The Edit: Understanding a Rejected Submission at Polyphony

A look at the editorial process of the international student-run literary magazine
Polyphony H.S.

We're artists. We paint, dance, act, strum, perform and write. But are we (even you, authors) masters of writing about what we do? Not always. Still, the world expects us to spell out the our ideas and goals in order to score the grants, residencies and jobs we need. The Edit is a look at artists' statements, bios, cover letters and the editorial process that shapes them into more persuasive arguments for one's practice. Our hope is that this feature will help artists tackle the onerous task of writing about their work ... and winning the grants. Want us to take a look at yours? Submit your statement.

There is no magazine like Polyphony H.S. in the world—that is, a professional literary magazine for high school writers, edited by high school students from public, private, parochial and home schools located around the world. Polyphony H.S. editors invite high school writers to submit their work for publication and give editorial feedback to every author who submits a manuscript. Each submission is read progressively, with each reader commenting on both the submission and the previous readers' crituques. An executive editor issues the final word on acceptance or rejection and the overall editorial commentary.

For this particular example, we present a poem that is the revision of a submission that was rejected. In this case, in fact, it is a twice-rejected submission. What readers try to do, though, is add the remarks of an executive editor or one of our editors-in-chief, so that they can craft a statement that addresses the revision directly. This extra set of eyes and critical voice will assure the submitting author that we really did give his/her revised submission a close look. 

The Submission: 


read this in case i die right now

the anchor snaking up your arm, you answered,
is because you’re in love with flying.

(this is what i pretended to ignore
watching the light blue your eyes:
i’ve been doodling the impractical lately)

you can’t sit through sunsets or
kiss anyone under mistletoe;
you dumped in the quarters
i needed for the bus ride,
a straight shot into the well. 

(i am going to get so shocked
with the nerves that jangle

every time you take my hand

smirking at fairytales doesn’t make you bulletproof,
and even if you do,
faith isn’t going to die out without you 

(you fall asleep funny,
mouth open and brown eyebrows crinkled,
most of the time on my pillow.
i could get used to this.
why don’t you ask me?



Specific Comments: 

  • Stanza 1, Line 1: I imagine the anchor snaking up the arm but the rest of the sentence seems unclear. What do you mean when you say ''because you're in love with flying?'' These images are contradictory; I do not understand what I'm supposed to feel as the reader.
  • S2, L2: I think you need to use the word ''of'' when you say the sentence ''watching the light blue 'of ' your eyes''
  • S3, L6: I'm confused with the tone you are trying to convey. In the beginning of the sentence you are negative toward that person but toward the end your tone changes to positive. Still, I admire the imagery you create in this stanza.
  • S4, L1: Your negative tone toward the person taking your hand makes you conflicted; why is that?
  • S5, L1: What are you trying to say in this stanza? What were you feeling when you were writing this stanza?
  • S6, L1: Your imagery in here is wonderful. It seems so gentle, so innocent, like a child sleeping. The whole stanza is sweet and comforting, yet restricted.


General Comments:
I think overall you poem was well written but your tone was unclear. Some of your stanzas had more of a positive tone while others a negative one. You had contradiction in your first sentence and as a reader I was not sure what I was supposed to feel. Your imagery is great; I could imagine everything when I read it.



Specific Comments: 

  • S1, L1-2: To me, this seems very clever. I'm not sure if the speaker is attempting to be sarcastic here, or attempting to convey something else.
  • S2, L1: Why is the narrator pretending to ignore this? Does the narrator think of it as sarcasm? This line will be made clearer if you choose to clarify the first stanza.
  • S2, L2-3: A colon is generally used to separate an independent clause from a separate thought, yet I don't really see how line 3 connects to the previous statement. Is that a way the narrator pretends to ignore the man?
  • S3, L1: "can't" is a very interesting word choice here, particularly given the narrator's later attitude on the willfulness of this man. Is there a reason you use "can't" here instead of a more direct statement of the man's willfulness, like "don't" or "won't?"
  • S4: The tone of this stanza confuses me when I compare it to the rest of the poem. To me, the rest of the poem portrays the man as distant, sarcastic and one who is not into sappy or romantic behavior. The narrator sees him as someone arrogant but still endearing. Yet in this section, she acts nervous and apprehensive in his presence.
  • S5: The thing I like about this poem is that both the narrator and the other character are portrayed not through outright statements of behavior, but through small anecdotes of their life together. This form breaks a bit in this stanza. I think it would be stronger if the narrator was reacting specific incidents he shirked faith or mocked fairytales.
  • S6, L1: You have the beginning parenthesis here, but don't have a closing one. Is this intended to keep the ending open-ended? 


