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July 10, 2020 – Dressed up As a Poem

In this week’s blog post, writer and editor Vasiliki Katsarou helps us understand the difference between a real poem (the one that gets accepted) and one that’s just “dressed up” as one (the rejected).

What makes you accept a submission almost immediately?

As an editor, I'm most drawn to image-driven work that is concise, suggestive and timeless. Like a stone thrown into water, poems that ripple and resonate are what I'm looking for— Bachelard's image that "touches the depths before it stirs the surface." I'm also partial to poems that engage with other arts. And since my publishing partner and I have both lived and worked overseas, we look for poetry that reaches beyond the borders of the academy and the Anglo-American world.

What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

What turns me off are prolix poems, and any poem with an easily discernible agenda. Hackneyed language dressed up as poetry is a pet peeve.

Vasiliki Katsarou

Born and raised in Massachusetts to Greek-born parents, Vasiliki Katsarou was educated at Harvard College, the University of Paris I (Sorbonne) and Boston University. In 2014, she read her poems at the Dodge Poetry Festival and served as a Geraldine R. Dodge Poet in the Schools in New Jersey. Her poetry has been published widely and internationally, including in NOON: Journal of the Short Poem (Japan), Corbel Stone Press' Contemporary Poetry Series (U.K.), Regime Journal (Australia), Mediterranean Poetry (Denmark) as well as in Poetry Daily, Otoliths, Tiferet, Wild River Review, wicked alice, Literary Mama, and La Vague Journal.

Living midway between New York City and Philadelphia, Vasiliki directs a long-running yearly chapbook critique workshop, and monthly poetry workshop group, at Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey. She's the editor of two Ragged Sky Press anthologies: Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems; and Dark as a Hazel Eye: Coffee & Chocolate Poems. She also edited the full-length collection Miss Plastique, by poet Lynn Levin. Earlier in her career, she helped edit the translation of Julia Kristeva's Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature (Columbia UP), as well as essays in Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews (UP of Mississippi).

Her full-length collection Memento Tsunami was published in 2011. A poetry chapbook, Three Sea Stones, was published in 2020 in a limited edition by Lucia Press, an artist book press in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Her new publishing venture, Solitude Hill Press, launching in late 2020, will publish an ongoing series of poetry & visual-art inflected books. For inquiries about Three Sea Stones or future projects by Solitude Hill Press, please write to books@solitudehill.com .

Three of her poems are discussed in a podcast at Painted Bride Quarterly.

July 3, 2020 – Busting Past the Acceptance Threshold

Giving a break to the “My First Time” series to introduce what I hope will become another useful series—how to grab and hold an editor’s attention all the way to an acceptance, or how not to mess up from the first word! I asked some editors I know two simple questions: 1) What makes you accept a submission almost immediately? 2) What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

Lesley Wheeler

Our pal Lesley Wheeler was the first to chime in. She is an editor at Shenandoah, a journal that has been in print since 1949 and is considered one of the top 50 in the US (according to Every Writer). They have published such luminaries as W. H. Auden, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, E. E. Cummings, and Flannery O'Connor, and, more recently, Joyce Carol Oates and Rita Dove. Here is what she had to say:

What makes you accept a submission almost immediately?

I consult with Editor-in-Chief Beth Staples on every accepted poem, so we only move fast when we both are instantly wowed. For me, the process begins when the first line makes me catch my breath. A great poem has high stakes, never lets your attention wander, and moves unpredictably. That intensity has to be present, too, not only in the ideas or story but in the language and lineation. Not every poem is astonishing in exactly this way—some sneak up on you—but the electric jolt of certain first encounters is memorable. Learning that has raised the bar for me as a writer. I now see how very many very good submissions Shenandoah receives and what power it takes to bust past the acceptance threshold. It’s rare for any of us.

What makes you give it the thumbs down just as fast?

A slur or a comment that disparages or stereotypes a group of people will make me stop reading. Insulting cover letters are a bad move (you’d be surprised!), as are multiple submissions in the same period. Slower crashes mostly come from pile-ups of cliché and abstraction. Line-breaks that seem senseless have nixed poems, too. Little refinements happen in the editorial process, but the author’s structural choices have to show intelligence about the options.

