Briefly Feedback

We currently offer two levels of feedback:

(1) Another Pair of Eyes

Have a poem or story that’s not quite working? Or one you think could be working better? We can help!

With Another Pair of Eyes, our editors will get to the heart of your poem or story. We will provide an overview of your work, with tailored comments on form, structure and impact. We’ll also ask questions that invite you to take the poem or story further.

This is not a proofreading or line-by-line editing service.

What you’ll get:

  1. Personalised response to ONE poem or story
  2. Tailored feedback on style, impact and technique
  3. Questions and prompts to stimulate further thoughts

The price of Another Pair of Eyes is £8 per poem (up to 30 lines) or story (up to 1,000 words). For longer pieces, get in touch (contact@brieflywrite.com) for a quote.

SPECIAL OFFER ~ 3 poems or stories for £16!


(2) Dig a Little Deeper

Do you want a detailed exploration of your poem or story?

With Dig a Little Deeper, we will unpick exactly what’s going on in every line, every word, every syllable… and make sure everything is working towards your end goal.

What you’ll get:

  1. Personalised response to ONE poem or story
  2. Overview of style, impact and technique
  3. Tailored feedback on everything from word choice to layout
  4. Questions and prompts to stimulate further thought
  5. Opportunity to send revisions and discuss the work further

The price of Dig a Little Deeper is £16 per poem (up to 30 lines) or story (up to 1,000 words). For longer pieces, get in touch (contact@brieflywrite.com) for a quote.

SPECIAL OFFER ~ 3 poems or stories for £36!


How do I get my feedback?

1. Make the payment corresponding to the level and quantity of feedback you wish to receive on our Ko-Fi page. Leave a note in the comments box stating the feedback you are paying for.

2. Email your work to contact@brieflywrite.com in a word doc or in the body of the email. Please make sure your name matches the name you used to make the payment (or tell us if they don’t!) so we can cross-check.

3. Sit back (and keep writing!) for up to four weeks while we read, review and write our responses to your work. We’ll return it as quickly as possible without compromising on quality. And we will, of course, keep you updated if there are any delays.

**PLEASE NOTE: Writing sent through Briefly Feedback is ineligible for publication in Briefly Zine. We can, however, recommend other journals or publishers we think might be a good fit for the piece.

Thank you for supporting our little literary space!

What comes before after?

Michelle Marie Jacquot, Afterglow (Michelle Marie Jacquot, 2022)


How can we measure the pandemic years? Lives lost. Loaves baked. Or through poetry?

In the ‘Foreword’ to ‘Afterglow’, Michelle Marie Jacquot invites her reader to imagine ‘late May of 2022’ – the dying embers of the coronavirus pandemic or flaming birth of learning to live with the virus. The poet is ‘sitting on a concrete floor in a little white room out in the middle of the desert, surrounded by almost nothing’. Aware of the vagueness of her setting, she feels compelled to add, ‘Mercury is in retrograde, if that means anything to you’. Such uncertain temporal and spatial surroundings neatly set (or, perhaps, unsettle) the scene for the poems that follow.

Fate and the struggle to find one’s place in an uncaring universe continue to trouble Jacquot. In her previous collection, ‘Deteriorate’, this manifested itself mostly through a personal battle with social media. The influence of lockdown makes the focus of ‘Afterglow’ more metaphysical.

Before blurs with after, just as dark thoughts mix with triviality. These are ‘sometimes silly, sometimes sad, sometimes hope-filled poems’, the poet notes. Box sets and jam on toast might sweeten existential musings, but the mood is overwhelmingly dark. In ‘I Used to Have Dreams’, she laments:

I had a dream
once

I don’t anymore

Often, before and after are subsumed by an inescapable present. ‘I’m frozen in this flat/ with both my personalities’, she writes in ‘Split Ends’. Symbolic meant-to-be moments also fall flat: she describes herself as ‘born on Christmas Eve in a Seventh-day Adventist Church hospital that doesn’t serve coffee’.

The quality of the poetry slips as the collection progresses, with many poems feeling decidedly unpolished. But that is kind of the point, it seems. The collection is, as the poet forewarned, ‘an odd time capsule’. An all-caps rant about religion follows close behind the poetic epiphany that ‘I’ve never seen Santa Claus and God in the same room, not once’. Absurdity reigns towards the end of the collection, a fitting memento of a maddening era.

Interspersed with insanity are self-help mantras, which is perhaps no coincidence. ‘Let yourself sit quiet / Hear the wind inside your lungs’, the poet urges in ‘Gökotta’, shortly before she discovers that “Lennon” rhymes with “Heaven” in ‘A Place I’d Like to Go’.

Such varied insights into the poet’s thoughts reveal the strange and, at times, torturous experience of living in one’s own mind. Solitude is a precondition for mental plurality, which comes to the fore in ‘Imagine’, another Lennon-tinged poem:

I dare you to imagine
A place where everything goes right
One where the voices in your head
Only tell stories that you like

Brief reflections on nature in ‘Spring’ provide a glimpse into the outside world. But the collection is an introspective romp through the dark, twisting halls of the inner mind. The resulting poetry isn’t always pretty – but it is a revealing and relatable record of a difficult two years.


