Editors Talk: Angela Flores, Assistant Editor of Poetry Magazine
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 Angela Flores, Assistant Editor of POETRY.
How did you first join Poetry Magazine as the Assistant Editor?
Angela Flores: I joined Poetry and the foundation in 2021. I was teaching and also volunteering at various trans-centered non-profits and being engaged with community in that way was something I wanted to continue, and I thought the foundation was the perfect place where I could commit to both art and service. And the foundation and I luckily shared these values and a lot of my time has been about and continues to be about how to take care of poets as people and poetry as an art. Like most recently I was part of our grant committee to give grants to literary organizations around the country, and we were able to provide a lot of resources to organizations doing the work in their communities. So that’s a really fulfilling part about my work.
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.
As an editor I tend to focus on access over analysis and I think this allows me to remain open to a lot of different forms and styles but also histories and communities. I personally gravitate toward narrative poetry, docupoetics, strong imagery, even visual and video poems, but when I read for the magazine, I consider so many things. For instance, Anthony Cody’s work in the July/August 2022 was originally a huge poem meant to be projected on a wall but he sized it down for us so it could fit our margins. It’s such an epic poem and I respect his mission to mend the erasure of Mexican American history and how it mirrors our current climate crisis because his ancestors lived through the Dust Bowl in California. It was important he be in our pages, but one consideration was just the logistics of a work that goes beyond our margins in the way his does. Can we typeset this poem in a way that honors the original? We luckily have the resources to print foldouts and the poem came out beautifully, I have it on my wall like a poster now, but yes I consider even the logistics of a poem and if we’re the right venue for a poem in addition to the craft and style of poem.
Another thing I consider is if the work is presenting a new voice or narrative about certain communities. For example, I’d like to see as many trans poets in the magazine as possible, especially BIPOC trans poets because having to write into the intersections of race and gender just presents a different poetics. But I feel as a trans writer, there’s so much writing about anti-trans violence and that’s certainly an important reckoning, but I also look for more nuanced engagements with transness outside what I call “trans panic.” This is why it was important to see Taylor Johnson in the magazine, and there are many more poets I’d like to bring in too. So I consider the historical context a poet is writing from and into. But at the end of the day, I just enjoy poems that take risks and trusts itself, that teach me how to access them, and that have something really urgent to say.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
Try to submit more than one poem in your submission. It’s always difficult to review a poet’s voice or style with just one poem, so I suggest poets give a range of writing or even many pieces of a series to help get us get immersed in the overall project. Not that we haven’t published single poems before, but we like to publish a few poems from a poet at a time because it shows the poet’s versatility. And also, it means more money in the poet’s pocket, which is something we always prioritize too.
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 define craft as simply having an awareness of an audience or a reader because then that means the poet is constructing a poem in a particular way or with particular tools in order to communicate something, so that’s what I look for immediately, what does this poem have to say that is so urgent? I think sometimes I’ll look at a submission and I can tell the poem was written in a vacuum so to speak, or written more for the writer than the reader, and that’s important for drafting, but I want to be let into the poem too. And that happens in so many different ways – the first line, an image, a metaphor, a good title, a clever line break, or a poem set in an interesting way on the page. It’s difficult to say what consistently stands out to us so that’s why I focus on how a poem communicates because it leads to those deliberate choices a writer is making.
What have you learned as an Assistant Editor and writer from working on Poetry Magazine? Where do you see the magazine in five years?
I’ve learned to be brave – in both my editing and writing. For so long, I felt afraid of what I felt compelled to write or read because I thought it would be too complicated, too messy, too risky, too difficult to synthesize. But reading more and more for the magazine and working with all the editors at the magazine, I’ve learned I really can trust the reader and their desire for something raw and maybe a little messy. There really is so much good work in the US and around the world written by poets who have truly committed their lives to the craft, and I take that very seriously. And I think this reflects where I see the foundation and magazine going: we’re looking to diversify our avenues for publishing and presenting poetry. Everything can’t and doesn’t have to be published in the print issue, so we’re trying to break down that hierarchy between print and web, take ourselves off a pedestal a bit, and create more ways to engage with poets and communities.
Angela Flores (she/her) is a trans writer, teacher, and editor from Fresno, California. After earning her BA from the University of California at Irvine, she went on to study creative writing with an emphasis in publishing & editing at California State University, Fresno, where she earned her MFA.