Just Say No  

Posted by Heidi in

My guest bloggist today is the only one of my blog friends whom I have met in the flesh (she drove two hours to be at my book signing and what's more, she drove two hours back!--what a gal!) and chatted with on the phone. I hope to meet many more next week but she will always be the first. She is also the first person to read Miss D cold--meaning she was not my friend (we weren't blog friends yet), not my editor, not a family member, etc. The fact that she loved it was a huge boost to my self confidence and I will always adore her for that. Since then I have gotten to know Jami for the super bright, smart, lovely, wise and funny gal that she is. (Ironically, as you will see, it was her brilliant poem on the subject of piratical cats that first brought her genius to my notice.) In my world, Jami is simply irreplacable and not only because she is a gifted editor. If you don't already read Jami, you can find her at Superfluous Miscellany.

This is a story of bad boundaries, bad manners and bad poetry. You may have noticed that I like poetry. Plenty of people have noticed. One of the consequences of people noticing that you like poetry is that they give you their poetry to read. (Do I do that to you? No. I have a deep understanding that amateur poetry causes hives in many people. I have mercy.) I find these requests to be far more painful than the "will you edit [write] my paper for me" requests. Bad prose is one thing, bad poetry is another. I don't like rhymes under the best of circumstances, but bad rhymes inflict migraines.

Once upon a time (while I was pregnant and whatever normally passes for Jami's commonsense had gone bye-bye) a human acquaintance (hereafter referred to as H.A.) begged me to go over this ream of poetry, to "correct the grammar and punctuation." I reluctantly accepted. Really the H.A. is super nice, and it would have been rude of me to decline.Once I got home, I began to read. They were (God forgive me) crap. Trust me. So...did I hand them back? Did I try to convince the H.A. to take up knitting or golf? No, the H.A. is a nice person who had obviously invested a great deal of self in the poems. I did the only thing a cowardly former English major could do. I avoided confrontation.

Unfortunately, one can only duck into empty classrooms, claim non-existent stomach ills and headaches so many times. Eventually, the H.A. cornered me. Had I read them yet? What did I think? Were they ready? Which one did I like best? When would they be ready? I prevaricated. I'd been busy. I pretended to have had a bout of false labor. (I'm so ashamed.) This went on for months before the nagging finally got to me. I felt bad. I was holding the poems hostage. I needed to keep my commitment, give my opinion, and let them go home.

So I bit the bullet and began making comments. At first, I attempted to fix the poor mutilated words. Wasn't going to happen. I could rewrite them entirely, but that was a horror to which I was unwilling to subject myself. I gave up and plunged the knife in deeply: I told the truth.

After about ten poems, I was forced to write a short piece of marginalia on the fact that the ends of rhyming words are supposed to sound the same. (Action and magazine, while both ending in the "N" sound, do not rhyme. In fact, the more ending sounds that two words have in common the better they rhyme.) It was an insulting thing to tell someone, but I didn't see any evidence that the H.A. understood the principle.

I also informed the H.A. that the sentences in poetry should resemble English. It is unseemly to torque the words to get the rhyme. (The avoidance of orange to rhyme is not a reason to turn your words to slime-or-Orange to rhyme I must avoid, thus my syntax becomes hemorrhoid.)

I tossed in as much "that's a nice image" as I honestly could, just to soften the blow a little. Then under the cover of dark, I bravely doorbell-ditched the packet of doomed poems.

The friendly H.A. did not speak to me for a year. The spouse of the H. A. gave me dark looks. At the end of my year long silent treatment, H. A. cheerfully came up to inform me that one of the poems had won a contest and was being published in an anthology (available for purchase for just $39.99). Shortly thereafter, I was informed that a collection of H.A.'s poetry was being published by Publish America.

So what would you do? Tell your happy human acquaintance the truth? No way, dude. I tried that. It worked out poorly. So I smiled and offered congratulations.

Guess what I have sitting on my shelf right now? Yep. At least the rhyming has improved—be, me. rock, stock, cast, morass—some. Luckily, I visit an older lady who LOVES rhyming poems and have I got a book for her!

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 16, 2009 at Thursday, April 16, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

38 wise, witty and wonderful comments

I love you Jami!

Feeling for you! WOW! I think I would have had a small house fire or something and oh, no- the papers were sitting next to the stove (because I was reading them as I was preparing dinner) and a flame shot out from the stove and caught them on fire. (No one needs to know that my stove is a glasstop electric.)

April 17, 2009 at 12:44 AM

You've hit upon the one thing that I canNOT stand (which sounds very rude, but I only mean that it sort of hurts me). Even "good" poets and smart people sometimes use words that half-rhyme. I have a really hard time with half-rhymes. I feel sort of bad about this because I really know nothing about poetry (except that I really love some of it) and this is such a nitpicky thing. Even if a poem is really good, if it has half-rhymes (or less than half) I still get stuck on them and cannot appreciate the humor or beauty of any poem that contains them.

