A Word from One of Our Editors

The name is Shelby, and I’m one of the poetry readers at the minnesota review submissions. I’m also an English graduate student here at Virginia Tech in the M.A. program. In previous experience I was the poetry editor for Silhouette, the literary and arts magazine ran by undergraduates at Tech.

It’s kind of hard to nail down what exactly I look for when reading for publications, other than to say: good poems. When reading through numerous poems at one time, I have found that the best thing to do is to trust my instincts. I have to trust that I know what a good poem feels like when I’m reading it. After narrowing down the selections to my “instinct poems,” I then can take the time to see what exactly is making the piece work for me. I then I have to make the hard distinction between a poem that works just for me, and those that are going to speak to a wider audience. Trying to find your own biases in poetry is not an easy thing.

One example of the things that I find myself drawn to are poems with strong images. This obviously is extremely vague, and each artist can take so much out of it. I like to be intrigued by new combinations, by daring combinations. Or perhaps a writer will base their writing from one strong, central image, as I often find myself doing in my own poetry.

I also like poems that are obviously trying to do something with language. Language is our own construction, so what happens when poets push it? Can their writing handle it, or does it just fall short?

I also have a couple of danger words and images that invoke little alarms to go off. Some examples: mirrors (or reflection), roses, your soul, blind love, burning love, tears like rain, shadows, sands of time, tree of life, and other clichés that we’re all just tired of hearing. For me, if any of these are in your poems, there better be a hell of a good reason for it. Now hear me out, some poets can use these images and create a great, unique poem. But most cannot.

I want to read a line, a poem, or an image that makes me jealous that I did not think of it myself.

I know that I have my own biases in poetry, everybody does, but it’s the best when we find those that we like personally and those that we know our readers are going to love too. That’s one of the best things about being a part of a literary magazine. 

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One thought on “A Word from One of Our Editors

  1. Shelby, thank you for doing the difficult task of trying to define your own taste as editor. The less adequate your answer appears to you (you being the only one who knows how accurate it is), the better the experience for you, I would guess. In the meantime, potential submitters benefit. My question is how do you respond to formal poetry, and I ask because some of my own poems are formal (not all in the English tradition of forms), and I find rather few editors who actually, as against in theory, are open to formal poetry — judging by the poems that end up published. I write free verse, too, but I am aware that free verse was last considered revolutionary over a century ago, rather a long time without some rather more specific replacement “form.” Music seems far more dominated by dominant styles being superceded by new dominant styles. Or have I missed something?

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