Should Editors Have to Take a Poem from a Poet They Solicit?

November 13, 2009

If I accept a poem, all is well. People name their first-born children after 32 Poems. There were 64 babies named “32” this year.

When I solicit people, I say upfront that I might not take their poems. My note says something about how I can promise a careful read even if I can’t promise publication. My goal with that line is to give the poet a chance to say “no thanks” if they fear rejection after a solicitation. I also aim to set their expectation. I’ve heard stories of poets getting angry and annoyed — certainly, no editor wants that — when getting their poems rejected after a solicitation. Trust me, it hurts an editor to say no. We are not rejecting poems and then performing happy dances to celebrate.

If I don’t take a poem, then I write a NICE note to explain why. I invite the poet to send more poems and to send more soon.

I try to show respect to the poet throughout the entire process. I can take a long time to respond. John Poch, our editor, does not take as long as I do. I let the poet know I am slow to read and invite them to submit elsewhere if they are in a hurry to publish. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. On occasion, a poem is accepted elsewhere and that is sad for me. However, I feel it is only fair to let the poet send elsewhere if I am going to take a long time to get to it. For me, a long time is over two months.

One reason I may say no to the work of a poet I solicit is when the new work is nothing like what I’ve been reading and like what I had loved. This usually means that only between three and five poems did not speak to me. Often, a number of other poems the poet wrote DID speak to me and that is why I asked, yet sometimes people are insulted anyway.

Hopefully, I do not become the poet’s enemy for not taking a poem. After all, I am publishing this journal that supports and promotes poetry, and how many people are insane enough to do that? But that is another topic for another day.

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