I don't think I need to tell you how much more fun it was to get the first e-mail than it was to get the second letter. Therein, however, lies the tale.
So: the good news is that the editor found the manuscript of special interest, hence the comments she forwarded. She tells me that the screener found the word strong; the work engaged the screener poem by poem; it has interesting narratives that are imbued with feeling, awareness, and vigor of description. Also, my work has a clear sense of the stanza, skill with pentameter, and a reliable sense of cadence.
However: apparently I rely on the verbless catalog a little too much--"a pileup of nouns and adjectives without the syntactic tether of a main verb."
And the series editor had this to say:
In general, I agree with the reviewer's comments, although I didn't always find the diction pleasing. Often, I wanted to take out my pencil and delete excess words. Sometimes I felt that the poems were a bit didactic and heavy-handed in their themes and points of view. But there were many moments of excellence. I'm not sure the book has a solid narrative arc or enough variety. Possibly, it's not in the best order. Overall, I felt that the manuscript needed further refinement. I will be sending you some pages in hope that the editorial marks will be helpful to you.
This reminds me of the feedback counterintuitive and I got on the article we wrote for TETYC: "We like it! We like it! Now, cut it in half and radically change the focus." We were bummed and we waited what I guess was an excessive amount of time, because the editor wrote us and said, "We liked it! When are you going to send us the slimmed down, totally different version we requested?" This story has a happy ending, though--they're publishing it (after we cut it in half and significantly changed the focus). And we're very very happy about it. So happy!
So: okay. What to do with this feedback? I could follow it to the letter. The screener and the editor are both highly competent poets and readers, and their insight is definitely useful. You'll be glad to know I spent barely any time on defensive reacting (what? whaddya mean, verbless catalog? I'll show you a main verb!).
I did, however, think about entirely dismantling the manuscript. What the hell. This manuscript has been a finalist and a semi-finalist a lot of times (in various iterations)--why not? My tinkering and revising has yielded no better results.
Except, maybe it did--because getting this feedback is not usual, I don't think, for competitions.
Anyway, today was another deadline for a couple of competitions. So I spent the day with the manuscript. I didn't totally dismantle it. But I did try to look for: wordiness; verblessness; extra-explain-iness; teacherishness.
There's a part of me that thinks, I am finished with all of these poems. Let them either find their place in the world or crumble into the dust. But there's another part that finds these episodes of revision very satisfying. Apparently, I can still learn things about these poems by working on them, with direct but supportive commentary simmering away in the back of my mind. How about that.