Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Talin Tahajian, Adroit 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 Talin Tahajian, Poetry Editor of The Adroit Journal.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Talin Tahajian: I’m interested in work that knows what it’s trying to do—or, rather, perhaps, I want the poem’s own logics and syntaxes to know themselves, infinitely and indefinitely. This is how a poem can be, simultaneously, “tight” and capacious, rolling, sprawling. It’s not a perfecting machination, but a trust-building one. When a poem’s got it, it’s got it, clearly, and when it doesn’t, it can be difficult—though, sometimes, thrilling!—to sift through the rosy water—
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Talin Tahajian: Writing the cover letter should be an exercise in minimalism. Choose an nonabrasive font. Be gracious, always. Also, Duotope!
If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?
Talin Tahajian: Not strictly craft-related, as all of the many and various crafts of the world are omnipotent in the hands of their makers, but just to listen to the sounds of your work. Read your work aloud, and let the sonic object hang in the room. Make sure that it’s doing whatever you want it to be doing. And then—rigorously—ask each phrase a challenging question—What are you? Are you real? Are you true? It’s okay if they aren’t. But make sure that they are fully complicit, and even invitatory, in/of their acts of deception.
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
Talin Tahajian: To date, according to Duotrope, I’ve received 1,018 rejections—and that doesn’t even count some non-publication-oriented awards, internal contests, and other obscure kinds of submissions that Duotrope doesn’t list or track. After the first few, they’ll begin to feel normal, even good—anything that breaks the long drawl of the “pending” packet. I’ll reiterate that old, beating record and promise.that everyone gets rejected, and they get rejected much more frequently than they receive acceptances.
What’s the process of finding poems to share on The Adroit Journal?
Talin Tahajian: Be clean, be dirty, be gorgeous—we don’t care—or, we do care, but we don’t care which. Our staff does gravitate, generally, toward the heavily imagistic, and it always has—poems that excavate the contours of the contemporary lyric—though, importantly, not always. If you’re interested in glancing at the kind of work we tend to publish, check out a recent issue—they’re all permanently archived online. Alternatively, don’t—just send us your strongest, most urgent and sweeping work—I’ve really been loving some of the longer poems that we’ve been publishing in the past year. And, all that being said, we do not privilege any set forms or styles, especially as the journal has grown. All the time, I surprise myself behind the docket. So, whatever the work is, don’t be afraid to have faith in it.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
Talin Tahajian: Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012). But, more, and most, importantly: check the shelves of your local used bookstore for a copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry (any edition) and flip through it—begin to notice what kind of work, loosely defined, catches your eye—then, whatever that spark is, or might be, write into it—write toward it—