January 7, 2008

The Submission Game

My friend Diane Lockward wrote recently a semi-serious post on 7 things you should know about being a poet and the one that caught me was

You would write poetry even if no one published you. But you might not revise so carefully.

I made a conscious decision about 5 years ago to stop submitting poems to publishers. It was a combination of things including the time involved, the acceptance:rejection ratio and all the politics and scams involved in even the best publications. But my number one reason for stopping was this: I realized it was changing my writing. At times, I found myself thinking about what a publisher "wanted" as I wrote. In the early days, I would sift through my poems and select things that I thought fit a market (as with those writer types I see in Barnes & Noble drinking coffee and using B&N as a library as they furiously copy addresses from The Writer's Market or The Poets Market).

That's not a healthy way to write.

I mentioned this to 2 poets recently. One said she never gives a thought to whether or not what she's writing "fits" a market. The other person said he figures that people who submit to Poets Online probably have some sense of "market" (if such a foreign concept applies to the site!) if only because the prompt is changing what they write. Hmmmm...

I wonder about that, especially since at least 50% of the poems submitted each month have no connection to the prompt.

I'd be curious to hear from any of you who do submit about whether or not you have a sense of a "what we're looking for" at Poets Online.

If you are doing the submission game, another post by Diane is about on submitting poems to journals via email which certainly beats the snail mail method.


Anonymous said...

You asked: "I'd be curious to hear from any of you who do submit about whether or not you have a sense of a "what we're looking for" at Poets Online."

I would agree with your friend. I think that those of us who submit regularly (or even occasionally) have developed a sense of what you want. First of all, the prompt dictates the parameters within which we write. Some seem very loose but others (like the bouts-rimes a few months back) were very exacting. Still, you always make it clear that a certain poetic license is ours to take.

That said, I'm not always sure that what I submit is what you are 'looking for.' I've emailed comments to tell you to enjoy the poem even if it doesn't fit and you always respond with a comment that indicates that you like how people use the prompt but make it their own. In other words, you value creativity and how each poet rises to the occasion.

Still, there are times when we think we know what is wanted but it doesn't measure up, here or in any poetic journal. I submitted a poem in response to the Blake prompt and it wasn't used. I was sure it followed the guidelines, and I felt the poem was good, so I guess we can't always be sure what an editor has in mind.

What interests me is that you no longer choose to submit for publication. I wonder how many poets who write pretty seriously have also given up for the same reasons as you presented. It can be very discouraging and can lead to self-doubt, which in turn leads to less writing or (heaven forbid) changing your writing to fit what is "wanted" out there. Thanks for addressing this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon, but just the fact that someone says -
"I'm not always sure that what I submit is what you are 'looking for.' " tells me that people are writing to this imaginary Poets Online editor.

Of course, the site and the prompts (strict or not) are very different from submitting to a journal or magazine where you often don't have a clear idea of what they are looking for.

Books always say to read several issues to see what other accepted poems are like, but I for one have NEVER been able to figure out the secret recipe or see a "type."

Is there really "a New Yorker" poem or a "Poetry Magazine" poem? I know what they WON'T accept, but I wish I knew what they WILL accept!

Personally, I know that I was pleased that the first 3 poems I submitted to Poets Online were all accepted - but then 2 in a row didn't make the cut and I was... crushed/confused/disappointed but mostly confused. What did I do differently? Maybe I just had too many accepted in a row?

I don't know how unique my reaction was, but I just keep sending in poems when I think they are good and accept that some will make the cut & some will not.