Without giving away any particular details, let's just say that this was obviously a journal that did not compensate its poets and authors, and likely would have published every submission it received. Most of the writers were likely in the 16-20 age range, and the poems and short stories reflected the pervasive angst and limited life experiences of these young adults.
At first I found myself slipping into a sort of literary critic mode, critiquing the predictable structures, wooden characters, forced dialogue, and excessive clichés that the poems and stories possessed. Yes, there was even a shape poem about young lovers, which took the form of a heart.
I even chuckled to myself at some particularly stilted passages.
I admit that I have some negative views of contemporary pedagogical techniques in secondary English classrooms, and I believe that too much emphasis is placed upon encouraging student self-expression at the expense of developing students who have some mastery of grammar, style, and the mechanics of writing.
I paused, though, in my moment of haughty disdain toward these young writers, and began to chide myself for exhibiting the sort of elitist mentalité that I have long loathed as an up-and-coming writer. Who the hell am I to scoff - even internally - at the work of a budding writer? After all, I am the person who was once a 19-year-old would-be rock star, and who penned execrable verses like this:
Pleasant thoughts indeed
I realized that we drifted away
Our gardens growing weeds
--M. Brooks, circa 1983
I am not sure whether to laugh, cry, or retch as I read my own beginning efforts at poetry and prose. Yet all writers pass through phases of creative growth, and even though some authors and poets are quick studies, the process of individual literary development cannot be circumvented.
So write from your hearts, all you young poets and novelists, and never let stuffy, middle-aged elitists dampen your spirits. Surround yourself with supportive people who will help you polish your skills, and ignore those who would engage in intellectual intimidation to maintain literary hierarchies or to assuage their own feelings of inadequacy.