Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Kelsey Nuttall, Black Warrior 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 Kelsey Nuttall, Poetry Editor of Black Warrior Review.


From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?

Kelsey Nuttall: In a lot of cases I haven’t seen what will cause me to accept a piece yet. That is, broadly, I’m looking for things that surprise me, things that I don’t expect or don’t see. One of the great things about BWR is that our editors turn over annually—we get fresh eyes on work all of the time, and so, while folks tend to be looking for things that align to their aesthetic preferences, we mitigate a sense of monotone by switching eyes around, keeping things changing (an oxymoron?) but, what I will say is that BWR values in its editors that sense of the new and innovative and weird, so that element of “surprise” stays a pretty consistent way to hook us as a publication.


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

First I would say: “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. (And congrats! I guess that’s exciting too, but submitting is really hard and vulnerable sometimes.)” Then I would say that I’m a funny person to give advice because I’m doing this myself, too, as often as I can, but that’s perhaps the most important thing? Expect to do this as often as you can for perhaps a while, and develop a relationship to it and a routine for it. That has worked best for me—a modestly rigorous schedule (spreadsheet) and a tiny reward system, and an ability not to put too much pressure on yourself when you have to break from those things. Use off-time submitting-wise for your writing. Then, there’s the obvious bit (right?) which is targeting. Target publications that will understand your work instead of sending out to everyone always. The obvious bit within the obvious bit is that you should read recent issues of wherever you’re submitting so that you understand them and whether they’ll understand you.


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

Well, this might seem counter-intuitive to some people based on the fact that I also said that I like play, innovation, but I love form. (Invented form included, though, of course.) I think one of the effective ways to practice writing, break out of ‘writer’s block,’ is applying form to work—even work that you don’t think needs it. Something about occupying the left brain with something to let the right run wild.


How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?

Never enough? A good rejection is better than some acceptances? Wouldn’t it be funny if I were like, “hm, I’ve faced 12 rejections.” I do know folks that keep track, but I haven’t found that to be a useful mechanism for me. Consider, though, flipping it, maybe! Track and celebrate rejections? Because for X many rejections I bet you’ll have Y many acceptances 🙂



Kelsey Nuttall is an an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama where she is currently serving as the poetry editor for Black Warrior Review. She lives in Tuscaloosa with four haunted dolls and an ill-behaved cat. Her work has most recently also appeared in PANK. In her free time, she paces her home and drinks too much coffee and listens to popular music.


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