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January 2017, vol 12 no 4

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Bob Lucky

Send Your Best: Notes on Revision, Haiku, and Feedback

At the risk of making this issue read like a Glenn Coats Tribute, which isn’t a bad thing, I want to riff off an exchange he and Ray Rasmussen have in the interview linked to the Featured Writer page, starting with Ray’s question:

James Thurber wrote, “Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counselling rather than a collaborating task.” As an editor, Glenn, what is your standard practice with respect to giving advice? Some editors either accept or reject a writer’s work; others sometimes invite revisions and resubmissions (R&Rs). If you do offer suggestions, what’s your approach? Do you ever actually rework haiku or prose passages or do you limit yourself to general comments such as “this paragraph needs tightening up.”

You'll need to read the interview for Glenn's answer, but here's mine.

• Revision. Many submissions need a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to come to life. I sometimes get the impression a haibun has been composed right then and there in the body of the email and SEND was hit before the digital ink had dried. It’s a good idea to let a first draft mature, if not like a fine wine then at least like a potentially good hunting dog. (Don’t get me started on writers not proofing there we rk.)

• Haiku. I read some well-written prose that would make a great haibun if the haiku were decent. (Occasionally, I read haibun with great haiku but prose that is stilted or ungrammatical.) In every reading cycle, I receive submissions from writers whose concept of haiku was fossilized in the 1960s – in terms of 5-7-5 or Zen-like aphorisms – or feel that the last sentence of the preceding paragraph, broken into three lines, would work just fine. I’m all for experimentation (or neo-formalism), but if the experiment doesn’t work, it’s best to redesign it or scrap it. Read the haiku in The Heron’s Nest (online haiku journal) and the editors’ comments about what makes best of issue haiku work. Note that there are few if any 5-7-5 versions. There’s a reason for that. Go to Wikipedia and search for ‘haiku’ and you’ll find out why the average contemporary English-language haiku is around 13 syllables.

• Feedback. Which leads me to this well-worn editor’s plea: Send me your best. Let your haibun sit around a bit and mature or ferment or give you an idea for a better haibun. If you’re new to haibun, read a lot before you write about your cousin driving off a bridge and tack on a haiku about the blinding moonlight at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be frank, I’ve probably been making too many revision suggestions, so I intend to stop. One, it’s time consuming and I’m running short of that on many levels. Two, as a volunteer editor, my ‘job’ is to select submissions, not workshop them. My apologies to those who felt I was changing their vision or disloyal to the facts in the case, and apologies to those who have appreciated the feedback. From here on, it’s pretty much a yes or no response. If you're truly confused about why a haibun isn't working – because it's receiving rejections here and elsewhere – then do ask me what I think. If I can find some time, I'll respond.

In the meantime, send me your best.

                                                                            ~ Bob Lucky