Lesley Wheeler has served as is Poetry Editor of Shenandoah since 2018. Her new books are The State She’s In, her fifth poetry collection, and Unbecoming, her first novel; her essay collection Poetry’s Possible Worlds will appear from Tinderbox Editions in 2021. Wheeler’s poems and essays appear in such journals as The Common, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry, Ecotone, and Massachusetts Review. She lives in Lexington, Virginia.

June 26, 2020 – My First Time: Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey Philp is the kind of poet who can stun you with a great poem or story out of anything. He is the traditional storyteller, mesmerizer, and overall cool guy. In this week’s post, he writes about his first inspiration.

Geoffrey Philp

Of course, I was in love with the girl-next-door, who was named after the wife of Ulysses in The Odyssey, which should've alerted my teenage mind that I was going to spend the rest of my life as an exile, and that my only weapons would be "silence, exile, and cunning."

Still a high school student at Jamaica College, my mornings were spent upstairs in Simms Hall, arguing about James Joyce, Albert Camus, and Bob Marley. Then in the afternoons, I'd be playing football and reasoning with some Rastafari brethren, who were well aware of my belief that the world was going to end in 1975.

And that was the main problem. She was a Catholic, and I was a Jehovah's Witness. It would never work out, they said, and they were right. So, I tried to convert her, and when that didn't work, I turned to poetry.

At first, I gave her a copy of Uncle Time, autographed by my literature teacher and mentor, Dennis Scott, which she graciously accepted. "Things are looking up," I said to myself and then tried to write my own poems. They were disasters. Luckily, she was spared from reading my juvenilia because most of them had already been vetted by Dennis, whom I imagined must have been exasperated by my attempts at verse. I don't know where he found the patience to be compassionate, but he continued to encourage me with my writing.

And I continued. I began reading Mervyn Morris, Tony McNeill, and Derek Walcott's Another Life while falling deeper in love. My mother, who was worried that I was falling away from the "truth," arranged a meeting with an elder. After out hour-long session, he told me that I had to break off the relationship with her because we would be "unevenly yoked."

I was a true believer and followed the advice of the elder. I stopped talking with her. She never knew the reason, and I’ve never told her why. I was heartbroken and had decided to give up poetry when Dennis gave our class an essay assignment to visit a museum and to write about our experience, which we had to complete by the following week. As far as I was concerned, my literary career was over, so that night, I burned all the poems in my exercise book that I'd intended to finish but never did. Eighteen-year-olds can be so melodramatic.

The next morning I went to the museum, located in the heart of New Kingston, with a clear conscience. Neither my mind nor my heart would ever be corrupted again by literature or love.

I'd gotten to the museum late, probably because of a bus strike or other some civil unrest, and the doors were about to close. I begged the custodian to let me in because I had to do an assignment, and she took pity on the poor schoolboy. She told me that I had fifteen minutes. I told her I'd be quick.

Wandering around the lobby, I didn't see anything that caught my eye until I entered the main hall where "Eve" by Edna Manley commanded the spotlight. Standing at 198.5 and 86x D60 cm, "Eve" was a remarkable work of art. It was so impressive that the guard, who was now locking up, slapped her buttocks as he was walking by and said, "Big batty gal," and let his hand linger over her mahogany derriere.

I was shocked and intrigued at the same moment. I went home and wrote the essay. But then, something else happened. I started to write a poem, which when I showed it to Dennis, he asked, "When are you going to publish it?"

I was elated that Dennis had finally liked a poem I'd written, and mailed it off to the Sunday Gleaner for publication. But just before I sent it off, I changed the dedication from her name to the more cryptic and Joycean, "To E.M.," meaning Edna Manley.

The poem was published, and the Sunday Gleaner paid me £8. But I couldn't share my joy with anyone. Many of my football friends were not interested in poetry, and for my friends at the Kingdom Hall, it seemed as if I was conforming to the "way of the world."

With the money, I bought Rastaman Vibration by Bob Marley, which three years later, after I'd survived some of the worst times during Jamaica's undeclared civil war, I made sure it was tucked away in the side pocket of my carry-on bag.

After living through the violence, I thought I was only going away from a short time until Jamaica relinquished the title of “the murder capital of the world,” and then, I'd come home. Maybe, one day.

Born in Jamaica, Geoffrey Philp is the author of five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. Through DNA testing, Philp recently discovered his Jewish ancestry and his poem, “Flying African,” has been accepted for publication in New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust. He is currently working on a collection of poems, “Distant Cousins.”