Michelle Marie Jacquot, Afterglow (Michelle Marie Jacquot, 2022). Available here.

‘It seems that I find myself coming out/ as biracial’

Danae Younge, Melanin Sun (–) Blind Spots, 2022


Melanin Sun (–) Blind Spots is a poetic experience / experiment / excommunication in which a self-effacing poet fights to escape the echo chamber she yearns to inhabit. Awarded the 2022 Florence Kahn Memorial Award by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, the collection is a bereaved daughter’s attempts to define herself and her skin.

From the start, the self shifts incessantly. When discussing race, the poetic voice is impersonal in search of personality: ‘It seems that I find myself coming out/ as biracial’ (Just a Brown Girl’s Glass Box). The poet needs to find herself – and finds herself needing poetry.

Yet language obscures the search. The opening poem, ‘Reverberation/Redaction’, sings of instability: words are crossed out, concealed and clouded. Pretence reigns supreme; death is sugar-coated and draped in oversized clothes. In ‘Alibi’, one of the collection’s best poems, bagginess becomes an ‘undersized coat’ – then returns to being an ‘oversized suit’.

This constant flip-flopping characterises the duality of the poetic voice, which is as complex and interlacing as the braids she wears: ‘half rooted in [redacted], half on sale for $7.99’. ‘Alibi’ is framed between the explanation / confession / apology, ‘I looked up a list of Black girl braids before writing this’, which makes the poem drip with the feeling of insufficiency. But it also screams resolve: ‘Ask the photo on the shelf/ with books I’ve never finished/ he’ll tell you; he’ll testify. I said it again. And again.’

Throughout the collection, betweenness manifests itself abundantly. With religion, there is a failure of performance: ‘I could never get myself to believe in God’ (Just a Brown Girl’s Glass Box). Musicality too is an ever-present ambiguity. At times, the poetry is knowingly beautiful: ‘wet warmth dresses the trees like tapestry’. But music can also be a burden; in ‘Black Pinocchio Jazz-Cat Drummer’, the father is ‘Limping from his backpack of songs’.

The absent father figure comes back time and time again. In ‘Nectar | Names’, ‘the spiral peel of his name’ spills down the page; in ‘Driveway, 5/03/20[redacted], ‘he gardens./ His silhouette fluttering like dark chiffon’. The reverberating echo chamber is contradiction in its most literal sense: a space where the poet speaks against herself.

Younge’s poetic space is a multitude of multitudes. Her language is constantly evolving and every line has the capacity to turn a poem upside down as suddenly as day can become night. In ‘Some Things Aren’t Meant to be Metaphors’, the poet suggests that ‘“like” carves a/ crawl space, but there’s not enough room to hide unless/ you make a home in the shadows’. Melanin Sun (–) Blind Spots is at home between shade and sun. The collection is a truly accomplished debut.

Danae Younge, Melanin Sun (−) Blind Spots (2022). Available here.

Briefly Write Poetry Prize 2021 – Judges’ Notes

Three weeks ago, we released the winners of the inaugural Briefly Write Poetry Prize. If you haven’t yet read the winning and commended poems, you can do so here.

Now the dust has settled, we thought it would be a good time to share a few brief observations from the judging process. We hope this will shine a light on our decision making and provide greater insight into our aesthetic.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “to judge” as:

To form, give, or have as an opinion, or to decide about something or someone, especially after thinking carefully…

We can confirm that:

  1. We thought very carefully about our choices
  2. We were deciding about something (a poem) not someone (a poet) – we read all entries anonymously

The following points aim to reveal some of the factors that helped us form our opinion of the poems we read.

Judges’ Notes

As with any competition, a dozen different judges might pick a dozen different winners. Nothing we say below is supposed to be a “rule”: these are just our thoughts and reflections on reading 1,412 poems and picking our favourites.

