Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Gabrielle Bates, Seattle 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 Gabrielle Bates, Managing Editor of Seattle Review.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Gabrielle Bates: When I think of craft, I think of a relationship between content and form that feels meaningful, resonant, thought provoking. If a poem is lineated, I look at how the poet is treating their lines. Is the lineation working with the syntax or against it? What sort of rhythm is being created? Is the poet working with a received form? Are they creating their own?
We only consider poems that are 10 pages or more in length, and that parameter brings with it its own set of craft challenges. Across a 10+ page poem, if you’re doing the same thing over and over again, readers get bored. As the piece progresses, there’s got to be some kind of variation, escalation, evolution, deviation. This is important for all poems, but the long poem exacerbates the need. Pacing, I think, is a larger concern in long poems than in short ones (though poets don’t really use that word).
At the Seattle Review, we also like to see poets giving themselves challenges and pushing through language experiments. In our latest issue (Double Issue 10), Kelly Nelson did this incredible experiment where she erased letters and words in Allen Ginsburg poems to pull Spanish words out, then she translated those Spanish poem erasures into English. The resulting poems are so strange and wonderful. Of course, we’re never going to publish something just because the poet did a cool experiment (the end result has to be strong enough to stand on its own), but experimentation definitely catches our eye when we’re cruising the queue.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Gabrielle Bates:My advice, in general, is to get feedback on work and revise before you submit. Don’t fling off, in the creation-afterglow, something you just wrote.
Other general advice: Don’t try to get cute or wacky in your cover letter; just showcase professionalism then get out of the way. Read the guidelines. Expect lots of rejections. Oh, and if an editor includes something in a rejection like “I’d love to see more work from you” or “We encourage you to submit new work in the future,” they mean it! Follow up.
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
Gabrielle Bates: Me personally? Gosh. According to my submission tracker spreadsheet (pushes glasses up nose), I’ve received almost 200 rejections since I started sending out my work six years ago. The vast majority of them don’t faze me at all—Rejections are a part of the life. Of course, every once in a while, a decline note will sting, or I’ll go through a particularly long drought of acceptances, which can be unnerving, but more often, to be totally honest, I’m understanding, relieved even, when I receive a rejection. (True confessions: I have trouble following my own advice and often send out work before it’s ready).
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that writers submitters should know about?
Gabrielle Bates: The Seattle Review tends to skew a little experimental, a little edgy, a little oddball. We’re usually more interested in strangeness than prettiness, more excited by ambitious work that fails than by perfect executions of things we’ve seen before. Language that feels fresh and new and intelligent and weird and dark and delightful—That’s what we’re reading for first and foremost.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
Gabrielle Bates: Oh, different people need different books at different times. I would recommend going to Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Seattle and letting the booksellers pull recommendations tailored especially for you. Or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For me personally, Richard Siken’s Crush was hugely formative early on, as was C.D. Wright’s Selected Steal Away, Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec, and the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath.
More than recommending any one book, I would recommend you toss your net as wide and far as you possibly can (temporally, aesthetically, geographically) and then read like mad. Read contemporary poets. Read old dead poets. Read formal verse. Read experimental stuff. Read read read. And keep some sort of journal, where you write about what you’re reading. What’s challenging you about it? What’s exciting you? What’s bothering you? A thoughtful reading practice is crucial to writing.
Gabrielle Bates is the social media manager of Open Books: A Poem Emporium, managing editor of the Seattle Review, an editorial assistant and contributing editor for Poetry Northwest, the official voice of Broadsided Press on twitter, and a contributing editor for Bull City Press. Her poems and poetry comics appear in the New Yorker, Poetry, New England Review, and Gulf Coast, and she is the recipient of support from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Hugo House, and Artist Trust. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she currently lives in Seattle. Website: www.gabriellebat.es / Twitter: @GabrielleBates / Instagram: @gabrielle_bates_