Updated March 2023
As you read this, editors are eagerly searching for poetry submissions to publish in their literary journals. And at the same time, writers are preparing their strongest poems to submit! So if you want your poems to stand out—and to increase your odds of getting published in a literary magazine—consider the core poetry elements that lit mag editors find irresistible when reading poetry submissions.
Poetry Elements Editors Love To See In Poem Submissions
New perspectives on traditional topics. In the right hands, old subject matter can become startlingly new. Feel free to explore any subject you like—don’t worry about it being overly “familiar.” Just be sure to add your own unique perspective and voice, and your poem will naturally bring something fresh to an ongoing conversation.
Boldness and bravery. Whether a poem explores a moment of unspeakable sacrifice or quiet shock, the spirit of a poem can catch an editor’s eye. Editors love to be engaged (and sometimes surprised) by an emotionally generous poem.
Experimentation. Editors enjoy finding poems that bend the rules, challenge readers’ assumptions, and bring a new sensibility to traditional forms. Discovering new ways of using language and trying new forms are great ways to stand out in a crowd.
Playfulness and humor. Some poets fall into the trap of writing poems that strike only one note or explore only one mood. But sometimes, a little bit of whimsy, humor, self-awareness, and playfulness can bring much-needed levity to an otherwise heavy poem.
Brevity. A few editors accept long poems, but poems that fit on one page are easier to place with today’s editors than longer poems. There are a number of reasons for this. Short poems are easier to lay out on a page; they allow for editors to feature more writers in one issue; and—frankly—they tend to be rigorously precise and concise. Learn more about the best length for poetry submissions.
Print-friendly formats. Poems that feature such long lines that they can’t fit the width of a single page tend to be challenging for editors. The same goes for poems that incorporate multimedia elements or that require unusual formatting. Even when editors love such poems, some literary magazines simply don’t have the technology to publish them.
Multiculturalism. Poems that explore various cultures—whether the culture of a specific socioeconomic region or of a single family—tend to claim a special place in literary magazines and journals. The key is writing about multicultural perspectives with authentic insight and sensitivity.
Core human concerns. Poems that explore the questions, issues, and emotions we all have in common are poems that have the potential to reach a wide audience—and touch people’s hearts. Editors are often drawn to poems that delve deep into the fundamental aspects of the human experience.
What Editors Really Don’t Like These Days
In the right hands, poetry concepts that have fallen out of favor can be elevated to something marvelous. But if you’re wondering what kinds of things editors (as a whole) tend not to accept these days, here’s a short list: rhyming poetry, one-word titles like “death” or “promise,” super-long poems, double-spacing, centering, and more. Learn more about the kinds of things that turn poetry editors off. But remember: It’s better to write what feels right than what is trendy.
QUESTION: Have we left any poetry elements off our list? Share your experiences here.
Thanks for sharing.