The Edit: Understanding an Accepted 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.

This accepted poem below underwent the same rigorous process as rejected work, glossed by two readers and a genre editor who give detailed line-edits as well as an overview of observations. Even with a successful piece, editors will find small changes and suggestions that will help prepare the draft for publication. 

The Submission


Room 201

Then came the quarantine. Four white walls
closing in.
Benedictions have become too feeble
to wrestle the debacle of body tissues.
All I hear is nickels clink as my dad leaves
to light a cigarette.
Now the inertia. Taciturn,
pretending to scrutinize cuticles.
As we listened to him respire under the thin bed sheets
we knew the steps to take and arrangements
to make. Forty-five hours later, the ice thawed –
why did we linger by the doorsteps until the moon
leaned over the private ward? 



Specific Comments:

  • Line 3: This line introduces the story well and explains to the reader what is going on in a beautiful way.
  • L5: What does it mean that you hear nickels? How are nickels important to you and the poem?
  • L7: The word inertia doesn’t flow well with the poem; to me it felt like an important word being forced. Try to use a word that conveys what you are trying to say in a more subtle way, and in a way that is easy for the reader to grasp.
  • L11: Logically, it doesn’t take forty-five hours for ice to thaw. I’d try to explain more clearly what you are trying to compare the thawed ice to.
  • L12-13: The question you ask at the end leaves me confused instead of trying to answer the question. Perhaps try to relate the question back to how you waited and watched the slipping of life into death; it would tie up the poem in a way that leaves me wondering.


General Comments:
You don’t need to reveal who the man is, but I’d try to indicate to the reader why he was so important to the narrator and what their relationship was. I also feel that the format is a bit off. It takes away from the beautiful flow of the poem. Try to put the poem in stanzas; the piece has so much tension, and if you put it into stanzas the accumulated delays may help further enforce the tension. With some editing, though, I think this poem can be incredibly powerful. Keep it up, and thanks for submitting!



Specific Comments:

  • L1-2: This is a great way to start of the piece. You move right into the poem, not wasting any time. Also, the idea of those "four white walls closing in" is excellent, as you give them life, making them seem as if they are trapping the patients.
  • L3-4: These two lines have strong language as individual phrases, but when you join them together, they become too wordy. The idea of what you're trying too convey here is great, but the wordiness weakens the message.
  • L5: When you say "nickels", it feels as if it has been randomly thrown into the poem with out any real meaning. Try to give it some surrounding information to show why the nickels are significant.
  • L8-9: Here, you make the mistake of switching tenses. First, you say "pretending to scrutinize cuticles", then in the next line, you say "we listened to him respire". This is an easy fix, but you must make sure you stay in the same tense.
  • L10-11: The ideas behind these lines are great, but they sound quite awkward because it seems as if you are trying to force a rhyme here. You did an excellent job avoiding this in the rest of the poem, but here, this forced rhyme makes you word choice limited. You can keep the rhyme, but try to change up the language and word order to make these line flow better.
  • L11-13: This conclusion seems to have a good underlying message, but you do not convey it particularly well. This whole conclusion is extremely vague, and doesn't seem to make any sense, or connect to the rest of the poem in any way. Try redoing this ending to make it fit better with the rest of the poem so it becomes less confusing.


General Comments:
You did a great job writing this piece. This poem most certainly has its shining moments, where your language is very strong, and you do an excellent job of clearly conveying what you are trying to say. Throughout the poem, you do not have any major problems with language. You do, however, have an issue with being too wordy. This is not a problem with the strength of your language, as it is about how you choose to string certain words together. You also switch in and out of tenses in this piece, which is something you should definitely try to avoid. The structure of this piece is great, as you have a clear introduction, middle section, and conclusion. You do a tremendous job of using each of these sections to relay information that is important to know at that point in the poem. This poem also comes off as rather confusing because of how vague it is at points. It is clear that you try to use symbols throughout the poem, which is nice, but you don't seem to give any hints as to why those symbols are significant. Overall, this is an excellently written poem. I strongly recommend you keep writing and submitting to Polyphony H.S.! (Also, please refrain from including your name on future submissions.)



Specific Comments:

  • L1: The start of the piece is very effective, as you make readers curious to find out what happened first. Additionally, by plunging straight into the thick of things, you don’t waste your time with fluff. 
  • L2: Why do you give “closing in” its own line? Some added emphasis (perhaps a literal form of “closing in”) is there, but beyond that, the flow of the piece in this immediate area is average at best.
  • L3-4: This is some very strong diction. “Benedictions” is particularly rich. However, I am concerned that “debacle” seems a little vague… perhaps this will clear up in the next few lines.
  • L5-6: Are you referring to the literal and metaphorical cost of maintaining a smoking habit? It’s a clever, somewhat removed way of moving the mini-plot of the piece.
  • L7-8: This line break is crisp and even. I like it.
  • L11-13: The imagery is, as always, rich and well-textured, although there’s a confined, hollow touch that echoes the quietude of the overall piece.


General Comments:
Thank you for submitting Room 201! However, in the future, please refrain from including your name in the body of the submission itself. “Room 201” is filled with quiet, shaking grief— the narrator’s tone is hollow, almost reserved. His or her words huddle together in small, contained pools, and the handful of moments and images you provide are lonely and aching, sparse yet rich. For the most part, your use of line breaks is quite effective, too. Although the ending of the piece is ambiguous, perhaps that is for the best. The narrator sounds detached, almost nonchalant on the surface, but the deeper we delve, the stronger the sorrow. You deal with death (or at least, that was how I interpreted it) in a very roundabout way. The only major complaint I have is probably your conclusion. Maybe I'm not reading deeply enough into it, I feel that it is a little too abstract, almost overly vague. If you make it a tad more concrete, more relatable, that might clear things up. Still, I'll admit that it isn't easy to convey to readers someone has died (well, that's what I assume) without relying on clichéd euphemisms, so it may end up being a matter of personal taste. Well done. Again, thanks for submitting to Polyphony H.S., and if possible, please do so again. Happy writing!

Click for an example of an rejected 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 - 12:03pm
Updated on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 8:45pm