Sixteen brave writers submitted their first pages of poetry or prose to our Slush Pile! event April 17, 2021. Our panel—Noah Stetzer, Ty Stumpf, and Tracy Crow—provided insightful critiques and helpful advice. They also admitted their biases.

 

Three themes emerged in the discussion:

 

  1. Everything that is important needs to be on the first page—or in the case of poetry, in the poem. This includes place, time, conflict, character, voice, mood, and tone. The analogy was given that a first page is like a VW bus (or a suitcase) packed for a cross-country trip: it needs to hold everything needed for the trip. The analogy for a poem would be a VW Beetle.
  2. Stories/poems need to start at the beginning, preferably in scene, without introductory ‘throat clearing.’ Think about telling a story to a group, one of whom already knows the story. You want to tell the story in a way that does not bore the friend who knows it already. Conversely, I say it like starting a story about a dinner party with “I fixed tea and toast for breakfast this morning and then…”
  3. The main elements of the first page—place, time, character—need to be braided into the action so as not to present an information dump.

 

Specific comments on the poetry—though some can apply to prose also—were:

 

Specific comments on the prose—though some can apply to poetry also—were:

 

And then there were the biases. It is important to realize that everyone has biases and that editors and agents are no different. But what one person may reject because of bias may be welcomed by another. Case in point, shortly after one person said they didn’t like dialog to start a story, another suggested a story start with dialog.  However, it is good to be aware that biases exist. The ones admitted to were:

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