Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Tips From the Editor: Poetry

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You’ve written it, but now it needs a home. How does a submission make the cut? In this series, the editors at Literary Mama offer their thoughts on the process. This month, Poetry editor, Juli Anna Herndon, shares with readers some insights into the poetry she loves and the submissions she seeks.


Compared with other Literary Mama departments, the Poetry department places fewer restrictions on writers and their submissions in terms of word limits or form. However, there are still certain guidelines we follow when reading submissions and certain elements that make poems stand out of the metaphorical crowd. First and foremost, we look for poems that reflect originality, authenticity, and a high level of craft. A little cleverness or humor is always appreciated. Above all, poems must offer a unique experience of parenthood that reflects insight and individual voice. Here are a few other suggestions for helping your submission stand out.

Read our online guidelines and follow them. It may sound obvious, but we receive many submissions each year that neglect one or more of these rules. The ones most often overlooked are timing, number of poems per submission, and subject matter. Please: only submit poems during our reading period; submit no more than two poems at a time; only submit poems with topics surrounding parenthood as the primary subject matter. You can read the rest of our guidelines here. It is also wise to page through our previously published poetry to get a sense of the kind of work that impresses us.

We appreciate a well crafted poem, whatever the form. The majority of poems we receive and eventually publish are written in free verse. In free verse, we like to see skillful use of line breaks, sound devices, and poetic turns, as well as attention to pacing. Occasionally, submissions include more formal poems, which tend to catch our eye due to their singularity.  In these poems, we look for skillful interpretation of the form itself (whether by adherence or innovative deviance), playfulness, and freshness of rhyme, where applicable.

We love secondary subject material. While parenthood or parent-child relationships must be primary subject matter for us to consider a poem for publication, we love to see poets exploring other topics through this lens. Drawing connections between parenthood and other subjects or disciplines shows the unique perspective of the poet as well as of the parent. We also find that poems with secondary subject matter can offer a fresh vocabulary and set of metaphors that help poems stand out.

Surprise us. Be inventive with diction and syntax. Play with form and conceit. Use poetic turns to your advantage. Startle us with a little well placed humor. We like to see the poet’s voice shine through in the first lines, but we especially love poems that lead us into surprising landscapes by the end. We read dozens of submissions each month and surprise goes a long way toward making a poem memorable and publishable.

If you are considering submitting to the Literary Mama Poetry department, following these suggestions will help your poems stand out. We look forward to reading your work soon!

The Literary Mama Blog Editor searches for mama-centric news you can use — including information about publishing opportunities and literacy efforts; essays and writing prompts that motivate and inspire; and announcements about events, classes, and workshops. The current blog editor is Bridget Lillethorup; read her bio here

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