Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Chelene Knight, Room
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 Chelene Knight, Managing Editor of Room.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Chelene Knight: For me as an editor and a writer, I need that initial hook. Whether it’s the title or that punch-me-in-the-gut first line, start strong. I also love when a poems leaves me with a bunch of questions right from the get go because that creates a drive to read on. A good poem also uses the poetic devices organically. I’m drawn to poems that have a narrative but still stay true to it being poem by making sure to infuse assonance, rich imagery and unique enjambments.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Chelene Knight: Workshop, revise, and make sure your work is polished. I would also recommend that folks KNOW their work and own it. Doing this will help you know when to stop editing. Ask yourself what the core of the poem is … what do you want readers to take away? If you aren’t writing to that core, then there is still revision to be done. When workshopping, ask for specific feedback from your peers: “What do you feel after reading this poem?” “Are you pulled in immediately?” “Do the line breaks work?”
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
Chelene Knight: Rejections are a big part of working in the arts. I love my rejections because they push me to look at the “why” why didn’t someone take this piece? And as a magazine editor, I now know that it’s not always that the piece still needs work, but maybe it didn’t fit the theme, or maybe it was too long … there are so many reasons. But also, you are in the practice of getting work out there and that counts too. I also know how competitive it is to publish in lit mags and so I don’t beat myself up over it.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
Chelene Knight: I always recommend Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler because it taught me about cadence, narrative, and how they both play important roles in creating stellar poetry. It’s so important to keep the books you love close to you, but to also ask yourself what it is about that particular book that speaks to you in such a deep way. Dissect the book if you need to. Also … there is no one size fits all answer to poetry, or writing in general. Tell your stories authentically, that’s what I always say.
Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.
The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” In addition to her work as a writer, Knight is managing editor at Room, programming director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling.
Knight is currently working on Junie, a novel set in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, forthcoming in 2020.