Editors Talk Poetry Acceptances: Emily Jungmin Yoon, Poetry Editor of The Margins
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 how poems get evaluated from within their slush pile of submissions, and what poets can do to better their chances. Today, we’re speaking with Emily Jungmin Yoon, poetry editor for The Margins,the digital journal of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.
From a craft standpoint, what causes you to accept a poem?
Emily Jungmin Yoon: I think that every poem is a story, whether it is written as a narrative or not. So, it does excite me when I see a poem that is clear in its intentionality with the form—in other words, the poem shows that the author has thought about “how does this container hold or shape my story”? The poem can be in a “standard” form, let’s say, in couplets, or in a more experimental form with refreshing visual elements, but the poet should be thoughtful about how the story is told in addition to what it says. Formal variation is one of the benefits of speaking through the poetic mode, so I appreciate when I can imagine the author’s articulations about why the poem has to look a certain way.
What advice do you have for new poets who are submitting work?
It can be overwhelming to decide where to send work to, since there are so many magazines and journals out there. When I was new to submitting, I looked at where poets I admire published. Then, I read the guidelines and perused other recent works the venue has published to determine if my work would be right for them. Do not submit to places you wouldn’t be happy to have your work in. I also recommend keeping a record of which poems have been submitted to which places, so if a poem has been accepted at one place, you can promptly and easily withdraw it from others you’ve sent it to.
I haven’t done this myself, but someone told me they had a friend with whom they did a “submission party” regularly; during it, they’d just submit poems together. I thought this was a good idea, since you can encourage each other and exchange information, while also making sure that you get the submissions done.
How do you personally deal with rejections and what is your advice to others regarding receiving rejections?
There is comfort in knowing some numbers. Every single poet I know went through a large number of rejections before starting to get acceptances. Just on my Submittable account, I see that I submitted to one hundred and forty-six places from 2013 to 2019. Out of those submissions, eighty were declined and twenty were accepted (the rest are withdrawn or still active somehow).
The Margins received two hundred and seventy-four manuscripts, each containing one to six poems, from November 1 to December 31, 2022. We accepted twenty-six poems. Most manuscripts have six poems, but even if we calculate the acceptance rate with an average of three poems per manuscript, only three percent of poems were accepted for publication. We had to reject some poems we quite liked, because we usually publish one poet a week for our Poetry Tuesday feature, and we do not want to schedule poems way into 2024 (since then poets from the next submission cycles will have to wait too long to see their works published). So even for digital venues, there can be a “space” problem.
When I’m confident about the poems I send out, I truly don’t feel hurt when they get rejected, because then I can believe that it wasn’t because the poems were weak; it might be due to “space” or subjective “fit” issues. And I can trust that the poems will find homes elsewhere. So, I suppose I would make sure that I don’t submit poems I feel uncertain about, because even if they do get accepted, I might not be thrilled about them being shared widely anyway.
Does your publication seek out specific styles or aesthetics of poetry that writers submitters should know about?
I would like our readers and submitters to know that we are open to all styles and aesthetics! I want to give a shout-out to our assistant poetry editor, Ayesha Raees, at this point; she engages with various/hybrid forms, and her sharp eye and expansive vision really helps me appreciate a broader range of works.
What book of poetry/craft would you always recommend to new poets?
I recommend Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping. Though it addresses the fiction genre, as the subtitle shows, the ways that cultural expectations and conventional workshop models affect our seeing, writing, and teaching are relevant to all writers.
Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, 2018), winner of the 2019 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award and finalist for the 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo Press, 2017), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize. She has also translated and edited a chapbook of poems, Against Healing: Nine Korean Poets (Tilted Axis, 2019). Individual poems and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She has accepted awards and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, among others. She currently serves as the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the digital magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and as the Abigail Rebecca Cohen Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago, where she received her PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Yoon’s second book of poems, Find Me as the Creature I Am, is forthcoming from Knopf.