April 17, 2009 at 1:11 AM

Excellent post! I took a writing class in college. Part of the class was poetry. Although the information was interesting, I have learned...poetry is difficult to write and you have to really know your stuff! At least you were honest with your neighbor.

April 17, 2009 at 6:29 AM

I am in no way a writer, but I do know those poetry books are scams. So sad!

April 17, 2009 at 7:51 AM

I had a similar experience with a lady I VT and a manuscript she did. It was so awful. I was miserable for months, trying to think of how to say it.

Aaargh.

April 17, 2009 at 8:08 AM

There seems to be an entire set of "poets" who self-identify as such because they are competent rhymers. Some even have a good ear for meter. I am extremely good at those two skills myself, and have been known to jot down a silly rhyme or two for my kids or mother. But I am fully aware that I am no poet. I don't think it's in me at all to be one. Poor HA.

April 17, 2009 at 9:23 AM

I used to proofread papers for a college friend. Every three or four sentences, I had to re-read the assignment instructions because I had no idea what the heck this girl was going on about. I thought I'd be honest, yet tactful, and perhaps things would go well. Wrong-o! She loved my honesty - go figure - and asked me to help proofread her papers for the rest of the year!! That, coupled with your story, tells me that honesty is not always a good thing... :)

April 17, 2009 at 9:26 AM

Do you read Richard Wilbur? I love his poetry, whether it rhymes or not.

I must confess that I once used the half-rhyme midst/bits. It was in a sonnet entitled "Thoughts on Lines by Frost." I turned it in for a lit. assignment at BYU. The assignment was to write a two page explication of a poem, and even though I only wrote fourteen lines, the professor gave me an A- on the paper, so I guess she didn't mind the half rhyme too much.

While I can agree that being asked to critique creative writing can be painful, when I was teaching Gospel Doctrine in our ward I was asked by one of the High Priests to critique an essay he had written about the atonement. In my opinion, the doctrine was way out in left field. It was awkward to say the least.

April 17, 2009 at 11:24 AM

I just wrote long responses to each of your comments and my daughter made them all go away. Could be worse...I could be asked to proof someone's 2000 page handwritten life story.

Pam, my FIL wrote a book of doctrinal explanations that was so freakish that even my husband didn't know what to say about it!

April 17, 2009 at 11:36 AM

Ha ha ha ha ha. You are the best Jami. I always love whatever you write. You need to write write write!!! You da bomb.

I'm so sad I was left out of the company of all my favorite writers who are guest posting for Miss Heidi.

April 17, 2009 at 11:41 AM

Becky, people who don't know how to write have no idea how hard it is to edit, tactfully and usefully. I have learned my lesson though. Never again.

April 17, 2009 at 12:21 PM

Mina, I am such a poor rhymer, but I appreciate the skilled and insightful rhyming poetry. To me rhymes work best with sweet and silly subjects. I love me some Ogden Nash!

April 17, 2009 at 12:23 PM

MJ, yes! Months of dread.
Unless I know the person can write, I will not read acquaintances' efforts any more. Join me--just say no!

April 17, 2009 at 12:27 PM

heidi, normally those scam-books make me crazy, but in H.A.'s case, they have brought so much joy. It's just hard for those of us accosted in the hall to listen to the latest and greatest

April 17, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Carolyn, some forms aren't hard at all--haiku and limerick for instance. People see the rhymes in more complex poetry and don't notice all of the other elements that good poets craft into their work. I still haven't written a rhyming poem that I like.

April 17, 2009 at 12:35 PM

Lisa, amen! I fixate on it even in hymns. I wish I didn't notice. It'd be so much simpler, so much less painful.

April 17, 2009 at 12:37 PM

yb4e, I love you too! I still worry about how I can get this book back to HA without having to comment. A freak accident may be the way to go. I've got a gas stove.

April 17, 2009 at 12:40 PM

Hi Crash! Thanks. I do need to write, but I can only write well in absolute silence. Since the 1st grader has come back to home, silence is hard to come by.

Be ye not sad. I love you and so do hundreds of your little peeps, including Heidi.

April 17, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Oh, my. So with you on that one.

I will confess something here that only my husband knows about:
My BIL read a poem that he had written to his wife on their wedding day. At the luncheon. In front of everyone. Everyone is thinking: oh, isn't this sweet! he wrote her a poem! Me: struggling to contain my horror. Why?
Every line rhymed.
Every. Single. Line.

And I'm not talking in couplets. I mean, the same rhyme.
"you are sublime
till the end of time
I like to rhyme.
I also like lime."

And on and on.

I wanted to rip my ears off of my head. Or the paper out of his hands. It was ridiculous. And so long. Who knew that there were so many words that rhymed with time? (actually, I can't remember the specific rhyme. But there were so many.)

The thing that kills me? My BIL and I graduated from college with exactly the same degree. *shudder*

April 17, 2009 at 1:15 PM

Friends don't let friends read their bad poetry. The best critic is the one that doesn't know you or care about you.

