Reading for The Yale Review!

Now, I can’t establish an exact link between watching Between the Lions, other PBS Kids programming, and where I am (and how I turned out) today, but it’s likely one of the many factors that contributed to one of the most illuminating and exciting positions I’ve had on campus: being a volunteer reader for the Yale Review! Now, I’m not making any critical or pivotal decisions — that’s for the editors themselves to do. I just help out with giving a first look over some of the poetry submissions — “just,” though, understates how insightful the volunteership has been for me as an English major (and, as a creative writer)! And after a short application, acceptance, and then orientation, I was ready to start reading!

The Yale Review logo!

Every week, I read over a set number of poetry submissions — which, as any professor (and honestly, most other writers) will tell you is the best way to improve and nourish your own creative practice: read read read! And while reading books — even ones very recently published, by contemporary writers — is one way to keep a finger on the pulse of all the kinds of poetry being written today, there’s something particularly current, and edifying, about reading packets of poems whose writers may have written them just months, weeks, or even days before you have eyes on them — the work feels especially live in your hands. (Or rather, in front of your hands. On your laptop screen. Technically. You know?) As an English major considering a future in publishing, too, it’s not only invaluable experience getting acquainted with the inner workings of a journal, but it’s also helpful to think about what readers at other publications are considering and mulling over when I submit my own poems to lit mags and contests. 

Some submissions I read had me feeling like this. A little “hmm…”

And other submissions I read had me reacting like this! When the writing was excellent, it was severely excellent — and reading so many strong submissions of that caliber has been so instructive for what I aspire toward in my own writing as well!

And, perhaps surprisingly, there’s a lot of room for humor in poetry too — which reading for The Yale Review has exposed me to in a wide range of styles! Sometimes I read through submission packets and start giggling right there in the middle of the pdf! Funny poetry has been a gift to read — and has made me think about the flexibility of the genre more!

Like any senior, I’m currently stewing over all the paths my life could follow next — and all the forking decisions I’ve made in the past that have brought me to the set of choices I have to make now. And as I read over so many authors’ submissions, I also glance over their bios — and think about the kinds of writing that different lives can produce and lend themselves too! So often as a student at a place like Yale, I’ve been tempted to think of my life up to this point as a series of leaps from slippery stepping stone to slippery stepping stone — the landing on which was a mix of skill and luck. High schools and high school classes. Extracurriculars. College applications. College courses. Internships. A long list of critical junctures with increasingly high stakes.

But if anything, talking to (and now, reading the work of) so many other writers has made me reframe my future as something a little more mutable: the road to what I want to achieve after Yale, and the kind of creative I want to be, doesn’t have to be so narrow! As evidenced by all the strong poets submitting to places like The Yale Review. So as I read this year, I feel determined to challenge myself a bit more. Try on new voices — not all of which will work or sound like me, but in the process, might help me figure out how to sound more like myself! Experiment more and feel comfortable being less conventional from time to time! And in reviewing my own and my peers’ work, be both increasingly gentle yet increasingly focused — knowing that the way towards the lives and skills we’ve aspired to possess don’t have to be so linear.