A Beginner’s Guide To: Writing Poetry for The New Yorker
Does being published in a lofty, medium-length weekly publication whose permanent staff were all born before 1955 appeal to you? Are you attracted to “stories” about actors from Downton Abbey discussing their craft? Multi-page spreads about disgruntled landscape artists slowly building 3000-foot earthwork pieces? Tales of commuting from New York to the Mojave Desert accompanied only by worn copy of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch? Does this describe the contents of the magazine currently sitting next to you on a quad bench under your American Spirits and iPhone? If so, opportunity has just fallen into your lap. You, yes you, can write for The New Yorker! By following five simple steps, you too can write submission-ready, New Yorker-caliber poetry. Let us begin.
Step 1. Stand up from the park/college quad bench you are sitting on with your New Yorker.
This is no time for you to casually flip through the arts section, making a passing glance at the financial page before staring pensively at young children playing in the grass, small children, children who have yet to read any Nietzsche at all. Or, more embarrassingly, any Marx.
Stand up. There is nothing you can do for their intellectual development yet. Put out your cigarette and trod back, fists shoved in pockets, to whatever tiny space you live in and begrudgingly call a home.
Step 2. Do not talk to your father for the next two months at least.
This will help you develop a sense of isolation and pervasive insecurity which will in turn prompt random spiteful and bitter phrases to come to you spontaneously, ready for ironic juxtaposition in your free verse. The more muddled and ambiguous your feelings toward him become, the easier it will be to imagine him hovering above the work as a whole. I like to call this phenomenon “the Patriarch’s Specter,” or just “PS” for short, but use whatever works best for your art! Take a look at this example, then try writing something on your own in a similar template:
“In the waiting room of this hospital, I can sense the ol’ pigskin flying,
hurling at my pretty face. At least you and I, outside, both got the same
Step 3. Use the words “blood,” “libidinal” and “sacral” either separately or in conjunction.
As we all know, today we are shattered, dislocated, dragged in a thousand directions at once by a directionless force that in fact could not be bothered to drag us at all. But also, you’ve read Thoreau, and nature is some pretty heavy shit too. These words should help you instill the appropriate feelings of taboo discomfort and vague, incomprehensible arousal in your reader. Go ahead and take a look at this example, and see if it doesn’t put you on edge:
“Of all of the blood I would have quickly and joyfully spilled in crusading
for your cold shoulder, the gushing and the rushing, salmon jumping up
stream to escape that stream by that cabin that you and I had a fictional
and a libidinal understanding of,
Every bound they took and every mound you gave
with that sacral somber hole that my mo(u)rning coffee could(n’t) fill.”
Step 4. Torture your syntax and grammar until you’ve eliminated all semblance of form.
It’s not just what you write, it’s how you write. Experimenting with sentence construction, grammatical markings and the average human’s threshold of patience can present striking new ways to convey your message. Spacing is your friend, and setting aside random words on their own line will effectively send the reader into a analytic tailspin as they try to parse the singular importance of “wall” or any other given word. For example:
“Here I stand, at long last, in reverence of the
always willing, always foreboding,
dark, (or maybe bright?)
The Very self-same parameters in Which twenty nightinGales flew and
my mother’s cooking After dark came screeching Towards you,
this is not
Step 5. When in doubt: Hemingway.
Finally, this crucial step is the key to creating a truly moving piece of writing. Ernest Hemingway, the greatest American author ever, famously said, “Write drunk, edit sober” (he really did, do not even bother looking it up, trust me.) Now, that is unequivocally badass, so you need to tear up whatever you have written already and pour yourself a scotch, now. Take the lighter out of your desk and burn the shredded remains of your writing and adolescence. Make sure that your room is dark while you hold it out in front of you silently while it burns, only letting go at the very last moment once you have singed your fingers just enough so people will notice. Once you have got a buzz going, you will be ready to start releasing all of your demons through your pen, whether you have any said demons or not. In a bit you will fall asleep at your desk, arms splayed, hair dishevelled, and in the morning you will be ready to stagger to a café to drink your black coffee alone.
If you have followed these guidelines, congratulations! You have written your first serious poem. Yes, really, that paper on your desk, that’s it! Whatever it says, or doesn’t say, put it in an envelope addressed to The New Yorker. Wait until dusk, head up to the roof of your building, and simply release the envelope into the darkening night air before lighting another cigarette and staring off as the wind tousles your hair. It will get to their offices eventually, as that is in fact their official submission process, so do not you worry about a thing, you tortured writer, you.
This piece was originally written for Occidental’s The Fang literary and arts magazine. The Fall 2016 issue of The Fang will be available the week of 12/11.