Honestly, I struggled with poetry until my husband, who is an English prof., helped me to come at it from a better angle.

It is a tough thing to appreciate.

April 17, 2009 at 1:21 PM

Rachel, what a horror story! Noooooooo! I miss having a nursing baby to get me out of moments like that.

Kazzy, you are so right! I still regret asking a friend of mine to read a few of mine a couple years ago. It was cruel and inhuman. It's like asking a best-friend to lance something nasty. No-no-no-no-no!

But I should point out I adore poetry. Good poetry. Oh and I like mine as well.

April 17, 2009 at 1:38 PM

I like poetry and I've jotted down a few for family/friends but I'm not very good at it so I steer clear.
I'm glad you were honest with your friend, regardless of the results. I know that was probably pretty hard but in the long run, it might help more than you think. =]

April 17, 2009 at 4:28 PM

What I like about this post is that the person asked for your opinion.

And sometimes you get what you ask for!

April 17, 2009 at 6:53 PM

LexiconLuvr, everyone should write poetry. Poetry doesn't have to be good to be personally powerful. But really! Stopping total strangers and forcing them to listen to your thoughts on Halloween/lakes/toenails is a bit much.

Janelle, amazingly enough the H.A. wanted a second dose of honesty and I just couldn't, wouldn't, do it. I may be learning wisdom in my old age. Maybe.

April 17, 2009 at 7:55 PM

Sooooo, Jami, is this why I haven't heard back on my manuscript? (You asked to read it, as I recall . . . I'm trying not to get paranoid, here . . .)

April 17, 2009 at 8:10 PM

Dude, Jami gets to read your manuscript?! Way to go, Jami!

April 17, 2009 at 9:40 PM

At the risk of revealing myself for the trash-novel reading Queen Geek that I am, there is a scene in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" where an evil alien actually tortures his victims by reading really bad poetry at them. The only thing that saves the victims is that one of them is an earthling, whose home planet, sadly, is known throughout the galaxy as the source of the WORST poetry in existence. So he was immune, so to speak.

Enjoyed this immensely.

April 17, 2009 at 9:59 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.
April 17, 2009 at 9:59 PM

Hi Hei! No paranoia required. So far I really like it. I've just been a wee bit busy and a whole lot flakey.

LexLuv--I know! Yay me!

DaNae, I love it! (You can't hurt me: I've heard worse rhymes than that!) If I'm ever captured by aliens I will be so grateful for my H.A.

April 18, 2009 at 6:41 AM

How funny that it won a contest, but MUCH edited, I assume?

April 18, 2009 at 8:53 PM

What?!? Jami get's a copy and I don't?!?!

I don't mind editing but I usually tell people up front that I'm harsh. I absolutely hated it in college when people would hand my papers back with a "This was very nice" on it. Argh! Give me some real feedback already!

So when people ask I tell them I'm not nice when it comes to editing. Then they are at least fore-warned.

April 18, 2009 at 10:13 PM

Heatherlyn, everyone who sends them a poem and $40.00 wins their contest. The winners buy their mom, their MIL, their cranky nay-saying acquaintance a copy of the book for $40.00 a piece. It's quite a legal and ingenious scam. Many of the self-publishing companies are also set up to take advantage of the less-talented.

Eowyn, nag. It worked for me. "Pleeease, Heidi, pleeeeease. I promise I'll be helpful. Pleeeeease!" So I think she was stuck between filing a restraining order or sending me the manuscript. She kindly chose the latter. ;)

April 18, 2009 at 11:20 PM

Oh no. I totally would have done the same thing.

And OF COURSE it would turn out this way...winning a contest! Oh no...

April 19, 2009 at 5:21 PM

I really enjoy poetry. My hubby not so much. I promise I will never force you to read mine or ask for any critique, ever! I have learned a lesson from you, never, ever accept poetry from someone to proofread or anything else. Check.

April 20, 2009 at 6:45 AM

Never accept, but always feel free to ask. That is now my motto. I've really enjoyed reading the things I've asked to read.

April 20, 2009 at 8:47 PM

ACK! I just wrote the best comment ever and it disappeared into the ether. :( I give up.

April 22, 2009 at 8:18 AM

Hi, Heidi, and thanks for coming to my blog to explain about comment moderation -- unfortunately the glitch that ate my comment (which was a long one talking about various encounters with bad poetry and fiction) wasn't caused (I don't think) by comment moderation but was something that happens to me once in a while when the internet freezes just after I hit "post comment" and everything I typed is lost. Maybe it's a sign that I should make my own post on my blog about bad poetry and fiction -- except for that the perpetrators of the poetry and fiction might see the post on my blog and get their feelings hurt, but they aren't likely to see my comment on your blog. :)

(Anyway, it's all good -- another day, another comment.)

April 22, 2009 at 11:10 AM

yourimaginaryblog, I'm so sad. I wanted to read your best comment ever!

April 22, 2009 at 3:35 PM

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