Naugatuck River Review publishes narrative poems (poems that tell a story) of no more than fifty lines. "We are looking above all for poems that are well-crafted, have an excellent lyric quality and contain a strong emotional core. Any style of poem is considered, including prose poems.“ Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
Lori Desroslers: We look for poems that are well-crafted and surprise us in a good way, either with rich language or use of language in a surprising way. The lyric quality of the poems is also important, in that a poem has to be delightful to the ear, whether it is a prose poem, free verse or a form poem. We don’t tend to gravitate towards poems in form, but that is also because we don’t get many among the submissions. The third thing we look for is a “punch”; that moment at the turn of a poem where you say to yourself “yes” or “whoa!”, the guidelines call it a “strong emotional core”. Joan Larkin called it the “visceral reaction the reader has to the poem.”
SQF: What are the top reasons a submission is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
LD: We get a large number of submissions, usually between 200 and 300 per issue. Each submission is one to three poems, so that’s at least 600 poems to read each time. I have poet/editors, all MFA level, who read for the journal and pick their favorites and then usually one or two editors help me pare down the number so the journal is a reasonable size. The contest issue usually contains about 60-70 poems, and the summer issue a few more. In any case, that leaves a lot of good poems out, and the final call is up to the subjective taste of my editors and me. I tell poets who ask about why they were rejected that it is a subjective process. I’m sure this is true everywhere. Our rejection letter is as kind as I could make it, saying if you were rejected, it does not mean your poem isn’t worthy of publication. As a poet myself with a fine collection of rejections, I suggest remembering you only need one yes on a piece or a manuscript, so keep sending them out!
SQF: Which of the following statements is true and why? Plot is more important than character. Character is more important than plot. Plot and character are equally important.
LD: We publish poetry, and most of them don’t have more than a couple of characters in them. I think both are important, as is the sense of place (setting). In the case of a narrative poem, the plot is what defines the poem as narrative. I may have read this somewhere, but tell folks that if in your poem you are walking through a garden and noticing the beauty of the flowers, it is a lyric poem. If you fall on a rock, then you may have a narrative on your hands.
SQF: What advice can you offer new authors hoping to publish their first submission in NRR?
LD: First of all, make sure it is a narrative poem. A narrative can be a story of a moment rather than a complex story. We also do not take long poems. I have a 50 line limit posted. This is to keep a poem to two journal pages. It’s a bit flexible.
Here is some advice that is good for every journal you submit to: read and follow the guidelines carefully. It’s funny what a few people have sent – full manuscripts of books or chapbooks, fiction, not to mention folks who put their names all over their submissions when asked not to. Don’t send an email with poems unless you have been solicited. Don’t send postal submissions, they will be returned. We’re very nice about removing names, but it’s extra work and annoying. It’s all in the guidelines. Read them! Also, small journals and presses are usually run by people who have day jobs (including me). Remember this when you are about to complain about something time-related. We will get back to you as soon as we can.
SQF: You have two submission periods, one open for general submissions and one for your annual Narrative Poetry Contest. Please tell us a little about your contest. Is it themed? Do you look for something different than the open submissions? Prizes?
LD: Our contest is for narrative poetry, no specific theme (although I have thought about doing that in the future). The first prize is $1000, second is $250 and third is $100. The journal is able to run in large part thanks to the contest. We publish the winners, finalists and semi-finalists in the winter issue of the journal, usually around 60 poets.
The summer issue is a bit longer, up to about 90 poems. The submissions are still quite competitive, since we usually have more of them than the contest period.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
LD: I attend the AWP conference each year and find that even though it is expensive, having a table there is wonderful for networking, getting Naugatuck River Review’s name out there. I also run an off-site reading. I like to plan local readings for my journal poets and have taken trips to plan readings in various cities all over the country. There’s nothing more fun than meeting “my” poets in person and hearing them read. I am indebted to each of them for entrusting me with their poetry, and find their words an inspiration for my own work as a poet. Thank you to all who have been in the journal and who submit your work. Thank you, Jim, for this interview and the chance to get the word out about NRR.
Thank you, Lori. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
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