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The Poetic Algebra Doesn’t Add Up

The Poetic Algebra Doesn't Add Up

The most famous literary example of a writer being prematurely pronounced dead concerns Mark Twain
as this Mental Floss article relates:

“While he was yachting, the waters his boat was supposed to be in became rough, and the air foggy. The New York Times published a piece saying it was likely he had been lost at sea. The next day Twain, whose boat hadn’t set off yet, got to rebuff the article with one of his own.”

The Duotrope Poetry Newsletter

The Duotrope service is “a subscription-based service for writers that offers a searchable database of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction markets.”

It's not a free service — it costs $5 per month, which is four pounds and one Great British penny today, according to Google's conversion algorithm. I like Duotrope because it sends me a weekly poetry submissions email listing magazines and competitions that are open to submissions and ones that have closed.

In the 23rd March email it has the following categories — the number in parentheses is the total in each sub-category which is the result of me counting on my fingers to give you the most bang for your buck:

  1. New Listings:
    • Paying market listings added (6 entries)
    • Non-paying market listings added (11 entries)
    • Fee-based market listings added (4 entries)
  2. Market News
    • Markets that have opened/re-opened to submissions (22 entries, a mix of free and fee-based)
    • Markets that have temporarily closed to submissions (22 entries)
    • Markets that have been declared defunct. Note that we always attempt to contact the editor before declaring a listing "defunct." (3 listings*)
    • New Interviews Posted* (3 entries)
  3. Upcoming Themed Deadlines (85 entries)
  4. Recent Acceptances (Duotrope users who have reported acceptances, 55 entries)

I'll just take a moment to smile to myself at my hand-coding of a bulleted list nested within an ordered list; it's a long time since I've needed to do anything that fiddly with a web page and in this WYSIWYG world there's no reason a sighted person would need to bother with such under-the-hood mechanics :) ... but now let me mention those asterisks!

Never Overlook an Asterisk!

I don't know quite how but I'd never noticed the Interviews Added in the Market News section. When I read the Markets Declared Defunct my brain skipped Interviews Added and assumed the 3 interviews were more defunct presses; I suspect I mentally assumed that Interviews Added was the name of a now-defunct press.

The Algebra Does Not Compute

When I thought the lovely people at Algebra of Owls kicked the bucket because I thought they were listed as defunct, I couldn't believe it. How could that have happened? Hadn't I seen a tweet from them just the other day?

So what does any caring poet do when he wants to make sure this is not #FakeNews? He gets it from the horse's mouth, or the owl's beak.

“Algebra Of Owls is a “no frills” poetry e-zine with a simple mission; to publish engaging, accessible poetry from around the world on a regular basis (about 20 poems each month).”

I sent them an email and editor Paul Vaughan quickly replied and informed me that the algebra and the owls are all very much still alive. He was concerned about how this had happened so checked his Duotrope email and said that it was fine; Algebra of Owls was listed in the Interviews Added section in his email. That's when the penny dropped! I hadn't realised that Interviews added was a heading!

Things like that concern me because I need to be able to spot when things don't quite add up. What had happened in the Duotrope email was a mixing of styles and formatting. To a blind person there is a big difference between a heading that is formatted as a heading and one that is regular text presented in bold type to appear as a heading. When a screen reader encounters a heading it will say "Heading level 1" or whichever heading level from 1 to 6 has been used. In the early days of webpage design you didn't have much choice about what headings looked like. These days you can use style sheets so that a Heading 1 looks exactly the same on every page used on your site, which can be the Comic font at size 18 and bold if you so desire. I can't remember how the early versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator used to render headings but roughly speaking Heading 1 was bold and a large font size, and Heading 2 was bold and a slightly smaller size, and Heading 3 was bold, probably the same size as heading level 2 but also italic.

In the Duotrope email they nest their headings correctly, so “Duotrope Newsletter” is identified by my screen reader as heading level 1, and “News from Duotrope” and “New Listings” are heading level 2 headings. Here's where my confusion crept in. The sub-heading “Interviews Added:” in the Market News section is not formatted as a heading, it is simply regular text formatted to be bold. I'm not an expert on page presentation and structuring but a level 3 heading would have been much better because my screen reader would have identified it as such.

Poets Calling Kettles Black

And here's where you've every right to point out that I'm bang out of order making that observation, because at the top of this post I have a level 1 heading for The Poetic Algebra Doesn't Add Up and then the headings beneath it are level 3! I will rectify that in future posts because there's no reason for me skipping heading level 2 other than because I always liked heading 3 being italic!

So, to cut a long story short, if “Interviews Added” had been a heading level 3 under Market News rather than just being bold, I wouldn't have needed to trouble Algebra of Owls to make sure they were still alive :)

A Bad Day for Bad News

Enter my first heading level 2! And it's not happy news nor, sadly, a mix up of headings. I couldn't start talking about poets mistakenly being obituarised before their time without mentioning the passing of Derek Walcott, as appeared in the Guardian newspaper on 17 March.

'In a career spanning poetry, theatre, journalism, painting and teaching, Derek Walcott harnessed “the complexity of his own situation” – the phrase used by the Swedish Academy when he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1992. Walcott, who has died aged 87, powerfully explored the cultural and linguistic complexities of the Caribbean, where each island has its own distinct melody and vocabulary, as well as those of his own life.
He said that his work could be summarised on a postcard: “Wish you were here.”'

In Other News

Headings and other such technicalities in print are the sort of stuff that the Associated Press cover in their AP Style Book. Many national publications and media outlets use their guide for matters like how to address a royal personage or how and when to use serial / Oxford commas. They have just decided to permit the word ‘they’ and ‘their’ as a singular non-gender-specific pronoun. I think that's a fine idea since we use they as a singular pronoun in many everyday conversations; and of course, having just uttered those words, I couldn't think of any examples! So I looked at what Wiki had to say about ‘they’ as a singular pronoun and it provided three examples of conversational usage:

  • "The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay."
  • "But a journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources."
  • "Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Would they please collect it?"

... or to paraphrase my favourite song “somebody left their cake out in the rain, would they please hurry up and eat it?”

#MarkTwain #Obituaries #Duotrope #AlgebraOfOwls #Headings #DerekWalcott #SingularPronouns #Blindness

Published inblindnesseducation


  1. This reader has enjoyed this week’s blog and they will be returning to read more blogs soon. 🙂

    (Even though they HATE ‘they’ as a neutral subject agreeing with either he or she. It’s probably matter of age. MY age, I mean.)

    • Giles Giles

      I think use of a non gender-specific pronoun is important for cases when you don’t know the gender of the person concerned and traditionally that defaults to male, which is rightly getting less acceptable these days. In the case of the abandoned umbrella, why assume the owner is one gender rather than another, though to be honest my default approach would be to say “he or she” 🙂

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