June 19, 2020 – My First Time: Christine Stewart Nuñez

This week’s contributor to the “My First Time Series” begins with a quadruple beating of rejections and ends with some really wonderful advice on the value of sending out your work to the right venue (you know, like Prospectus!).

Christine Stewart Nuñez

The first time I received four rejection slips in the same day, I felt knocked out in slow motion. As I walked back into my apartment from the mailbox, I slid my finger under the first SASE and pulled out the form letter: “Sorry, but this just wasn’t right for us.” Jab to the cheek. The paper in the second SASE needed unfolding: “Good luck submitting your work elsewhere.” Cross-punch to the other cheek. I sat down at my kitchen table then, already a bit light-headed. Let the third be the lucky one, I thought, but the envelop felt light—too light to include a contract: “We receive hundreds of submissions…” The hook landed on my temple and my ears began to ring. And finally, the fourth—the upper-cut—left me slumped over the table sobbing.

When I came to, I realized that I needed to get back in the ring or risk nursing my wounds for too long. Wasn’t this part of the game, after all? For a decade, I dabbled in martial arts, studying whatever style with the closest dojo to my apartment—Thai boxing, kenpo jujitsu, aikido—resting on my teachers’ efforts to test and promote me through the ranks. I just wanted to learn without the pressure. Shouldn’t writing be the same? I’d made a deeper, longer commitment to poetry than martial arts, but practicing both offered parallels. Just like my sparring partner in the ring, literary magazine editors didn’t punch me because they didn’t like me, they were just there to practice, too, to create a magazine that reflected their tastes and moods on that particular day. The best workouts were the ones where I was matched with a sparring partner similarly skilled but just that much better than me to make me move faster, respond tighter. Sending work out, I thought, should be a process of identifying those partners.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez is the author of Postcard on Parchment (ABZ Press 2008), Keeping Them Alive (WordTech Editions 2010), Untrussed (University of New Mexico Press 2016), and Bluewords Greening (Terrapin Books 2016), winner of the 2018 Whirling Prize. She is a professor in the English Department at South Dakota State University and the South Dakota Poet Laureate. Find her work at ChristineStewartNunez.com.

June 12, 2020 – My First Time: Jeannine Hall Gailey

It’s rare to find a success story like the one poet Jeannine Hall Gailey experiences in this week’s “My First Time.” It’s definitely inspiring to know, however, that such things can happen—maybe even to you!

Jeannine Hall Gailey

I had a curious thing happen when I started sending out in the 2002–2003 poetry season—I had three acceptances, of poems at The Seattle Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and Can We Have Our Ball Back (an early web lit mag) and though the acceptances were months apart, all the poems came out at the same time. So it wasn't just a celebration of one poem, but three, in three very different venues with different audiences. It was a really fun way to begin "serious" publishing—I'd had things come out before in student lit mags and community newspapers and such, but these were my first "real" publications. Three years later I would come out with my first book.

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She's the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA's Elgin Award. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. Her work appeared or will appear in journals such as American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter and Instagram: @webbish6.

June 5, 2020 – My First Time: Jen Karetnick

This week’s “my first time” from poet Jen Karetnick is a sweet recollection of innocence and inexperience, and offers us a look at what the process of getting published was like before the internet (just the acronym SASE—brrrr!). Most importantly, however, Karetnick offers us a valuable lesson: the work of getting published is a) work and b) all up to you. Even so, as she puts it, you should “always celebrate.”

Jen Karetnick
Photo courtesy of Zoe Cross

Always Celebrate

The summer before graduate school, when I was 22 years old, I backpacked throughout Europe with my fiancé (now husband). Well-meaning friends advised me to keep a journal to document an experience that I’d never have again. So I dutifully bought one. But I discovered very early into the trip that I couldn’t do it.

For one thing, I’m not a diarist by nature. For another, we had saved up for tickets and expenses by working in restaurants as waiters, cooks, delivery drivers. We were so strictly budgeted that occasionally we couldn’t find affordable housing or meals and slept in train stations. I was often too miserable living it to write about it.

Instead, I wrote poems when inspired. By the time we came back to the States, thin and hungry, I had about 20 finished pieces. Most were pretty awful. But a couple I kept revising even after I started my MFA at University of California, Irvine.

