Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Jessica Faust, The Southern Review
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 accepted from their own slush pile of submissions, and what poets can do to better their chances. Today, we’re speaking with Jessica Faust, the Poetry Editor of The Southern Review.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Jessica Faust: I look for work that is engaging, fresh, and that has perspective—in the subject matter or in the approach to the subject or in the presentation of the subject, but preferably all of these. The writer should demonstrate she has control over the writing and the poem, through development of theme, consistency of images, grammar, plausibility, and style for that particular poem.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Jessica Faust: I know you asked for beyond “follow the guidelines,” but I wouldn’t undersell the advice of “follow the guidelines.” It really is important—especially with the smaller staffs of literary journals now—to respect that guidelines are in place for a reason. Requirements like font size, page limits, include an SASE, put your contact information on each poem, and so forth make the reading/response process most effective and efficient, which is critical when editors have numerous responsibilities beyond reading, accepting, and editing work. Additionally, I would say try to read the journals where you are submitting (The Southern Review and many journals are now available through Project Muse, so it’s more convenient to peruse the literary landscape) to get a sense of what they might and what they probably will not publish in terms of style or subject matter. If they’ve published a poem about drive-in theaters or quantum theory in the past couple of issues, they probably aren’t going to be ready to publish more on those subjects for awhile, no matter how good the poems may be.
To what degree is your publication able to offer feedback on rejected work?
Jessica Faust: When I can, I let a writer whose work came close know why we opted not to take the work—if, for example, the last two stanzas lost energy or the images seemed incongruous. Likewise, if I like an aspect of the poem, such as the narrative thread or musicality, I’ll note that on the rejection slip, too. Sometimes those writers will decide on their own to revise the poem and send it again the next reading season, and I do often remember the writer and the poem.
Jessica Faust is coeditor and poetry editor of The Southern Review. Born and raised in southeast Louisiana, she studied in Wales and London before receiving her BS in English Education, MFA in Creative Writing (poetry), and PhD in English (literature) from LSU. After teaching for many years, she joined The Southern Review as assistant editor in 2004. In 2011 she became the journal’s poetry editor.
She has published her writing, built and operated puppets, edited poetry books for a diverse range of writers, and composed song lyrics.