Editors Talk: Marisabel Rodriguez, Chestnut 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 Marisabel Rodriguez, Poetry Editor of Chestnut Review.
How did you first start working at Chestnut Review?
Marisabel Rodriguez: I initially saw the “ad” reposted by the English Department at my alma mater, on Twitter, of all places. I loved that the application process asked for a video, I felt like I had a greater chance of being genuinely considered. I spent probably 3 hours recording videos on my porch until I was like you know what, this is the best it’s gonna get, it’s almost dark, and I hit submit. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected at first. However, one night a couple of months later (last November) I’m sitting in the parking lot outside of my job at like 11 PM (restaurant life) as I’m looking through all my emails, and I see a letter saying CR had an opening and wanted to invite me onto the team. I almost immediately got a call from James after I responded and he asked “how are you?” and I was like “a lot better now!” and he goes “so is that a yes?”
Can you talk about the work and writers you publish—any consistent themes, forms, aesthetic qualities, you look for? Feel free to shout out some writers you’ve published here.
Well, so I have a few rules, 1. I don’t read cover letters before the submission, I feel it’s the fairest that way, my first impression comes from the poem, not the writer’s background. 2. I’m not necessarily concerned with where you’ve been published before, I don’t feel it’s relevant to the decision process and it gives everyone an equal shot/equal attention.
As far as the work I publish, I like diverse stories and always try to make every issue as culturally broad as possible, I love confessionals, I love a good tree or ocean poem every once in a while, but I’ve read too many of those. My favorite poem in our most recent issue that came out last week is “The Photograph” by Ahmed Qaid, the impression I got from it was so moving that I haven’t been able to stop talking/thinking about it for months.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
The biggest piece of advice I can give is “show, don’t tell,” good imagery trumps vertical narrative every time. Don’t get me wrong, narrative is ok, but tell me about your surroundings, what that smell reminds you of, describe the shade of orange their shirt is, etc. I want to be there. Second biggest piece of advice: rhyming poems are VERY hard to publish. I used to write a lot of them in my younger years, but as an editor, I can see that most people tend to focus on keeping the rhyme, and neglect other aspects of the poem.
From a craft standpoint, what typically causes you to accept a poem? What causes you to turn the page and move on to the next poem in Submittable?
In college, I had a professor tell me “whenever I read a poem, I’m immediately looking for a reason to decline it.” It sounded really brutal to me at the time, but now I realize that at CR specifically, although our magazine is in the earlier(?) stages of growth, gets literally thousands of submissions per reading period, and I can only accept 9 of them. In short, a) images images images (that are cohesive to each other), b) I love a good shock factor, do not play it safe, that being said, c) I have limits to “shocking content,” I don’t see myself publishing erotica, scarily detailed homicidal stories, or poems involving a lot of bodily excretions.
Like I mentioned above, I really enjoy confessionals, I like poems on topics just outside the sphere of appropriate dinner talk, like what you wish you could say during a job interview, what you’d say to that person in your life who abandoned you, what you argue with the imaginary antagonist about in the shower. Now that I think about it, that’d be an amazing prompt. I also pay a lot of attention to the final line.
I turn the page on poems that start out slow, no matter how phenomenal the end of the poem is, and sometimes it really can frustrate me. I also try to stray from poetry that has really advanced language, I believe that poetry, like academia, (another hill I’m willing to die on) should be accessible and inclusive. I remember when I was younger, I learned most of my language/articulation from reading and looking all the words I didn’t know up in the dictionary. I realize now, as an adult, that I was lucky enough to have had a bookworm cousin, lucky enough to learn how to learn, how to teach myself things, and lucky enough to even have the time to do that. But a lot of people didn’t learn the way I did, and if I write or publish something, I don’t want there to be a hidden minimum reading level criteria, or understanding of complicated writing forms in order for it to make sense to the reader.
What have you learned as an editor and writer from working at “Chestnut Review” for the past year? Where do you see the magazine in five years?
I’ve learned a lot in the technical sense of being an editor. I’m really grateful for how patient and informative all the other editors, and of course James, have been to/for me. It’s a great experience, we really do function like a team, and I think that’s very hard to find in any work environment. I also sincerely appreciate all of the writers I’ve met who stay connected with us and tell us how we’re doing. We definitely keep up with you guys, too.
We already have some pretty interesting changes coming up soon, and Jordan Crook has just joined our editorial team. In five years, I’d say I’d see Chestnut Review with a much bigger reach and arsenal of offerings, there are a lot of things on our minds which just may come to fruition in that time period. James is definitely a visionary, he really cares about the experience of our staff, submitters, and readers, so he’s always got some really creative ways to engage the writing community up his sleeve. Unfortunately, I would prefer not to spoil it, you all will just have to wait and see.
Marisabel Rodriguez (she/ella) is a writer and alumna of Loyola University New Orleans. Although she loves reading poetry, she prefers writing critiques on sociology, religion, and latin culture, and hopes to one day publish a book on those topics. She also conducts interviews at 433 magazine.