Ship of Fools first appeared in 1982. It was a cooperative venture at first, but Nancy Raymer, a student, and I did nearly all the work, and so Nancy took the title of editor. The magazine ran through eighteen issues at which point she graduated, and we were all burned out. It was a rather messy little underground magazine, though it grew larger and a little more professional as we went. After a hiatus of several years another student, Patt McGlothlin became interested and put out four issues. I was listed as co-editor, but was more interested in other things at the time and did little of the work. These issues had fewer pages and larger print and were more interested in social/political ideas than the earlier, more anarchic version of Ship. Gina Pellegrino (later Pines) next became editor. Under her the magazine took on a neater appearance and grew to forty pages. It also was advertised in Poet's Market. After a dozen issues Gina too became burned out, and eventually withdrew her name as editor. Since then I have managed it alone.
In it's present incarnation--Gina's version and mine--Ship has been often praised for its appearance, and has had submissions from every corner of the world--not always a good thing. After an envelope with a subscriber's copy sent to the Carribean was trashed, and then another one sent to the southwest, we decided the feds were checking to see if the magazine wasn't really just a cover for dope smuggling.
Ship has a somewhat genteel reputation, in spite of some fairly objectionable material, probably because of the conservative layout and neovictorian artwork, and the emphasis on beauty. You can say almost anything in the magazine, as long as you do it beautifully.
As for our tastes, we like poetry that is terse, economical, and lyrical. We lie language that is meant to be spoken. We accept both free verse and traditional, but dislike archaic diction. Length is open, but long poems need to be very good. Poetry in the traditions of Whitman and William Carlos Williams does not go well with us. Things in the tradtion of Pound and Eliot have a much better chance. We are fairly open on subject matter; we even do love poetry (and lust poetry), but do not like political rants or religious cliches. You are welcome to love, hate, resent, be annoyed, seek revenge, or even commit murder in verse, but do it beautifully.
Below are the cover and title page of issue #47.
Ship of Fools is intended to be a quarterly, but has not managed that many issues a year for the last couple of years. A year's subscription is eight dollars, which means four issues even though it may take over a year to get them all. Reply on submissions has in the past usually been within a couple of weeks, but the press of other obligations has slowed that down. I hope to get to replying faster again.
Please do not submit over the internet. We are not ready to handle that. Send poems in a standard business envelope with SASE. The address is:
Ship of Fools
University of Rio Grande
Rio Grande, Ohio 45674
Visit this page again at a later time, and I will have more material, including some useful pointers on writing, and on judging and improving what you have written.
SHIP OF FOOLS
Tips for Writing
1. Meaning should rise out of things. Don't think in abstractions, then translate your
ideas into images. Start with images. The ideas are already there.
2. Put yourself on the line. Write about your subject; don't write a poem about
yourself writing a poem about. . . That might have seemed clever in Donne's day,
but now it is just a pervasive and destructive mannerism.
3. If you use rhyme, the rhyme word must seem not adequate, but inevitable.
4. Keep your poem with you for a while. The Roman poet, Horace said "for seven
years," but of course no one really does that. Time, though, gives a much clearer perspective. It is a truism that poets almost always overrate their own work.
Tradition says "vanity," but I don't think it's that at all. The real problem is
tunnel vision. The poet concentrates so hard on what he is trying to do that he can only measure success in how well he succeeds at that, forgetting that there are other necessary elements, and only noticing them after the poem has had time to cool. Try to remember that you need to do a variety of things well.
5. Practice with rhyme and meter; they will improve your ear. Modern poetry workshops are deficient in this respect; perhaps that is why no contemporary poet
can write with the crispness of Pound and Eliot who grew up with traditional poetry.
6. If you are writing in a fixed form and don't have enough material, don't stretch what you have; add new material. Add too much, then find ways to fit it all in.
7. If you have a specific statement you have been waiting to make, leave it out.
Leave it out even if you wrote the poem especially to contain it. The poem
should say itself, not what you want it to.
8. If there is one phrase you are particularly proud of, view it with suspicion. It
should probably be cut.
9. Don't be afraid to go back to a topic or image in later poems. Once you have truly
used it up, you will not longer feel tempted by it.
10. If you are writng about events, don't let the literal facts spoil a good story. On the
other hand, don't spoil a complex story by reducing it to cliche.
11. Remember, there are other possibilities for poetry--narrative, for instance.
Tips for Revising
1. Sound out your poem line by line. An effective line usually begins with the lips,
moves to the center of the mouth, and ends in the throat. For instance, the opening
line from Paradise Lost, "Of man's first disobedience and the fruit." Jump rope
rhymes, which need a lot of thrust, move in exactly the opposite direction. Vachal
Lindsey got a lot of milage out of his long poem, "The Congo" by using jump rope
rhythm, but it's not something you can get away with often.
2. If the poem rhymes, line up the rhyme words down the page. They should for a
clear outline of the poem. If not, something's wrong. Try this with one of Yeats'
3. Count your syllables. The number can, and should be reduced.
4. Look at your adjectives and adverbs. Do you really need all of them.
5. Pull your lines out of context and look at them one by one. Is the line by itself
6. Divide words into content words and essentially empty or colorless words. Every
line should be more than 50% content words.
7. Have others read and comment on your poem. If one or more misunderstands
something that should be clear, maybe it's not. Listen to all criticism, but reserve
8. In revising, read over a poem time after time--a dozen or more times at a sitting.
Eventually the row of lines which seemed as impervious as a brick wall will
disintegrate and you will see all the patchwork and connections. At that point you
can begin revising seriously.
9. If a reader patronizingly explains that you have made the mistake of doing what, in
fact, you were trying to do in the first place, try to resist punching him in the mouth.