Literary MagNet: Saba Keramati

Dana Isokawa
From the May/June 2024 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In her debut poetry collection, Self-Mythology (University of Arkansas Press, April 2024), Saba Keramati explores the shifting nature of the self. In lyrics and a variety of poetic forms, such as the cento and abecedarian, Keramati’s speaker considers the personal and communal histories that have shaped her—addressing events including the meeting of her Chinese mother and Iranian father in a California grocery store, the murder of Vincent Chin in a 1982 hate crime in Michigan, and 9/11. Keramati searches for language and formal structure to hold her sense of “unbelonging” in the United States; “the word America / a shield I never wanted to carry,” she writes. The poems instead find a home in fluidity—of identity and expression: “I’ll always be / here, chameleoning myself // with every shift of the light: / the underside of an oyster shell.”

Saba Keramati, author of the debut poetry collection Self-Mythology.   (Credit: Marisa Kimmel)

In search of the ideal home for her work, Keramati looks for lit mags with editors of color, contributors of marginalized identities, and an aesthetic and a mission that resonate with her. She found all of these things with the Seventh Wave, a BIPOC- and queer-led arts and literary nonprofit with a community ethos. “We publish people, not pieces,” the editors write. “For us, the process is the point.” The Seventh Wave publishes an annual web magazine of the same name and quarterly guest-edited digital issues; it also hosts a three-month digital residency during which authors collaborate with the journal’s editors and other artists. In the fall of 2021, Keramati participated in an online residency, which supported her development of “THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO SAY THIS,” the opening poem of Self-Mythology. Submissions to the Seventh Wave, which features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, are currently closed; all contributors are paid $50 to $250. Applications for the organization’s online residencies are open.

After learning that the poet Chet’la Sebree was guest-editing a folio on the theme of “Home & Hiraeth,” the latter a Welsh word that loosely translates to “homesickness,” Keramati submitted to Poet Lore, and Sebree selected Keramati’s pantoum “Reflections of Heaven” for publication in the print biannual. Keramati says seeing the broad range of works that fit into the folio’s focus helped her think more expansively about theme in her collection. Poet Lore bills itself as America’s oldest poetry journal, established in 1889 by Charlotte Porter and Helen Clarke, who were life partners and Shakespeare scholars. Published by the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the journal features poetry and translation that the editors call “news from the interior—poems that make concerns of our moment both urgent and intimate.” Submissions are currently open via Submittable; Poet Lore pays $50 per poem.

“I think sometimes writers are afraid of editors, as I was at one point, which creates a false hierarchy between the editor and writer,” says Keramati. “Now I like to think of publishing as collaboration.” Keramati singled out the editorial exchange at one of her dream journals, AGNI. Coeditor William Pierce worked with Keramati to revise her poem “Hollowed” and consider craft questions that led Keramati to rethink line length and stanza structure. AGNI, which is published by Boston University, curates poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translations in a print biannual, a blog, and a twice-monthly web magazine. More than twenty editors work to create AGNI, which has a track record of publishing work by major writers early in their careers. The periodical cultivates a “cosmopolitan perspective” by emphasizing writing in translation. Submissions in all genres are open via postal mail and the online submission system until the end of May; AGNI pays $20 per printed page of prose and $40 per printed page of poetry, up to $300.

The body and the complexities of intergenerational communication are strong themes in Self-Mythology, exemplified by “Self-Portrait Alone in the Kitchen” and “Haibun for Learning 中文 on Duolingo,” respectively. The poet Stephanie Choi selected these poems for publication in Quarterly West, where they appeared alongside Cindy Juyoung Ok’s translations of poems by Kim Hyesoon, a story by Ayotola Tehingbola, a visual poem by CJ Scruton, and other pieces. Although the online quarterly is edited by a rotating staff of PhD students at the University of Utah, Keramati finds its bold aesthetic consistent: “Seep in. Stomp in. Strike us,” the editors advise prospective contributors. “Set the familiar voice on fire.” Quarterly West publishes poems, stories, essays, reviews, and translations. Submissions are currently closed.

While Keramati often avoids contests because of the entry fees, she did submit to the annual Coniston Prize from Radar Poetry in 2023 because it offers a fee-free submission period for BIPOC writers. Judge Ellen Bass selected Keramati as a finalist, and four of her poems appeared in Issue 37 with images of Rachel Wold’s paintings. Poets Rachel Marie Patterson and Dara-Lyn Shrager edit Radar Poetry, which showcases poems paired with art in three online issues a year. Journal submissions are open until May 1; the Coniston Prize, which awards $1,000 for a group of poems by a woman, will open for entries this summer.   


Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Please log in to continue.
Don't yet have an account?