Off The Wagon And Into The Slush Pile by Miriam Sagan

Yes, I’m off the wagon. I’m reading slush again. Not so long ago in these very blog pages I announced that my editorship in one venue was over. Now I’m back in another (which I will not yet reveal, for fear of MORE slush).
And I’m ever so happy. At peace. It’s really odd, but I find reading slush ultra-relaxing. Right now, on these cold winter days, my favorite things to do are roast eggplant (it might also be brisket, but my significant other is vegetarian), knit, and watch Bollywood movies. All of these activities are leisurely, predictable, yet not without worth. (OK, Bollywood the least, but I tell myself I’m learning about culture and I do dance to all the songs.)
What is slush? Unsolicited submissions to a literary magazine, as a rule. Why is it called slush? I have no idea, except that it isn’t a compliment.
I enjoy it because the pattern is so clear (like roasting, knitting, and Bollywood). A bad poem consists of:

1. A dull underutilized title, often one word, like “Love.”
2. An opening that over sets context: I was in the kitchen, it was snowing, on Tuesday I went shopping.
3. A simplistic metaphor carried all the way to the end. (Hopefully not roasting eggplant is like reading slush).
4. An unambiguous emotion—I’m depressed, suicidal, happy I won the lottery.
5. An ending that reiterates context and wraps up already wrapped emotion.
6. No form, structure, or technique except for some predictable rhyme.
7. A self-satisfied, melodramatic, or cutesy tone.

I’ve left off many things, including word choice, but basically I’m scanning for the above. My reading slush is essentially a negative process of omission. If a submission DOES NOT have the above faults, it goes into the maybe pile.

Oh, and the cover letter. I don’t really care if you are in Yonkers, or prison. Write for therapy or have published in dozens of magazines. I don’t care if you praise the publication I’m reading for, and surprising even to me—I don’t care if I know you. I’m rejecting work by famous poets and accepting work by friends of mine (who to their credit didn’t know I was reading) with complete equanimity because I’m reading all submissions equally.

Once things are in the “maybe” pile, then my taste kicks in. I was hired to have that taste, so now I’m less objective. I love short work. I like the quirky. It’s possible I can be seduced by my favorite subject matter. Here again, I’m at peace. I’ve run an objective grid on the poem.Then I’m checking it against what I like.

I’m accepting and rejecting. Stirring the eggplant, finding a dropped stitch, doing fake Indian dance hand gestures.

Call it winter’s day—with slush.

2 thoughts on “Off The Wagon And Into The Slush Pile by Miriam Sagan

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