Too much & not enough

You know how you can sometimes only see things once others point it out? Often my first readers are journal editors. It’s great when things are accepted, it means not only was the writing ‘right’ first off, but it aligned with the journal aesthetic and suited the editor’s taste, quality expectations and form requirements. Like I said, this is great, but also kinda miraculous, all these tiny factors coming together with a little research, timing, and a lotta luck. Voila, published.

However, sometimes what’s more helpful as I develop is rejection. A rejection that tells me why sourced from what I’ve written. I don’t get these types of rejections often. Mostly rejections are: not quite what we’re looking for or a next time, or it didn’t fit our theme, needs, space. All those reasons are valid, by the way, but feedback that helps me write stories and poems people want to put in their publications; much better.

In the ongoing effort to get everything published, I edited some of my ancient haiku, which followed the traditional form:

  • three lines, 17 syllables.
  • first line 5 syllables.
  • second line 7 syllables.
  • third line 5 syllables.
Photo by Elina Krima on

I cut my poems down for a modern haiku publication, but I’d forgotten it’s not just about abandoning the formal rules, but creating a space for what’s left out. Thus, my poems were of course rejected, but in the best way.

Your images are good, but they are not coming together as haiku. In fact in each haiku you have packed too much of information. Simplify. Zoom in.  Throw away what is not needed. 

Doh. I’d been too precious with the words and the connections I was trying to make that even in this constrained form, I’d still left in too much. It’s a lesson I need to relearn, especially for all poetry, not just haiku, where in trying to say something carefully, I end up saying a lot, and with too many words, I muddle the point. This patient editor has reminded me to forget making connections and leave space for the readers to make their own.

So I’ve gone back to the haiku and in one poem alone I could immediately see where I could edit it down from 10 syllables to eight and from three lines to two, and still retain the image. Even after 10 or so years, a poem can wait a little longer for another round of edits before being sent out.

On that note, I better keep going simplifying and cutting out everything that’s not needed.

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