What We Look For

As a home for emerging authors & established voices together, we are looking for poems that express both traditional excellence in craft and a willing fearlessness in content and form. For us, the frontier of poetry is a place where voices—of all colors, ages, orientations, identities— are made equal by a shared belief in the power of language to confront the dark, the vast, the unexplored.

We’ve put together a brief & non-exclusive list of certain craft features we expect good poetry to exhibit (make sure to click the links for examples):

A thought-out sense of pattern and form. The play of establishing and breaking rhythms is essential—whether it’s within a free-verse block of text, an innovated sonnet, or a good prose poem; we want poetry that is conscious of its own structure & the reasons for it; i.e. the Pulitzer-winning genius of Tyehimba Jess’s syncopated sonnets that can be read four different ways—;

Strong body talk. Great poems activate the body of the reader consistently and powerfully. The reader’s body is going to be making the first opinions about your poem, and if you don’t convince his guts, or her wrists, or the small of their back, to join you on the ride, you’ve lost before you begun; i.e. “so a mother knows where / to collect / whatever / is left of / her lineage and / push it under her tongue / until it swells / fat with grief / in the hood” ~ from Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s “On Hunger”—;

Strong identity as an object of sound. This point dovetails with the body talk: poetry is poetry because of its sonic focus & unique delivery of language sounds. Good poems are slow melting joy in the reader’s mouth, and a surefire way of getting the attention of a reader’s body is by aural seduction; i.e. R.A. Villanueva’s “Sonnet 146”—;

A unique point of view. The literary world needs fresh voices from fresh places in order to stay relevant and powerful. Unique POVs can be from any culture or any place, just as long as they appreciate and recognize the broadness of where literature is headed. We often look for POVs different from our own and different from what would have filled up the anthologies we read in high school; i.e. Warsan Shire’s beautiful “The House”—;

A generous view of itself. Often poems will get stuck on an author’s navel-gazing or self-seriousness. Feels clunky and stiff. The poem should be willing to laugh at itself or be open to defeat & vulnerability; i.e. Morgan Parker’s “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”—;

No shallow conclusions. Much of contemporary poetry wants to employ a shallow version of cynicism as a way to feel fresh. Cynicism is no stranger to great poetry, but a poem that resolves into a lazy despair is not what we seek to publish. Be cynical, be dark, be bloody, be honest about the brokenness of the world, but don’t be spiritually, intellectually or aesthetically shallow just to show that you’re “edgy”; no shock-jock poetry please;

Democratic language. In the Whitman sense, not the political sense. Poetry should be readable and enjoyable for more than just academics; poetry is as much for working folks as it is for the universities. This means that poets should know what they are doing with their language choices and who they may be excluding; i.e. Jim Daniel’s “Work Boots: Still Life”—;

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