The "So What" Test

Do you ever read mission statements? If not, I encourage you to start with The American Poetry Journal's.

"The APJ seeks to publish work using poetic device, favoring image, metaphor and good sound. We like alliteration, extended metaphors, image, movement and poems that can pass the “so what" test. The APJ has in mind the reader who delights in discovering what a poem can do to the tongue and what the poem paints on the cave of the mind."

The APJ is a journal I would occasionally find sitting outside the Natural Bridge office and read between classes or during the class break. I would finish a few poems in the ten minutes, leave my seat, and often return to class happy; the poems were pretty good and I wanted to go home and write something of my own. Instead, I wrote in the margins of my notebooks and tried to pay attention when my pencil stuck.

Before submitting poems for the editors' eyes I always read the journal's mission statement, if it exists. Most have similarities that say something close to "we value what is good" and leave you to guess what that might be for them, unless they are awesome enough to give a link to a sample poem or story and you judge their judging for yourself. APJ lets the reader in on something editors want work to pass: the "so what" test.

The "so what" test is simple: can your work stand up to it. More importantly, can it stand up to your judgment--if you shrug your shoulders after you read your own work, an editor will do more than shrug, they will use the big red lighter that hides in a secret drawer to set off the building's sprinkler system and drown themselves in the puddle that forms on your crumpled submission. OK, so they don't do that, but I know some who want to, usually after reading something I send them.

Everything aside, a journal's mission statement is really only saying this: can it pass the "so what?" stage. If it can, you are in good shape. And to begin understanding what types of writing pass this test, the most important thing to do is read what is being published and supporting journals with subscriptions that you think are getting it right ...the ones that pass your "so what" test.

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