Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Kimberly Ann Southwick, Gigantic Sequins
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 Kimberly Ann Southwick, Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Gigantic Sequins.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Kimberly Ann Southwick: The best advice I ever got as a writer is that just because 29 journals reject a poem doesn’t mean that the 30th place you send it won’t accept it. I am not sure if 30 is the best specific number, but that was the exact number that the fellow writer gave me, so it stuck with me. Just because one group of editors doesn’t like a particular batch of poems doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong necessarily with those poems. On the other hand, time is probably the best judge of your work–when I write a new poem, I often have an impulse to want to send that particular poem out right away because it’s resonating with me, only to come back to it in a week, a month, 3 months, etc. and find what then appear to be obvious flaws–and maybe what caused that poem to be rejected by however many places I sent it to. So, in short: send, send, send. But also: wait, edit, wait, wait, wait, edit some more and then send, send, send.
If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?
Line breaks! Play with them! After you write a poem, save every previous version of it and play with the line breaks! Playing with line breaks is my personal favorite part of editing–I take something that was one big stanza and break it into couplets or take something that was in couplets and put it in quatrains–I make my short lines long, I try to make all my lines match in line length or try to make them NOT the same length, I take something in verse and put it into prose. I always pay special attention to the longest line, the shortest line, and every word that begins or ends a line. This helps with so many other things, too—it helps with word choice, rhythm, emphasis, tone—on and on—and as it is one of the major things that makes verse unique from prose—the fact that verse has line breaks—paying attention to them should be crucial.
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
I have been submitting work to literary journals for over ten years, so I definitely can’t count the rejections. I mean this literally, in the literal actual true sense of the word literally–if I printed them all out/gathered the print rejections I’ve received, I could probably wallpaper my house with them. I think time is another factor here that helps, just like it helps with editing—the more you accumulate, the less they hurt. I try to be positive when I see I’ve gotten a reply from a journal “be an acceptance, be an acceptance,” I chant to myself sometimes–but when it’s not, it’s okay. I try to take pride in a personal rejection or one that encourages me to resubmit, but I have never grown to expect those. I have grown to expect rejections generally though, and I am okay with that.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
I would likely want to read an individual poet’s work and ask what they’ve been reading, though, before recommending one book to a specific new poet—I’ve recommended a variety of different books to specific students. When I’ve taught workshops, though, before and also lit courses that incorporate poetry, I have tended to assign a book called The Making of a Poem, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. I don’t write in strict forms, but it explores a lot of them, their evolutions, and has a good selection of poetry from a variety of different eras—plus my favorite poem (“Directive” by Robert Frost) is in there.
Kimberly Ann Southwick is an Aries with a Capricorn Moon & Ascendant. She is the founder & editor in chief of the literary arts journal GIGANTIC SEQUINS, which has been in print since 2009. Her current manuscript in circulation, ORCHID ALPHA, has been a finalist for the 2018 Moon City Press Prize in Poetry & Elixir Press’s 2019 Antivenom Poetry Award as well as a semi-finalist for the 2019 Perugia Press Prize. Her poetry has also been a finalist for the 2016 Yemassee Poetry Prize & semi-finalist for the Beecher’s Magazine 2016 Poetry Prize. She is a PhD candidate in English & Creative Writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where her scholarship centers around genre studies, lyric theory, & feminist theory and criticism. Her most recently published poetry chapbook is EFS & VEES from Hyacinth Girl Press. Kimberly received her MA in English from NYU & her BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing from Emerson College. She lives in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana with her husband, Geoffrey Thompson, & their rescue dogs, Jasper and Nova. Many dragonflies live in their yard.