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During the month of March, Black Lawrence Press author TJ Beitelman is on board to critique poetry manuscripts.

TJ Beitelman is a writer, teacher, and manuscript consultant living in Birmingham, Alabama. He’s published a novel, John the Revelator, and a collection of short fiction, Communion, as well as three collections of poetry: In Order to Form a More Perfect Union, Americana, and This Is the Story of His Life, all from Black Lawrence Press. His stories and poems have appeared widely in literary magazines, and he’s received fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham. He taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where he earned an M.A. in English, and at the University of Alabama, where he earned an M.F.A. in creative writing and also edited Black Warrior Review. He currently directs the creative writing program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. 

TJ is accepting everything from individual poems to full-length manuscripts. The fees and parameters for each of these categories is as follows:

  • Individual Poems, up to 2 pages in length, $25
  • Folios, up to 7 pages in length, not to include more than 5 poems, $55
  • Chapbooks, 16-40 pages in length, $225
  • Full-length collections, 45-80 pages in length $350

All manuscripts should be formatted in 12-point font.

The deadline to submit work for this consultation program is March 31. TJ will complete his work and respond to all participants by April 30.


TJ's Statement of Purpose

“These are the two forces that form must come to terms with. The imaginative tendency to include everything, through disjunction and wildness, allows all to enter a poem, versus the concentrating gravities of formal control, of will and limits. We must work to lose control when control has become too limiting, just as we must assert more vigorously the presence of choice to counter a too great loss of control. The making of poems is in constant tack between these two poles and there will always be poems that fail in this zigzag sail.”

– Dean Young, from The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction

I agree with Young’s sentiment, and I think the “zigzag sail” is a perfect metaphor for how a poem or a manuscript forges its way into the world. If it was a straight line, we’d all be writing technical manuals. These are some basic elements I consider when I read and respond to poems-in-progress:

Intention. The essential question all readers must ask of what they read—why did I read this? What is it trying to communicate to me?

Form. Line and shape and punctuation are the parameters of a poem. Has this poem found its parameters? Is the poem in a traditional verse form? Free verse? Why?

Sound. What sounds does the poem make and how does it make them? Does it pay proper attention to the rhythms of language? Are there poetic devices such as alliteration/consonance, anaphora/repetition, rhyme, etc.? What affect do they have on the poem’s meaning?

Image. What does the poem help us see? What about the other physical senses? Are those things concrete or abstract? Satisfying or not? Are the metaphors fresh, unique, pertinent?

Language. Does this poem have good words in it? Does the juxtaposition of words create energy and meaning? (That is to say, there’s a difference between “orange juice” and “blood orange,” even though they both contain citric acid and originally come from trees.)

Voice. Does this poem come from an idiosyncratic (original, unique) perspective? All good writing does. Is that idiosyncrasy successfully communicated to the broadest audience possible?

I’ll respond to individual poems and to manuscripts with these elements guiding my commentary, with the overarching goal of reading the work on its own terms. You are, after all, the captain of the ship (to circle back to Young’s maritime metaphor); I aim to be the guy who climbs the mast and shouts “Land ho!”

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