Literary MagNet: Hafizah Geter

by
Dana Isokawa
8.12.20

Writer and editor Hafizah Geter traces the origin of her poetry collection, Un-American (Wesleyan University Press, September 2020), to when she was nineteen and her mother died of a stroke. A month later Geter took a semester off from college to help her father convalesce after heart surgery. “On an unconscious level, Un-American was my attempt to make my and my family’s wounds metaphorical because up until then, they had been so physical, so palpably devastating,” she says. “I needed a safe way to make sense of what I’d lost, not just my mother, but my umbilical cord to Nigeria, our shared birth country. It was also a way for me to understand my father, a kind and sensitive man, who was raised in Alabama and Ohio in a country that doesn’t much care for Black boys and men.” In the resulting poems Geter moves through her grief while refusing ideas of whom America belongs to and who belongs in America. 

Top: Hafizah Geter. (Credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

When she was an MFA student at Columbia College Chicago more than ten years ago, Geter used to meet with poet Kelly Forsythe every Friday to submit to journals. By using the writers resource Duotrope and diligently improving her work and playing the “numbers game,” Geter started publishing her poems. She has now placed pieces in publications such as the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, the New Yorker, and West Branch and is mostly solicited for her work. Since attending an MFA program, Geter, who works as an editor at Little A and Topple Books, has seen changes in the publishing world. “It’s 2020 and journals are working on having more diverse mastheads,” she says, “but for me the cultural barrier felt real those early years of submitting, because my work, which engages with immigration, Islam, queerness, Blackness, and the State, often found itself vetted by young white readers who hadn’t been taught that you don’t have to ‘see’ yourself in work for work to have merit.”

So while Geter published some of the poems in Un-American by making it through the slush piles of outlets such as the New Yorker, she also found opportunities because she focused on showing up for her community by attending and participating in readings and events, which she advises other emerging writers to do. For example she published a suite of poems on Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland in Tin House after an editor invited her to send poems after hearing her read; previously she had been rejected from the now-closed journal multiple times. Now that she is mostly solicited, Geter considers a publication’s packaging, reach, and contributor list when she is approached by editors. “Being someone’s only Black friend isn’t fun in life, and it isn’t fun on the page,” she says. “If I’ve been solicited by an outlet that hasn’t published Black writers or other writers of color, it’s hard to know what they’re after—my work or my clearly ethnic name. Being choosy like this now is something that I’ve had to work my way into. In the beginning of my career, it kind of felt like I had to give my work to whoever wanted it, even if they weren’t particularly careful with it. Scarcity takes away your power. But I hung on, and now, more often than not—though not always—I can choose where my work goes.” Geter has published poems and essays in the below publications, as well as in the Boston Review and Longreads, among others.

Part of a larger publishing nonprofit dedicated to fostering lively and rigorous conversation about literature and the arts, the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly features poetry, fiction, and essays in themed issues; recent issues have focused on pop culture, catharsis, weather, and imitation. Poetry editor Elizabeth Metzger has recently featured work by Sumita Chakraborty, Megan Fernandes, and Srikanth Reddy. Submissions are currently closed.

With a circulation of more than one million, the New Yorker is one of the biggest platforms available to poets. Kevin Young, the weekly magazine’s poetry editor since 2017, also records podcasts through which contributors join him to discuss their own work or another poet. Submissions of poetry and translations are open year-round via Submittable.

West Branch, which is edited at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, annually publishes three issues of poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews. In the past few years, poets Aracelis Girmay, Diane Seuss, and Brian Teare have each served as the guest poetry editor for an issue. Submissions are open via the publication’s online submission manager until April 1, 2021.

“Every issue, like every piece of good writing, is the product of a series of accidents colliding with intentions,” writes Meghan O’Rourke of the Yale Review. In July 2019, O’Rourke became editor of the print quarterly, which has been published by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, for more than two hundred years. The review features poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and criticism; submissions are currently closed. 

 

Dana Isokawa is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.