Dear Poetry Editor

Leanna Petronella

On perspectives about poetry

Contemporary poetry can get a bad rap for being overly academic and inaccessible. I find this misconception both within and outside the literary community. Contemporary poetry is much more variable than it is given credit for, though. There’s definitely an irritating strain of obscurity in contemporary poetry, but there’s so much more, as well.

On poetry

I like imaginative, vivid poems. That’s not to say I don’t like quiet poems, too, but I have a soft spot for poems that are wild in some way. The first poem I ever fell in love with was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” That poem, with its excruciating self-consciousness, pulsing imagery, and wry turns, does so much for me–it abounds with feeling, but not sentimentally so. I like poems that risk something.

There are so many ways to “risk” in poetry, but here are some poets who I see pushing envelopes in different, interesting ways: Phillip B. Williams and Jenny Molberg, whom The Missouri Review published
recently; Patricia Lockwood, Shane McCrae, Matthea Harvey…see how different all these poets are? Still, each surprises me, and I love it when a poem confounds my expectations but still earns my trust.

On publishing

The Missouri Review is known for being especially friendly–we’re always hearing about how nice and personal our rejections are! And it’s true, our feedback is often pretty specific. We’re also unique in that we publish poetry features in each issue; we’ll feature several poems by three different poets. As a result, we look for cohesiveness across a person’s submission. Which poems work together? If they do work together, how? We are interested in groups of poems, our relationship to the poetry content is different than if we published many single poems by many poets per issue. Consequently, perhaps our audience perceives us as more interested in, say, narrative poetry than other types, but that’s not necessarily true. We want poems that cohere, but that coherence can derive from any number of things–imagery, tone, etc.

On regret

I’m new to the job–I’ve been Poetry Editor for about a month!–but no regrets, we spend such time and effort selecting our poems that we’re always quite confident and in love with them!

Leanna Petronella's poetry can be seen in Beloit Poetry Journal, CutBank, La Petite Zine, ElevenEleven, and other publications. She holds an M.F.A. from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Missouri, where she is Poetry Editor of The Missouri Review.

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