Friday, August 30, 2013

Magnolia & Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim: Review and Guest Post

Please welcome Ian Haight, one of the translators of Magnolia & Lotus.

For Beginning Writers: The Slush Pile and How to Deal with It

The dreaded slush pile: the place where unsolicited manuscripts for publication and query letters go. I’ve heard junior editors say they will read the slush pile only to make amends with a senior editor. If you’re a writer, avoiding the slush pile or learning how to stand out in it is something you want to do.

Why is ending up in the slush pile such a negative? It depends on the press, publication, agent, etc. you’re submitting to, but the slush pile mostly contains work that has no chance of being accepted for publication, or in the case of an agent, for representation. Why is that? The majority of writing in the slush pile doesn’t follow submission guidelines or simply lacks accepted professional presentation norms. A lot of the writing in slush piles is unformed or unfinished, and so not ready for publication. Another problem with the slush pile is even if the writing is good, follows guidelines and looks professional, it may be unsuitable for what the press or magazine wants to publish at that very moment. Readers of the slush pile know all this going in, so the pile is often avoided or approached with disinterest, when read at all. For a writer, facing a disinterested reader via the slush pile is not good. So what can you do?

Slush piles for book-manuscripts have been all but done away with in this day and age. Except for one or two genres like Romance or Children’s Literature, most major publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts from anyone except an agent. This is also true of query letters—major publishing houses don’t even want unsolicited query letters. Mid-level presses still accept unsolicited queries, but usually only for genres they specialize in and know how to market (like cookbooks, health, or parenting). Small presses have in some respects followed the example of the major publishing houses: generally they too are closed to unsolicited manuscripts, though sometimes they will read unsolicited queries. So when we’re talking about slush piles, we’re really talking about slush piles for query letters and periodical (magazines, journals, etc.) submissions.

The rules of the game for query letters and periodical submissions with respect to slush piles is still the same: large respectable journals approach unsolicited submissions with trepidation and may not even accept them; agents often view query letters as a necessary burden to their business. Which brings us back to the original question: how to avoid the slush pile, or if you are unavoidably stuck in the slush pile, how to stand out in it?

If you’re a beginning writer the easy way is to pay your dues. You have to build a reputation. Start with smaller publications (like with press runs of 100-200) and build up. Determine press runs and the kind of market you’re dealing with by buying one of the Writer’s Market books for your genre (poetry, fiction, etc.). After ten publications (in poetry—with fiction maybe 1-2 stories is enough) with journals at that level, move up to journals with higher press runs, and do not submit to the easier journals. Continue until you get to journals whose publications appear in award anthologies, like the Best American Short Stories. After some years of dedicated work in this manner of publication and you have a sense of your own writing and a possible audience, you might try to query an agent, enter a writing contest, or approach a small or mid-level publisher with a book for publication. 

What attracts the slush pile reader to your unsolicited query at this stage of the game is a publication record. The reader can see you’ve been writing for a while and have some decent publication credentials, suggesting you may know what you’re doing as a writer. This encourages the slush pile reader to give your writing a little extra care and attention than normal. If you’re lucky the dominos fall and maybe in the end your manuscript gets accepted for publication.

Barring this, networking is another good way to avoid the slush pile and potentially a quick pathway to publication. Agents and editors attend conferences where they actively seek out new writers to represent and publish. Attending one of these conferences and personally speaking with an agent or editor encourages them to engage you and your writing at a more personal level with the added benefit of completely avoiding the slush pile. Some agents acquire the majority of their new manuscripts at writing conferences. If you meet an editor at a conference, you can address a submission or query letter straight to him or her, completely avoiding the slush pile. 

When you think about it, the slush pile is one of the big reasons why writers need to be tough-minded people who have patience and tenacity. Until you have an agent for your book, there are few conventional short-cuts to avoid the slush pile. Technology is making self publication via e-books more acceptable, and it is true agents are considering self-published e-books with more seriousness, as are publishing houses. But even with e-books and self-publication, developing a reputation (usually with sales or a large social network) is what helps a writer stand out from the crowd.

My thoughts on Magnolia & Lotus
When I signed up for this tour to review this book, I had no idea that not only would I be reading a wonderful book of poems, but would be getting a history lesson as well. Hyesim (Chin'gak Kuksa Hyesim, 1178 - 1234) was the first Zen Master dedicated to poetry in Korea. Hyesim was a monk and a scholar who became the Chief Abbot of Songgwang Temple in 1210. He was a prolific writer, penning such works as The Enlightened Mind, The Sayings of Chin'gak Kuksa of the Chogye Order, Readings of the Diamond Sutra, Elements of Son School, and Poems by Muuja.

I have always loved poetry. I'm especially fond of poems that have a motivational or inspirational nature. Many of Hyesim's poems are meant to enlighten and inspire. I enjoyed reading his poems. The poems about nature seemed to paint a picture in my mind. However, the inspirational poems were my favorites. Here are a few that I especially loved...

The Delight of Contentment

Being rich and noble, like a floating cloud, means what to me?
Following one's sphere in life is in itself beautiful.
If I have no worries, why do I need wine?
To achieve a tranquil heart is to have made a home.

Small Pond

No Wind, no rippling:
the surface, reflecting all, fills my eyes.
What need is there for so many words?
Observing one another is enough.

Again, a Poem Given at Departure

The somber sky portends rain--
the miserable mountain bears a weary face.
Fortunately, friends of the same practice release clasped hands easily--
but with such heartfelt friendship, it is difficult not to shed tears.

Water Clock 

A breeze of winter--
the months of this year draw to an end. 
Every leaf in a forest eventually falls, yellowing a mountain--
only pine and bamboo retain an inborn breath of emerald.

How many years will a human live?
Time is fleet as lightning.
Details of self ought to be examined--
then the empty dream will not endure.

About the book
Enlightenment as a process: what might it have been like for a Korean Buddhist monk who lived hundreds of years ago? If enlightenment is an unfolding of wisdom, what progressive awareness is suggested by that unfolding? Imagine, then, this same monk becoming the leader of the nation’s most important Buddhist Order: the Chogye. Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim suggests what Hyeim might have valued in life; as a monk; and as an early founder of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect. Despite his achievements, this collection asks, did Hyesim eventually relinquish his position? If so, why? What were Hyesim’s thoughts in his final years? Each of the translated poems, attentive to the nuances of Hyesim’s Buddhist and Confucian background as well as the landscape of Korea, posits the point of view of Hyesim, his voice, and his time.

About Ian Haight
Ian Haight is a writer, educator, and consultant to students, professionals in education, and schools. As writer, Ian was a co-organizer and translator for the United Nations' Dialogue on Poetry series in Pusan, Korea; was given a Citation for Translation Excellence from the Korea Literary Translation Institute (KLTI); and has won five grants from KLTI, the Daesan Foundation, and the Baroboin Buddhist Foundation to translate, publish, and edit classical Korean poetry and Buddhist literature.

Ian's own poetry has placed in or won several award contests, including the SLS and Pavel Strut Fellowships, and Atlanta Review and River Styx competitions. His essays, poetry, interviews, and translations have appeared in literary journals and periodicals both in Korea and the United States, including Writer's Chronicle, Barrow Street, Hyundae Buddhist News,JoongAng Daily News, and Prairie Schooner.

Visit him on his website.

This book tour was organized by Pump Up Your Book.

A copy of this book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for providing it.


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