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Poetry in Focus

Recipe for Success

Take 3 editors, 10 questions and stir. My brief: to provide you with the top ten ingredients for successful poetry submissions, and with the help of Jan Fortune-Wood, Rod Burns and the editorial team and Anne Stewart and Dilys Wood hope to give you a well-baked plan.

What are the main criteria you use when deciding what to select?

Envoi: We look for well-crafted poetry that has something to say and says it in a fresh way. The magazine has built up an eclectic ethos over 53 years of publication so the emphasis is on the quality of the writing from both established and new authors.

Other Poetry: Quality, originality and variety of writing. Other Poetry is a very eclectic magazine, with 5 co-editors contributing from individual perspectives.

Artemis: We invite established women poets and have a different poetry editor for each issue, who selects from submitted poems. We believe this keeps the selection varied and of a high calibre, and that it offers our contributors a greater chance to be selected over time.

How do you deal with the good, the bad and the ugly?

Envoi: We have space to publish around 5% of what we receive and many submissions are doggerel or work that clearly shows very little acquaintance with poetry as a medium. I always reply as people have put something of themselves into the work. The harder category is the decently crafted poems that don’t quite make it through the selection process. I hope the letter I send conveys that the poems were read with serious attention and occasionally I try to add a small comment.

Other Poetry: On both electronic and postal sifts, an initial screening is done by one editor; good (as well as potentially interesting) submissions are passed through for consideration at a scheduled editorial meeting; rejected work is returned with an accompanying note/e-mail, encouraging repeat submission if the work shows promise.

Artemis: Our resources are limited, so we don’t make any response to those whose work is not selected. Instead, we include a “you will know by” date in our submission guidelines. This effectively means that we don’t offer any criticism on work that isn’t selected – poets who “aren’t quite there yet” will get a message, and all are aware of the limited poems that can be chosen for each issue and the differing tastes of the poetry editors. For the most part, we receive a consistently high calibre of entries.

What turns you off?

Envoi: Poems that use formal devices with a heavy hand definitely come into this category. We welcome poems of all styles and a good sonnet or a rhyme scheme can work wonders, but these devices are not always easy to wield and when they clunk and crunch through a poem it can kill the effect. I’m also not a fan of overly ‘poetic’ language, the sort that piles up adjectives or abstract nouns, or uses unnatural word order or employs words like azure, cerulean or shards.

Other Poetry: Modish, flat and unoriginal writing. Free verse/traditional forms done badly and without respect for the form.

Artemis: Too aggressive/accusatory poetry, the merely ranting and self-indulgent without wit, can be a turn off and of course, anything technically weak. Poets (we do it ourselves too often) who send out work before it’s really finished; when it’s so new that they’re too close to it to see that.

What turns you on?

Envoi: Precise, clear language that communicates something with freshness and energy; poetry that shifts the reader’s perception. If you are aiming high look at the poetry of Philip Gross, Pascale Petit, Ruth Stone, CD Wright, Galway Kinnell or Mario Petrucci – very different, but all brilliant.

Other Poetry: Original, vibrant use of language, forms and ideas.

Artemis: The fresh, the unexpected with evidence of technical skill beyond the merely mechanical. We’ve been pleased to see our poetry editors select a whole range of topics and approaches, from the playful or song-like, through bare-faced cheek, to the bravest, toughest and most painful or taboo topics, and all this in a wide range of styles from traditional forms, through contemporary and their own created forms to free verse and the experimental.

What are your Dos and Don’ts for submissions?

Envoi: Simply read the guidelines. We ask for up to 6 poems so I don’t feel well disposed to poets who send a web link and invite me to browse, or poets who send a huge stack of hard copy poems. Poets also need to make sure we can contact them, either with an SAE or current (legible) email address. I don’t need a CV; poems are judged on their merits. Pet hates: staples are a menace and origami isn’t my thing, so please don’t fold every sheet of your submission individually.

Other Poetry: Do follow the instructions to the letter (we spell them out on the website). Do query a reasonable time after our 6-8 week deadline (sometimes we get behind with submissions, or things go astray in the post or electronic ether). Do send a reasonable number of poems (4-5). Don’t send your life’s work. Don’t forget the SAE for postal submissions. Don’t send any more information than is necessary. Don’t send attachments where pasted-in poems are requested (this clogs up systems and significantly slows down the editing process).

Artemis: Read the submission guidelines and stick to them. Don’t send long CVs and don’t feel you need to give yourself a pedigree – the work will speak for itself. Sending poems by recorded delivery or even sending off in multiple wrappings causes annoyance and endless trouble, though we do not let it affect our judgement of the work.

How many submissions do you receive?

Envoi: Each issue features 20 to 30 poets, but around 400-500 will have sent poems – anything up to 6 each. I constantly think I’ve got on top of the submission pile only to discover it’s enormous again.

Other Poetry: Approximately 3,500-4,000 a year in total. We publish perhaps 200 poems from this total. We also receive regular submissions of uncommissioned articles, artwork and other correspondence.

Artemis: Artemis is just becoming known; about 200 per issue, likely to increase.

How long have you been editing the magazine?

Envoi: I took over in 2007 from Roger Elkin. Envoi first started in 1957 and has been in continuous publication for 53 years.

Other Poetry: Personally, since February 2000. The magazine was founded in 1978, apart from one gap in publication in the 1980s, has been publishing regularly since then.

Artemis: Two and a half years.

What is your unique selling point?

Envoi: We rarely publish just one poem from a poet, but look for a small group to give readers a real feel for each voice. The ethos of the magazine centres on high quality production so the magazine uses large format, a clear font and good layout. We have a strong reviews section, featured poet, poetry interviews and poetry in translation as well as an annual poetry competition.

Other Poetry: We aim to showcase the best work, from whatever source. This means the magazine is very eclectic and remains unpredictable, as well as accessible to new writers.

Artemis: We focus on women’s poetry, which has traditionally been academically under-valued, and statistics suggest that there is still a need to keep women’s poetry buoyantly visible.

What does a new poet have to do to get noticed?

Envoi: Write good poetry. When poems are selected it is the poem, not the name that counts.

Other Poetry: Write poems that are specific, focused and original. Keep writing and submitting them widely. Develop a very thick skin.

Artemis: Send us a good poem. We have no selection agenda other than to publish the best of women’s poetry.

If you weren’t a magazine editor what would you be?

I found out this was a daft question as all the editors I asked had “day” jobs. At Other Poetry the editorial team is made up of volunteers and during the day work in other areas – the civil service, the NHS and adult education and Jan at Envoi is the Poetry and Fiction Editor of Cinnamon Press. Artemis is part of Second Light Network of Women Poets and the members organise and teach courses, and if they have any time left, they are busy writing their own poetry. So when it comes to submitting it is essential to follow their guidelines. Editors are busy people, so help them out.

First published in The New Writer N0 105, Winter 2011


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1 thought on “Poetry in Focus”

  1. I read this article when it first appeared in The New Writer, and I’m glad that I’ve just printed it off – and re-read it. I’m putting it into the front of my poetry binder – where I’ll bump into it regularly!! This is very encouraging, specific and helpful advice. Great idea to interview editors. Thanks.

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