General Comments:
Your title, "read this in case i die right now," evokes urgency and immediacy. And yet your poem is a stark contrast to this, depicting reflections of the narrator on her past with this man, and in the end confirming that though her memories are into on the whole flawless she still sees him as endearing and wants him to stay. The narrator uses the medium of a letter in order to convey her deepest thoughts. One overt aspect of the poem is the use of parentheses around every other stanza. In general, I believe these are used to convey the narrator's own thoughts in situations, though there are times when the narrator's thoughts are outside parentheses, like S5. I would recommend looking through the poem to see if the items in parentheses should be, and which items are not in parentheses that ought to be. To me, that could become the most powerful aspect of the poem. Overall, though, you masterfully capture the lives of these two people. With only a few snapshots, the reader can see their lives, tones, and attitudes quite clearly. Thank you for submitting, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!



Specific Comments:

  • S1: I love this stanza. The idea is so powerful and unique. Really interesting.
  • S2, L1: I’d be interested to see a little more elaboration on the “this” you’re referring to. Are you just referencing the anecdote from the first line, or is there more that the speaker is ignoring? Maybe you could elaborate on this a little more in the beginning.
  • S3, L5: At first this line confused me, but I think I understand it now. Are you trying to say that the subject used the coins to wish upon in a well? Regardless, it took me quite a few read throughs to understand what you were saying. I might consider revising this line to make it a little clearer.
  • S4, L1: This line might read a little sharper if you revised it to “I get so shocked.” The way you’ve written it sounds like something that is going to happen in the future rather than something the speaker has experienced and knows will happen.
  • S5, L2: This line is a little unclear since you switch from the participle “smirking” to a regular verb. It’s hard to tell what “do” is referring to. Changing it to “doing so…” would clarify this and make it parallel with the previous line.
  • S5, L3: I’d recommend removing the “out” from this line. It sounds a little awkward followed by the “without.”
  • S6, L2: The detail of “brown” feels a little strange here. You haven’t described the subject physically except to mention his tattoo, so I’m not sure why you include it here.
  • S6, L5: You should probably include a parenthesis here because you have them at the end of every other parenthetical stanza.


General Comments:
Thank you for submitting to Polyphony HS! I really like the concept of this poem. You use a lot of really interesting descriptions to create a really fascinating character. I really like the attitudes that you portray from the speaker to the subject. However, I think you can take these feelings of the author a little further. I’d love to see more of this in the piece. You create such an interesting character throughout the poem, so I’d love to see more of the speaker’s relationship with this character. Your language is really good; I just think that sometimes it gets confusing or vague. Try reading this piece out loud and looking at it with fresh eyes. You might be able to spot some of the unclear or ambiguous parts and edit them to help your poem flow better. Overall, great job. Keep writing and keep submitting.



Thanks for submitting a revision of the piece. I love the changes on this poem. I was a reader on the piece the first time around, and I think it's definitely on the right track. The only thing that I think you have left to do is make the poem more cohesive. Right now, it reads like a compilation of a lot of beautifully phrased thoughts, but it just doesn't seem to flow as nicely as it could. I think that if you leave this poem alone for a little bit and come back to it, you'll be able to see where you could fill in some gaps and, above all, make the voice consistent and clear. I really enjoyed reading this re-submission, and maybe we'll be seeing another submission of it. It's very close to a really well-developed piece, but I think it needs a tad more development to really take off. Thanks again.

Click for an example of an accepted submission.

Polyphony H.S. is an international, student-run literary magazine for high school writers and editors founded in 2004. The title is a combination of the Greek term meaning "many voices," and the abbreviation for high school. Polyphony H.S. publishes one printed volume each year in August. The magazine is headquartered in Evanston, Illinois. PHS represents the best and brightest of high school fiction writers. PHS believes that when young writers put precise and powerful language to their lives it helps them better understand their value as human beings.

Polyphony H.S. awards three cash prize awards for excellence in Poetry, Fiction, and Creative Non-Fiction in coordination with the Claudia Ann Seaman Foundation. 

Polyphony H.S. was co-founded by Billy Lombardo, winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award for Short-Fiction, author of five books, The Man With Two Arms, How to Hold a Woman, Meanwhile Roxy Mourns, The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories, and the forthcoming, The Day of the Palindrome

PHS Advisory Board:

Jennifer Egan
Edward Hirsch
Alex Kotlowitz
Chang-Rae Lee
Stuart Dybek
Jim McManus
Scott Turow
Gary Shteyngart
James Franco
Betsy Franco


Polyphony H.S.

Published by CAR_Jeff on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 11:25am
Updated on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 8:46pm