Lana Myers of Newton has been writing a biography of Kansas poet May Williams Ward, who edited The Harp, a national poetry magazine in the 1930s. These are her guidelines for poets submitting to the magazine, and I think they hold up well in 2009. I resolve to polish, polish, polish. DL
HINTS TO WRITERS by May Williams Ward:
Do polish. There is nothing sacred about the first draft which you write. Change, improve, to give your exact shade of meaning.
Do emphasize climax, dramatic arrival somewhere.
Do be brief if your theme allows.
Do read aloud in decided sing-song to discover places hard to pronounce and faults in meter.
Do try for rich sound-texture by varying the vowels. The liquid consonants l, m, r, n, are pleasing; k, t, b, etc., harsh. Too many s sounds hiss or buzz.
Do leave something to the imagination. The best poems have an inner meaning, unexpressed, parallel to the outward meaning.
Don’t use threadbare rhymes such as love—above.
Don’t spoil your climax by failing to stop; and point no morals.
Don’t use too much the hackneyed 3-4 meter. It is hard to overcome the handicap of having your poem go to the tune of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”
Don’t use the old-fashioned “thee,” “e’en,” “ere,” etc.
Don’t invert the order of words. “Serene sky” is better than “sky serene.”
Don’t be Victorian with flowery words and phrases. Modern poems are simple, direct, nearly like speech.
Don’t fail to give thought to your title. It is your show-window.
Don’t think your poem is clear unless the idea can be stated in one short prose sentence that makes sense.
Don’t be too tender toward your poem because it is yours. Weeds may grow in any garden. Finest blossoms come from careful pruning. Robert Graves says: “When in doubt, cut it out.”
[from unpublished MS “Notes Toward an Autobiography,” pp. 33-34, WSU Collection]