Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Rob MacDonald, Sixth Finch

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 Rob MacDonald, Editor of Sixth Finch, who’s chapbook submissions close in just a week, on October 15.


If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?

Rob MacDonald: There are definitely no hard and fast rules about what we accept, but poems that feel authentic and quirky tend to jump out.  We tend to reject poems that feel either forced or familiar in terms of syntax, lexicon, sound, structure, etc.  If a poem is trying really hard to be a “poem,” I’m unlikely to get excited about it.


What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?

Don’t overthink it.  It’s painful to envision a new poet spending hours obsessing over a cover letter or agonizing about which particular poems should be included in a submission.  Do whatever it takes to streamline your submission process.  There are better ways to spend your time.

One way to be much more efficient with the submission process is to develop a real sense of the distinctions among journals.  Take the time to figure out which journals are a good fit for your work, and focus your efforts on those journals.  Then go outside.


If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?

Clarity is underrated.


Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that writers and submitters should know about?

At Sixth Finch, we tend to gravitate toward poems that invite readers to consider new ideas.  A poem built mainly around descriptive language or imagery is less likely to get our attention.  We also tend to publish poems that explore the modern world and grapple with timely content.  We like urgency.  We like dark humor.  We like brutal honesty.  Of course, there are plenty of examples in our archives of poems that break all of these rules


What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?

I’d recommend reading any books that subvert your notions about what poetry is allowed to look like, what it’s allowed to do.  I also think it’s helpful to read lots of poets whose experiences are dramatically different from your own.  Seek out new subject matter, new vocabulary, new forms, new perspectives.  For whatever it’s worth, here’s a nowhere-near-complete list of poets whose work has been transformative for me: Wendy Xu, Bianca Stone, Roberto Montes, Mark Leidner, Candace Williams, Mathias Svalina, Sam Sax, Hanif Abdurraqib, Kelly Schirmann.


Rob MacDonald lives in Boston and is the editor of Sixth Finch. His poems can be found in Gulf CoastjubilatWashington SquareBOAATBirdfeastH_NGM_N, and other journals. He is the author of Situation Normal (Rye House Press) and Resuscitation Party (Racing Form Press).

*Special Note*

Sixth Finch’s chapbook submissions close on October 15th. Send them your work!


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