Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Editors of New South
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 the Editors of New South.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Caroline Chavatel, Poetry Editor: As unsatisfying as this answer might sound, there isn’t really a singular craft technique or mode that causes me to accept something. A lot of the time, there is a feeling from the craft that will draw me toward a poem, but I attribute that more to the poet themselves than their choice of tools in that particular poetic moment. I’m personally drawn to strangeness and poems that compel me philosophically or intellectually toward an idea I’ve yet to come across. I’m always looking for the made-strange, poems that keep me awake at night.
A. Prevett, Editor-in-Chief: I’m always in search of construction/use of language that surprises me and causes me to shift my way of thinking. A professor of mine in undergrad, when talking about metaphor, used the specific example of “comparing a hammer to chocolate” as a poor metaphor, because, in his estimation, they share no similarities, and thus the metaphor fails. I’m looking for the folks who are comparing hammers to chocolate.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
AP: When I was first starting out, I just sent stuff everywhere. I wasn’t particularly discerning and didn’t do much research. I don’t really recommend that approach because it led to a lot of initial rejections and a feeling of “oh, maybe this isn’t for me.” If you’re trying to get into submitting, I really can’t recommend enough just spending the time trying to find journals that you like. Even if you’re not actively submitting work, Entropy’s “Where To Submit” list is great to check out because it has a pretty big catalog of journals, updated every few months and available totally for free. It even lists the kind of work the journals are seeking. It sounds silly, but I’ve found a lot of journals just by going through that list and saying “oh, my work is like that,” or “oh, I like the name of that journal, I’ll check it out.” This is also how I often shop for wine.
CC: The most important advice I received as an undergraduate was to not be afraid of journals you have “no business submitting to.” I sent A LOT of work (and received A LOT of rejections) from places I probably still have “no business submitting to,” but sometimes things just…landed. I think one of the most important things you can do is read archives from magazines you admire and perform your own case study, in a way, of whether you think your work will be a fit. The capitalist-literary complex has somewhat turned publishing into a hyper-professional game, but at the end of the day I do think it’s about finding the right homes for your poems and maintaining relationships with those editors and communities.
If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?
CC: Titles. Sometimes I lose sleep over stunning, fresh, invigorating poems with lackluster titles. I want titles that add texture.
AP: I want to say vocabulary, but that feels almost too-broad to be a specific craft technique. I don’t mean use more hundred dollar words with eight syllables, but more words that are tender and tactile and that you can feel on the tongue. Words like husk and linen and dough. I like to keep a list of words like that, and would recommend it to anyone interested in writing, poetry or otherwise.
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
AP: Submittable tells me 170 over the last 2.5 years. That doesn’t include the venues I’ve been rejected by that don’t use Submittable–the actual number is probably over 200. I hate to say it, but the first ones are always going to sting. Eventually you just accept it as part of the deal. I’ve gotten form rejections from journals I was sure would love my work, and I’ve gotten acceptances from journals I thought I’d never have a shot at. Hell, twice this week I’ve been rejected by journals or editors who have published me in the past! Eventually, you come to realize that acceptances/rejections aren’t really a good measure of your abilities, and that being rejected doesn’t mean you or your work is flawed (though don’t let that be an excuse to stop questioning where you can improve–that’s always going to be necessary). The rejection is always situational, never personal. So don’t give up.
CC: This is going to sound weird, but, I love rejections. Let me explain: a slew of rejections in my inbox reminds me that I am continuing to get my work out there. For me, I’d rather get rejections than not be submitting at all. An empty inbox is a sad inbox. Of course, acceptances are lovely, but I’ve never been someone majorly bothered by rejection. I see it as an opportunity to try the poems somewhere else, send a journal new work in the future, continue trying, etc. According to my Submittable I have had 392 rejections (and counting).
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that submitters should know about?
CC: I’m new to the New South team, so I won’t speak too much on the current cultivation of aesthetics. I have long admired what has been put out by New South and would echo A. that it always seems broad and unexpected.
AP: Like Caro, I’m pretty new to the poetry side of things–before coming into the EIC role, I was on the fiction team. But I will say that we’re a pretty broad bunch with wide aesthetic preferences, so I think every kind of writer and style has an equal shot with us.
What book of poetry / craft would you always recommend to new poets?
AP: Some collections I’d recommend include May Day by Gretchen Marquette, Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, Brute by Emily Skaja, Space Struck by Paige Lewis. And of course, any work by Frank O’Hara you can find (maybe Lunch Poems for starters?) For craft, Chen Chen put out a great (and free!) digital chapbook of prompts with Sundress called You MUST Use the Word Smoothie that I think is really valuable for churning up the imagination.
CC: The Wise and Foolish Builders by Alexandra Teague, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, Elegy by Larry Levis, Lighthead by Terrance Hayes, and Churches by Kevin Prufer
A. Prevett (they/them) is a human from Atlanta. Their poems have been featured in or are forthcoming from such journals as Puerto del Sol, Sixth Finch, Fugue, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, and others. They are pursuing an MFA in poetry from Georgia State University, where they edit the journal New South. You can find them online at aprevett.com or on Twitter under the handle @a_prevett.