of the words you’re going to be reading. You’re going to use the word “blue” and fifty different synonyms for the word “blue”. You will probably discuss waves and sand and maybe throw in the calls of the seagulls. See, I know this poem by heart and I haven’t even read yours yet! Don’t send it to me!

I can’t speak for all poetry editors, especially since I myself can barely claim that title, but I will say speaking as someone who has read hundreds of poems from poets who are actively trying to publish their work, I have reached my point of saturation on these topics. Most of us have lost someone we loved and most of us agree the ocean is beautiful, but unless you have something new and wonderful to say on the subject, write about something else. And here’s the thing: if you do think you have something new and wonderful to say about death or the ocean, please send it to me. I would love to publish a poem that says something new about the ocean. I would love to see that it can be done, that in 2015 there are still new things to say about the ocean. That would be a beautiful thing.

Hilary Collins is a MFA candidate in Creative Non-fiction at Roosevelt University and the Oyez Review 43 Editor in Chief.


About Oyez Review

Oyez Review is the literary magazine of the Creative Writing Program at Roosevelt University. It is published annually. Issue 45 out May 2018.
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