No one at UCI taught me how to submit my work. I learned how to do that from The Poet’s Market, the gigantic, onion-skinned tome that was like a bible before the Internet, before online journals, before Submittable. I typed out my poems with my name, address, and phone number on the upper right-hand corner of each page, and sent them off with the required SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Then I waited eagerly every day for the mail, which brought rejection after rejection. USPS, how I hated thee.

The day I received my first acceptance was the day I’d also seen my first coyote in the apartment complex parking lot. It was a typical Golden State autumnal afternoon, everything tawny and dry. The envelope was thinner than usual; it didn’t contain my poems being returned. In fact, it held an acceptance note and a contract from ARTNews, a newspaper (now an online magazine) that caters to the artist, the collector, and the art lover. They had accepted one of the poems from my trip, “Annunciation,” an ekphrastic piece.

Even though I was largely ignorant about the process, I had done something correctly: I had matched up a poem’s subject matter with a magazine’s mission statement. But while I was thrilled, I was also scared to tell my professors. Were we supposed to be publishing? Were we allowed? When I eventually got up the courage to mention it, their astonishment—you had a poem published?—felt like censorship. I had more poems accepted for publication when I was at UCI, but I learned to keep success out of the workshop.

Of course, that too taught me something. Many years later, given the opportunity to design a creative writing program for middle and high schoolers in a school for the arts, I included submitting work for publication as a requirement. I taught them how to do this for nine years, and every time students had a piece accepted or won a prize, we all celebrated – together.

Jen Karetnick is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including Hunger Until It's Pain (Salmon Poetry, forthcoming spring 2023); The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, forthcoming August 2020); and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. She is also the author of five poetry chapbooks, including The Crossing Over (March 2019), winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition. Her poems have been awarded the Hart Crane Memorial Prize, the Romeo Lemay Poetry Prize, the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, and two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes, among others. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, The Comstock Review, December, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain, Under a Warm Green Linden, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Co-founder and managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, Jen is currently a Deering Estate Artist-in-Residence. Find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik and Instagram @JenKaretnick, or visit jkaretnick.com.

May 29, 2020 – My First Time: Lesley Wheeler

In our continuing series, this week we bring you Lesley Wheeler, an accomplished poet who is doing a different kind of new thing: writing a novel! Read, in her ownn words, what it was like for her to make the switch:

Ann E. Michael

Unbecoming Hubris

Walt Whitman self-published his first book then anonymously issued three glowing reviews of it: “An American bard at last!” I’ve never been able to promote my career with that much confidence and brio. I gained some self-assurance through years of writing poetry, but when I sat down to draft my first novel, I knew I was a total imposter. What did I know about writing fiction? Did I have the stamina, much less the skill?

Doubt subsided once I picked up speed on the novel that became Unbecoming. I spend as much time as possible reading my way into imaginary worlds; inventing one gave me the same kind of pleasure, magnified. My main character, Cyn, is a middle-aged woman finding her way back to a girl’s sense of power and possibility, and that was my writing experience, too.

Revising, marketing, and further revising the manuscript obliterated my confidence again. I had a blast writing, but that didn’t mean the results were good. I was right the first time: I had no idea what I was doing. Even when Aqueduct Press expressed interest, I faced further radical overhauls. I had been too merciful to Cyn, undercutting the drama of her transformation. I had sidestepped scenes and problems that scared me. Like a poet, I’d overdone the pretty metaphors and thereby violated my prime directive: write an absorbing book, the kind a reader wants to spend time in and feels hopeful after reading. Unlike a poet, I generated baggy and unnecessary sentences, as if I had to account for every time Cynthia crossed a room. I kept making the draft bigger then slashing it down. I still regret axing a member of Cynthia’s English Department. There were too many characters, but cutting him out made me feel like a shortsighted administrator downsizing the humanities.

Lesley Wheeler

My breath caught when I opened my first box of books a few weeks ago. Ever since, I’ve been oscillating between panic and joy. The fear comes from guessing I’ve screwed up somehow. Every one of my poetry books contains errors or oversights I just couldn’t see back then: it’s good to outgrow your old carapaces, but books are such permanent records of everything your former self didn’t understand. On the happy side, I can’t get over my amazement that people want to read it—strangers are writing fan letters!

