Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Su Cho, Cream City 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 Su Cho, Editor-in-Chief of Cream City Review.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Su Cho: Work that shows me even a glimpse of the world your poems live in stands out to me. For poems, that means that everything has to be intentional. A kind of thoughtful exploration. When we write poetry, we like to discover something new, something lost. If you can take us on that journey, your poem is a strong contender.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Share work with friends and readers who are willing beforehand! Ask them to look through your submission packet. Sometimes, I’ve been working with a poem for so long that I can miss obvious typos. It’s like a practice run but with those who are excited about your work. Besides, it’s great to have people rooting for you!
Double check everyone’s submission guidelines.
Please be kind and courteous. Most literary journals, ours included, are volunteers. Ask any editor and they can tell you how one unkind email threw their day off. When you pour all the energy you have into creating a beautiful space for others’ work, it can be crushing to read something ill-spirited.
If you ever receive a tiered rejection or a personal rejection, celebrate! In my experience, editors rarely send those out unless it was good work. It’s a good thing, and you should definitely submit to them again.
Lastly, don’t forget to read work that inspires you! I don’t know quite how this works, but I like to read the books/writers I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write like. That feeling of awe and respect, I don’t know, it makes me feel more tender toward myself and my poems—especially when I’m putting my work out there and feel vulnerable.
If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?
Titles and line breaks. When I’m reading submissions, I can’t say how many poems I come across that tell such interesting stories, craft immaculate images. But what sends the poem to the top is the attention to craft like articulate line breaks and strong titles. These are things I constantly remind myself to focus on more too!
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
I have over 100 rejections just in my Submittable account. That’s not including the journals that do email submissions or have their own portals. Even as an editor, who knows that rejections are truly never about you personally, I definitely went through long spells of dread and disappointment. I usually dealt with it by letting myself feel whatever emotion I felt. I’m horrible at trying to be optimistic or pessimistic, so if I felt like rejections didn’t matter to me, then they didn’t! If I felt that these rejections were a personalized note from the world telling me I was horrible at what I did, I stewed in it for a while. Whatever you feel is normal! But never stop trying. I know that if I stopped, I wouldn’t have some work in my personal dream journals today. It really is a marathon.
Never forget to be happy for others when they have good news, to keep submitting, to feel the highs and lows.
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that writers submitters should know about?
We really pride ourselves in being open for anything. Our readers and editors really value poems that take a risk. Some seasons, really good poems about water creatures appear in our queue! Some seasons, really great poems about gardening. While we don’t read with certain themes in mind, they pop up once in a while, always reflected by the pieces we receive. So we mean it when we ask you to send us your best!
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
I love these questions! I always recommend the following:
I Love Artists by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Hum by Jamaal May
Notes on a Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim
I think these books really illustrate how powerful poetry can be in illustrating a narrative. All four of these books do that in different ways. I go back to these amazing books whether I’m in a writing rut or teaching creative writing.
I truly love Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey as a craft book. I feel fortunate that my first poetry professor, Molly Brodak, suggested this to me. At first, I expected something boring, whatever boring idea of poetry I had in my mind, and this book just busted that wide open. I love the attitude and the wisdom in this book. I think this kind of portrait of poetry is invaluable! Especially in the beginning.
Su Cho lives in Milwaukee, where she serves as Editor-in-Chief for Cream City Review. You can find her work in Poetry, New England Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and elsewhere. Her essay “Cleaving Translation” was the winner of Sycamore Review’s 2019 Wabash Prize for Creative Nonfiction and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can learn more at www.suchowrites.com or follow here on Twitter @su__cho.