  1. Think carefully about your idea. No matter how beautifully you craft your poem, if you’re not inspired by what you’re writing it will probably show. Give us something authentic, something you care about, something that only you could write. When we’re reading so many poems, those quirky snapshots which illuminate the poet’s own unique experience are usually the ones that shine through.
  2. Avoid the obvious. This follows on from the previous point: make your writing unique. We had hundreds of poems about heartbreak, love, dogs or poetry. These can all be interesting topics – if that’s what speaks to you, knock our socks off with a brilliant heartbreak ballad. But remember you will be competing to stand out among hundreds of very similar poems.
  3. Make every word count. This may sound like a cliché, but it’s not: when it came down to the final decisions, some brilliant poems missed out on the longlist or shortlist due to a single word that seemed hastily chosen or badly placed. You should know why you’ve chosen every word. This doesn’t need to be a ‘poetic’ justification: “it just feels right” can be a perfectly valid reason. But when a rose is described as “beautiful” or a night’s sky as “dark” in three consecutive entries, we can’t help feeling like the poets missed a chance to sparkle.
  4. Don’t over-write. This might seem contradictory to number 3, but it’s not: we want well-worked not over-worked. Often, when people try to write in a ‘poetic’ style, the result is an overly embellished poem that lacks authenticity. If you want to write like Shakespeare, that’s fine… but we still want to hear your voice. Use rhyme or don’t use rhyme – both techniques can be used creatively and to great effect – but please don’t feel like you need to use rhyme just because that’s what your Year 9 English teacher said a poem has to do.
  5. Let it breathe. We read a lot of poems that didn’t quite feel ready, work that could have been improved with a little more time and care. The Poetry Prize was open for three months and we recommend you wait a few days (or weeks or months) after writing your poem before you send it. We read generously but a sloppy, typo-laden entry will not make a good impression. Check line breaks, word choice, rhythm. Speak your poem out loud to make sure it sounds how it does in your head.
  6. Don’t forget the title. A surprising number of poems were called ‘Untitled’. It’s fine if that’s your thing, but when you only have ten lines to impress, the title can do a lot of work.
  7. Choose a good title! Several promising poems were let down by slap-dash, irrelevant or uninteresting titles. A strong title can be tantalising, tingling, informative and intriguing. Use it to tease our poetry senses: a title gives you the opportunity to set the stage, to tweak and play with the reader’s emotional state. Don’t give it all away before we’ve read the poem and don’t try to be too ‘out there’ for the sake of being ‘out there’. But do make the most of the opportunity to excite us in the first few words.
  8. Think big. As well as individual word choice, think about the larger structure. Can you use line breaks creatively or disruptively? Is the layout important to the message? If a poet does not think enough about the overall effect, a beautiful poem can become dense with too many unrelated images.
  9. Get the ending right. Poets often stress over the opening lines, but very few poems were turned down based on a poor opening alone. More often it’s the final lines that let a piece down. It’s very tempting to hammer home the key points at the end – but doing so usually results in a sense of over-writing. Trust your reader: if you’ve constructed a beautiful metaphor about a juniper bush and your first love, leave it to blossom in the reader’s imagination – don’t destroy the image by explaining that the juniper now reminds you of those idyllic days and you’re feeling sad you’ll never get to re-live them.

Girl at the Beach

Valerie Nieman


She digs intently
with her pink shovel,

saying “Daddy, Daddy,
Daddy.”

She keeps working.
Something is down there.

She doesn’t ask for
his help. Just his witness.


Valerie Nieman’s latest novel, In the Lonely Backwater, joins To the Bones and three earlier novels as well as three poetry collections, including Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte, she is an NEA recipient, a former journalist and professor of creative writing.

It’s Too Late to be Asleep

Eamonn McKeon


Potential

        without time

is a candle

        in an airless room.

Sometimes I am fearful that I will live in that room

        and there will be no windows

        no gaps in the wall

        nothing

a mirror

        nothing.


Eamonn McKeon is a writer from Purley, South London. He graduated from the University of Warwick with an MA in Writing in 2021, and is currently a PhD candidate. He mostly writes prose fiction, but has spent a great deal of time reading and writing poetry in the past year.

Thistles in August

CB McCall


We were
giants: punk-spiked
and purple-coiffed. We wilt,
and let our down-cradled children
take flight.


CB McCall writes short stories, long stories and bits of poetry. Sometimes she finishes them. Occasionally they even find their way into print. She lives in Nottinghamshire on the edge of Sherwood Forest, which is nowhere near as inspiring as it sounds.

Paper Dolls

Tamanda Kanjaye


My friends and I
For the entirety of our lives
Have been folded up
Into prettier shapes and smaller size

We are beautiful origami
Held in place by glue and tape
So that we dare never unravel
So that we dare never escape


Tamanda Kanajye is a 20-something-year-old Malawian writer and poet who romanticises the idea of the fragility of the human experience. She writes stories about tenderness, misery, vulnerability, self-destruction and flirts with concepts of hope, salvation and possible redemption. Find her on Twitter (@t_kanjaye).

Insect Life

Martin Heavisides


Don’t know what the insect was called
with the light brown three-sectioned body
see-through brown wings that shimmered into stillness on my arm
but when I showed it to the woman sitting nearest me
in a party of ten at the beach
she thought it was annoying me and tried to kill it.


Martin Heavisides‘ prose is legendary among a more select coterie of devotees than he’d prefer: published in FRiGG, Mad Hatter’s Review, Feast of Laughter, Sein und Werden, among journals of discerning taste. Empty Bowl was given a live staged reading at Living Theatre, New York and another play, CSI Grandma’s House has had a live reading on Zoom with Quarantine Players.

By the Potting Shed

Virginia Boudreau


Your child swing sways and wood smoke
fades in a wrinkled sky.
An owl hoots, a branch snaps.
It could be years ago again.

I look past my reflection in the window,
see crow’s feet in the snow.


Virginia Boudreau is a retired teacher from Nova Scotia, Canada. Her writing has appeared in a wide variety of international literary publications including The New York Times, Palette Poetry, Grain, Sylvia Magazine, and Westerly. She has finally completed her first poetry manuscript, twenty years later than planned.