Editors Talk: Nicole Tallman, Associate Editor for South Florida Poetry Journal
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 Nicole Tallman, Associate Editor of South Florida Poetry Journal
How did you first join South Florida Poetry Journal as an Associate Editor?
This is kind of an awkward story, but I’m going to tell it to you anyway because speaking of rejections can be a bit shameful for some poets. All the more reason why I think we should talk about this part of the writing process more: to make it less shameful.
I submitted a batch of poems to South Florida Poetry Journal (SoFloPoJo) back in the fall of 2020. It was one of my very first submissions, and it was rejected by the guest editor for the upcoming February issue. However, the founding editor, Lenny DellaRocca, really liked my work and asked if I would be interested in joining the Journal as an Associate Editor. I jumped at the opportunity and have been on staff ever since. I am grateful for the opportunity this editorial experience has provided, and especially for the sense of community with like-minded artists. Also, all of the poems that I initially submitted to SoFloPoJo in October 2020 have since found homes elsewhere. I say this to encourage poets to keep submitting…to push past rejection. If the work is good, it will land, and maybe in an even more appropriate space than we originally envisioned.
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.
I want to make sure readers understand that I am but one of many SoFloPoJo editors and readers, and that the work we publish is eclectic and varied for this reason. For poetry, there is a consistent bend toward work that stimulates and surprises, and evokes strong emotion. We take both free and formal verse, but traditional forms need to be exceptional to get picked up, in my experience. We also publish a diverse range of poets—both locals and poets from all over the world, as well as poets at all stages of their writing careers.
Over the years, SoFloPoJo has published greats like Traci Brimhall, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Denise Duhamel, Joseph Fasano and Maureen Seaton. We’ve also featured interviews and readings with poets including Kim Addonizio, Jill Bialosky, Richard Blanco, Jericho Brown, Mahogany L. Brown, Chen Chen, Tiana Clark, Carolyn Forché, Ariel Francisco, Roy G. Guzmán, Robert Haas, John Murillo, Charles Simic and Patricia Smith. A small sampling of poets published in our most recent issues includes Dee Allen, Kristen Bock, Despy Boutris, Rick Campbell, Beth Gordon, Satya Dash, Linda Nemec Foster, Emily Franklin, Sarah Freligh, henry 7. reneau, jr., and Donna Vorreyer.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Please read a few issues to get a general feel for our vibe. It’s free to do so online. Also, please familiarize yourself with our submission guidelines. Know that we read anonymously and if you do get a decline, it is not personal. We’re poets, too! Know that your poems are treated with care and are read by many phenomenal poets (upwards of 14 for any particular issue), and that acceptances are a group decision. We each assign a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” to each poem in the Submittable queue, and these votes are tallied. I can love a poem that ultimately gets rejected, and have seen poems I don’t love as much get published. Michael Mackin O’Mara, the Journal’s managing editor, recently told me that we, as a team, read more than 1,500 poems per issue and publish fewer than 5 percent of them on average. All this to say that if your poems don’t land in one issue, try again soon. It’s free to submit, we read year-round, and publish four times a year (February, May, August and November).
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 submission?
I love surprise, but I also love clarity and truth. I like a wise observation presented in a surprising way. I also think humor is undervalued. I really like to laugh, and to have fun while I’m reading. I also don’t mind crying, but I definitely want to feel something strongly right from the beginning of reading a poem, which could be something as simple as intrigue. I like an image or line that I can’t unsee, unhear, or turn away from. I also like to feel like I’m having a conversation with a speaker. I like the intimacy of that experience—of the speaker interacting with me as a reader in an intentional and perhaps provocative way. I also like a speaker that exudes confidence without being pompous. There’s a fine line there. And I love pop culture poems. I’m a big fan of poems that feel very immediate and in response to current moments and events. I like the everyday, the accessible, but with a twist. Oh, and the poet needs to nail the ending. Sometimes there’s so much build up, and then the end falls flat. First and last lines are so important. Start with a hook and end with a bang, and keep me engaged in the middle.
Overall, I think I’m pretty open to form, but I do like to at least understand what I’m reading. I’m not likely to pick up something that leaves me with a giant question mark or that I simply can’t follow at all. I’ve seen poems that seem to be random ramblings. and that leaves me unsatisfied, as do poems that provoke just to provoke, are unnecessarily vulgar, contain hate speech or are overly preachy in tone. There generally needs to be a narrative thread of some sort and a degree of substance there for me to enjoy what I’m reading.
What have you learned as an associate editor and writer from working on South Florida Poetry Journal? Where do you see the magazine in five years?
I’ve learned that genre and form seem to be evolving. I notice it more in the writing I see in our submission queue, and in my own writing. I see a reclaiming and repurposing of traditional forms like the sonnet (I think of poets like Diane Seuss and Patricia Smith in particular in this case), and other forms like the cento, erasure, villanelle and ghazal. I see a lot more prose poems coming in and more collaborative work. I especially love to see poets working together and responding to each other’s words on the page. I see the Journal evolving and shifting to expand what we publish. Right now, we accept poetry (both written and performance), as well as flash fiction, essays, visual art, interviews and reviews. I expect to see more hybrid work coming in, and new forms. I especially love poets who invent their own forms, like Jericho Brown’s duplex and Dorothy Chan’s triple sonnet.
Nicole Tallman is the Poetry Ambassador for Miami-Dade County, Associate Editor for South Florida Poetry Journal and Interviews Editor for The Blue Mountain Review. She is the author of Something Kindred (The Southern Collective Experience Press). Find her on Twitter and Instagram @natallman and at nicoletallman.com.