Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Greg Brownderville, The Southwest 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 for their frank thoughts on why poems may get accepted/rejected from their own slush pile of submissions, and what poets can do to better their chances. Today, we’re speaking with Greg Brownderville, the Editor in Chief of The Southwest Review.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to reject a poem?
Greg Brownderville: Nothing does that consistently. Any number of things can go wrong at the level of craft, but a move that constitutes a misstep in one poem can be a stroke of brilliance in another. It’s all a matter of how the parts of a poem work together. I would say this: When people tell you, “Do this,” or, “Don’t do that,” remember that they are probably imagining certain aesthetic contexts that in their minds render those moves advisable or not. Try to figure out what those unenunciated contexts are, and then make your own assessments as to the wisdom of the editorial dicta in question; otherwise, you might go around obeying a bunch of rules that have nothing whatsoever to do with your own artistic vision.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Greg Brownderville: Be all right with sounding like yourself, as opposed to sounding like your peers. And in looking for material, be open to nonliterary sources. I always think of Shakespeare, how he cauldron’d together everything from street-corner gab to childhood rhymes to history texts to small-town folksay to books on shipbuilding. When editors read through man-tall stacks of manuscripts, there’s no shortage of stylistic sameness. And a lot of it feels awkwardly posed because folks are working so hard to sound exactly like each other. Here’s a practical suggestion: offer to read manuscripts for a journal sometime. After reading a couple thousand submissions, you might find yourself rejecting poems because of formal or aesthetic moves that you, yourself, have made time and again in your own poems. That’s an eye-opening experience.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
Greg Brownderville: In my experience there’s no single craft book that proves helpful to everyone. I would recommend reading a lot of poetry from different time periods in search of those few voices that will change you forever, the ones that will help make you. Omnivorous reading of other poets is wonderful, and craft books are great, but I’ve noticed that writers seem to learn more from those few masters with whose work they become obsessed than from anything else.
Greg Alan Brownderville’s third book, a collection of poems entitled A Horse with Holes in It, was released by LSU Press on Dave Smith’s Southern Messenger Poets series in November of 2016. In 2011 Brownderville published his first collection of poems, entitled Gust (Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly), which made the Poetry Foundation’s Best-Seller List and was included among “Top Picks” by the Library Journal. In 2012 he published Deep Down in the Delta (Butler Center Books), a collection of folkloristic poems based on fieldwork he conducted in and around his home community of Pumpkin Bend, Arkansas. Brownderville has been awarded prizes and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, New Millennium Writings, and the Porter Fund. In 2012 he joined the faculty of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. An associate professor of English and the director of Creative Writing at SMU, Brownderville edits the Southwest Review and teaches poetry workshop.