Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Luther Hughes, The Shade Journal
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 Luther, Editor in Chief of The Shade Journal, as well as Associate Poetry Editor of The Offing.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Luther Hughes: Wow, this is a great question and one that I often don’t think about considering I think craft and content go hand-in-hand.
I should probably talk about what I mean when I say, “craft.” To me, craft, is attention to form, structure, syntax, figurative language, and prosody.
When I read a poem, what first concerns me is, of course, the content since I’m looking for what jars or takes me to a place I didn’t know language had the power of going. Or, maybe more accurately, was reminded what language can do. But, most times, the elements of craft that are behind something that is strikingly beautiful or wrenching, is complimentary; it fine tunes the strike.
For example, a poem’s content can be tender or can render me motionless, but if the poem has horrendous line breaks, it could distract me from what it wants to say. Or, for another example, if a poem is addressing chaos, unboundedness, or, I don’t know, erraticism, having irregular stanza lengths or broken syntax could highlight such themes.
I don’t believe a good poem can live without attention to craft elements. Whether I recognize it or not.
But at the end of the day, I want a poem to make me rethink the human experience. I like to be completely undone by a poem. I want the poem to make me want to throw everything across the room.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Luther Hughes: Be patient is probably my biggest advice. So much of our community is built around exposure and sometimes this feels like it’s the only way to succeed. And, yes, in one way, exposure is key. I mean it sells books, it gets you readings, interviews, etc. So, I’m not saying exposure is a bad thing. But, I am saying that exposure isn’t everything. I was editing my CV not too long ago and came across some really old poems that were published when I was a fetus poet. Needless to say, those poems were just not good and I began wondering what made me want to submit those poems at all—why did they need to be in the world. I didn’t have an answer for myself. I can only assume it was because I thought that’s what poets do. But that’s not true.
Being a poet isn’t only about getting published or being in the spotlight. Well, maybe being a poet is, on some level, about that. Although, writing poetry isn’t. And I think that’s the distinction between art and business. As a poet, getting published in business. As for writing poetry, it’s an art. I’d recommend knowing the difference between the two for the sake of your art and craft. If your art isn’t where it needs to be, then your business will fail.
My teacher always says once your poem is out there, it’s out there and you can’t take it back. I agree with that whole-heartedly.
Okay, this is sounding a little preachy now and I’m beginning to think I’m sounding like an old grumpy man. Lol!
For those who are eager to send out work, do your research. Read recent issues and look at their masthead. Are they publishing poetry that converses with yours? Are they racist, misogynistic, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, etc.? You know, do your research.
If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?
Luther Hughes: Line breaks. Line breaks. Line breaks. Line breaks.
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that writers submitters should know about?
Luther Hughes: The Shade Journal doesn’t seek out specific styles or aesthetics. As long as they’re a queer person of color, that’s all that matters. Of course, we don’t want to read any work that is outright disrespectful to any community in any shape or form. But, when it comes to aesthetics, we don’t have a type. What we like are poems that haunt us in the best possible way. I don’t know what more anyone can ever want.
I will say, though, I think it’s important to know, as the poet submitting work, what you want us, as the readers of the work, to take away from the poem. There have been submissions that want to talk about experiences—like sexual abuse—that was not their own, and do so in really off-handed, almost inconsiderate ways. There have been submissions that want to address police brutality and would simply name drop people who have died because of it.
The most important thing is how the work, the content, is engaging, critically and creatively.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
Luther Hughes: When it comes to craft, I think The Art of Daring by Carl Phillips is really helpful when thinking about the proximity between interior and exterior vexes.
When I think about books that have helped me understand poetry, I think The New Testament by Jericho Brown, Elegy by Mary Jo Bang, Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee, and The Rest of Love by Carl Phillips.
Luther Hughes is a Seattle native and author of Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is the Founder/Editor-in- Chief of The Shade Journal and Associate Poetry Editor for The Offing. A Cave Canem fellow and Windy City Times Chicago: 30 Under 30 Honoree, his work has been published or is forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Vinyl, BOAAT, Tinderbox, The Adroit Journal, and others. Luther is currently an MFA candidate in the Writing Program at Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.