This week and next, we are featuring a conversation with Poetry Editor Sharon Kraus and Assistant Poetry Editor Ginny Kaczmarek. This week we find out what they look for in submissions and how the submissions process works.
What does Literary Mama look for in submissions?
Sharon: My standard answer is to paraphrase Emily Dickinson: I want poems that take the top of my head off. The poems that work best for Literary Mama acknowledge the intensity of motherhood in some way, being gripped by it, or trying mightily to deflect it. I love it when a poem will use intense, compressed language, and/or new imagery. To a certain extent that’s just my own style preference; when a poem works by using loose language, well, it works.
Ginny: Poems that work the best have some element of the unexpected, whether it’s the language, the imagery, the emotion. Yet the poem must feel honest and be well crafted. I’m drawn to poems that make me say, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.” Also when I can tell the author really thought about how the poem is constructed, how the structure (whether formal or loose) enhances the theme.
How does the submissions process work?
Sharon: One thing particular to Literary Mama and my individual process is that I work to assemble poems that cohere in some way for each month’s issue. Often that’s really visible (like the March issue’s nursing poems), and I want the sense of walking around a sculpture and noticing it from all available angles. Sometimes I’m working to bring poems together that cohere in oblique ways, such as quirky logic, or the impulse-to-protect-one’s-child. That way, the poems in a group strengthen each other aesthetically, sometimes thematically. Each issue has a progression, a line of emotion that has an opening knot, and waves, and a finish, usually frayed: a self-contained chapbook. I see the pages turning as I feel my way through the order of an issue.
The downside of my process is that it entails collecting a whole bunch of poems and sorting, resorting, sifting, shuffling. My “maybe” folder swells virtually over the course of the months. So poets have to sometimes wait an unconscionable time for a response. Usually that means I’ve been hoarding a poem, waiting to find its sisters.
Ginny: After compiling five or six poems for each month, Sharon sends them to Literary Mama’s senior editors, who ask questions and add comments, and then to me for final edits and proofreading. Sharon will contact the authors if we have suggested changes or questions, and once we get author approval, the poems are ready to publish. I enter the poems and authors’ bios into the website, being careful to maintain spacing and line breaks, which sometimes requires a bit of HTML wrangling. Then our editor-in-chief flips the switch, and on the first Sunday of every month, voila, fresh poems.
Next week, Sharon and Ginny offer some ideas, tips and tricks to help make your drafts better and get those “stuck” poems unstuck.