It’s Sunday night and I’m surrounded by coke cans, empty plates, chocolate bar wrappers and bottles of Real Canadian Natural Spring Water. My neck is bent up at my screen in an unhealthy angle and I have a mighty headache to match my beaten spirit and disheveled hair.
Kids, this is what your editor looks like. Well…what one of the editorial board looks like.
I’m plowing through this year’s submissions for the Hart House Literary Review and it isn’t the fun and easy-breezy process I thought it would be when I signed up for this task. There are 309 pieces sent in by 100 people…and so far I’m only at undergraduate author #047 (piece number 162). My comments are becoming less and less detailed and professional. I’ve had three weeks to do this, and my evenly spaced self-imposed regiment of reading has faced some challenges. I’m jumping into this at every spare second now.
And it’s not that the entries here are bad, actually, most of them are good…really good. That’s the problem: what makes this poem any better than that poem? Is this description more accurate? Touching? They start to feel the same in their “goodness” to the point where really a really bad entry will stand out like a beacon of clarity. But as for all the ‘good’ ones…they all start to feel the same in their descriptions and forms…I start to ask “which one would get published?” I’m waiting for that piece that will, every now and then, jump out from the rest.
My reading goes in cycles. At first I’m sympathetic and see the good in every writer. Twenty minutes later I’m more honest with my self as I check the “yes” “no” and “maybe” categories. There are less and less maybes. Then I get brutally honest, more and more so until I decide it’s time to take a break, get a can of coke, or eat another cookie as a mood restorative.
Poem upon poem bounces up on my screen.
How much society sucks
What is art?
Fields…lots of fields…
I have a little chart, with a number and a letter to go with each piece.
It feels pretty endless.
I know that these poems (it is mostly poetry here), they were probably written to be read by themselves as little literary droplets…not all together, pounding some one person (me) across the forehead en masse.
What is a good poem? What is a bad one? I forget halfway through and just slough through…I must finish! I have to get through this!
I start to feel vaguely ill. I get cranky and pretentious. I’m tired of reading material by 20 year olds trying to sound like their writing from the 19th century. I’m sick of words like “evanescent” and “periphery”. Why does every narrator smoke a cigarette? Why are all these young people so unhappy? Who is it that’s running around breaking all these hearts in the English department here and exactly how physically attractive is this person?
And then…there it is, up on my screen…
Something by someone, a piece of writing that wakes me up and shakes me, jumps down my throat and reminds me that young people can be innovative, creative, inspiring, funny, perceptive and original…
I remember why I signed up for this. Yes! I press the letter “y” beside their number on the chart with feeling before I sit back and feel good for a second.
Then I remember I have over 100 submissions to go through plus my readings for class…and then there are those two essays I really need to start thinking about…
I slurp back some more cola and click on another poem.
I wish I were getting paid for this.