There’s nothing new about what I’m going to say except that I never knew it before as I do now: there are a LOT of poetry journals out there, and a LOT of manuscript competitions. Since I finished the BKP Mentorship Program with an MS I wanted to shop, essentially since the first of 2022, I’ve been sending out poems somewhere or other almost every day. I have my whole MS out to 14 competitions and contests, and I’ve done another 30 submissions to everyplace from POETRY to Stink Eye. It’s complicated because every journal’s requirements are different, either for number of poems, formatting of poems, times of year when they are open to submissions, whether or not they permit simultaneous submissions, whether and where your contact info should appear, and because I have resisted having a bio I can cut and paste, so I keep writing new ones, which is weird as weird can be. Generally, I’m trying to get the poems in my MS published in journals, but sometimes as I finish new things or dredge up and revise old ones, I send them out too. Picking poems to send to journals that don’t accept simultaneous submissions is tricky because you may be tying up a poem for a few months. And there’s a hierarchy of poems, the very best ones need a chance to cycle through some of the most prestigious journals even though the chances of having them accepted are slim.
I’ve developed and continue my list of places to send poems by reading the bios of other poets in other journals and seeing where they had their work published. I also use the Acknowledgements page in the individual books of poetry I read, which is really the same thing. If the journal is online, I peruse it, see if there’s any reason to avoid it (sometimes its obvious), and to check out the poems.
When I read something basically for ‘research’ purposes, but I like it, I always try for a minute to find the poet online and send them an email or DM on facebook. People love that shit, wouldn’t you? And you can’t help finding out something interesting about your place in the world when you see what’s out there, as in “Oh, I’m better than that,” or “I don’t think I could EVER write that well.”
I’ve been keeping track of my submissions on an Excel spreadsheet which I developed with the help of my accountant. What an interesting sociological experience that was, and a tad embarrassing to admit my poetry side to my business professional, but he really knows how to maneuver Excel to act like a true data base, so I can search my submissions by poem name, magazine name, date of submission, method of submission (submittable, email or snail mail), date of response, as well as status, and that last one is important because when a poem is accepted, you need to tell the other places it’s been sent to that you’re withdrawing that poem from consideration. Beyond the organizational benefits of the spread sheet, it can make you feel good about what you’re accomplishing just by sending. And once you give your poetry salesperson a place to work, it helps you to appreciate the how much a part of your success this process of selling is. Plus, in a way that is both more indirect and less subtle than workshopping and open mic-ing a poem, it—the whole process of thinking about your poem as a product—keeps you in touch with your customer base, and I can’t help thinking that’s a very good thing.
My workshop poem this past week, “Andrea, From Burlington” is a 2017 poem that I dredged up during the last couple of months on the theory that it’s ok, and even if it’s not in my book, I should send it out, so I showed it to Jen Poteet’s workshop of Sunday, got a nice mix of affirmations and suggestions, took it out to the woodshed and tried it again on Tuesday.
Carole Stone, too, brought a poem called “Journey” that had been workshopped in and revised after Jen Poteet’s workshop about putting a brave face on the final trip to death: “I will wear my Frida Kahlo socks.”
Don Zirilli’s poem, “Some Borders Should Not Be Crossed,” stimulated a lot of speculation about its subject and intention, but this comment found its way into my notes: “Something wants to be revealed in that last stanza.”
Shane’s untiled prose poem with a dreamlike unexplained abruptness was either about “POWs or a mental hospital” according to one of the comments. Shane said it just came out that way.
Ana Doina’s poem, “Top Secret Report” was another of her Communist Romania anecdotes and concerned a visit from the secret police that did not result in the disappearance, torture or death of innocent Romanians. Some thought the Hogan’s Heroes approach to state repression was timely given the situation in The Ukraine, but some wondered what the stakes are for the narrator in telling this story.
Brendan McEntee’s “Write the Foam” is a bit of an ars poetica. The title is imperative, and the poem starts with the title coming at you in the voice of a person identified only as “she.” The rest of the poem is the speaker’s effort to comply, describing the scene in a way that sometimes confuses (emphasis on ‘fuses’) subject and object, ending as the sea presents itself most humbly at the feet of the speaker: “The sky is cloud-scudded and beautiful and the foam reaches out, touches my toe.”
Frank Rubino’s poem, “The local beer place dog” has great seriousness in aphoristic statements such as “Clothing is an invention that worked day one without false starts.” But it is also committed to the seemingly random, quotidian facts of a walk and conversation with a friend, or the oddly specific nomenclature of the title: local beer place dog, or the way it turns on itself to offer an ars poetica sort of imperative: “Don’t get rid of ordinary thought just to make an image:/ talk about a great painting about to come into the world.
Janet Kolstein brought a re-write of her poem “Google Earth: Alexandria” (not in the packet) that explores the modern dilemma of being everywhere the internet allows, but still stuck in your apartment looking at your computer.