Editors Talk Poetry Rejections: Xandria Phillips, Winter Tangerine
As a platform for emerging poets, our mission is to provide practical help for serious writers. The community lifts itself up together or not at all. In that light, we’ve been asking some great editors from around the literary community about reasons for why poems may get declined from their own slush pile of submissions, and what poets can do to better their chances. Today, we’re speaking with Xandria Phillips, the Associate Poetry Editor of Winter Tangerine.
Frontier Poetry: From a craft standpoint, what causes you to reject a poem?
Xandria Phillips: I should start by saying that I see craft and content on the same continuum. They are inseparable for me.
I dislike being removed from the stakes a poem has set up, when the text’s underpinnings feel at odds; in other words, feeling the poem struggle against its own construction. Most often I think I find myself rejecting a submission for one of two reasons. The form and line-breaks of the poem feel like an afterthought or the approach and proximity to the poem’s subject matter feel less-than honest or under-excavated.
I look for forms that fully hold their poems. By this I mean that I want to see invention in the form itself and its relationship to the way the poem asks questions and makes claims.
Sometimes interruption can manifest in the technical construction of each the line. The syntax isn’t quite singing, or the tone doesn’t feel intentional. I appreciate when poems trust their readers. I read poems on cellular and macro levels. I like being swept away by the small details in each line, as well as the way meaning is built through the expanse of a poem’s language.
I like being able to build trust with a poem. I do not read poems in a vacuum. I come to them with the baggage and insight of someone who has been a victim of the English language’s veiled and blatant anti-Blackness, homophobia, classism, and exotification. I want poetry that puts pressure on my ability to imagine and reinvent ways marginalized people can exist in their worlds. I reject submissions most easily when they either reify tropes or build a false proximity between the poet and whatever social subjects are being explored.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
XP: As a poet and editor I know for myself I prefer it when someone has read and critiqued my work before I send it out. My best readers are people close to me spiritually. They are honest about the work I share with them. It is important to contend with comments that rattle the post-draft glow and push the poet for the sake of stellar craft and execution.
I recommend exchanging writing with other writers and developing a code of accountability with your analysis of each other’s work.
Do you remember repeat submitters?
XP: I do. One thing that excites me most about being an editor is being privy to the growth writers experience between periods of submissions. Often times I love a poet’s choice of subject matter, but feel the execution needs more work. I love when these poets resubmit a few months later and I can see the way their concepts have been percolating and gaining strength through their most recent submission. In instances like these I get to be a spectator of one’s personal craft and this feels like a true honor.
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that submitters should know about?
Winter Tangerine is not married to a specific aesthetic. Winter Tangerine’s staff is concerned with the way a poet’s positionality affects the way they render the content of a poem. I believe in a politic of proximity, which is to say I believe that those most affected by particular issues in our world should take precedent in the larger conversation. I’ve read many a poem by non-Black poets that, without critical engagement, name drop people who have died at the hands of police brutality. This comes across as a flippant grab at an emotional response that demands my emotional labor in an imbalanced way. Winter Tangerine seeks work that is genuine in its entanglement with oppression and liberation narratives.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets? (And, optionally, why?)
I recommend The Racial Imaginary, edited by Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda. I also recommend Roger Reeve’s craft talk “The Work of Art in the Age of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston.”
For reading in regards to form, breath, and overall genius I recommend In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae, Crush by Richard Siken, Against Which by Ross Gay and Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis.
Xandria Phillips is the author of Reasons For Smoking, which won the 2016 Seattle Review chapbook contest judged by Claudia Rankine. She hails from rural Ohio where she was raised on corn, and inherited her grandmother’s fear of open water. Xandria received her BA from Oberlin College, and her MFA from Virginia Tech. Xandria is Winter Tangerine‘s associate poetry editor, the poetry editor for Honeysuckle Press and the curator of Love Letters to Spooks, a literary space for Black people. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and Callaloo. Xandria’s poetry is present or forthcoming in Best New Poets (2016), Bettering American Poetry (2016), Beloit Poetry Journal, The Journal, Nashville Review, Nepantla, Ninth Letter Online, The Offing, and elsewhere. She is currently based in Chicago, Illinois.