Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Rita Mookerjee, Founding Editor of Honey Literary & Poetry Editor of Split Lip 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 Rita Mookerjee, a founding editor of Honey Literary and Poetry Editor of Split Lip Magazine.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Rita Mookerjee: Poems that catch my eye have intentionality and encapsulate their world/core narrative effectively. I need to see discipline in the form even if the form at hand is no form at all. Every single element of the poem must serve a function down to the last comma.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
In the immediate sense, keep your cover letter brief, double check names of editors and journals, and thank magazines for their work. On a more global note–and this is going to sound obvious–but please actually read lit magazines! You will learn so much about your tastes and preferences as well as the tastes of editors and staff. Every magazine is not for you, and that is okay! The beauty of sending out work is that there are now thousands of outlets, many of which are online and free. Explore!
If there were one craft technique that you wish poets would focus on, what would it be?
How many rejections have you faced and how do you deal with them?
In poetry? Thousands. In writing across criticism, poetry, and academia writ large? Tens of thousands. I’ve published since I was seven or so, rejection doesn’t phase me. My advice is to send work to ten more places for every one rejection. When you ride the momentum of the submission process, rejection stings less.
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that writers submitters should know about?
Yes. At Split Lip, we are celebrated for voice-driven poetry that claps back, punches up, and shows you something you have not seen before. We love pop culture and topical subject matter. At Honey Literary, we center BIPOC, QTPOC, and queer authors, and the poetry we publish reflects that clearly. I move through the literary world knowing that some people take one look at my name and reject me; my work is too ethnic, too gay, too mouthy, too diaspora, too American, etc. etc. Honey is a place for those of us who are simply too much. Respectively, the poetry paradigms I would direct writers to for SLM and HL are Sarah Lao’s “Ponyo (2008) Dreams in Tectonic Scales” and “Heritage Poem TM” by Grace Q. Song.
What book of poetry/craft would you always recommend to new poets?
Douglas Kearney’s Mess And Mess And. I believe that fucking with your understanding of poetry is a crucial part of becoming a seasoned writer. Kearney is one of a handful of poets who actually pushes parameters. His work in Mess and The Black Automaton challenges what you believe poetry to look and sound like on and off the page. He is required reading.
How do you choose which journals to send to?
I recommend to begin by writing down your values, tendencies, and tastes as a writer. Are you really into ekphrasis? Do you work in multiple languages? Are all your favorite poems written by Californians? Do you love feminist elegy? See what you come up with, then go click around and see where you find points of overlap with literary magazines. Don’t put all your faith in top 10 lists. When you can clearly articulate your style, people will take note. If you never journey off the beaten path, you might miss a important fact: there’s a party in the jungle.
Rita Mookerjee is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Worcester State University. She holds a PhD in Literature from Florida State University. In 2020, she was a Fulbright fellow in Jamaica. She is a Nonfiction Editor at Sundress Publications, the Poetry Editor of Split Lip Magazine, and a founding editor of Honey Literary. Her debut collection False Offering is forthcoming from JackLeg Press (Fall 2023). Find her in CALYX, New Orleans Review, the Offing, Poet Lore, and Vassar Review.