Friday, July 26, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Journals really do “Build Themselves”

Have you ever gotten a rejection, and you look at what you submitted and it was great? It happens to me all the time, and it makes me so frustrated. Five poems that I’m really proud of with a great big “we’re gonna pass this time, but please consider us again”? Why would I consider you again if you hate my poems?

After publishing a journal for eleven years, I can tell you that you may have sent in a terrific submission, that meets all the guidelines and aesthetics for the journal, but  your wonderful poems do not work with, or was too much like the work that’s already been accepted—so there’s no place for you.

It’s the oddest thing. And it happens all the time.

SPRR website
In January of 2009 we published the first issue of San Pedro River Review (SPRR). We accepted and rejected work daily as we read submissions. At the end of the one-month window, we found that almost the whole journal was about birds and death.

That taught us not to accept or decline work as we received it, rather wait a week or so and start accepting on a rolling basis. We had, and still have, a short waiting period for submitters because our window is only a month long. We don’t “hold work hostage” for very long. Even still, issue after issue we find a general “theme” to the work we receive, and one or two A+ poems that just don’t fit easily.

We used to ask if we could hold those A+ poems until the next issue, but now that we have a theme every other issue, we can’t do that (and that’s why sometimes a journal will decline a great submission. It’s to release your work back to you so it can be submitted elsewhere. For those of you who are insecure, like I am, this truly is not about the quality of your work).

I have talked to other publishers and the same is true for them. If they get 100 great poems about horses, they may not feel like they can take your one poem about seeing the Statue of David at the Accademia. It’s not your fault, they just don’t have the time to find the perfect place for it. This is assuming your work meets the aesthetics and standards of the journal. For this post, we’re going to assume it does.

Click here to enlarge
At SPRR, we spend a lot of time making sure we put all poems into a logical place so that we have an arc that is pleasing to our contributors, that will make them proud to see their poems and make readers want to read more, and more, and more. Sometimes it’s hard but almost every issue we get at least one thank you for the poem order.

NOTE: Cholla Needles, my wonderful host, publishes their journal in a very different way. For those of you who don’t know, first of all please read the Cholla Needles website. Every month, six pages of creative work are published by ten writers. Each writer has a “mini-chapbook” printed. Each group of six pages is titled. As an editor, Rich is looking for a selection of material that both speaks from the depths of an author and communicates to an audience.

Some things some Journals do that I do not personally appreciate:

  1. Reject a great submission and not explain why. They don’t have time for specifics. “We love your poetry but it didn’t fit” would be fine

  1. Reject you and send you a card for how to get a subscription. That’s kind of ballsy, in my opinion

    click to enlarge
    (injection from Rich: When I first started publishing in 1973, every author read the magazine before submitting to it. It wasn’t a “requirement”. We were taught to do that by the writing books and magazines of the time. It simply made sense. Why send work to a magazine full of work you don’t appreciate? Plus, it was an investment of time and cash to send work in and send a SASE in return. Writers looked for magazines as a home & family to grow with. That spirit of family (find old issues of Wormwood, Seven Stars, Vagabond, etc) has been lost in many magazines, but I sense authors who are serious still crave that. I am obviously old-fashioned, but it only makes sense to support the magazines that support you. And yes, I realize the psyche of writers has changed a lot, and they are taught differently by the new intelligencia. Two cents turned into a sermon, sorry. Back to Tobi:)

  1. Hold your work for a year and then reject it. In all fairness, sometimes a university publication has classes for making the journals, and they take a year

  1. Send a rejection on day six of a six-month window and say it’s because the work doesn’t fit. It's day six!!! How do they even know? They need to revise their rejection letters or have more than one (in my opinion)

  1. Most submissions are done online now, but some are still by mail. I did not appreciate waiting in line at the Post Office to pay 75 cents postage due because of extra ads shoved in, only to find it was a rejection

  1. One time I did a submission, then left to drive to my parent’s house. I got a rejection while I was still on the freeway. Was it even read? Who knows?

This issue, SPRR does have a lot of horse, death, and arroyo poems. We don’t have a Statue of David at the Accademia (that’s my poem below), but where the heck are we going to place the A+ poem about caviar? And some other poems that deserve to be published? You’ll just have to see.  At SPRR, we remain committed not to publish ourselves, and to partner with poets who trust us to make a journal they can be proud of. We want that too!! And I’m honored to write this post each week, and submit work to Rich—who has the same feelings and respect for writers that we do.

God Speed

Turn around love,
and with my eyes
let me silence
the pen and ink
sketch of you.
It is time.

The hospital floor is cold
and we are so tired.
you unbraid the blanket
from around your throat
and encase us both,

a living chuppah
as we watch your
elegant breaths,
as you begin
to make things right,
love and mercy.

We talk about small
things, in words
almost weightless,
about the weather,
and how the Harvest
album used to make
us want to cry.

How rounding the corner
at the Accademia
made us feel like
we were touching
God, and we were,

how the legs carved
by Michelangelo were
your legs, your thighs,
and how he must have
known your ancestors.

Yes love, it is time.
Turn around.
Hold my hand
so you will always
remember me, lips
kissing you into my body,
I will never forget you.

Previously published in Bellowing Ark

- - - -

Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. I am more of an artist than a poet since I have been making art a lot longer. I am finding if I look at the graphics and illustrations of a literary publication, I can tell whether or not they might be open to my work. Gotta stop submitting to zines with tense-looking art. Art that tries too hard, has no rhythm, doesn't flow. I'm not sure if my poems flow or not. I have a suspicion that they might.

    1. Your poems are amazing, and they do flow. I love how you write what's in your, then green, then pink...I think that's why you use so many neologisms - it's like taking a brush and combining colors for the perfect streak of sky. Yes, I don't know about journals that use a lot of computer generated, stiff doesn't have the joy of your poetry. Still, remember that the art editor will be different than the poetry editor...but the overall aesthetics of the journal may not be a good match for you. That is a HUGE thing to be aware of, and very smart!!!

    2. Tobi, the cover of "Slices of Alice" is gorgeous!

    3. Thank you so much. It is the artwork of my aunt, Debra Gordon. The design was done by Rich Soos, the publisher of Cholla Needles.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.