Editing Poetry

Editing poetry. The very idea seem blasphemous in a way: judging the heartfelt innermost thoughts of a person. What a ludicrous idea! Yet it's what I do.

As Senior Poetry Editor for Eye on Life Online Magazine, publishing The Poetry Locksmith feature more or less weekly, I am blessed to receive English language poetry from people all over the world. If I think it belongs, I publish it on Eye on Life. If I don't think it belongs on Eye on Life, I send the poet a rejection email. Having received many rejection letters myself, as a poet and writer, I know how they go:

"Thank you for your submission. We regret that we cannot place your work at this time. This is by no means a reflection on the quality of your work. We wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere."


It takes me a lot longer to send a rejection notice than it does an acceptance. I don't like to be the kind of editor that judges a work based on whether or not I am happy. I am happy most of the time, but everybody has a bad day once in a while. I wouldn't want to reject a piece because of it, so I re-read a work several more times before rejecting it than those I accept. Never rejecting a good poem because of a typo, I let the poet know and give them a chance to fix it.

As in life, in publishing acceptance is a much happier thing. The poems I accept usually (but not always) speak to me right away. I know what I'm looking for, and finding it makes me glad.

I am looking for poetry with vivid and compelling imagery, fresh and inventive usage and/or poetry that works perfectly within or transcends its form. I am not looking for poetry that describes feelings in literal words, or poetry that would work just as well as a paragraph, or poetry that has been forced (blackmailed, held at gunpoint, whatever) to rhyme or crammed into a form into which it simply does not fit. Also I do not publish poetry that establishes a rhythm only to abandon it for no reason halfway through.

Therefore, it is not without a modicum of objectivity that I seek "good" poetry. Still, I have to admit, it is a subjective process. I must 'like' the poem if I am going to publish it, and I must also think my readers will like it.

I am having the time of my life as Senior Poetry Editor at Eye on Life Online Magazine. People I don't know send me great poetry all the time. It does not get much better than this.

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Comments 17 comments

Run Down Battery profile image

Run Down Battery 7 years ago from UK

Thanks, very infomative, intriguing and honest.

'...acceptance is a much happier thing...' This line has got me thinking about the relationship between acceptance and happiness in a wider context. Thanks again... Jeff

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thank you, RDB. Self acceptance is the beginning, or perhaps the the most important thing.

rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 7 years ago from Tampa Bay

nice article, Tom. when accepting poetry, can it be published elsewhere or do you only accept poems that are not published, i.e., as on Hubpages?

I imagine it must be amazing to read poetry from around the world. I plan to take a look a look at your link!

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thank you, RebekahELLE :0)

We only accept previously unpublished work. Thank you for asking!

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 7 years ago

You've a great job--reading poetry from around the world. It's true that poetry can be subjective but one with soul speaks. I used to write lots of poetry but have now put it on the back burner for more mundane work. I really should get back to it. Thanks for sharing.

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

I love what I do, Anginwu. I hope you get involved in poetry again and send me something.

Candie V profile image

Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

OOh.. hardware and poetry!! You are a man of many hats!! Good hub.. good luck finding the next Ogden Nash!!

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much, Candie, It is great to hear from you :0)

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Pachuca213 7 years ago

What an interesting look into your work my friend. by the way I am almost done with my book (been taking a break) and I will shoot it your way as soon as I am done for your "review" and opinion of it! Thanks for being such a positive and motivating friend!~

KeithTax profile image

KeithTax 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Poetry is the most difficult form of writing I can think of. Thanks for the inside look.

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Thank you, JJ. I look forward to seeing it!

Thank you, Keith. I have a lot of fun.

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philip carey 61 7 years ago

Good job of sharing another perspective. Critiquing poetry is an art in itself.

susanlang profile image

susanlang 7 years ago

Tom, you have a wonderful hub here on poetry, I enjoyed reading it. May I interest you in reading a poem I wrote?


Warm Wishes,


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

I totally agree with you; a poem either “speaks to you” and it captures your imagination or it does not. I have been fortunate and 5 books of my poems have been published between 1997 and 2002.

As for editing I only had a problem once when a very well known publisher changed one single word in a poem, substituting it with a synonym which he considered to be more “poetic”. I went ballistic and I publicly called him uninspired.

More than anything else my choice of words made my poetry instantly recognizable and literary critics referred to it as “the Vlahian style”. I am translating some of my poems into English and that proved to be a painful process since so much is “lost in translation” and the emotions are diluted to the point that I am frustrated most of the time. I may decide to write version of my poems to avoid the problem, but I still don’t know if that will work.

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States Author

Translating poetry is an art in itself. I greatly admire that you are undertaking it and look forward to reading your work.

In translation you will be forced to reach for the poetic images you easily achieved in your native language. It will be very good exercise for your brain, but I can understand that the end result may never be totally satisfactory. Nevertheless, we, who speak only English, will greatly benefit from your work, so I hope you do it.

I notice few poets translate their own work. I'm not sure of the reason for that, but perhaps it might be because it is more easily done objectively, where the translator's work is overseen by the poet but not totally controlled. Also, of course, many translations happen when a poet is no longer available to comment on the translation.

In translations of Neruda I have noticed they place the English version beside the Spanish so that the bilingual reader can judge the accuracy of the translation. I like this, because although I am not bilingual I can recognize some words and see where the translator has changed the order of the words, and I can sort of feel what the poem must be like in the original.

I hope you will send a new poem to us sometime.

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

There is no doubt that a translator of poetry should be a poet on his own right, so it can relate to the emotional and metaphoric side of it. My challenge comes from the fact that I learned English late in life and in my own, but this is nobody’s fault. However it pains me to see that, although the metaphor of my poems could be detected, most of the emotional value is only alluded to, at best.

For right now, the “traduttore – traditore” truth applies to me abundantly

Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States Author

Your English poetry is beautiful. I'm sure, in time, you will be able to translate your work to your satisfaction.

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