I did not gain magic powers at fifty, except in this one way: I wrote and published Unbecoming. A menopausal novelist, at last!

Lesley Wheeler’s new books are The State She’s In, her fifth poetry collection, and Unbecoming, her first novel. Her poems and essays appear in such journals as The Common, Crab Orchard Review, Ecotone, and Massachusetts Review, and she is Poetry Editor of Shenandoah. She lives in Lexington, Virginia.

May 22, 2020 – My First Time: Ann E. Michael

Have you done it yet? What was your first time like? Get your heads out of the gutter—we’re talking publication here. Given the focus of Prospectus on emerging writers, we thought you’d like to read about established writers’ first times. First in the series is Anne E. Michael, a beautiful poet whose latest chapbook, Barefoot Girls, is now available from Prolific Press. Read on to know in her own words what her first time was like:

Ann E. Michael

In 1980, I was 22 years old and living in Brooklyn, very recently graduated from college. Working at my temp job didn't give me enough money to spend going to clubs very often, but attending poetry readings by lesser-known and starting-out poets was cheap—and I had been writing and studying poetry for about three years. Although I was too insecure and shy to read my work at open mics, I felt enthusiastically devoted to poetry. I revised, I attended critique groups, I read as many poetry books as I could. My mentors, neither of whom was much older than I (but who were more experienced writers), encouraged me to submit poems to journals.

They also gave me terrific advice: don't start at the top (Poetry, APR, Ploughshares), but don't start at the bottom, either (vanity presses, for-pay anthologies, neighborhood newspapers). And, if possible, read the journal first. We were all broke, and spending for stamps and SASEs and all that typing of poems took time and money, so what mattered was to try to find a good fit.

For me, that turned out to be mostly little staple-bound magazines that had circulations of under 500 but which had actual editors devoted to poetry. I found them through independent bookstores and through the Dustbooks Directory of Poetry Publishers and Len Fulton's The Small Press Review. After several rounds of submissions and long waits for (alas!) rejections, a tiny magazine in Florida chose two of my weirder, slightly surreal short poems for publication.

I was so excited!

When my contributor's copy arrived, however, I felt less elated; it was a photocopy-zine on blue paper, and some of the poetry in it was not so great. But some of it was good. And there were my two poems. Two poems in print, chosen by an impartial editor.

And it was a start. My next publications were also in xerox-zines, but of better layout and organization—and with better poets represented.

Over the years, my submission rate has varied considerably. Sometimes for years I sent out nothing at all. My advice is, if you want to see your work in print, submit.

Not all of us can be Emily Dickinson.

Ann E. Michael
follow my blog at www.annemichael.wordpress.com

Ann E. Michael is the author of 6 chapbooks—the most recent (2020) being Barefoot Girls—and two full-length collections, Water-Rites (Brick Road Poetry Press) and, forthcoming (2021), The Red Queen Hypothesis (Salmon Poetry). Her poems and essays have appeared widely in print and online.

Her books can be found on the books page of her blog, and through Prolific Press, Brick Road Poetry Press, FootHills Publishing, and Finishing Line Press.

She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and has been running the writing center at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA for 12 years.

May 15, 2020 – A Flurry of Activity

We have been working for months in anticipation of launching the new issue of Prospectus this December. Many things have changed, from the content of the website to our new submission guidelines. The most exciting change is the switch from a black-and-white, saddle-stapled publication to a full-color, perfect-bound issue. Another exciting piece of news is that we are holding our first poetry contest—“New Beginnings.” See the submission guidelines page for details, but what we are hoping for is to find the perfect poem that embodies all that one feels at the beginning of a new adventure, that mixture of anticipation, excitement, and dread that is so hard to capture. Will we meet our goals? Will we fail? Is it worth it to try? Are we ready? These are the questions that plague every person bent upon shaping the future rather than just letting it happen.

So, as you are reading this, we will be making changes, ordering materials, and overall hoping that once submissions start to roll in, we will find a special someone or many special someones to fill the pages of the new Prospectus. Oh, did I mention we’re also shooting for more pages? That means we will be able to bring you more new names to remember. In the meantime, come by our Facebook page and check out daily news items relevant to the poetry world (or just funny/interesting to me). Help us by telling others about Prospectus, and wait with us in anticipation as we get ready to get those submissions!

Celia Alvarez, Editor

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